Lessons from a Snail

May 3, 2014 | By More

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This time of year makes me restless. Between the warming days, the strong winds that whip through the mid mornings, and the bright sun that stays up way past dinner time, I find it almost impossible to stay inside. I want to dig new garden beds and build arbors for vines. I make plans to go in search of wild plants and start plant four thousand seedlings on the front porch. I want to build trellis and enlarge garden beds. I am certain I drive my incredibly patient husband crazy when I tell him for the one hundredth time about my “great, new idea for the garden.” Basically, I get a little manic. It’s the only time of year my energy level comes anywhere near the perpetual excitement my four-year-old sons live with daily.

But at 35 weeks pregnant, my body has other plans. With my huge belly giving me a weeble wobble like physique, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to get up and down, bend over to weed, or dig in the dirt with a shovel. I’m easily winded and quickly lose my balance; it takes several extra minutes just for me to walk up down the hill from the house to the garden patch. Thankfully, I’ve had a healthy pregnancy and a doctor who encourages me to exercise daily. During my first pregnancy I carried twins, so growing one baby at a time feels quite a bit more relaxed. But there’s a reason women’ bodies slow down in the third trimester, and I try and respect this shift in a way that honors the work my body is doing.

In our culture we tend to treat pregnant women as if they’re fragile and need protecting. But I think of the former generations of my own relatives who had no choice but to toil in fields until they went into labor. For many women born into communities where financial resources are scare, this is still the norm. Both situations are problematic. Somewhere there is a middle ground, a way of treating pregnant women in a way that honors the strength of what their bodies are doing while also recognizing their need to slow down and focus on what’s happening internally, both mentally and physically.

Our culture is filled with dialog about what babies need to survive and to thrive in the world. You’ll never be bombarded with so many opinions as when you’re pregnant. Yet I’ve come to believe that if we, as a culture, care about babies the first thing we must realize these tiny creatures need is a strong and supportive caregiver (be it a birthmother, grandparent, adoptive parent, or any other loving family member) who feels safe, respected, honored, and supported in their journey.

This past weekend I was tending to our small strawberry bed, adding mulch from a decaying log at the bottom of the hill. While filling up my bucket with the soft, spongy wood, I flipped over the log and found it covered with over fifteen snails. I’ve always felt a certain kinship with any creature possessing a thick, outer shell. The juxtaposition of toughness and vulnerability speaks to the human qualities I most admire. I was winded and feeling a little achy, so I sat down to take a break and stare at the snails.

As I watched them just sitting there, I thought about how they, too, are somewhat awkwardly shaped around the middle. I wondered if they were moving. After all they’re movements appear so slow as to hardly be perceptible to the human eye. I don’t want to anthropomorphizing these little creatures, but as I sat there taking watching them move ever-so-slowly (or were they?), I felt myself shift from being angry about how slowly I was moving to being grateful for a moment to be reminded of the importance of just sitting still. I noticed the ants nearby; heard the birds singing; took a moment to listen closely to the conversation my sons were having about all the “worm families” in the garden.

Later that night I decided to read a little about my snail friends. I discovered that in the wild they can live to be twenty-five years. And though they only move about fifty yards per hour, they keep a steady pace, moving great distances over long periods of time. As I was dozing off I thought about how often I tell my sons about the importance of respecting the time lines of nature, encouraging them to remember that time tables aren’t always us up to us no matter how other people around us may try and prove otherwise. I want to offer them a counter narrative to this ever-present societal belief that success must always means growth, pushing yourself to the limits, and forward progress. Busyness isn’t a virtue unto itself and adequate rest and time for deep reflection is what makes our brains and bodies capable of meaningful, important work. I tell them these things, but clearly I need reminding, too.

Sure, speed is great sometimes. Linear lines of “getting form point A to B” are helpful. Pushing yourself can sometimes help you grow. But it’s all about context and balance. These ideas can be downright foolish when used at the wrong place and the wrong time. I didn’t get that much gardening done that day. But my husband, helpful partner that he is, helped finish the strawberry patch. And even though I’ll be welcoming our third child, I realized I still have a lot to learn about being a human who raises other humans. I’m thankful I had little time with the snails to remind me of what I already believe.

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Category: Backyard Living, Community

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