Snail Trails

Close your eyes. No, not really. You can’t read this blog post if your eyes are closed. Merely pretend that your eyes are closed, all the better to imagine. Think of the word “springtime”. What images does it arouse? Perhaps you love the courting of the birds, singing songs of love and tenderness as they flirt and gather twigs for their young. Maybe the heady fragrance of lilac bushes, hyacinths, and freshly mowed grass does it for you. Or is it the return of longer days, the sound of children’s voices in the early evening, blossoms on fruit trees and berry bushes promising a delicious summer? Springtime means all these things to me. This week, it also brings about that most dreaded of occasions—spring cleaning.

Spring cleaning has been around ever since mankind moved indoors. Think of all those unwashed bodies huddled around a smoking fire for months and months of winter. One spring morning long ago when the stench and filth had become completely unbearable, one brilliant cave mother in what is today northern France threw her hands in the air and yelled, “Enough! Spring cleaning begins today!” True story. Research it on Wikipedia if you don’t believe me.

From my home office (roam office, now that my laptop unchains me from my desk), I have an up close and personal view of my family’s cave. On Sunday I threw my hands in the air and nearly echoed my antique predecessor’s words. Being the procrastinator that I am, I altered them somewhat: “Spring cleaning begins tomorrow!” I grabbed a yellow legal pad and began listing everything that is wrong with our house that can be cured with a bucket of water, vacuum cleaner, or weeding tool.

I got to work on Monday after a two-hour cup of coffee with a friend. I didn’t want to seem overeager.

So far, I’ve mopped floors, scubbed tile grout, washed every window in my house, yanked tansy and Himalayan blackberries from my raspberry patch, reorganized cupboards, packed up boxes of old clothing, and wrote another list of everything that is wrong with our house that can be cured by my husband with a hammer, paintbrush, and more muscles than I possess.

Here in the PNW we have one spring cleaning item cave people in other parts of the USA may not list on their yellow legal pads. Our cave neighbors to the north and in other rainy winter locales will be familiar with this super fun chore. Seattle is called the Emerald City because of all the green stuff we grow while most of the nation is blanketed by white. That green stuff is moss and mildew.

In my neighborhood, roofs are dusted white in spring, not winter—with moss killer, not snow. In my neighborhood, the mating calls of flickers, hummingbirds, and finches are drowned out by the growling engines of dozens of pressure washers blasting moss off decks, siding, and driveways. In my neighborhood, cave people haul buckets of bleach and scrub mildew from window sills and deck railings.

This morning I came across a beautiful pattern in the thick green mildew on my railing. It was a lacy impression, one tiny scallop followed by another along the middle of the railing, exposing the creamy white paint beneath. I set down my scrub brush and glanced around my yard, looking for the culprit. (I was distinctly *not* procrastinating—I was still holding the sponge.)

Was it the crow, watching me from the roof? No, the trail was too small and not shaped like crows’ feet. Was it the gray squirrel, frantically digging in my flower bed looking for that blasted hazelnut? No, once again, not shaped like squirrel tracks. It was my cave cat, General, who pointed out the artist responsible for this lacy painting. I watched him playfully paw at something on the ground: an empty snail shell. This pattern in the mildew was caused by a snail. It was a snail trail.

In the middle of a yucky mildew that PNW cave people find so unsightly was a beautiful lacy trail made by a tiny little snail as he munched his way along my railing—immediately before he was then eaten, probably by that crow who still had one beady eye fixed on me. There’s probably a poem in there somewhere, something sweet and deep about finding beauty in little things, the fragility of life, the interconnectedness of humanity and nature.

But I’m no poet. And now I’m procrastinating. I’ve still got a lot of mildew to kill before spring cleaning is done.

Back to the bleach bucket.