Have you ever wondered what your life would be like if you’d been born something other than a homo sapient? Imagine the daily challenges you would encounter and need to overcome, or what your living environment would be or what you fear or aspire to.
Garden snails have always held a fascination for me. There is no other creature I can think of who have more than their share of challenges. Their odd-shaped shell must cause all sorts of difficulties for them. I feel a tinge of guilty regret every time I step on one, extinguishing their life and for this, I apologise to all snails.
It’s a Snail’s Life
Sneered at and maligned for being slow coaches, we snails attract bad press. Imagine lugging your home around all day, every day. It’s strenuous, I can tell you. Our cumbersome shell, makes manoeuvring corners extremely difficult and not being centrifugally designed, causes great consternation on uneven surfaces.
And the stress, oh boy, the stress. Laboriously lumbering along, pausing for an occasional nibble on a juicy leaf to refuel, we risk a slow, gagging, undignified death from petrifying pesticides.
Or be subjected to man feet, crunching our shells and crushing the life out of us. I witnessed my Uncle Bernard’s untimely death by foot crunch. It was not pretty and it was excruciatingly painful. His little, pleading eyes begged for mercy, begged for a quick release. The carnage on our footpaths due to foot-death has trebled in the last five years, according to the latest statistics.
Birds! Don’t get me started on birds. Commonly referred to as ‘our feathered friends’, they sure ain’t no friend to the humble snail. From their aerial advantage, they swoop down on us – snails innards are considered a delicacy in bird cuisine – and subject the poor, defensive snail, to a slow, torturous demise. Towering above its prey, the assailant jack-hammers the shell with its beak, before rolling the victim sideways, thus exposing the juicy morsel within. With the only evidence remaining being broken shards of shell, no actual statistics are available. After three days of absence, the victim is listed as missing in action.
My cousin Celeste, (who is a bit arty), once suggested the shell shards would make a dazzling mosaic as a memorial to our missing loved ones. She was sternly admonished for her ghoulish tendencies and sentenced to slug bait surveillance for an entire week.
What was Mother Nature thinking when she created snails? Were snails the result of a five o’clock rush job on a Friday? Obviously, she never tested a prototype because surely, had she done so, the flaws in her design would have been blatantly evident. Instead, she condemned all snails to a nomadic life, hauling their hefty houses wherever they wander. Furthermore, having an attachment to hide in, insinuates that snails are cowardly creatures.
Oh, listen to me blathering on. In truth, our lives are not so terrible. Yes, our motor-home type design can be cumbersome but it is also very convenient. For instance, say you’ve overindulged the previous night, or in our case, the day before, being the nocturnal creatures that we are – and, I must confess, this has happened to me on many occasions – us mollusc’s can curl-up in our made-to-order homes, under a leafy canopy and recuperate in peace, no questions asked. Or say a journey is taking longer than expected, again, we can easily find camouflage and catch forty winks before continuing. Rather than being cowardly, snails are in fact, very clever at utilizing what Mother Nature gave them.
New initiatives, introduced by the recently elected Snails United Party, have the snail community excited. Every snail, young and old are required by law to volunteer a proportionate (to their age), amount of time to path sentry duty. Footpaths are monitored by snail sentries at each end. When a human foot is spotted or sensed, they trigger the alarm by rhythmically beating their muscular foot, warning all path users to slither to the side. The weekly foot carnage figure has already fallen.
A strict curfew is now in place, requiring all cornu asperum to gather beneath stones or other structures with immediate family, for the hours of daylight. As snails are very family orientated, this ruling has been applauded by all within the snail community. Quality family time ensures the wisdom and experience of the older generation are imparted to the young, whilst the young can fetch and carry for our older citizens – a snail’s incredible speed of 047 km per hour, does decrease considerably in old age. The curfew is relaxed during the rainy season, our instinctively active time.
In another initiative, a special elite force of kamikaze snails has been selected to undergo a rigorous training regime, the aim being, to combat death by beaks. My older brother Sven is one of this elite force. Sworn to secrecy, he shares little of what the training entails. However, I do know that these snail soldiers are required to practice their vertical slither routines, presumably to position themselves close to birds in trees.
The Snails United Party, are offering free ten-week body-building classes to all snails in order to build muscle and improve strength, thus making managing our shells while on the move, well, more manageable.
And, on a lighter note, we have our annual Arts Awards looming. This is a chance for us to show off our creativity. No other garden community hold a similar event – not the butterflies or the spiders and certainly not, the worms. Butterflies are just too flighty and spiders have a tendency to spiral out of control.
As for the worm community, they live permanently underground for a very good reason, that reason being the shame and humiliation brought upon themselves by their disastrous knot tying challenge held several years ago. The knot tying challenge caused many injuries and some fatalities. You don’t need me to give you the graphics, you can imagine what happened, right? Being such competitive chaps, they tied themselves into the most complicated knots that they then could not untie. Some managed to salvage themselves by breaking into two, which worms are adept at being an in-built survival mechanism. However, those worms were disqualified and disgraced, as it was against the rules of the competition.
The Super Slime Challenge is the ultimate event of the snails’ arts awards. Each contestant selects their own patch to create his or her slime tapestry within a time limit. The novice contestants tend to squiggle wildly, secreting their mucus haphazardly in the belief that more is better. As a seasoned contestant – yep, this is my fifth year – I take a more pragmatic approach. I believe, the judges and the audience need to be held in suspense and wowed.
First, I carefully select my patch to include a mixture of a flat surface with a textured surface like rocks or tree trunks thus adding to the aesthetic appeal. Then I meticulously slither and secrete, producing a symmetrical design. The judges are dazzled by my designs. Last year, I was placed runner-up with my image of a butterfly in flight. This year, the image I intend to create will simply astound those judges. Imagine this, an intricate spiders’ web with – wait for it – the spider trapped in his own web!
Yep, all in all, there’s a lot to be said for being a snail.