Slugs prefer getting out at night. They’re at their best in the dark.
Slugs travel nightly along the brick walk leading to my studio. I see glistening trails left from their nocturnal sojourns. I notice the trails routinely on my morning treks to the studio. I’d not seen one quite like the one I saw just the other day.
The trails I normally see suggest that a slug is on his way somewhere; heading to a definite destination so that, although the trail may weave a little this way and that, it’s usually comparatively straight.
This trail however seemed as if he’d created a minimalist painting, making some kind of statement; but just what is anyone’s guess. It looked to me like a human head, a person whose mouth seems open, trying to say something. It looks as though he had not finished making up his necktie.
When I see minimalist paintings, my first thought is, “That’s easy, I could do that.” I think viewers work harder trying to guess what a picture means than the artist took in painting it. All the slug had to do was keep walking (slithering? crawling?) and his or her wake became the creation. That’s about as easy as art can be. Its apparent simplicity seems free from all the intense angst normally associated with creative acts.
But, of course I am reading into the glistening trail he left and shamelessly attributing anthropomorphic motives to this humble slug.
I photographed the slug’s trail so that when writing my essay, anyone reading it could see why I might have been fascinated, and be on the same page with me as I ruminate about this creature’s remarkable ability to capture my attention.
We have had this brick walk for about 20 years. While seeing these trails regularly, I’ve never actually seen a slug. Where do they come from? Where do they live, I wonder?
Doing some light research on slugs, what appeared first on several sites were ways to get rid of them. Why so harsh? I’ve never been bothered by a slug. I thought they were slimy and maybe slightly icky, but not harmful. In fact, they are a sort of lagniappe for birds and other animals and for thrushes especially, slugs are regarded as haute cuisine.
The hapless slug’s vulnerability, brings out the worst in little kids. They delight in watching the slug shrivel up into nothing when covered with salt. For kids, the kick they get is up there with pulling the wings from flies. Hopefully, mellowed with time and experience, this unfortunate inclination to harm others will disappear. I do know that our dark side can be mitigated some, but we need to remain alert to it.
When we’re provoked, it can return with surprising vengeance.
But to return to the slug as artist; after seeing his artwork, I now think of slugs differently, even reverently.
Art and creativity of most kinds involve a person’s entire being. Artists, writer’s, and sculptors speak regularly of how their work proceeds from some place deep within them; it rises unbidden ––it just comes out.
Certainly, the same might be said of the slug who leaves his trails behind. Something within him is naturally released –– it just comes out. He does his finest work crawling around at night. Like all artists, slugs are never sure that what comes out of them will look like or what shape it will finally take. It’s too dark to see. I can say this confidently of the slug; that whatever he does, he gives it his all. The legacy he leaves behind –– the visible one –– can be surprisingly enchanting.
Slugs, like most artists, are plodders. Plodders creep along, grinding away slowly at their tasks, and, like the mills of the gods, they ‘grind slowly but exceedingly fine.’ In that regard, I’m thinking of a botanical artist whom I know. Her work renders stunning illustrations of various plants and flowers, studiously crafted with minute and in the sharpest detail. It is slow, tedious work. I’ve been told that it once took her three months to illustrate one ear of corn. I can only imagine that a person’s whole being must be totally absorbed, even consumed by such activity. The art of seeing more deeply into things is not to regard them hurriedly, but to slowly ponder them. I read somewhere that a famous writer, when asked how his writing had gone that day, replied, “I finished a sentence.”
There are, so many dreams, hopes, and wonders that come to us under the cover of night only to vanish at daybreak, in the way our nocturnal dreams, so vivid in darkness are lost to the light.
This is not so with my tiny friend, the minimalist slug; his narrow path says so much with so little. What he conceived in darkness, glistens in the light for all to celebrate.
Of course, this is fanciful thinking. I’m imputing more to what this slug is and has done than he ever has ever himself . . . or have I, really? But I will tell you that I have to wonder how many people there are in this world –– how many creatures there are who will never know how much beauty and grace they have brought to others from the hidden riches of their own inner lives, resources they never really knew they themselves had. They discovered them when they were reflected back to them by those people whose lives they had made better because of who they were. I wish I could say thanks to the slug. I guess by writing this, I am.
Think this is too far-fetched? St. Francis didn’t.
Contemplative, Fr. Richard Rohr, writes: “Francis of Assisi is known for his love for animals, but too often the stories become overly romanticized . . . Francis’ respect for animals is far more profound than mere “birdbath Franciscanism” lets on. Everything was a mirror for Francis. What he saw in the natural world, in the sky, in animals, and even plants was a reflection of God’s glory.”
If Francis hadn’t already, I’d op for adding the humble slug to his list.
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.