My five-year-old grandson spent several days in Vermont last June. He and his sister, who live in Philadelphia, rejoiced in their contacts with the local wild life: “Look, a butterfly! And here\’s another one! They\’re all white, and they\’re flying around the broccoli!”
Even though it rained every day while they were here, we filled up the kiddie pool and let them splash around in it. But the biggest thrill came next morning, when the kids discovered that a dozen tiny frogs had colonized the pool overnight.
The age-old human instinct to make pets out of wild animals expressed itself strongly in my grandchildren. Fortunately, the frogs were too difficult to catch, let alone bring inside. Snails made for slower prey, however, and my grandson put one in a jar and provisioned it with garden greens and placed it on the dining room table where he could keep an eye on it for as long as he was here.
Last week, as his mother was buying him snow boots for the Christmas trip to Vermont he said, “I hope they\’ve taken good care of my snail. I can\’t wait to see it.”
Sweet, no? And sad. And it puts me in a quandary. I can tell him, in good faith, that his frog friends are in hibernation and will be ready to greet him and his sister again next summer. But the snails….I don\’t know how close to the equator a snail has to be to survive year-round, but in these latitudes, anything as soft and slimy as a snail is dead and gone well before Halloween, at best leaving fertile eggs in some well-protected spot to hatch out in the late spring.
Do I sit this child by the fire and hand him a cookie and tell him this biologically correct tale of perished snails and Nature red in tooth and claw? Or do I spin him some kindly story of his snail snoozing away the winter (like frogs, like bears) waiting for summer so it can play with him in the rain-soaked garden all over again?
Please advise. He\’ll be here on Tuesday.