Bailey doesn't allow the book to be list of symptoms or complaints, but rather an emotional and spiritual journey. Observing the tiny snail, which is about all that she can do, keeps her mind active and curious. The snail, with its slow deliberate pace becomes both the perfect companion and metaphor.
One morning, Bailey notices a square hole in a scrap of paper; each morning revealed more square holes. When the snail chewed a hole in a letter she had written, she began drawing arrows to the holes in her communications with the outside world with the note: "Eaten by my snail."
Then she put some withered blossoms out for the snail. In the evening, the snail awoke and began its exploration. After investigating the blossoms, it began eating a petal:
"I listened carefully. I could hear it eating. The sound was of someone very small munching celery. I watched, transfixed, as over the course of an hour the snail meticulously ate an entire purple petal for dinner.
The tiny, intimate sound of the snail's eating gave me a distinct feeling of companionship and shared space."
I loved this short book. I learned more about gastropods and the habits and sex lives of the Neohelix albolabris than I ever expected to know. I learned more about patience and close observation than I'd ever thought about. And about courage and perseverance...
The quotes the author uses from poets, scientists, and naturalists are so well-chosen, so apt:
"My wide wake shines, now it is growing dark.
I leave a lively opalescent ribbon: I know this."
- Elizabeth Bishop, form "Giant Snail," 1969
"at my feetwhen did you get here?snail"-Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)
"The [snail's] tentacles are as expressive as a mule's ears, giving an appearance of listless enjoyment when they hang down, and an immense alertness if they are rigid, as happens when the snail is on a march."
- Ernest Ingersoll, "In a Snailery," 1881
What a lovely, lovely little book this is. Maybe my favorite of the year, and certainly one that I will include in all-time favorites. I can't even explain why this tiny book touched me with such emphasis.
Nonfiction. Memoir/ Natural Science. 2010. 178 pages + an excellent bibliography.