The Snail Whisperer
My husband and I are rather anti-pet. Now, before all the pet lovers here jump all over me, let me explain that most of our anti-petness revolves around very busy lives and small yard space (and my unwillingness to clean up after any more indoor creatures – I already have 4, and one on the way thankyouverymuch!). Were we in the country with a few acres and a barn, I’m fairly certain we’d have a horse, a couple of dogs and more cats than you could count. We’d probably have some chickens and a goat or two too. But we live in the city. And travel frequently. So, our poor children have to console themselves by playing with everyone else’s critters – and the thought that once they grow up and have their own homes, they’re welcome to have a zoo.
Enter Daughter #3, who is very fond of any living, breathing creature. About six weeks ago, I came home late one evening to find a large bowl covered with a sand sieve on our coffee table. I was too tired to care, and I figured I’d find out all about it in the morning. Sure enough, at breakfast, my youngest lifts off the sieve and introduces me to… a snail! The night before, she’d found this quarter-sized garden snail crawling along the fence, decided it was her new best friend, and christened it “Bumble Bee” because of its black and yellow stripes. But she calls him “Snailey” for short. While glaring at her father for allowing this thing into the house, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her pick it up, turn it over, and in a squeaky, sing-song voice call it to come out to meet me! The all-knowing mother told her that she was probably scaring it and should put it back in the bowl. Her response was “Oh, no! He always comes out when I call for him!” Which her father agreed was indeed true – it came out when she called. I glared at him again.
But darned if it didn’t! Within seconds, that snail was out, looking at her and seeming to be very interested in the proceedings (well, as much as a snail can look interested). Soooo… we now have a snail. Well, actually, several snails, and we’ll be getting her a terrarium for her birthday. You see, we had to go online to find out what they eat and such, and in the course of our research, discovered how baby snails came about. Of course, she promptly went in search of another snail so she could get snail babies - much to the amusement of her father who wondered how she knew which snail was which. I hadn’t mentioned that she now knew the word “hermaphrodite”.
That was about 3 weeks ago, and she’s patiently waiting for babies; they’re supposed to take about 6 weeks.
Meanwhile, Bumble Bee, Fudge, Tiger and Tiny are regularly aired, exercised and watered (by all three girls); #3 spent over an hour digging dirt and finding moss and leaves to make the perfect home for them. Today, she made cards for them. The other night, we let the snails out for a crawl around their sieve on the buffet, and forgot about them during dinner. When I remembered them half an hour later, I was sure one or more would have gone missing. To my utter amazement, not only had they not gone missing, but one had actually crawled out of the sieve, about six inches across the buffet and back up and into the bowl. Daughter #3 complacently assured me that she had trained it to do so – wasn’t it a good snail?
And so I’ve resigned myself to having snails for the next 5-10 years (that’s how long they’re supposed to live). Anybody know if there’s a market for breeding garden snails? I think we’re going to end up with a few.
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Gorillas In The Mist
So it was another nice visit, and another nice meal, the morning after the big 50th Anniversary party.
My uncle was back in his true form, wearing one of his crazy hats and a T-Shirt that showed an illustration of three white-tailed deer, holding protest signs which read "Catch More Fish."
But it was much quieter, with many fewer people, and the ability to actually converse without shouting.
The food was all pretty good, except for the world's record blandest scrambled eggs, but there was an outstanding potato dish. Another uncle (one who is actually younger than I am, and does a lot of cooking, as well) likened it to his "Smashed Potato" dish, in which he boils potatoes until well-done, then heats olive oil in a skillet, and literally smashes the potatoes into hot oil, adding garlic and flattening the potatoes until they brown against the bottom of the skillet, then turning until another surface is exposed, adding more olive oil if/as needed. He said that, much like these, his potatoes were partly soft & starchy, and partly crispy brown.
The dish at the restaurant contained finely chopped green pepper, and my uncle told me he has used all sorts of leftover vegetables, but that his favorite is broccoli. I will try something similar very soon, using unpeeled redskin potatoes and whatever veggie comes to mind.
Anyway, after much laughter, and hugs, and tears, and the exchange of various email adresses and Major International Cheese & Politics Blog names, we piled into our cars and headed for the falls.
The area surrounding Niagara Falls says "Tourist Trap" in at least seventeen languages, and includes pictures for the illiterate. It is, essentially, a sleazy, second-rate carnival atmosphere, and at least on this Memorial Day Sunday, was packed to the top with milling humanity. We were lucky enough to get two parking spaces within about one block of the park, only $5 each for up to 2 hours.
Oddly enough, the vast majority of people I saw were from India, the women complete with Saris and caste marks. The strange, to my ears, lilt of Indian English was everywhere, it seemed like they'd had a direct flight from New Delhi to Niagara Falls.
Of course, there were also Japanese, all draped in cameras, many South Americans, some Chinese. A cornucopia of people, all talking, all laughing. The sound and sight of people was everywhere.
We threaded our way through the crowds, across a busy street and onto the park grounds.
And then suddenly there was another sound just at the edge of hearing, a deeper sound, like a constant low thunder. The further we walked, the more that sound grew.
Whether the crowds quieted in awe, or the new sound simply overwhelmed all else, soon it was the only thing to be heard.
We stepped through a hedge and there was a vision to match the sound. More than a river, it was a seeming eternity of reflections moving at amazing speed, shining in the sun, a constant movement of waves, a constant thunder of power.
I walked on. My family faded from my sight, and from my conciousness.
I walked on. I began to feel the wind from the waters flow, and an occasional drop of mist, even at this distance.
I looked back and could see, but not hear, my family calling. I could tell they were talking about taking a tour bus. They wanted to be surrounded by glass and 200 chattering strangers. I did not.
I turned back, and walked on. I could feel a smile stretching my face as more and more droplets of mist splashed on it. The wind from the falls was making my eyes water, or maybe it was tears of joy.
I walked on. There were people around me but I did not see them.
I came to the railing, looked at sheer power, and took a deep breath. I could see the motion within the water, I could feel the power of the sound, and the wind.
If God exists this is one of His Holy Places. Even surrounded by greedy, weak humanity, grasping for every dollar, this is a place of purity.
I walked on. Soon I came to the top of the Falls, themselves. My hair blew back from my forehead, the mist on my face felt like the tears of God. I looked down into the chasm as the wind whipped around me.
With all of the sound, the wind, the water, the pure power, I felt more at peace than I have been in longer than I could remember.
I turned and walked back toward my family.
On the way I smiled at a cute little Indian boy in a stroller. He looked like a handsome, dark-skinned Alfred E. Newman. He smiled back and turned in his stroller as I passed, his white teeth shining in the sun.
A young Indian couple asked me to take a photograph of them against the background of the Falls, and I was happy to.
My sister was still in line to buy tickets, but it did not matter, any more.
When I started, this was going to be a tale of argument and near-accident, of screaming kids and unhappy drivers. A tale of finding a relative enshrined on a Civil War memorial. A tale of a disappearing brother in law, and finding him.
But, in the end, after all of that has faded from memory, the purity, grace and sheer, overwhelming power of the Falls is what will last.
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