While Elisabeth Tova Bailey was confined to her bed for months due to a devastating illness, a forest snail took up residence on her nightstand, living in a pot of violets. With barely the strength to read, Bailey found herself soothed and captivated by the slow quiet life of the snail; the terrarium in which it eventually came to live became a microcosm of the natural world Bailey had loved to roam and no longer could.

The extreme debility wrought by the strange virus that had so wounded her nervous system made it impossible to imagine a future; her life as she knew it was gone.

From where I lay, all of life was out of reach.

Only it wasn’t.

The snail that appeared so randomly would change her life, bringing mighty illumination and pleasure during her months of recuperation. And that would eventually become her remarkable book, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. It is a beautifully written account of a her unexpected journey with her unlikely companion, of healing, and connection to a greatly expanded worldview. Not to mention insight into the small miracle that is a snail:

Stuck to an autumn leaf, a snail may blow along in a storm, its magic carpet eventually landing in a faraway terrain. It is even thought that microscopic snails may be swept up by the wind, rising on air currents until they join the fertile bank of animal and plant minutiae that inhabit the earth’s atmosphere. They may float undreamed-of-distances, finally descending within a rainstorm, the perfect humid landing condition for for slime travel and a search for fresh fungi.

No one could have imagined such a confluence of snail and direly ill person, or what it would come to mean:

The snail had been the best of companions; it never asked me questions I couldn’t answer, nor did it have expectations I couldn’t fulfill. I had watched it adapt to changed circumstances and persevere. Naturally solitary and slow paced, it has entertained and taught me, and was beautiful to watch as it glided silently along, leading me through a dark time into a world beyond that of my own species. That snail had been a true mentor; its tiny existence had sustained me.

The video at top is way more than an publicity tool for the book’s publication; it is a little gem unto itself, and a glimpse of Bailey’s view from her bed.

Nishiyama Hoen, Japan, Edo period, courtesy of The British Museum

With huge thanks to Mary Eaglesham for throwing that The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating., and many other brilliant things, over my transom. Perfect timing!

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