Snail Tales

When R K Narayan said, writing is like a yoga, I suppose he didn’t quite envision the exact pose in which inspiration would strike. For me, it seems to be in the Shavasana(sleeping or corpse) pose. Take Saturday night for instance. I had mooned about the hills early in the am. Happy  cows, and cheeky turkeys hobnobbed with nervous cows and pesky humans to great delight in the misty dews of the morning. 

A morning out in nature is usually balm enough to get the old inspiration going. I spent the whole day with wisps of little sentences floating in and out of the brain. Sentences that would make amazing epiphanies, little witticisms that I yearn for when trying bite-size nuggets of wisdom, they all paid a visit.

Throughout the day, inspiration seemed to come along just when I was slicing the onions, or grumbling about the crumbs with the old vacuum cleaner in hand. I had no access to put some of these words to paper. Then, early evening came, and I sat down to write, when the beautiful full moon rose – hanging like a large golden orb over the Earth. Poets swooned, artists swelled, and writers bloomed. I rushed in, opened my laptop, and had one of the dullest writing sessions possible. 

I teased and pleaded – trying to gather the wisps into a cotton ball of candy, but nothing happened. I wrote the dullest set of sentences conceivable and decided to not fight the muse anymore, and headed to bed. 

I opened , Over Seventy, by P G Wodehouse, (his autobiography) and there was a section written by P G Wodehouse on how he would hesitate to use snails as subjects.

“As a writer I have always rather kept off snails, feeling that they lacked sustained dramatic interest,. With a snail, nothing much ever happens, and of course, there is no sex angle. An informant I can rely says they are ‘sexless or at least ambivalent… Obviously, the snail-meets-snail, snail-loses-snail, snail-gets-snail formula will not help you and this discourages writers from the start.”

Over Seventy – P G Wodehouse – Essay on Bridges, Snails and Meteorites

Well, what do you think this innocuous paragraph did? It started the brain off on a most interesting snail trail. I harked back to the book, Birds, Beasts & Relatives, by Gerald Durrell, where he dedicates a good portion of his musings on myrtle forests to snails, and what an interesting love subject it proved to be.

He writes with such obvious rapture on the mating ritual of snails, that I wonder why entire sonnets aren’t dedicated to this marvelous endeavor. He had the good fortune of finding the slow blisters stirred into action after a freak thunderstorm got them going. 

Sure enough, on a myrtle branch there were two fat, honey- and amber-coloured snails gliding smoothly towards each other, their horns waving provocatively.

… This freak storm had obviously awakened them and made them feel gay and romantic. 

So, there they were, side by side attached to each other by the two little white cords. And there they sat like two curious sailing ships roped together. This was amazing enough, but stranger things were to follow. The cords gradually appeared to get shorter and shorter and drew the two snails together. They stayed rapturously side by side for some fifteen minutes and then, without so much as a nod or a thank you, they glided away in opposite directions, neither one displaying any signs of darts or ropes, or indeed any sign of enthusiasm at having culminated their love affair successfully.”

Birds, Beasts, and Relatives – By Gerald Durrell – Essay on Myrtle Forests

I closed the book, and an image from the early evening, with the skies pink in the setting sun arose. I had just watered the plants. The children and I had squealed at the moisture at the end of the hot day, and stood there enjoying the little rainbows created by the water sprays, when I spotted a snail clinging to the succulents, and making a slow but hard climb towards the lavender patch. The children gathered around to see the beautiful creature too. Was the snail’s sentience relishing the sunset skies too?

Sluggish thoughts indeed, but rather the best for a drift into sleep. Where old P.G.Wodehouse was stumped with the snail-as-dramatic-love-interest angle, old Gerald Durrell had spun a yarn with the very angle. I yawned one of those jaw-breaking ones, and resolved to write about snails instead. So, here we are.

Back from the Brink

Matt Sewell’s, book, Forgotten Beasts: Amazing creatures that once roamed the Earth is a highly captivating book of animals that once roamed the Earth. Beautifully illustrated, this book is a marvel. Every time, I marvel at how life managed to thrive, sustain, and regenerate in all its fantastic forms. As I thumbed through the pages, admiring the defense mechanisms of each animal, the unique ways in which they thrived and survived, an obvious question flickered through the brain : how many of our current organisms are having the same sort of trouble?

Starting with prehistoric animals, the book slowly walks through the animals through the ages, and finally arrives at the timeline in which human-beings appeared. 

The next book was the obvious pair to Matt Sewell’s book of extinct animals. It is: 100 animals to see before they die – By Nick Garbutt & Mike Unwin. 

Reading these two, along with Birds, Beasts & Relatives by Gerald Durrell, made for an interesting time in the old head. Gerald Durrell is a naturalist and his obvious enchantment with the fauna he finds around him, led to create the Durrell Foundation for Conservation of Animals.

Birds, Beasts and Relatives (The Corfu Trilogy Book 2) by [Gerald Durrell]

 

So, it was a surprise indeed to be able to watch the excellent documentary, Back to the Brink at the Boston Science Museum. 

We charged and weaved through traffic to make it to Back from the Brink. The documentary was playing in the Boston Science Museum for which the son & I were going. This was going to be our special afternoon, and we had made any number of snafus with the tickets, the cab to get there etc. But we were there at the right time, and the pair of us took a few deep breaths. 

How often we find ourselves mired myopically into our own lives? It is at moments like these, that books, museums, and documentaries do their bit I suppose. We sat there, as the camera zoomed and picked us along for the ride. We were there to watch the exhilarating recovery of 3 animals who had made it off the endangered list. 

As I sat there watching nature’s survival unfold before us on the high ceilinged dome, I remember thinking of Gerald Durrell’s book, Mockery Bird, and the sense of awe when I learned that Charles Darwin predicted a particular kind of species- a long proboscis, he said, should be there, given that there were flowers with a long tubular structure. A decade later, they did find the hawkmoth capable of pollinating the star orchids. How thrilling is must be, to be able to figure out things like that?

In Back from the Brink, the documentary walks us through 3 different scenarios in which man-made decisions led to the near extinction of certain species, and how man-made efforts also brought them back from the brink of extinction. 

  • The first one was about the foxes in Catalina Island, off the coast of California
  • The second one was on golden monkeys in China
  • The third were the red crabs in an island near Australia 

Each species has a different story arc – the foxes in Catalina Island were the result of DDT spray affecting the eggs laid by the bald eagles near the island. This led to a mass dying / migration of bald eagles. Once the bald eagles were no longer there, the golden eagles swooped in, and for them, these tiny foxes were prey. How the team of naturalists figured this piece out, and how they went about trapping foxes, bald eagles, and golden eagles, and then nurtured and relocated them till they could thrive again, is a marvelous journey.

The golden monkeys were a simple case of stopping poaching, but a hard fight indeed to get the poachers to act as guardians in these snowy terrains. 

The red crabs had an army to fight and thrive against. The yellow crazy ants who accidentally came off the ships years ago, had ran amuck, and the crabs were being inched out of their own homes. This one, had a unique solution too. The naturalists introduced another species(knowing fully well out how much havoc such an act could cause). After much deliberation, they did so. The yellow ant population came down, and the crabs could thrive again. 

The Boston Science Museum is a marvelous place for the curious and the uninterested alike. 

Is This Bohemian Chic?

We have been gallivanting across Boston and New York the past few days. 

I remember reading a children’s book a long time ago about the country mouse who came to visit his cousin who lived in the town. Not surprisingly, I commiserated with the little country mouse who was dazzled and sprazzled by the city. 

I felt the same way when I first visited Bombay, now known as Mumbai, as a little girl. From the hills of Nilgiris, where bus drivers stopped so we could safely straggle across while learning to ride the bicycle, and train drivers stopped for the mother running to the station, to Bombay, where no one, it seemed, stopped for anyone or anything else, was a long journey – 2 days and 2 nights by train to be precise. I clutched my father’s hand, the whole time in Bombay, and never let go, especially on the electric trains. Maybe, some of those calluses on his old hand, are from that trip. 

I have the same feeling in New York. The city sprawls in all directions. The people, the subway, the sights, the movements feel too fast for a country mouse. There is so much to do – the energy exhilarating and enervating at the same time. 

I said as much to the children, and they gave me pitying looks. “What you need is some Bohemian Chic!”, said the daughter diagnosing me with a severe expression on her face.

I had no idea what that meant, but told her we would do our best to find Bohemian Chic.

We had great fun running in one direction, only to find the little GPS dot turning slowly away from where we were supposed to go, and then charged back again. “Is this Bohemian Chic?” I asked.

One time, we stood looking diffident and muddled when a pair of flamboyantly dressed gentlemen stopped and asked us directions to get to some square. We told them we were new to the city too, and agreed that it was best to ask someone else. A good twenty minutes later, we had boarded the train in the wrong direction, gotten down at the next station and came back riding the train in the correct direction, and found the gentlemen boarding the train too. I swear they tipped their bohemian hats and winked!

I splashed into bed after 2 hectic days in New York City, and felt spent. I had no idea how much we had walked. We had spent so many hours and days in the city, soaking in sights and the sounds of traffic, that I yearned to see the moon rise over the hills, the ducks squawk and geese fly. I had no idea how much these things refreshed me. 

Subconsciously, I think, I had selected for my reading during this time of city-living, the book:

Birds, Beasts & Relatives by Gerald Durrell.

Birds, Beasts and Relatives (The Corfu Trilogy Book 2) by [Gerald Durrell]

A sequel to My Family & Other Animals, it is the second set of autobiographical tales by naturalist Gerald Durrell set in the beautiful sun-lit island of Corfu near Greece. After the hurried, panting days of New York, I bathed in the refreshing days of Corfu and the young author’s adventures ranging from rearing sea-horses and hedgehogs, to bear-dancing, and donkey-riding. It was all that was necessary. 

“Coming from the calm, slow, sunlit days of Corfu, our arrival in London, late in the evening, was a shattering experience. So many people were at the station that we did not know, all hurrying grey-faced and worried.”

Gerald Durrell – Birds, Beasts & Relatives

I remember feeling a similar kind of gratitude to Peter Matthiessen’s Snow Leopard on a similar long urban trip to the crowded cities of South Asia.

Today, we decided to walk around Brooklyn and not much more. The day was sweltering: the children wanted a bookstore-day, and we ducked into a couple of them with gratitude. After a cool few hours, we staggered out with books, and very pleased expressions on our faces. 

Do you have any books by Gerald Durrell? I asked the lady at the counter, and she looked it up, and said, “I have My Family & Other Animals!”. I have the book, have bought it several times to gift it to others, but I still felt a strange sense of calm at this. 

Is this Bohemian Chic? If so, I like it!