Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Snail

My five-year-old grandson spent several days in Vermont last June. He and his sister, who live in Philadelphia, rejoiced in their contacts with the local wild life: “Look, a butterfly! And here's another one! They're all white, and they're flying around the broccoli!”

Even though it rained every day while they were here, we filled up the kiddie pool and let them splash around in it. But the biggest thrill came next morning, when the kids discovered that a dozen tiny frogs had colonized the pool overnight.

The age-old human instinct to make pets out of wild animals expressed itself strongly in my grandchildren. Fortunately, the frogs were too difficult to catch, let alone bring inside. Snails made for slower prey, however, and my grandson put one in a jar and provisioned it with garden greens and placed it on the dining room table where he could keep an eye on it for as long as he was here.

Last week, as his mother was buying him snow boots for the Christmas trip to Vermont he said, “I hope they've taken good care of my snail. I can't wait to see it.”

Sweet, no? And sad. And it puts me in a quandary. I can tell him, in good faith, that his frog friends are in hibernation and will be ready to greet him and his sister again next summer. But the snails....I don't know how close to the equator a snail has to be to survive year-round, but in these latitudes, anything as soft and slimy as a snail is dead and gone well before Halloween, at best leaving fertile eggs in some well-protected spot to hatch out in the late spring.

Do I sit this child by the fire and hand him a cookie and tell him this biologically correct tale of perished snails and Nature red in tooth and claw? Or do I spin him some kindly story of his snail snoozing away the winter (like frogs, like bears) waiting for summer so it can play with him in the rain-soaked garden all over again?

Please advise. He'll be here on Tuesday.

7 comments :

  1. Oh gosh -- I don't know what you should do. I suppose it depends on your grandson. I think I'd go with the kindly story.

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  2. I suppose I could go with the kindly story, as long as I remember to give him the correct version before he goes into high school biology.

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  3. I think you should bite the bullet and tell him the truth - in the magical, large-pictured way that you outlined. First get Ed to do thorough research on what actually happens to snails (and could you share that with us? You've got me curious about them) so that you sound credible. You are assuming an outcome of grief and distress if he finds that his snail has gone to the Great Beyond but for all you know you have a budding scientist or metaphysician who will be fascinated.

    It reminds me of a scene my aunt witnessed between my brother, then five, and my paternal grandmother, a rabbi. Grandma Tehila sat my brother on her knee and tried to tell him the story of The Little Red Hen. I don't know if you remember how the story goes but the gist is that the little red hen wants to make some bread and solicits the other animals for help but they are all too busy or too lazy and turn down her request. She makes the bread herself and when it is warm from the oven the animals crowd around wanting a piece - which they do not receive because they did not help. My grandmother started on the story but found herself unable to tell such a dark tale to a little boy and so in her version everyone helped and they all got bread. According to my aunt my brother kept twisting around with dismay and bafflement as he realized the story had no conflict or narrative drive. The moral is that little boys know when they are being snowed.

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  4. My first thought was: well, what does happen to snails and why do they reappear the next summer? It could be the same spirit in a different body ;-)Just google it and then tell us and him. He'll be fine as long as it's not too long and complicated which I'm sure it's not. And do tell your reading public what happens.

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  5. Here you go: http://www.snail-world.com

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  6. Elizabeth, I read "my paternal grandmother, a rabbi..." and all thoughts of snails went right out of my head.

    mrb, thanks for the link. I'll look it up and tell the truth.

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  7. I love Elizabeth's story. Wisdom through the ages!

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