Monday, 14 July 2008

Creatures great and small

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

Snail's progress

Yesterday, while out with a walking group in Oxfordshire I saw, for the first time, red kites gliding overhead. They are astonishingly beautiful birds in flight with their fan-like wing span and forked tail feathers (see yet this blog is named after two of the smallest of the bird population. A recent discussion about how to eradicate slugs and snails from gardens led me to reflect awhile on some of the small creatures that are usually considered as pests.

Whilst tidying up my garden today, I spotted this quite small snail in the honeysuckle. Instead of recoiling into its shell when I touched it, its head and antenna came out and it seemed almost to be aware of me. I lifted it gently onto a flat surface and stooped to watch its progress. Quite fascinating - my little walled garden is full snails and, somewhat less absorbing, slugs. I have long since given up trying to remove them (a futile task unless you are prepared to use a chemical deterrent) and now just try to avoid stepping on them.

The Snail
To grass, or leaf, or fruit, or wall
The snail sticks close, nor fears to fall,
As if he grew there, house and all
Within that house secure he hides
When danger imminent betides
Of storm, or other harm besides
Of weather
Give but his his horns the slightest touch
His self-collecting power is such
He shrinks into his house with much
Wherein he dwells, he dwells alone
Except himself has chattels none,
Well satisfied to be his own
Whole treasure
Thus hermit-like, his life he leads
Nor partner of his banquet needs
And if he meets one only feeds
The faster
Who seeks him must be worse than blind
(He and his house are so combined)
If, finding it, he fails to find
Its master.
William Cowper (1731 - 1800)