discovering snails

We are gluttons for Fall.
We drink in the last days,
on lush carpets of leaves
among a tangle of branches.

*          *          *          *          *

I tied a scarf around my head in the style of Rambo — only it looked more feminine.  The tie-dyed material pooled on my shoulders and swung down my back, and dreadlocks peeked out from underneath.  I knew I either looked brave and completely stylish in my accessorizing, or else I looked completely clownish.

Five seconds at Arbor Hills, I realized it didn’t matter at all.  This outing was all about how everything else looked.  We escape here often, usually bypassing the monstrosity of a jungle gym for the “natural unpaved trails for pedestrians only.”  Isaiah has developed strong footing on the rooted paths.  He ambles down declines and doesn’t care too much if he falls down.

We twist in and out among the trees, finally settling down in a little clearing.  We come here — to nature — because Charlotte Mason says so, and she makes more sense to me regarding loving and educating my child than anyone else ever has.

Isaiah collects sticks, and I sit down with my book.  Isaiah shoves it away, and perhaps it’s his intuition that tells him nature is too big and full of life to have to read a book in it.  So we play in the dirt instead.  I find five snail shells — empty homes that now decorate the forest floor.  We talk about what all God made:  plants, dirt, and Elijah.  I search for more shells; Isaiah gets bored.  A dead tree trunk leans across the clearing where we play.  Isaiah rides it like an airplane, and I read my book again.  Isaiah wants me to stop again.  I show him what bark is.  We lift up pieces of the skin of trees, and there is more to discover.  Living snails cling to the cold, wet underside.  I lift one off and hold it in the sunlight before Isaiah’s face.  The snail stretches out of its home, pointing antennae into the air, trying to find its place again.  Its sticky face finds my thumb.  I return it to the wet bark.

There are snails everywhere.  I find myself as entralled with life as Isaiah has been the last two years.  I pick up more pieces of bark, finding the snails’ empty homes.  I collect the architecture in my palm.  I could find a thousand shells if I were here all day.  I climb the little hill and clear away the leaves to find the dirt of the forest floor.  Inspired by natural sculptor Andy Goldsworthy (Netflix subscribers, watch the documentary Rivers and Tides online for free, if you’re interested), I build a snowflake out of 58 empty snail shells.  It is my bit of graffiti art along the trail.  I leave it as tribute to the unobtrusive snail, and as a monument to God.

A whistle breaks through the quiet crackle of the trees.  I decide it must be a signal for twelve-o-clock, although I didn’t need the reminder.  We were hungry and tired anyway, and the sun was high enough that I knew it must be time to leave.

When we step back out onto the paved trail and drive home in an automobile, when I see the streets and buildings crushing out nature, everything in the forest seems like I dream.  I touch and feel plastic, concrete, manmade things, and it all feels like such a joke of a world.  I stop at the grocery store on the way home to get a candy thermometer.  I walk down a towering isle of boxes and jars and packaged, processed food, and I think: perhaps this is the dream.  When can I wake up from my mood being set by Christmas carols piped over the loudspeaker?  When will the snails raise their voices and say, “Here!  We are here by the millions, billions, trillions!  We scatter the forest floor everywhere! We are everywhere!  Won’t you look?”?

    • manhattandoula
    • December 3rd, 2008

    Lovely, Carrie. I love your snail-snowflake monument idea. I need to SLOW DOWN, but I don’t know how.

  1. Isn’t God’s creation AMAZING?!

    I am going to check out Rivers and Tides. Sounds good. Oh and Charlotte Mason sounds like an excellent resource also. I would like to read some more about her.

    • Timothy
    • December 5th, 2008

    Thank you for reminding us of the beauty of creation around us. In the hustle and bustle of life we forget the simple things, that make us marvel about life.

  2. Another good site to learn about Charlotte Mason’s approach are (I knew you would “click” with her! You and your sister seem to be living it out before anyway):

    I have a lot of links on the right sidebar at my blog that mesh well with Charlotte Mason’s learning style.
    Karen Andrealoa’s Pocketful of Pinecones might be a good book for you to read as well, just for enjoyment, based on a Charlotte Mason approach. 🙂

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