It is the night of the Blue Moon, August 2021. I am sitting in a beautiful seaside garden bathed in moonlight. Andrew (my lord and master, ahem) speaks and tells me he can hear snails (Andrew has acute, sensitive hearing and can even hear bats!).
He points. I turn round and sure enough; I see an army of snails slow-marching toward a pool of moisture left over from watering the plants. To me, they are silent.
I ask him what snails sound like. He ums and ah’s a bit, and finally describes it as a slow gurgle, squelchy kind of noise.
“So just as one would expect a snail to sound,” I say.
“No.” he says “It’s distinctive. I can’t explain.”
I ask him to try and interpret or mimic how they sound. He attempts several slurping noises and then another sound that sounds to me like a faint popping of bubble wrap. He gives up and says that none of them were anywhere close to how a real snail sounds.
I make some slurping noises of my own…
“Nope! Nothing like ‘em!” I am told.
“Snails make a sound like a gurgle…”
If this has piqued your interest in noises snails make (or not!) why not take a look at the BBC Earth Lab study here
Garden snails in the moonlight
I watch these little fellows in the moonlight, as they progress to their dining destination. Did you know that a speedy garden snail can advance at a rate of a little more than a centimetre a second?
Each night they appear to follow the same route and I am sure I recognise individuals. Snail watching is a very soothing affair. Perhaps it’s the effect of the full moon on my mind, but the scene has inspired me to attempt another haiku!
On a blue moon night
Snails slide creeping slowLesley Scoble, Haiku, August 2021
Through shadows of leaves dancing
A blue moon nocturne
The secret life of snails
- snails feed at night (accounts for why I am seeing so many this evening setting off to the salad bar)
- there are innumerable species of snails in the world—well over 60,000 at the last count
- there are more marine species than land species (even existing in the deep deep of abyssal seas)
- they weigh in at around 25-45g (0.882-1.578oz) that’s roughly 3/4 to 1 1/2 ounces!
- they were on this Earth 500 million years ago
- a speedy garden snail can travel a little over 1 cm (1/2 inch-3/4 inch) a second
- snails do not have ears, so cannot hear any squeaks, whistling, slurpy noises they might make.
- snails living in the wild can survive 3-7 years while captive snails can live a lot longer—unless you eat them, of course…
Spanish snails v painting en plein air
Once upon a time when I was younger, I lived for a while in Spain. I earned a crust as an artist selling my work in a Mallorcan art gallery. However, I was young and inclined to spend most of my time water-skiing, sailing and swimming etc. instead of working (well, who wouldn’t!). Nevertheless, the need of food urged me to paint something to sell, or starve.
The paintings that sold the best were my en plein air works, so I sat in the landscape painting outside. It was hot sitting at the easel, but needs must. I was hungry, living on a diet of plain bread, moistened with a tomato; or devouring olives at the occasional art gallery openings. I needed to earn enough for a decent meal. At this time, the old axiom of the ‘starving artist’ was all too true!
En plein air oil paintings
Only recently I came across old low quality snaps of the very ‘en plein air’ oil paintings that belong to the story I am about to tell you. Apologies for the poor resolution of these very old ‘enprints’, but it shows the terrain that I was in at the time of my ‘culinary snail tale’.
Painting ‘en plein air’ outside in situ in the heat of a Mallorcan summer can challenge the most stoic of artists, but the biggest challenge of all was the SNAILS!
Culinary Snail Tale
My enormous straw hat shades my eyes and is a useful tool to flap the rampant mosquitoes away. I sit at the side of a dusty path with my paints and plain white virgin canvas. There is something exciting about a plain white canvas, don’t you think? It has so much potential!
I work as fast as I can. The day is hot. Too hot. But I persevere. The gallery wants a painting and I want to eat. While I paint, I know something is crawling up my legs. I look down and see several snails are climbing up them. I carefully remove them. And carry on painting. A short while later, yet again, I am aware something is crawling up my legs. More snails! I delicately remove them one by one.
I move my chair and myself away from the spot and set up again to resume the painting from a slightly different angle. However, the snails know where I am and even more clamber up my naked limbs (I’m wearing shorts—it’s hot!) No one told me to dress in a bee suit, or cover myself from head to toe in a forensic outfit! I was becoming very annoyed with the creeping blighters. Vexed even!
I now take less care with my brushwork and paint with rapid strokes! I hate every minute. Once the snails find you, they don’t stop. In fact, they tell their friends to come and join the party!
What is it they are after? Are they attracted by the smell of the oil paint? What is it they want!
I am not edible, am I? I’m not snail food! They eat plants, don’t they?
The sun has reached its zenith and so have I! My tolerance to creeping molluscs has reached the limit. I am done.
Admitting defeat. I withdraw from drawing (there’s a pun here) and flee to the shelter of the house where I am staying (I am house sitting in Mallorca—It’s a good way of living free board while you inhabit and guard the owners home and feed their pets).
Early evening finds me back at the spot by the dusty path. The light is different, but it is cooler. I don’t care anymore. I just want to finish the painting. A short while after I paint, the crawling up my legs begins. What are they crawling up my legs for? Why!
I pick them off yet again, and carry on painting. But. The snails are persistent and determined to annoy and irritate me. They stretch my patience and tolerance to the absolute limit. Their inexorable progress up my legs (for who knows what?!) is intolerable. I yell! “I don’t want to paint this stupid picture anymore!” And pack up my stuff.
In my exasperation and haste, I drop my palette. It falls face down on the dusty path just like a buttered toast (always seems to fall face down, doesn’t it? Why is that?). It covered the palette in dirt, adding organic, authentic earthy hues to the colours. My face turns puce. Not with sunburn or from the heat, but from anger and vexation.
The snails are my enemy. My love of nature has gone! Drat the blighters!
Fleeing back to the house, scrabbling with painting paraphernalia, I discard the stuff, tossing it all in a corner. I dash to the store cupboard and fetch a big bucket, returning straight back out to the spot by the dusty path, and start collecting. I fill the bucket to the rim and heave it back to the house. Quick shower and change of clothes; taking the bucket, I set off for an excellent restaurant that I know.
I hang the bucket on the handlebars of my motor scooter. It’s an old bike that is of the type that phut phut’s along the road, sounding like an angry gnat. The brakes didn’t work. The usual way of stopping it was by aiming it at a stationary object.
I arrive at the restaurant, where the happy chef pays me a fair sum for my haul of culinary delicacies. And invites me to take a seat.
A short while later, I am served with their signature dish of… SNAILS!
I look at the dish and feel remorse. But I’m curious what they might taste like. I am also starving! I love garlic and the plate exudes the aroma of garlic and butter and herbs and… I try the dish.
I have never eaten snails before and never want to again (no offence chef!).
I’m sorry snails for taking you to the restaurant.
The Blue ‘Sturgeon’ Moon
Let’s change the subject and talk about the blue moon that the snails in a seaside garden are enjoying to creep beneath (as in my haiku!).
The Blue Sturgeon Moon is a rare seasonal moon and the only full moon in this month of August 2021.
The Native Americans called it the sturgeon moon because it appears at the time when the sturgeon fish are large and plentiful in the North American Lakes.
Hmm, perhaps I should have attempted a haiku about fish and not snails?
A blue moon is a rarity in that it appears as the fourth full moon in a season ie. Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. These seasons on the whole only have three full moons but when a fourth turns up it’s a blue one! (even though it’s not blue in colour). To get a blue moon actually appearing blue in colour you have to look back as far as the 19th century when the volcano Krakatoa erupted and strange coloured skies with blue moons were widely reported. The moon appearing blue because of atmospheric conditions.
Blue moon at 22.10 hrs
These days the term blue moon can also apply to the second moon of a month. However, it originally meant that it was the only full moon in a calendar month. In which case, the moon in my photographs is true blue!
Blue moon at dawn, August at 04.56 hrs
Blue moon in a pink sky, August 23 05.10 hrs
‘Once in a blue moon’
“Once in a blue moon” was a phrase my mother often used when she spoke of something that was possible but rare (like me finding a job haha). During the sixteenth century an expression “When the moon is blue” meant impossible. An equivalent expression today I reckon might be “And pigs can fly!”
The next seasonal Sturgeon blue moon won’t appear again until 19th/20th 2024.
The next, and last blue moon for this year, appears this September.
Sturgeon blue moon at dawn 04.53 hrs
Thank you for visiting my blog. Take it easy and take it slow 🐌
“In philosophy if you aren’t moving slowly at a snail’s pace you aren’t moving at all”Iris Murdoch (1919-1999)