It began with an email.
Free to Good Home: Land Snail and Terrarium
Sep 10, 2019, 10:18 PM
Do you wish you had a pet, but then grad school happened? Do you obsessively collect succulents to fill the need to nurture something, but they seem… too inanimate? Do you want a (super) low-maintenance pet, curious but reserved buddy, or expert debugger? This land snail is all of those things!
Bonus: it’s nocturnal, so it won’t judge you for your sleeping habits.
Bonus for the brave: you can ethically and cheaply source your own snail facial??
TLDR: I ordered one snail online (yes, you can do that!) and they sent me two.
Well, you’ve made it this far. Why don’t you email me and get a free pet? (DON’T hit reply all).
If you are anything like me (you poor soul), you got to the last paragraph of that email and thought to yourself, You know, you’re right; I have made it this far. Maybe I should email them and get a free pet. If you continue to be like me, however, you cannot undertake any new thing without knowing at least some of what you’re getting into. We’re not the kind of person that goes into things blind. (We’re also not the kind of person who responds to the listserv).
At least, I didn’t think we were.
But if, I decided, I was going to even consider offering to take on a stranger’s used snail, I needed the answers to two questions:
1) What do snails eat, anyway? (Answer: most fruits and veg (but not citrus)) and
2) How long is this thing going to be on my hands? (Answer: it depends, but probably three to seven years).
That, I figured, I could handle, and it was at about this point that a dangerous feeling began to swell in my stomach, that sort of mediocre wanderlust that’s not powerful enough to urge you to drop your job and move to Australia, but might be able to convince you to take an unexpected weekend trip to Canada
I decided I was going to get a snail.
Unfortunately for me, snails are a sought-after commodity among students at the School of Information. In the twenty minutes it took me to quickly Google some snail facts, four other lonely souls had emailed our local snailmonger. But, my over-snailed compatriot was quick to assure me, they could send me the website they got their snails from, and since snails really weren’t that expensive, I might just consider buying one of my own.
Consider I did, and I came to the conclusion that I still wanted a snail, however dubious I was of the website’s name: myhappysnails.com. I was not overly concerned by this, though—I assumed that anyone who sells mail-order snails for a living (or even a hobby) is expected to have unique nomenclatural impulses. Over the next week or so, that initial wanderlust feeling morphed into something of a minor obsession, manifesting itself in the slow procurement of necessary items for the aspiring snail owner. I found a terrarium on Amazon, stole a Ziploc bag of potting soil from my parents’ garage, got some ivy to keep my future snail company, and bought a red ceramic ramekin to stop its food from moldering into the soil.
It was time to commit. I choose Caucasotachea vindobonensis, the vineyard snail, a common land snail native to Poland that was among the cheapest ($9.99 + shipping) and the prettiest, with whirling black bands that spiral up its small, gently-ribbed shell.
As anyone who’s ever acquired a pet (or a child) knows, the name one bestows upon their young charge is probably the single greatest decision that person will make all week (or month, during a slow time of the year). After polling friends, relatives, and colleagues, I decided to call my future snail Carl Sagan, simply because I found both the ideas of naming a land snail after an astrophysicist and naming one Carl inexplicably amusing. (Other final contenders included Flannery O’Connor, Karl Barth, and Exsnailibur.)
I made the purchase on a gray Friday afternoon, finally working up the courage to just click that stupid button already, Annaka; it’s only ten dollars anyway. The curious might wonder how one ships a snail through the USPS. The question is easily answered in myhappysnails.com’s terms and conditions, which read, in their entirety, “During the shipping snails are being in hibernation. When you get your snails, just put them in shallow water for 3-5 minutes and they wake up :).”
At least I don’t have to worry about third-party cookies.
Not being a habitual package-tracker, I was surprised to find myself constantly refreshing my email, searching “snail” in my inbox just to make sure the tracking email hadn’t gotten lost in the jumble of automated assignment notifications and listserv clutter that passes for my inbox. It finally did come about four days later, and, with a rush of anticipation, I opened it to discover that my package had been checked into a postal center in… Kiev.
The revelation that my mail-order snail was to be a world traveler should not have been surprising; the clues were all over myhappysnails.com, from the syntactic idiosyncrasies (“They eat almost all fruit and vegetables from the human ration.”) to the fact that they sold giant African land snails ($49.99 + shipping), which are illegal to own in the United States on account of their Exodus-like tendency to devour entire fields.
So my mail-order snail was to be Eastern European. (Pause for jokes.) Further complicating matters was the fact that I was scheduled to head to Traverse City that weekend for an extended research trip and would be staying at my grandparents’ cottage, located in the middle of Absolute Nowhere, Michigan, where WiFi is but a distant memory, for the next six days.
Well, I figured, my snail won’t care whether it awakens Up North™ or in Ann Arbor as long as I bring along my terrarium and some fruit or vegetables from the human ration. So I stopped at the post office on my way out of town and left carrying a small brown package about as long as my hand and covered in paper stickers. The greenish-blue customs label wrapping the box’s side declared it to contain сувениры—souvenirs—which, I suppose, could be accurate. My snail left Ukraine around the same time the American collective consciousness arrived there. (Someone did suggest naming it Volodymyr.)
As I drove toward Michigan’s fingertips, meandering through Ithaca’s garden of windmills and singing Lord Huron, I’d look down at the little package secured snuggly on my passenger seat and smile. I tried not to be perturbed by the somewhat musty odor that caught my nose now and then. myhappysnails.com had assured me: “There is no smell in the place where snails live in.”
Maybe not, but there was definitely the smell of something in my car. Being a master of creatively-applied denial, I chalked it up to mail-order snail shipping norms, which were probably too arcane for me to understand and involve including some dirt or edibles just in case of premature awakening. Yeah. That was it.
As soon as I arrived at my destination, I filled one of the cottage’s shallow plates with warm water (sorry, Grandma), unsure how warm was warm enough to de-hibernate a Polish snail. Not wanting to accidentally escargotify my new pet, I decided to go with water that steamed when it came out of the faucet but wasn’t too hot to hold my hand under. That done, I picked up a pair of scissors and carefully, nervously, excitedly, slit apart the packing tape holding the brown box closed.
Carl Sagan lay inside, wedged into the corner of a box filled with gauze-like styrofoam. His bundle was smaller than I expected, only about the size of a nickel and far too small for the package that had borne it out from the former Soviet Union. Far too small, I realized, for the mounds of stuffing that held him against the side of the box. Mounds of stuffing, I now saw, that were not simply there to secure Carl Sagan in his cross-Atlantic voyage.
I picked another one up. I unrolled it and watched, with a growing sense of mirth and panic married, as three additional Caucasotachea vindobonensis fell into my hand. It took me a while to notice that, under messy customs-label handwriting—сувениры souvenirs—was an additional line of text, set apart by demure parenthesis: (10 pcs.)
That was a lie, by the way. I finished unpacking the box, sorting its contents into an uneven pile of packing material and a line of sixteen nearly-identical, unmoving mollusks. I understood, very suddenly and very empirically, how my classmate had ended up with a surplus of snails.
I just didn’t understand was what I was going to do about mine.