An Ordinary Snail

snail in bowl 2 may 2015

This may look like an ordinary snail but that spiral is really a time vortex. Seeing it took me back in time to when we first moved here.

We had trees and a green lawn but in the vestigial gardening areas all I could see was cracked clay and ancient crinums flopping to the ground. I thought they were drama queens until I looked closely at them in the morning light. They were covered in snails. If I ran my hand along a leaf by the end of the journey that hand would be full of little shells. Not exactly a gardener’s paradise.

I went a little mad. Every morning I woke up early with one goal in mind: to remove the snails. I collected buckets and buckets of snails. Some I squished. (The shells were more delicate than I imagined — more like eggshell than rock). Some I threw to the road for the birds to eat or tires to smash. I did this every day until one day there were no snails. “My work here is done,” I smugly thought.

But, it was a bad thing to do. There is no need to console me and tell me that any gardener would do the same. I know my guilt. It is true that the system was out of balance — the sheer numbers of snails alone was a clear signal but I got the message all wrong.

Yearning
Yearning

Since then I think I have learned more about how to read the land. I thought then that it was of vital importance to save the crinums. I saw them as heritage plants — holdovers from a more civilized time. They were but if I were to say that phrase today — especially with that word ‘civilized’ included my tone of voice would sound completely different.

The snails were there to clean up the mess that successive people had left behind. The crinums were under siege but the system wasn’t collapsing. At all. The clean up crew was there to bulldoze through the last of the introduced species to properly develop the area.

What do snails do? Do they have any worth? Snails are herbivores — mostly — and I suppose around here they might even be the dominant herbivore. I don’t have many ants. Only a few kinds of caterpillars visit. I am sure the pecan trees are happy we have very few aphids. Lovely things like deer exist only on other people’s blogs. Birds and squirrels visit but they are usually looking for berries and nuts. They don’t linger. So I guess snails will have to do.

Do what, exactly? Snails are herbivores. They take the goodness that plants have extracted from the soil and pass it along to the rest of the world.  Without the support of herbivores we wouldn’t have colourful birds, fuzzy mammals or cool lizards lounging in the greenery.

When the worst of the drought hit Austin shortly after we moved here my little system did collapse — despite or maybe more accurately because of my efforts. The tree frogs disappeared and the firefly population dimmed. The pecan trees started throwing huge limbs to the earth.

It would be easy to blame the lack of moisture but I am pretty sure the real problem was the gardener. The lack of snails and me stupidly raking up the leaves each fall to give away (!) to the city was creating a perfect storm. Remove the organic material provided by leaf litter and the soil goes hungry. Remove the herbivores and you break the chain of life.

These days I do everything differently. I do not coddle plants. Well, hardly at all. =) I actively seek out forbs indigenous to the area for reintroduction. Fallen leaves stay on the soil — more or less. Logs are gifts from the trees to the earth. Even snails have a place here.

happy
Homeward bound

So after I subjected this little creature to a couple of photos I thanked it and put it back on a decaying log. It might feed a bird. I can hear wrens chattering as I type. It might feed the larvae of one of the fireflies I love so much. If it survives and the population of snails gets large enough maybe one day the tree frogs will return.

Today I can appreciate the beauty of the snail’s shell architecture and admire its colour — is it amber or maybe more like copper? The bell opening reminds me a bit of a French horn. That well formed shell also tells me our soil is rich in calcium and has enough moisture and nutrition to support life.

One of the ‘purposes’ of this blog is to help me stay mindful of the world around me — to wander around and accurately hear what the world is saying to me. The return of the snail feels good. Maybe I am starting to get it all right this time.

Advertisements

45 thoughts on “An Ordinary Snail

  1. I had the exact same dilemma a few years ago. I drowned some slugs in a sunken cup of beer. So silly – there’s no need for it, if you’re not trying to grow field after field of the same Monsanto’ed crop. Now I just take pictures of all creatures in the garden instead. :)

    Like

  2. Very well written post and excellent snail photos (how often do you see that phrase?). People with gardens and lawns need to learn to appreciate the bugs and critters. I don’t have any amphibians but I have lots of insects that keep themselves in balance pretty well. And that helps maintain a diverse bird population, even in my little quarter acre. Both the birds and the insects provide lots of entertainment.

    Like

    1. I admire your garden very much. The balance is apparent. I see the pictures of those towering perennials and kind of think of your garden as a flower forest. It must be an amazing experience to walk through and be among them. Add on all the birds and other action and I know you have done a very good thing there.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is why it’s so hard for me to even justify spraying an insecticide to kill mosquitoes here! You never know how it will affect this delicate balance so necessary for the garden to thrive. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

    1. I think these systems — what is left of them — really are kind of precarious. If only I could have known then what I know now …

      Like

    1. Thanks. Snails can be easy to love with those neat shells and cute tentacles. I hear a lot of people complain about ants. It would be tough to outsmart them if they became a problem; they seem awfully resilient. (Knock on wood) I’ve never had a problem with them. I have heard that in the Southwest they are better at soil building than worms. I actually kind of wish I had more but I think our soil is too moist for their comfort.

      Like

  4. Just takes awhile to get use to a new area when you move in. Liked you post, your pictures, and am happy that your green thumb is getting better. Ha Glad you do not have many ants, we laugh here in Arkansas because we always say, you do not need to put insulation into the house walls, the ants have moved in the walls and they are now fully insulated.

    Like

  5. ah what a lovely post! How right you are. We are intent on changing the balance of things aren’t we? The only time I remove and dispose of those snails is when I find them in my veg garden, or being horribly destructive with our native renga renga lilly which it adores – I’m sure it thinks it is lettuce.

    Like

    1. Thanks, Julie. I had to look up the renga renga lily. Beautiful. I’d like to try growing one here. heh Those nice leaves do look like they would draw snails.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for this timely reminder not to get too carried away with preserving (only!) the appearance of my garden’s health, by significantly limiting certain herbivorous visitors. I do occasionally relocate a snail (or 10) and I’m pretty sure I saw a Poppa Cardinal feeding smashed ones to his fledgling so their populations do have some controls (aside from my amateur interventions).

    I’m trying to accept the masses of mosquitoes currently appearing understanding they will be providing tasty meals to birds and amphibians alike. Trying. TRYing. TRYING! : )

    Like

    1. This is going to be an ‘amazing’ year for mosquitoes. I am seriously going to do most of my firefly watching from behind a window for awhile.

      Like

  7. We have snails here and fortunately Thrushes too, who pick up the snails and bash the shells to eat the contents. Slugs are a little annoying but then voles and frogs like them too.

    Like

    1. haha Great photo! I love the slugs that live on the west coast — especially now that they are a continent away. Your use of the word glide to describe their movement is a perfect fit. As for the difficulty of gliding across concrete — is there any surface that could stop them? I wonder …

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Eliza. The permaculture people (not that they are some kind of solid block) often suggest a person should live a year in the place they want to garden before they even think of making plans. That makes so much sense to me. Every site really has its own quirks. I am a better gardener for observing what is real and in front of me. Slow and steady ….

      Liked by 1 person

  8. You do have it right and I don’t kill snails anymore either. But I do admit to putting broken eggshells around my hostas. The hostas (which are small in number) get eaten anyway by flying insects but it preserves them a bit longer.

    Like

    1. I do put egg shells around the tomatoes. Deterrence is maybe kinder than destruction. I -love- hostas but gave up on growing them a long time ago. Like, even before I moved here. If anyone could nurture them along I bet it would be you.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I thought he was, too. Loved the colour and lines he made but there is also something both vulnerable and relentless in snails. Fun to watch.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Lovely post, Debra. I hear and read gardeners complain about snails–how bad they are, how much damage to plants they cause. I’ve had the occasional slimy damage to iris straps and the like, but honestly, I leave well enough alone. I’ve never had masses of them, somehow, they’re kept in balance. Maybe birds eat them, or even, the little snakes I see from time-to-time, but I like having them in my garden. I apologize when I accidentally step on one. Which, lately, is often. :)

    Like

    1. Thanks, Tina. The system in your garden is working. Your flowers are always so lovely and draw a variety of wildlife. Nice coincidence that you mentioned snakes. I’ve been wondering why we don’t see more around here. We do get the little pink blind snakes but I never see any of the bigger ones.

      Like

    1. True. It was kind of a weird exercise to think about which animal is the dominant herbivore now. I suppose at one time it would have been the bison. That’s a tremendous alteration.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. …and going even further back – dinosaurs! Though the changes man have made are potentially a lot more drastic for mother earth.

        Like

  10. Thank you, Debra. You have made snails quite appealing to me (and not to eat). I don’t encounter many snails in my garden (in New England), but I have removed things from my garden just because I didn’t want them there, not thinking about why they might need to be there.

    Like

Comments and side conversations are welcome.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s