There is a certain grim excitement in taking focused account of the passage of time. With full attention the passage of time can become nearly palpable, certainly experienced as a true phenomenon that forms the stuff of our days. But I think this morning I let it go on too long. The humidity was so high, my tolerance so low that I was startled into thinking that those seconds and minutes were gone forever. There must, I thought, be a better way of spending the limited amount of time allotted to us than than counting off the segments like a grandfather clock of old. For instance I could think about snails. The rain that we had been having so much of a couple of weeks ago had resulted in a virtual epidemic of a strange little snail that was somehow produced overnight into a marauding horde. It is very small, smaller than a pea, of a light tan color and shaped more like a bean with a hard shell. A week of heat and no rain has more or less eliminated them, but not before they managed to eat up most of the kaleand make real headway on hot peppers.
I know quite a lot about snails, my experience with them broad and intense. Luckily I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve or there would have been plenty of fireworks over the last sixty years. In California they roamed the flower beds, nibbled on azaleas and geraniums, turned into slugs in the redwoods (in particular a slug named banana for obvious reasons.) A slug is the same as a snail, except that it has no shell. Perhaps in the woods they are more comfortable barebacked . There must be some evolutionary reason for the existence of these creatures, but I have a hard time believing in a purpose. Surely the Lord of Everything wouldn’t have been interested in ruining my own particular garden. There is a fool proof way to kill individual snails. If you are angry enough it can be very satisfying. A teaspoon of salt poured on a snail sizzles and boils up into a white foam, and when the foam is gone nothing is left but a bit of dried black twig. This would be difficult in the case of the marauding miniatures.
Once when we were in Provence for a few weeks we were accustomed to taking a morning walk along the herb scented road, and charming villas set far back gave the impression of a serene life well lived. This little road wound for a couple of miles or so up a gentle hill to a small hotel and restaurant at the top. The owner always greeted us as if we gave him enormous pleasure just to see our faces in the doorway On this particular day, the napkin over his arm waving as he ran up to us quite excited. It seemed he had been working in his garden early that morning, the dew still beaded on the grass and leaves, looking for the rare weeds, checking on the roses when he began to notice a new population of snails, Magnafique! as he said. He said he had never seen such fat beautiful snails and that he was about to bring us some as soon as we were settled.
Harry, of course, never cared too much about what other people thought of him. He was not the least ashamed to say no. But I am not like that at all. I care. I care.I set myself up for a generous, helping brought to me in a matter of minutes. The dish of snails with their tweezers, the sauce. No, I said, I don’t know how to eat them. Undaunted he leaned in, picked up a snail in his left hand and the tweezers in his right and tweezed the tiny head (I don’t remember if the little horns showed anymore) pulling it gently, firmly out of its shell, causing it to make a meaningful little sound, tssssst, during its whole, and to me, enormous, length. He popped that snail into my mouth, so pleased with his gift he grinned proudly. I swirled my tongue around that snail, tried to make my jaws look as if they were chewing it, signaled my pleasure with a weak wave of my tweezers as I went for the next one. Harry appeared worried, probably fearing that I would make a fool of myself. I swallowed every snail. Tears filled my eyes and still I smiled. Delicious, I said in a mushy kind of way. They say that once you have done something very difficult you can do it again. I did not find that to be true. I felt those snails becoming a part of me, and it was a week before I thought they might have been completely absorbed in my blood and guts. And I never, ever , ate anther snail.