Live and let live

Monday October 11, 2004

When I was a kid, in a world where children roamed safely outdoors at every opportunity, I was fascinated by the wild life about me. Living in a town there was little opportunity to see the larger forms so my attention focussed down to the small things—living creatures like birds, insects, slugs and snails, and the vegetation that sustained them. I wasn’t squeamish then and it gave me no problem to pick up and handle creepy crawlies of all kinds. It’s a long time since I got down on the ground to study ants up close, poking into their nests with a long grass to see what reaction I could raise and these days, when I pick up a snail in the garden, it’s to dispose of it rather than to see how it looks and how it behaves.

Perspective and perception change as we grow older. I’m not convinced it’s an irreversible process, however. Indeed, I find that, as I slow down in retirement, and as my world shrinks, I’m beginning to become tolerant once more of the creatures that share it and my time with me. I’m more inclined to catch a wasp now, and to take it out to fly away free rather than squash it. My reward is to share in its freedom, just a little, just enough to get a spark of joy from the encounter.

Today, at a time when there’s a cold hurt in my life, I feel an even greater affinity with the small creatures in my garden. I was watching a snail this morning, wending its way through the flower border. As it came to a barrier of fallen grass it touched one strand with an eye stalk. The eye closed over and the stalk on which it was held withdrew. Then the other eye encountered another grass strand and repeated the performance. There was a slight pause after which the small creature shrank wholly within its shell, perhaps to rest for a while, perhaps to think about the problem.

I find that I’m doing much the same myself just now, pulling back into my shell, avoiding everyday barriers, resting and thinking.

After a long time, passing by the same spot, I noticed that the snail had moved on out of sight, probably to take a light snack on my geraniums. No matter. He’s welcome to them while they last, before the frost finishes them off. And when I clean the border in a couple of weeks I shall not squash him and his fellows. Rather, I shall put them in a pail and carry them up the lane to the hedgerow, where they can over-winter in safety.

I think I’ve squashed my last snail. So far as snails are concerned I have now adopted a live and let live approach.



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