Friday, May 3, 2013

Snail's Pace

The last half of my usual run begins along a fairly busy, four-lane street. Ordinarily, I run in the morning, but the path is mostly shady all day. I run on the sidewalk; to my left—a small section of grass broken up by an occasional tree, to my right: expanses of flowers and landscaped bushes and ground cover.

And there are always, in the morning, many snails. Maybe every five to ten feet, you’ll see one making its way, left to right, across the dampened sidewalk and headed for what must seem like a wilderness at their height. In addition to my usual worries (breathing, not falling, not having a stroke), I have to watch for the tiny grayish shells on the gray sidewalk. Because stepping on one would make me feel very badly, and possibly would make me fall and/or stroke as well.

I wonder about what I imagine is a daily trek for the snails. From the density of the bushes to the grass patch (the street?), then back uphill to the bushes. Is it water they’re after? The gutter typically has a steady stream but you’d think they could get enough dew under the brush canopy. Are they avoiding predators—rats, rabbits, possums? But wouldn’t it be more safe to stay partially hidden than to expose themselves in the open? I’m no zoologist, obviously. (I did, however, pick up some snail knowledge at

For whatever reason the snails complete this arduous, daily journey—water, reproduction, survival, to gaze at the night stars—it seems like a lot of hassle. The sidewalk is dangerous, lots of foot traffic, and they risk life in a number of ways to make the trip. A ritualistic effort, probably tied to primordial urges, repeating and repeating, despite the fact that any moment, an unexpected sneaker can end everything. It’s life, that’s all.


  1. Yesterday as I walked my dogs I came upon a worm who was writhing on the sidewalk. He had left the dirt because of too much water from the sprinklers and now was drying out in the heat of the concrete. I was on the phone with Lisa as I discovered him. As I picked him up to place him back in a safe, moist area of dirt I asked Lisa if she ever picked up worms on the sidewalk to return them to a neutral zone in hopes of their survival. Yep. She does. So your snail pondering hits home for me today. I'm glad to know my friends care for creatures great and small. :)

  2. The way they carry their lightweight house along is ingenious. I often move them to safety. A friend of mine is part of a snail rescue group - once a year hundreds of them cross a particular road to get to a river. The group make sure they're not getting crushed by tires. Thanks for posting the link, had no idea snails have such a long lifespan.


"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka