Monday, July 13, 2015

She's eaten my snail!

 The wail could be heard throughout the house, bouncing off the walls and bare wooden floors. 'My snail!'  Through the sobs she choked out, 'It's gone!'

This happened last Thursday when I was visiting the family for dinner. Oh dear. When I arrived, she hadn't yet returned from her Playdate. I'd spotted a little box with leaves and shells in it, beautifully arranged, and thought it was one of her little homes for the fairies. But no.

On the threshold between six and seven years old, the little one has graduated to wild pets. Before leaving to play she had left the box on the floor with a picture on top to act as a lid.
That would have been fine last July, when she was the only child. But now she has a very active little sister, who is crawling everywhere and exploring everything. There was no lid on the box when I came in, and I thought nothing of it when I found something squishy in little sister's mouth. I removed the dark soft object and placed it on the mantle piece.

It wasn't until the little one came home and let out her wail, that I realised what the squishy object was. Oh dear, it's tough when your little sister tries to eat your pet.
I have been at war with snails for many years. They attack my tender lettuce seedlings and destroy whole plantings in a night. But one snail, singled out for love and care, how can I be at war with that? I cradled the little one in my arms, and said I had a special story to tell when she came to visit on the weekend.
 Making mandalas is soothing. Sometimes we draw mandalas, but the morning after the sleepover, she wanted to use shells, flowers and sticks. Her sharp eyes had noticed a little arrangement I'd been making on my desk, and she was inspired to create something for herself.
She had slept peacefully, for in the evening I read to her from the special story, written by a person who would have understood her upset.
You may know Elisabeth Tova Bailey's book, 'The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating', or have seen the video [click on the left of the page] of her snail slowly moving over a bed of moss.

We learned that snails are nocturnal, that they have 2,640 tiny teeth, and that they are very fond of mushrooms.
 We found out how the companionship of a wild snail helped a woman with a serious chronic illness, and we learned how when life slows down, new wonders of the natural world may be revealed.

The little one found a new snail under a rock after Thursday night's little tragedy.
Elisabeth Tova Bailey decided not to name her snail. It's hard, she said, to name a creature that is a hermaphrodite. She simply called it 'the snail.'
The little one had already named her new snail. 'Nut' seemed to me a perfect name to describe a little brown shelled creature.
The mandala has been photographed, printed out and pasted on to a card. Tears are forgotten. We are fascinated to learn more about snails and the wild world they inhabit. What was nothing but a pest to me has now become a creature to study.

All the same, I hope it doesn't copy the author's wild snail, and hatch 118 babies.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Mindfulness Mountain (2)

 'From the top, light and shadows will shape the land you know in new ways,' said the mountain as I rested with my back against a sun-warmed rock at the summit. I closed my eyes, and felt I could stay there forever.
 But the voice of the mountain said, 'Don't be seduced by the summit. Don't linger too long,' and I remembered what my father told me.
My father was a mountain climber in his youth. He climbed to the top of Mt Taranaki, on whose foothills I grew up, twenty-one times. He taught me the first lesson of alpine explorers: that it is more dangerous to descend than ascend.
And so I set out before the weather changed and the wind came up and the light faded.
 This time I discovered another path.
 'Be mindful of every step,' warned the mountain. It would be easy to slip or sprain an ankle going down too fast.
 'Follow the signs, and go slowly,
even though a new destination has appeared.'
Joseph Campbell, who studied the mythology of hundreds of cultures, said that an important part of the great adventure (the 'hero's journey') is the Return. It is important not to return too fast, but to take time for integration. The new path down the mountain led me first to the labyrinth.
 Time to pause and frame a question. The labyrinth is based on the 7-circuit classical labyrinth as shown on ancient Greek coins. Never have I walked a labyrinth with so much spaciousness on every side. I was given several answers to my simple question, all of them perfect.
 And then it was time to enter the Sanctuary. Based on the old Byzantine chapels of Europe, this stone building breathes silence. Now was the time to stop, to meditate, to linger.
 The golden mean was used throughout, giving a deep sense of harmony.
 The late afternoon sun cast magical reflections on the wooden ceiling panels
 and on the stone floor, with its central greenstone circle.
I chanted a little, feeling my voice enlarged into the four corners, reverberating as never before in this place of amazing acoustics, where it is said that sound takes 5-6 seconds before dissolving back into silence.
I could have rushed back down the path I originally came up on. But the mountain showed me another way. It brought me to this sanctuary, and reminded me that while sacred places abound in wild nature, there are times when human endeavour also results in great beauty, stillness and upliftment.
As I left, the bells, cast in Germany using old methods and transported hundreds of miles to reach this place, began to ring. The cascading peel rang out across the valley, up the sides of the mountain and into the sky.