Each Spring, after the rains wet the dry California earth and the first plants – the peas and greens – are put into the ground, I go out with my flashlight after dark to hunt for snails. When I forget, they dine sumptuously on the new green, leaving nothing but pathetic, chewed-up stems, so I actually take great pleasure in catching them before they can do much damage and tossing them, without mercy, over the garden fence and into the road. I reason, rather ghoulishly, that I am giving them a fifty-fifty chance of making it back under their own steam before being crushed by the wheels of a passing car. When it comes to snails, this particular pacifist is a heartless criminal.
This year, after our first big rain, the garden literally crawled with the little devils. In their gorgeous spiral shells they made their way into every bed, up every vining plant; they swarmed over the newly planted peas and were chomping on potato leaves; fava beans bent under their weight and even the San Pedro cactus, with its lethal spines, was host to several. Flashlight in hand, like a warrior about to pounce, I took them on!
One by one, and then by handfuls, I plucked them up and tossed them over the fence. Plop! They went in the road, Kerplop! “Goodbye” I called after each throw, “Goodbye and good luck, you little Boogies!” There were more and more everywhere I looked, and the lust for victory was on me as I understood the fury for blood – in this case, slime – that has overcome warriors since the beginning of time. “Gottcha!” I crowed, snatching one hiding beneath a cardoon leaf. “Can’t hide from me!” I cried, grabbing three babies on the edge of the raspberry canes. My throwing arm was getting tired, and I switched my flashlight to my other hand and kept aiming for the road. At last, my garden seemed clear of snails, and I went in to wash the slimy goop off my hands and get ready for bed, only to discover that sometime during the hunt I had lost my wedding ring, which must have been tossed into the road along with my booty of snails!
In the decades of our marriage I have never taken off my wedding ring, but the snails had gotten their revenge. My ring finger was indisputably bare, and there was nothing for it but to go back outside, in nightgown and boots with flashlight in hand and scan, inch by inch, the snail graveyard I had so heartlessly created. Indeed, many had already been crushed and some were staggering back towards the garden with broken shells. Not one paid me any mind as I paced slowly with my beam. I found lots of them, but not one gold ring.
A passing driver, no doubt wondering what in the world she was witnessing – a lady of a certain age in boots and pyjamas shining a flashlight in the middle of the road – slowed and stopped.
“May I help you?” she asked kindly. Distractedly, I stepped aside and shrugged, explaining what was going on.
“ I lost my wedding ring tossing snails over my fence and…” Her face became very careful and kind. In a flash I saw the scene as she saw it and knew her inevitable conclusions - a madwoman with delusions out in the nighttime streets. She would call 911 and make a report to get some help for me. I could see her reaching for her cellphone.
“Let me just pull over…” she said gently. “I can help you.” I burst into what must have sounded indeed like crazed laughter and assured her I really WAS searching for my wedding ring that I must have flung off with the wicked snails from my garden. I had to say it several times before she began to believe that I indeed lived in the house right there and had spent the evening hunting snails, losing my wedding band in the process.
We sat together on the curb for awhile, two strangers brought together by her willingness to give another woman a hand. We exchanged stories of silly things we each have done in the course of living in this world, and we laughed at each other’s stories. We searched together but never found the ring and before she left, we shared a hug.
This is for you, who stopped. I never learned your name.
Causes Carolyn North Supports
Daily Bread Project, which I founded in 1982 - see...