This post is probably going to be a little bit different than some of my previous posts, and if you’re at all squeamish about things soft and slimy, it is possible you should skip this post altogether. My subject matter may not lend itself to flowery descriptions and yet, didn’t Ray Stevens say it in his song?
“Everything is beautiful, in it’s own way….”
I admit it. I’m strange. I often spend time observing things that would probably at the very least bore, if not outright disgust a lot of people, but the world of wild things is endlessly fascinating to me. Not just the large lovely features, plants and creatures but also the smaller, not-so-pretty realities, the life forms sharing our world that might be seen by some as unattractive.
Take for instance the uniquely large slugs of the pacific northwest. The banana slug, my favorite, is a part of a group of gastropod molluscs without shells. Since the first time I saw one of these grand beauties, stretched out to at least 6 inches, cruising along on its mucus highway like a long glistening dollop of butterscotch pudding dropped on the grass at my feet, I continue to enjoy a pause now and then to watch or photograph them. Even after thirteen years of living on the Washington coast, they still thrill me, something that friends enjoy teasing me about. These slow movers come in a variety of colors, ranging from yellowish brown with no spots, to golds and tans, often covered by random patterns of black spots – like an over-ripe banana.
One day I took my camera and spent well over an hour laying on the ground, crawling around, following a slug along the forest floor, just to see where it went and what it did. But before I continue the story, there are some important details to share. Slugs are considered simultaneous hermaphrodites, which means they have both male and female sexual organs. To call the slug “it”, seems impersonal, so for the purposes of my story, I will refer to the slug as “he”.
It was early morning at the mossy base of a small cedar tree. The slug caught my attention because he was stretched full out, slipping along at what may have been his top speed, 6.5 inches an hour according to my research. I watched him move slowly and smoothly around the base of the tree, over moss, sticks and exposed roots, through a constant scattering of pine needles, some dead, some freshly fallen. As he moved, more and more needles and bits of leaf matter began to get stuck in the slime he was leaving beneath his back end, clinging to him and dragging along behind him like an orange-green bouquet.
Suddenly (well, as suddenly as a slug can move) he looped around, turned his face toward his back end. Go ahead and laugh, but I was riveted. What would he do? Eat the needles? Bite them off?
It turns out that slugs eat with a part of their body called a radula, which is a grasping organ complete with small tooth-like protrusions called denticles. I watched my subject grasp several times at the cluster of needles stuck to his hind end until finally he had them completely cleaned off.
With his tail free of debris, he continued on his way, unburdened. At that point I decided that an hour and a half was long enough to hover over him so I thanked him for slowing me down for awhile, wished him a long life (slugs live about 7 years) and bid him farewell, noting that it is actually a very lovely world from a slug’s eye view.
Mossy whispers: Slow down for an hour. Get rid of the excess that drags you down. Look beyond what you’re used to seeing. There are a million kingdoms conducting business at your feet all the time. With patience you can witness miracles.