On Slugs and Resilience

slugs

Lately, I have been getting into the habit of saving slugs.

I promise you this post has a purpose other than extolling my saintliness as a sentient creature on this planet, though that it is a prime motivator, of course, behind writing this.

Only in the last, say, twelve or so years, have I begun to treat all living creatures (and yes, that includes insects like cockroaches and spiders and worms – and slugs) with the respect and kindness they deserve. The years before that, I was an absolute tyrant, spraying spiders hanging from flimsy webs in bedroom corners until they curled up, thin legs bunched together, and died; smashing scuttling cockroaches with a shoe (they are, in fact, quite clean creatures, so our disgust is unfounded, at least germ-wise – though it’s not winning any insectile beauty contests anytime soon, I’ll grant you that); and crushed the rare silverfish with wanton abandon.

Like many humans on this planet, I was an insect’s worst nightmare: My mantra regarding their existence was to annihilate them, as quickly as I could, so my skin could stop crawling, while I fervently begged, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! B-but I have to do this, you’re in my bedroom, and I can’t sleep with you under the bed – what if you crawl over my face, in the middle of the night? Don’t you see, dear spider, that there is quite a good reason for your death?”

Since then, I have evolved greatly as a human being. Ultimately, I came to the realisation made no sense for my kindness to be directed towards other human beings, and furry animals, and even fish, but not my scuttling and crawling and tiny brethren, just because they were a little sore on the eyes.

Still, this resolve of mine was not put into practice until a few months later, when, whilst washing some vegetable leaves, two slugs – one fat and thick, the other small and thin – plopped from a leaf, washed free by the tap-water, into a bowl that was already in the sink and half-filled with water.

You do not expect such a thing to occur, for your soon-to-be food to harbor tiny, sentient creatures. In the corners, yes, in the garden, yes, and maybe even at the back of your drawers, where it is rarely dusted – but not at the sink, while you are washing your food. Perhaps that says something about how removed we are from nature in regards to our food – there are, I am sure, people out there who believe tomatoes are made in a factory – but at the time, I was focused on the slugs. Here. In my sink. In fact, though I experienced a visceral reaction of aversion, my mind took some time to catch up, and did not, at first, realise they even were slugs. I continued washing the leaves, staring at the dark blobs floating in the bowl. Only when one of them sprouted two tiny antennae, and began to trying to clamber its way, very unsuccessfully, through the water up the side of the bowl, did I admit defeat: They were slugs, alright. Okay, then. What do I do now?

The logical step would have been to flush them down the sink, as any self-respecting cook might have done. Slugs are the renowned mortal enemies of gardeners the world over, possessing as they do an ability to multiply very quickly and a propensity for taking lots of little bites, also very quickly, out of produce, and society had taught me that pests were Bad, and Should Be Exterminated.

Still, I did not want to flush them down the sink. Imagine how horrible a death that must be, gurgling and floundering down endless fathoms of twisting pipes, until you eventually drown, in rushing darkness. I also, however, could not think of any better way to deal with them. I live in an apartment, so popping them out in the garden was not an available option. Neither was leaving them in the bowl of water – they would drown just as easily as being flushed down the sink that way.

So I settled for a compromise. Using a spoon (which I washed properly later, not wanting to ingest slime, no matter how safe it is, with my dinner), I fished the two slugs out of the bowl, and deposited it into a metal box that had once housed Christmas Cookies. Close-up, they were actually rather cute: little undulating bodies, tiny goofy antennaes that wavered this way and that. What sold me, however, was their sensitivity: like snails (and slugs are basically snails without shells), their antennaes shrank back quickly into their bodies at the slightest breath of wind. They moved, well, sluggishly: in truth, the more I watched them, the more I saw they were as harmless and timid as I. Once I had developed an affinity with the slimy critters, there was no going back. A rescue mission was already beginning to coalesce in my mind. Operation Save The Slugs, as I liked to call it.

There were a few obstacles to completing the mission’s objective, which was to place the slugs in a conducive environment where they could live out the rest of their sluggish existences in quiet, slimy happiness.

One was finding a good environment: It had to be not too hot, and not too dry: in other words, nice, moist earth. This was more difficult than it sounds: most of the parks around where I live are very airy, bright, and sunny places, the ground dry, sometimes even dusty. An alternative would have been to pop it into someone’s garden – but I did not think anyone would be too pleased to find some young lady clambering over their front garden wall to place two slugs next to their flowers.

Another problem was my anxiety. These days, it is still very difficult for me to leave the house, especially since I live near the road, with its roaring vehicles and exhaust. Our financial situation prohibits me from living anywhere else, at least for the meantime. To save these slugs, not only would have to leave the house and visit the busy park, but also spend a good ten minutes or so snooping for a good spot without seeming odd to onlookers – or worse, give the impression I was implanting an explosive somewhere.

I kept the slugs in the Christmas box, with some apple chunks, which one (the fatter one, incidentally) happily gnawed at. The other was a little more depressive, staying in one corner of the box. Overnight, it migrated to the cling wrap I had spread tightly over the opening of the box, to prevent them escaping.

To cut a long story short, I ended up, having gathered my courage, racing over to a spot in the park three days later, early in the morning, before there were many people out and about, next to a drainage ditch, where the soil was dark and moist. There was nothing more satisfying than watching them slither out of the box and onto the cool, wet earth, off to live their lives in the environment nature intended to be in. Soft as these creatures are, they very quickly recovered from their harrowing experience and were soon off exploring for places to hide underneath. I left, feeling content – they were certainly not starving children or animals being tested on by the cosmetic industry, but they were sentient creatures, just as important as you or me; and it felt good to take the extra effort to help them, and make them, two tiny slugs, happy.

Why I focus on this tiny Good Deed is because it occurred around the time (quite recently) when I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. It was a condition where you often fatigued, and particular muscles and joints that should not be in pain hurt an awful lot. For me, it feels like a full-body ache, like growing pains, except worse. So far there is no cure. Scientists believe it to be an error in the central nervous system, which detects pain when it shouldn’t. Apparently many sensitive people, especially Empaths, are more at risk of the condition. Before I was diagnosed, a horrifically lengthy process, I had been dealing with the pain for over two and a half months.

The worst thing about it is that any extended period of sitting, or lying down now make my body, my neck especially, ache all over. This has made it very difficult to sleep – but I would not mind that, if it did not also impact my writing to the degree it does. These days, just sitting in one position and writing or reading for more than twenty or so minutes is enough to make parts of my body to ache. It has meant that this post had to be written over a period of three days, broken up into chunks, instead of the usual one. For many weeks this incapacitation broke my heart. Not being able to do the things I want to easily anymore, I wondered how I would even continue as a writer if the act itself caused me so much pain, and grew very depressed.

Meeting and saving the slugs, however, and relieving their evident discomfort at first being trapped in the fridge for days, then in a metal box suffocated by cling wrap, helped me feel better about my own suffering. Their resilience and fortitude lent me strength that I desperately needed.

This condition, on a day-to-day basis, is still very disheartening. That, I think, is something that will never change. It is similar to being, say, a basketball player who lives for the sport to hurt his or her hand. Sure, he or she can still play, but their movements are greatly circumscribed, and they need to rest for longer periods, practise less – or else grit their teeth through the pain, as I am learning to do; but with writing, it is very difficult to get into the “flow”, if, say, your neck is aching in agony. During periods of high creativity, I have found myself having to stand up and stretch, or stop altogether, because the pain is so great that I cannot continue on.

My dreams, however, and my purpose in this life, has not changed. Even if I lost my hands, I am sure I would, for my Art, learn to write with my toes. What matters is the end result, not the blood, sweat or tears that it took to create it. As humans, as creatures of this universe, soft and sensitive as some of us are, we can come up against adversities, great or small, and still live on, and not only live, but flourish – just like my slugs.

On a less depressing note, just today I discovered yet another slug while washing some vegetable leaves, whom I shall be releasing into the park tomorrow, and various family members are considering buying their produce elsewhere, in spite of my discouragement.

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