Tonight is a sad, sad night at the Lyan house. Cloyd has died. Cloyd was a giant African land snail, and probably the most famous and unusual of our small, strange clan. I want to jump in quick, and before you say to yourself “fuck this, if the whole post is a eulogy for a sodding snail then I’m out”, well, just hear me out, will you? If you had told me two years ago that I’d be crying over a snail I would have thought that was diabolical. But, here we are, weeping on the bed; clutching a shell.
When Ryan and I first met, and he explained the tank in the corner housed his snail, I nearly broke things off on the spot. Who the hell has a pet snail? It’s like your date admitting they collect stamps or have a fondness for corned beef. There’s just no coming back from that. But once I’d met Cloyd and held that small body in my hands, things were different. Cloyd was giant, and there was something otherworldly about the way they unfurled from the shell, something mesmerising about the slow, blinking movements. Have you ever really looked at the way a snail moves? I’m sure you’ve stepped on one accidentally, but have you picked one up by the shell and watch them curl? The assured way they choose their path, their seeming anxiety when they encounter something new. Did you know snails continue to grow for their whole lives? What a wonderful power to yield.My parents grew up in places where animals are wild and kept out of the house, and so we never had any growing up. These days I take issue with the whole notion of a pet. Honestly, I never thought of Cloyd in that way. Cloyd was more like a rescue animal who lived alongside us. Really, Cloyd had nowhere else to go – it’s illegal to release GALS into the wild. Rather than leave the poor creature to certain death, various humans housed this stray, eventually ending up here with me. Cloyd was a lively roommate. You can prescribe emotions onto animals and their behaviour, and most people anthropomorphise the animals they know. I have known many dogs and cats that seemed to have distinct behavioural patterns – until I learned better. What of snails? We know so little about them that we just have to observe.
Unlike the gecko and the snake, who sit silently in their tanks, Cloyd would pick things up and move things around. There was the weird scraping sound of the flowerpot around the tank, the clunk of the shell against the plastic wall. It used to piss Ryan off: he would diligently empty out Cloyd’s tank, cleaning everything and redecorating, only for Cloyd to barge back in and tip over the flowerpot or upend the water bowl. I’d be going to sleep and hear these odd, disjointed sounds. “Oh, it’s just Cloyd”, Ryan would say, as though resigned to this poltergeist-like soundtrack. The odd cost of living alongside a snail.
Cloyd was rescued as a juvenile and reached the old age of 11-12. Cloyd had a pretty eventful life, including moving house multiple times and going on holiday to my parents (my Mum build a snail obstacle course and fed Cloyd with food from Waitrose). Cloyd attended a gig and a recording session, featured in a music video, and had an instagram account. In recent years, Cloyd grew plants and vegetables (including a now huge tomato plant, and a courgette plant). To our knowledge, this is not normal snail behaviour, but there are so few studies into typical snail behaviour that we don’t really know. Perhaps they would all grow plants if given the opportunity, living off the land in some kind of self-sufficient snail utopia. It was strange, really. Snails are simple creatures, and yet despite possessing only a primitive brain, Cloyd seemed to know it was a plant. The sprout was housed in a flower pot which Cloyd religiously dragged to the water bowl. After drenching the pot, Cloyd would replace it on the sunny side of the tank. Ordinarily, Cloyd smushed down bits of earth or grass, but this one was left alone to grow. After that first success, Cloyd did the same thing with new plants. Was it a coincidence? We didn’t realise there was a seed until it grew so tall it reached out of the pot and towards the light.Over time, I became affectionate towards Cloyd; it was hard not to. I introduced all our visitors to Cloyd, extolling the virtues of snails. Snails make great companions! They need rescuing; they don’t wreck the environment like cats do! Snails are very cheap to look after! Cloyd ate offcuts of vegetables; bits of potatoes and carrots that would have gone in the compost otherwise. Of course, there were occasional treats – even vegans tire of vegetables occasionally. Cloyd loved rocket, dandelions and berries. Have you ever seen a snail faceplant a raspberry? I have. Cloyd and Ryan started an instagram account – @thingsonasnail. It turned out Cloyd was excellent at balancing things; sunglasses, condoms, a facemask, even a full can of beer. Ryan and I got jealous when Cloyd got more likes than we did.
Cloyd made me rethink my stance on insects. As a vegan and an animal lover, I’d never been comfortable with the killing of insects (fly swatters, slug repeller) and I suppose I appreciated them on a general level. But Cloyd made me think harder, made me stoop to move every passing snail off the floor. How sad it seems to find a crushed shell out in the rain these days. Did you know that without snails, we would not have soil? The very earth that gives this planet its name? Cloyd showed me that even the most easily dismissed animals can be treated with care, admiration and respect. The use of slug and snail pellets, whilst never something I supported, seems abhorrent now. All those potential friends! I scan the pavements when they get wet, searching for trails of silver. Cousins of Cloyd who need assistance crossing the road, finding safety from clumsy human feet.
Cloyd taught me to be better with pronouns; this sounds crackers I know, but it’s true. I first knew Cloyd as a “he” but one short google showed us that snails are always “they”. The rest of our time together was spent with me constantly correcting myself (and later, indignantly, others) when they misgendered our shelled friend. If I acknowledged Cloyd enough to use a name (as opposed to “it”), then surely I could extend this respect to using the correct pronoun. Snails are hermaphrodites, and they are capable of asexual reproduction. Cloyd once produced a single egg, but it didn’t hatch and we jokingly referred to this incident as Cloyd “experimenting with gender”. It was shortly after this that Cloyd began gardening. Take from that what you will.
Eventually, Cloyd inspired us to grow our own food. Cloyd lives on in our garden of vegetables. Alongside the tomatoes and courgettes that came from the tank, we have peppers, corn, potatoes, garlic, herbs, blueberries, and (Cloyd’s favourite), strawberries. It seems incredibly sad that the tomato plant that came from Cloyd’s tank is currently producing fruit that Cloyd will never taste. We’ll taste them instead, and say an inner silent thanks.
I could go on, but I won’t, as I imagine I have lost most of you already. Those of you still reading are likely stifling laughter at every word, even though I always turn to words to console me in my grief. You may be thinking all this death has addled my reactions; why else would I recall a simple snail so? Perhaps it seems distasteful to eulogise Cloyd in the same way I have mourned my lost human friends on this blog. I’d argue that it doesn’t diminish those people to treat Cloyd with the same respect; instead, it elevates Cloyd.
One last thought. It’s a beautiful and profound thing when somebody enters your life and really gives you pause to reflect on the way you think. It is surely even more remarkable when that somebody is a snail. And so, RIP Cloyd. May your legacy live on and your tomatoes grow abundantly. I hope you know that as snails go, you were a great one. X