The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

It’s 25th May 2020 and we’re into a tenth week of lockdown confinement in Scotland, attempting to slow down the spread of Covid-19. The natural world, meanwhile, is indifferent to human trauma and is as lively this Springtime as any. One is minded of the fecundity referenced in Genesis 8:17 ‘Bring forth with thee every living thing that is with thee, of all flesh, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth; that they may breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth.’ Of those smaller beasties, the exact whereabouts of snails under lush grass in Clydesdale eludes me. One assumes there must be some molluscan springtime ritual stimulated by improved warmth and light. Maybe that’s wrong though. Perhaps the little critters dream of a sun dappled terrace in Las Palmas Gran Canaria, but are stymied by the dearth of flights on

Confined to barracks during the current lockdown you could read about a woodland snail (Neohelix albolabris) in a book by Elisabeth Tova Bailey ( While a mysterious viral infection keeps the author bedridden, Bailey watches a wild snail in a glass terrarium by her nightstand. Intrigued by the snail’s molluscan anatomy, cryptic defences, clear decision making, hydraulic locomotion, and mysterious courtship activities, Bailey becomes an astute and amused observer. The result of her long observations is a highly detailed description of this curious little animal.

Of course, it’s not all about the mollusc. Reflection allows her to gain a greater understanding of her own confined place in the world. From the encounter, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating becomes a story of survival and resilience. A tiny animal can illuminate our own human existence and so Bailey provides an appreciation of what it means to be fully alive. When the current pandemic does subside many are hoping that the experience of confinement will have taught us, similarly, to appreciate what really matters in life. There will be no chance at all of returning to the old ways of greed, environmental destruction and rampant consumerism. Will there?

Read this alongside Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (reviewed by me here ) Dillard similarly offers a highly detailed observation of nature as a springboard to larger reflections upon existence.

Check if these reflective descriptions of the natural world are in stock at your local library.

Further bibliographic detail may be found here

200 pages in Green Books

First published 2010

ISBN 978-1900322911

Elisabeth Tova Bailey
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