Elisabeth Tova Bailey's The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is the first June book for the From Left to Write book club.
Bailey contracted a mysterious and debilitating virus on a trip to Europe and spent several years in difficult recovery. Her book is not a memoir of her own illness, however, but the story of a tiny woodland creature, found by a caretaker, moved to a violet plant at Bailey's bedside and observed by the author who had nothing but time to study her temporary pet.
To a bed-ridden young woman for whom simply turning over was agony, the slow gentle movements of the snail were a perfect object for her entertainment, diversion and observation. Deathly ill and enervated, the author found the naturally slow snail offered lessons on its fascinating and unique physiology and habits. The book grows into a meditation on how the tiniest of creatures can alter one's perception of time itself and one's purpose within it.
The small book moved at, well, you can guess its pace, and yet every detail of the snail's behaviors, as told by Bailey, fascinated me. Thanks to her lovely prose (and perhaps my contrarian nature,) it was her loving and detailed description of slime that intrigued me the most. Yes, snail slime.
Did you know that snails secrete various types of mucus for different purposes? Did you know that when injured, they will produce a medicinal mucus full of antioxidants for healing? And a different kind to help them float over the irregular woodland floor? And yet another that allows them to adhere to vertical surfaces? Did you know slime protects a snail's eggs, keeps its skin moist, reveals its sex to potential mates and repels predators with its awful taste?
As I read these amazing abilities, all made possible by a secretion of water, salt and protein-sugar, I started to get a little envious of this molluscular super-power.
If only I had a thick gelatinous covering on which I could glide over the travails of my path! I could resist the tiny tickling fingers of my little Nora who still, in a last vestige of breastfeeding, sucks her thumb while massaging my belly. It's kind of sweet, but can set my teeth on edge too.
Oh for leaving a trail behind me of glistening grossness, instead of being the one who cleans the trails left by my little ones, their rooms of constructed toy cities, their bobble head metropolises and stuffed animal islands, the stair railings bound up with masking tape bridges for the tiny Squinkies to cross, the bathroom littered with dollops of toothpaste and webs of dental floss.
Oh for a thick protective coat that made me unappealing to menacing creatures. Not that I have predators trying to eat me up, but I do wish I could have left that young suit at the bank with a mouthful of bitter slime after he subjected me to his clunky attempts at small talk today.
"So... Do you have a job or are you just a stay at home mom?"
(This is the same bank where another Frat Boy In A Suit invited me and my daughter into his office with, "Come on in, girls!" Slime to you, Buddy. I've got twenty years and a degree or two on you. The name is Ms. Fey.)
Today I sighed and answered slowly, "I am a mom but there is no 'just' about it."
"Yeah!" he giggled. "I heard on the news that if you added up all the work that women do at home, they should be getting a hundred thousand a year!"
Yes, Blithe Young Man with your first job and and your no dependents and your probably equally unencumbered roommate, that's about right. Personal chefs can earn $50K/year. Event planners about the same. Cleaning crews charge $100/hour. Tutors are $50/hour. Caregivers get $200-300/day. Sedan driver rates start around $50/hour. Cipher it all up, add and multiply times two little extra-challenging sweethearts, carry the seven and you're got...a labor of love and an institution of inequality.
Instead of multipurpose slime, I may be better served by the lessons of patience offered by Bailey as her book's last words:
"Lots to do at whatever pace I can go. I must remember the snail. Always remember the snail."
You can read more posts about The Sound of A Wild Snail Eating here. I received a copy of the book from the publisher with no obligation.