the snail in the back yard

This morning we worked in the yard.  The “yard,” I should mention, is a little white-picket-fenced square in front of the house and a very small, mostly gravel, patch behind it.  The kids washed dirty buckets and watering cans on the sidewalk while Matt pulled an overgrown ivy bush out of the front garden.  I weeded in the back by myself.  It was slow work, and quiet, pulling the weeds that had grown through the small stones that cover the back yard.  The space is entirely shaded (hence the stones, rather than anything that, for example, grows) and I crouched down by myself, falling into that meditative state everybody who gardens talks passionately about.

There is a beating-back-the-onslaught-of-disorder feeling about weeding that I like, akin to the creating-order-out-of-chaos satisfaction that folding laundry gives me.  My back started to ache and my fingernails were quickly blackened, but I kept at it.  Feel around for the root, pull firmly enough to get it out but gently enough that I don’t also bring up a huge clod of dirt.  Throw into the bin.  Repeat.

Then I saw the small brown snail.  I did a double take, because I didn’t recognize it at first.  The shell was mottled browns, its whorl distinctive, lovely.  I could even see the muddy gray body of the snail, glistening, moving slowly along the uneven rocks.  It was fleeing, I imagine, from the threat it perceived I was.  I crouched there, watching it move.  And for the rest of the day I could not get Tom Robbin’s words out of my head:

Every passive mollusk demonstrates the hidden rigor of introversion, the power that is contained in peace.

I don’t even think a snail is a mollusk, actually, but it’s what I thought of then.  I often wish I had a shell to protect me and to retract into when the world seemed fearful or overwhelming.  And then I thought about peace, that thing, that feeling, that sensation like an exhale of the spirit, that I grasp after so awkwardly.  I don’t think anyone who knows me well would use “peaceful” to describe me.  And it’s really what I’m longing for, with all of this lunging after trust, isn’t it?  The last few weeks, as I’ve discussed, have been far from peaceful: instead of feeling calm, my spirit is itchy, uncomfortable, restless.

I didn’t even feel peaceful, that moment, in the shady back garden, my hands full of weeds.  But I was reminded, again, in a visceral way how much I want to.  I suspect that true peace, like abiding trust, will come to me only when I stop trying so desperately to grab it.  If only I had a safe shell to curl into while I tried to figure out how to stop my frantic, frenzied efforts.

10 thoughts on “the snail in the back yard”

  1. How I recognize the feelings you write so eloquently about here. But I would wager you do have a shell, I know I do. It’s my home, it’s the place I can retreat and turn off the world if I want to. It’s where I curl into bed with a good book, it’s where I nourish and love my family, and it’s the place that I can truly be myself. The only place. It’s my shell.

  2. Lovely. I’ve been feeling uncomfortable lately, too. On edge, bursting into annoyance or tears with little provocation, and not being able to settle myself, thus sleeping poorly. (oh my, maybe I am subconsciously preparing myself for a newborn?) I have some alone time coming up, and as sad as I am to contemplate my family leaving me (just for a few days, a trip I can’t join in on), I am looking forward to time to curl up & regroup.

    And BTW, snails are TOTALLY mollusks.

  3. My spirit is itchy, too. But your writing brings me a beautiful sense of peace.

    I don’t have any words of wisdom but am, yet again, inspired by your willingness to be vulnerable.

  4. A lovely piece, Lindsey. But I fear there are no safe shells for any of us. And I’m not sure that’s really what we want after all.

    Perhaps moments of peace are as much as we can hope for. And perhaps the other moments are what compel us to advance in ways that are essential? Aren’t discovery and contribution the result of restlessness and discomfort?

  5. So beautiful Lindsey. It reminds me of my wish for a cave to crawl into after Ben died, where I could do nothing but grieve.
    The peace is there – it’s inside you – you wrote eloquently about the moments you find each other. Trust(there’s that word again) that the path you are on will help it fill you on a more frequent basis. xo

  6. Oh, you write about what I experience daily! The frustration, the feeling that I am not there yet, that there will always be something to be weeded. Thank you because by reading this, I DID experience a moment of peace and for about 3 seconds I stopped grasping.

    You are so there my friend.Right in the heart of your life.


  7. I think my shell is an emotional one, and not always one I am proud to have. Sometimes the beauty is what takes place outside the shell. xoxo

  8. Oh my gosh – I have never heard of anyone enjoying the satisfaction of doing laundry – aside from myself. People just don’t know what they’re missing. I’ll skip gardening though.

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