Encounter In A Public Garden

“This is a snail shell, round, full and glossy as a horse chestnut. Comfortable and compact, it sits curled up like a cat in the hollow of my hand. On its smooth symmetrical face is pencilled with precision a perfect spiral, winding inward to the pinpoint center of the shell, the tiny dark core of the apex, the pupil of the eye.”

“It stares at me, this mysterious single eye — and I stare back.”

from Gift From The Sea ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Comments always are welcome.


47 thoughts on “Encounter In A Public Garden

    1. I was surprised by its size, Yvonne. It was about an inch and a half in diameter, and hard to miss. I found it the same day and nearly in the same spot from which I photographed the poppies at Wildseed Farms. I thought it was especially elegant, even there in the dirt.

  1. Nature seems to just casually toss off such masterpieces right and left. They’re everywhere. You only have to stop and see them. As much as I loath the slimy little beasties, their houses are masterpieces of understated elegance. If you wanted to get artsy, you could call that photo “A Study In Greys and Browns.” The way the browns of the shell are mirrored in the edges of the horizontal (oak?) leave is wonderful.

    1. I’m not certain those are oak leaves. They certainly look like it, but at the time I didn’t pay attention to the trees that were around. I was too busy trying to find a snail to add to my collection. There’s something about them (along with moon shells) that’s compelling, and I’d never seen such large ones.

      I like your title. This certainly is one of the artsier photos I’ve taken, and it would fit perfectly.

    1. I usually have a notebook somewhere around, though it often gets left in the car. The thought of using it as a sketchbook made me laugh. Any sketches I did would be sketchy in the extreme — in every sense of the word. Drawing is your talent, not mine. I do know people who carry them to sketch leaf shapes and such, but at this point, taking a photo is good enough for me.

        1. Now I am laughing. There’s no way in the world my notebook would look like that. I think we’ve truly come up against “different “strokes” for different folks” — sketches and drawings for artist you, and some disconnected words for would-be-writer me. :-)

  2. This is a terrific composition. WOL’s comment already stated what I was thinking (like Will Ferrell in “Stranger than Fiction” — “I have a voice in my head that’s narrating my life, but with a better vocabulary.”) A snail, leaving a trail of slime, seems like those artists you sometimes read about, awful people who create beautiful things, like Ezra Pound, Wagner, Picasso, Byron, etc. But the shell is so cool.

    1. I’m glad you like it. One of its friends, crawling up a fence post, caught my attention first. Then I saw one under a fence railing, and started looking around. There were snails and shells all over the ground: rather more than the gardeners were happy with, I’m sure. At any rate, I think this may be my favorite photo from Wildseed Farms, even though the poppies and bluebonnets were stunning.

      I have a small collection of moon shells, snails, and such. My best one is a fossilized gastropod from the Cretaceous that I found up in the hill country. I don’t have any photos of it, but this will do. They’re really fun to find.

      1. Sounds like a lot of snails! Maybe it was a race, but you’d have to stay there for days, before you could tell.
        That fossil is neat, but could it be a prehistoric dinner roll?
        I’ve got a cigar box of crinoid stems, that’s mostly what you find around here, and some bivalves, but I’ve never found a gastropod or anything like that, it’s a cool design.

        1. I’ve made some dinner rolls in my time that could pass for being from the Cretaceous. Maybe I’d better take a better look at that so-called fossil.

    1. Gift From the Sea admirers are like a secret club, I think. It was so popular for such a long time, but it hasn’t gone away. I first read it in Liberia. I think an older woman on the compound gave it to me. I’ve never been without a copy since, even though I’ve given several away.

      I felt the same way about the photo. It does seem lively — each shape complements the others. And the dirt looks pretty good, too.

  3. Odd to find such a sea treasure inland! Perhaps someone dropped it? Perhaps high tides brought it in? Regardless, I’m glad you shared it with us — makes me long to be beside a body of water!!

    1. Actually, this one is a land snail, rather than a gift from the sea — but the shape is the same as our sundial or moon shells, and when I look at this land snail I think of the sea, too. I think this one might be what they call the common garden snail, but this is the first I’ve seen. Apparently, I haven’t been spending enough time around gardens.

      I haven’t been spending enough time at the water, either. It’s hard to be more than once place at once!

  4. Do you remember the large snails in Liberia, Linda? They were kept in large pans in Gbarnga at the market to sell for food. But they were always crawling out and had to be returned to the pan. –Curt

    1. Oh, Curt. One of my favorite memories from Liberia involves those snails. Living at Phebe meant two things: a generator, and clean water. That also meant each house had the luxury of a washing machine.

      One afternoon, I came home to a washing machine that clearly was off balance. It was so badly off balance, so noisy and so clunk-clunk-clunk, I thought it was about to walk itself off its concrete pad. Throwing open the lid to stop it, I found — you guessed it. Some of those tree snails, minus their shells.
      The high schooler who worked for me was responsible, of course. When I asked Philip what in the world he was doing, he argued — rather persuasively — that the agitator paddles of the washer were just as efficient and much easier than pounding the snail meat by hand.

      Persuasive or not, snail-washing was forbidden.

      1. Hilarious, Linda. After that, your clothes would have a special patina all of their own!
        Sam, the young man who worked for us, said that the snails were taboo food for his family. He actually used the word taboo (Sam also worked with the anthropologist, Jim Gibbs, providing information on the Kpelle culture.) I told Sam that the snails were also taboo for my family. Did you actually eat them or was Phillip preparing them for his own family? –Curt

        1. They were for his family. There’s no way in the world… I did eat fruit bat in a village once, and tried the fried bugabugs, but that was as far as I went. Honestly, I suppose the snails would have been as tender as those cattle they walked down from Guinea. I wonder if anyone ever pressure cooked them?

          1. Bug-a-bugs were a must. :) As for the beef, we would grind it an pressure cook it. Finally we resorted to canned beef from Agentina. For a long time afterwards, chop didn’t taste like chop without the canned beef. Never ate a fruit bat… that I know of. –Curt

  5. I do love images like this and often find myself looking down for those natural still life scenes mother nature so kindly places at our disposal. This one has very nice toning to it as well.

    1. Not only that, you have one of the most elegant snails in the world as your avatar. Even when it comes to something as “simple” and common as snails, the variety is astonishing. I found a site belonging to someone who calls himself molluskman, and decided this could be Otala lactea, or the milk snail. He has one of its confirmed locations as Kerrville, which is only about thirty miles from where I found this one.

      I usually don’t do any post-processing, but with this one I did desaturate a bit. It helped to even out the colors, and I think highlighted the different patterns a bit more.

      1. I suspected some toning due to lack of different colors. It is very effective when the subject is about textures and geometric design or pattern. I almost always do post process at least a little. When I have an image that doesn’t benefit from any I feel at a terrible loss somehow. Weird eh?

        I actually used to avidly collect shells and had a close friend who was a very good amateur conchologist. I really ought and have meant for a long time to photograph some of my interesting shells. When I lived in the Philippines I loved finding so many different species. At night after a dive I’d be fanning the sand for shells in my dreams. I also learned how to boil them, remove the body carefully all the way to the nuclear whorl, then stuff with cotton and glue in place the operculum for a true specimen shell result. We made index cards with species name, date found, some description and the like. Cowries and their allies have to be prepared more carefully as the shell will craze like porcelain if heated improperly to remove the animal. Then there is the proper handling of live Pacific cone shells…. fun fun!! Those were the days and part of why my college major was marine biology.

        1. Now that I think about it, I suppose things I commonly do, like cropping, also could be considered post-processing. When I said I don’t do post-processing, I was thinking more of the kinds of artistic filters people use, and other techniques like stitching photos together. All of that’s beyond me at this point — and not something I’m inclined toward, anyway — but a little messing around can be fun. I suppose the question is whether techniques are being used to enhance the photo, or to cover up flaws. I’ve seen that done, too.

          No wonder you enjoyed my post about Charles Torrey Simpson. I had no idea you’d studied marine biology. I was intrigued by your note about the cowrie shells crazing like porcelain. I can’t tell you the number of crazed porcelain pieces I’ve cleaned up with 40 volume peroxide. I suppose that wouldn’t be needed with your shells. Even if they crazed, I’d think it would be clean crazing.

    1. See? That book is everywhere. Once I found the quotation I was looking for, I started re-reading it, and am enjoying it as much as ever. I rarely wish I could meet an author, but I’ve always wished I could have met her. I wish her wisdom was more widely-known, too.

  6. Beautifully captured, Linda :) Such beauty in nature’s design, not just in the intricacies of the snail shell but also in the forms of the fallen leaves close by. Ghosts of yesterday, but still a wonder for the living to enjoy :)

    1. I really was pleased with the combination of leaves and shell, Pete. Just the shell, or just the leaves, wouldn’t have been so pleasing: at least, to my way of seeing. More and more often, I’m finding beauty in the discarded and the dead: although many seed heads still contain an unexpected vibrancy.

  7. “Curled up like a cat”, I like that. We had snail overload in Lithuania. They were everywhere!!! My dad picked off some 200 or so off his garden because they were eating all his stuff! I suggested to him to start a snail farm. :) The designs are incredible, I need to dig through last summer’s pics.

    1. Actually, a snail farm might be profitable. When I started trying to identify this one, I discovered that there are online snail-sellers galore. For prices ranging from $25 to $40, you can get twenty-five of these babies for your terraria. Who knew? I was interested to see how many of our snails are native to Europe, too. Given the number I saw at Wildseed Farms, I’d say two hundred sounds perfectly reasonable.

      It would be interesting to compare your photos with what we have here. The variety is delightful.

    1. They really are. I’d never seen these larger ones, except for a few on the burned prairie whose patterns were, shall we say, less distinguishable.

      Thinking about insect eyesight led me to wonder about snail vision. A favorite tidbit from this article asserts that:

      “Apart from their eyes, snails have light sense cells distributed all over their body. Those are responsible for the so-called shadow reflex: If a shadow falls over a snail, it will quite swiftly withdraw into its shell, as a shadow in nature more than likely means a predator.”

      I’ve seen that response to shadows with spiders. Now I need to find some active snails, so I can test it out with them.

    1. Thanks, Gallivanta. I’m glad you enjoyed the image, and were reminded of a favorite book. It really is true that Gift From The Sea wears well. I just looked at my current copy. It’s a hardback, with wonderful paper, deckled page edges, and a price tag of $5.00. The hardback today has doubled in price, but its wisdom still is invaluable.

  8. What a gorgeous image, Linda! nicely composed, and I love the subtle, warm brown tones. What is that in the upper left, that looks like a coffee bean? Mysterious. And is that an oak leaf? I love the edges of it.

    1. Those curling leaf edges are nice, aren’t they? I think it might be a Lacey Oak — and the only reason I can be so specific is because of a truly fun website I just found. I searched for “leaf shapes Texas trees,” and discovered the Texas A&M Forest Service page called “ID By Leaf. Going through the steps, from simple and alternate, to pinnately lobed, to shallow, irregular, or indistinct lobes, I eventually got to the Lacey Oak (Quercus Laceyi) .

      According to the USDA, the tree’s native in only seven Texas counties. One of them is Gillespie, where I took the photo. And now I think we may have the true identity of that “coffee bean.” I’d been thinking it looked like a split pecan shell, but now I suspect it might be an acorn shell.

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