Step by step in the dark, if my foot’s not wet, I have found the stone.
~ Soyen Shaku, PZI Miscellaneous Koans
Usually in the spring, I encounter slugs and snails in my budding vegetable garden. The snails, which would hide on the underside of my planting table, have in the past favored the tiny tomato starts, stumping them off. But then, with time, and a show of great resilience, the tooth-pick thick tomatoes would sprout new leaves and recover. A couple of years ago, the sticky hordes were so numerous, one night by the beam of a flashlight, I plucked 42 slugs off my Japanese spinach plants. Also that night I harvested a half dozen snails, many of them coursing like sailing ships across an expanse of my blue stone patio. This year, in three weeks of hunting, I have harvested only three small slugs and no snails. I kind of miss their threat and mess.
I did have some wacky ideas of how to peacefully the integrate the gastropods into my life. I tried to raise the larger captives on cornmeal, but my family was horrified at the idea of plate of locally-sourced Escargots à la Bourguignonne. I then began feeding them to the crows, who in a few short days became terribly entitled and demanding. So, I stopped all that, and just put them mercifully on the stairway to heaven. I do miss them.
A couple of weeks ago, we held a leadership retreat, and usually at these things, I get anxious in the weeks leading up to the event, knowing I will likely be saying something, that I will be expected to present, or even to not present. My mind and emotions would become a shapeless and sticky tangle, and I could watch it consume things. This retreat, after just a few minutes of sitting in the sun-bathed courtyard of the retreat house, chatting with a few old friends, I felt greatly at ease. I was light and playful. But, after the weekend was over, I kind of missed the messy stepping in the dark. Not because difficulty is character building, but the dark can, at times, feel wonderfully intense. More life affirming. “Sometimes I prefer not to untangle it,” Tony Hoagland wrote in the first line of his poem, Entanglement.
Soon enough, I will almost certainly be stepping in the dark again. And the snails and slugs will be back. I am not sure how we will get from stone to stone (do gastropods leap?), but we will find a way.