Why is it that I can crush a slug underfoot, albeit with some trepidation? But when it comes to snails, forget it. They are carefully transferred to another area away from my lettuce and kale.
I’ll let a snail slime all over my hand without wincing or cringing. Slugs? No way! Slugs creep me out just a little bit.
And yet when you think about it, what are snails but a slug-like creature living inside a pretty little shell.
I accidentally brought one home from the community garden on a head of lettuce yesterday. It is now living in a small terrarium with a stem from my currant bush until I get a chance to release it “back into the wild.” I would never show that kind of compassion or care for a slug.
For me, it comes down to the fact that these snails are some of the first wild creatures of my childhood. There was a time when I would spend recess tromping around in a ditch at the side of the school yard searching for these elusive, exotic critters. It was a victory to find one and I would spend the few minutes before the bell letting it crawl over my hand, considering its movements with great interest and wonder. The landscape of my childhood was primarily a tiny postage stamp yard in a townhouse complex and my grandmother’s hi-rise apartment balcony. We had sparrows, yellow jacket hornets, neighborhood cats, and the occasional pigeon, but no snails.
It turns out that in this part of the world this particular type of snail is neither elusive nor exotic — the state of my cabbage are a testament to their numbers. Yet they still hold that fascination for me: the way they extend and contract their antennae; the speed at which they can get around in what appears to be an almost sliding motion with their house firmly affixed to their backs. Snails are a marvel really, and so cool to watch.
Yes, my feelings towards them is primarily nostalgic and a bit self-centered, but for me my paradoxical relationship to snails and slugs in the garden are one of many lessons in seeing the value in all the living creatures, even the pests.
Does that sound too Pollyanna-ish?
There is a lot of focus in gardening literature on getting rid of the offending creatures. An abundance of battle analogies. Believe me, I’m guilty of using this kind of language myself. And at times I have truly felt at war and at odds with all sorts of critters. That’s probably not going to go away entirely, nor do I think it is meant to. There is nothing unhealthy in being self-interested when it comes to keeping your garden alive and productive. I want my currant bushes to make fruit. I want to eat at least some of the tomatoes I grow.
Yet, it is also healthy to stand back from the war making, fighting battles, and rallying of the troops now and again to discover and cultivate a sense of awe and respect for the critters that we share space with, including those that are at odds with our agendas as gardeners.
Maybe next week I’ll take a few minutes to cultivate a sense of wonder and respect for the slugs…. before I proceed to crush them underneath my shoe.