10.3.18 Hibernation epiphragms (top), Mr Bailey (bottom)
My quietest housemate woke up today. For five months out of the twelve, my dear pal sleeps, retreating into his shell in late October and closing the door behind him until life warms up again.
I have written much about the esteemed Mr Gary Bailey, although not here. He was named Gary after SpongeBob's snail by my son, and Bailey after Elisabeth Tova Bailey by me, whose memoir 'The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating' left a lasting fingerprint on my life. In her book, Elisabeth describes living with the same combination of profound autonomic illness and chronic fatigue that I do. Curiosity saved her, much as it saves me. It seemed only fitting I should adopt a snail as she did and share my slow existence with it, and so I did.
GB is three years old now, a striking albino variety who has grown as large as my hand, and is the only person in my life that does less than I do. We spend the warmer months nodding to each other across my bedroom where he lives in a large tank and I have come to know every facet of his life: his sleeping and waking, his languid eating, his meticulous grooming, his inquisitive explorations, even his egg laying, for 'he' is a hermaphrodite and quite capable of producing offspring without a partner. And he, in his own way, has come to know me. To put him in my hand is to see him come alive with activity for he seems to know my scent while being nervous of others. We have a gentle understanding and I spend long hours in his company.
Today then was a joyful reunion. I have missed his expressive face and the soft sounds he makes. It was also a reminder of how much he grew through his active months last year. When snails hibernate, they produce an oyster-shell-like door to seal themselves away. Called an epiphragm (epi-fram), it is made from silvery mucus - the extraordinarily delicate yet strong concoction that lets snails live such remarkable lives. I kept last year's door, as I shall keep this new one, and laying them out side by side, I could see how GB has expanded his home since last winter, building new shell in a swirl so perfect, it would make a mathematician weep.
A clever, misunderstood companion is about the best kind to have, and he has woken up just in time to keep me company through a spell when I need to slow down and rest much more.
I'm excited. Isn't that daft? I'm excited to know him all over again.
If you'd like to learn more about Gary Bailey and his remarkable life, then may I recommend you buy a copy of Letters from Wonderland #6 in which I share his whole wonderful story.