THE SNAIL – William Cowper (1731-1800)

To grass, or leaf, or fruit, or wall,
The snail sticks close, nor fears to fall,
As if he grew there, house and all

Within that house secure he hides,
When danger imminent betides
Of storm, or other harm besides
                                                Of weather.

Give but his horns the slightest touch,
His self-collecting power is such,
He shrinks into his house, with much

Where’er he dwells, he dwells alone,
Except himself has chattels none,
Well satisfied to be his own
                                                Whole treasure.

Thus, hermit-like, his life he leads,
Nor partner of his banquet needs,
And if he meets one, only feeds
                                                The faster.

Who seeks him must be worse than blind,
(He and his house are so combin’d)
If, finding it, he fails to find
                                                Its master.

This poem came to mind after seeing so many snails moving about the garden and in the streets after our recent rain – a change from coming across empty shells!


These three items caught my eye in the garden.

The feather of a Laughing Dove that floated down to land among some decomposing leaves.

A piece of lichen-covered bark lying on the path next to a ripe Syringa berry.

The empty shell of a snail on the driveway next to the scarlet seed of the Erythrina caffra.


It has been so dry here that the last thing one would expect to find is a snail. Both of these snails are tiny. The first was found on the edge of an outside step.

I like the colours and the patterns of its shell. From a different angle it looks like this.

The next snail is hardly larger than my thumb nail.

This one was on the wall outside our kitchen. I was attracted by its pearly appearance.


Along with chameleons that regularly appeared in our garden when we arrived here over thirty years ago were the most enormous snails the children had ever seen. I write in the past tense for these – along with the glow worms, fire flies and the long earthworms the Hadeda Ibises used to pull from the ground like spaghetti – have disappeared. We cannot say when we last saw them, or noticed their disappearance. It was probably a gradual process that we were unaware of us our children grew up and we were all so busy. The thing is, we haven’t seen any of these creatures in our garden for a very, very long time. How often do we truly appreciate things only once they have left? We take so much of nature for granted.

I recall finding bleached empty shells such as this one in our garden:

It is so long since we used to find large empty snail shells or seen the very large snails that I had practically forgotten about them. That is until I walked along the close-cropped grass of the old golf course recently: apart from trees, aloes and a few bushes, this area looks fairly bleak in terms of things of interest. That is until I spotted a blob out of the corner of my eye and stopped to take a closer look at this:

The Giant African Land Snail one of the largest terrestrial gastropods. They have light to dark brown shells with vertical stripes of a darker shade of brown on them. This colour depends on the prevailing environmental conditions.

The snail has two short tentacles and two long ones that have the eyes.

These snails have a muscular foot that releases a silvery mucous-like substance that helps to reduce friction and protects the tissues of this ‘foot’.

It is useful to know that the Giant African Snail is herbivorous, eating a range of plant material. This leads to them being regarded as a pest in some quarters. I would enjoy seeing one in my garden again.


There are a lot of these empty snail shells in our garden at the moment. I can’t help wondering if the snails have shrivelled and died because of the drought or if the Hadeda Ibises have been particularly adept at eating them.

They are pretty nonetheless, with subtle shading and interesting patterns – definitely worth a second look.