Friday, May 3, 2019

Snail Eyes and Richard Maxfield

Yesterday evening, just as I was coming home from work, we had some rain -- real rain, not just misty dampness. It's been weeks since we've experienced rain like that, and Dave and I were happy to have it. After I got home we stood at the back door and listened to it falling in the garden. I imagined all the plants sighing.

Within half an hour, the snails were out and about.

I was going to caption this, "a face only a mother could love" -- but its mother probably laid thousands of eggs and never met any of her children, much less loved them. It's lonely being a snail mom.

Here's what I discovered yesterday about snails: Looking closely at those little eye stalks, which seem so ineffective, I couldn't help wondering if they could really see much. Well, it turns out that some of their eyes (depending on the species) have lenses, so not only can they see, but they can see images and objects, as opposed to just light and dark. Apparently they can't focus, though, and they don't see colors.

Don't say you never learned anything from my blog.

Of course I read up on snail eyes via Google. Here's something else, on a completely unrelated topic, that I discovered via the miracle of the Interwebs:

I've written in the past about my appreciation for the poet Diane Wakoski. For many years I've had a book of Wakoski's containing a poem called "The Story of Richard Maxfield." Maxfield was a composer of experimental electronic music in the '50s and '60s who committed suicide in 1969. Wakoski wrote a few years later about his life, his death and his music, particularly a piece called "Cough Music" made up of the sounds of people coughing at concerts.

It's been almost 35 years since I first read her poem, and I've always wondered about "Cough Music." Of course, hearing a Richard Maxfield piece decades ago was no easy matter. But it recently occurred to me to look online and see if "Cough Music" was available. Et voila!

It sounds nothing like I thought it would. In fact, it doesn't even really sound like coughing -- more like a recording of seals barking in a storm drain, played backwards. (I think there's a lot of tape distortion -- Maxfield's "Night Music" is much clearer and more interesting.) But I never imagined I'd be able to hear "Cough Music" at all, and even though I wouldn't say I'm a fan, thanks to the Interwebs for satisfying my curiosity!


  1. Where would we be without slugs and snails!!...knee deep in what they consume...
    They are fascinating to observe, even if they can wipe out small plants

  2. You should check out the beautiful little book, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. You'll never look at a snail in the same way again. :)

  3. We don't have that many snails here. But, as you know, we have everything else.
    I know that feeling of almost being able to hear the plants sigh in relief. They keep forecasting rain here but we just get drips and dribbles. I want a good rain. A real rain.
    It'll happen eventually.

  4. Yes, when An idea hits the brain just hit the internet and you find more than you need to know.

  5. I might not ever eat escargot again! That's okay, I've only had them twice anyway and it was actually the garlic butter I really liked.

    I did some internet research yesterday too. I saw a photo on instagram of the Parliament area of London from the air. In the photo, I could see a row of buildings that were all alike and looked like they had stripes. So I started searching between Google maps and searches for buildings on the map. I finally found them. They are on Page street and the buildings are designed in a checkerboard pattern by someone called Sir Edwin Lutyens. I made a note of the address so the next time I'm exploring London, I can find them.
    I was pretty happy I found them. Such a feeling of accomplishment.

  6. I was going to do a post about snails too! Ah spring, they do bring out those little shelled beasties. We went out one morning and found more than 50 snails on one of our succulents out front. We couldn't believe the number. We gathered them up and put them in the yard of the abandoned house next door to us. Live and let live, but don't come back!

  7. That's the way the escargot. (You have to say this aloud.)

  8. I know some people may think I'm strange but I have actually laid down in the garden and really studied slugs and snails and they are fascinating, just a shame that they eat our flowers.
    As for the
    "Cough Music" I must tell Tom, lol. His complaint has given him a horrible cough and it would be nice to know that it might be put to good use, lol

  9. Richard Maxfield must have been as mad as a hatter. His Cough Music is dreadful. He should have sucked on a handful of cough lozenges.

  10. Do you know much about snails in Florida? I've seen them here on the side of my building sometimes. This post has inspired me to find out more. I had an album of early electronic music in the early seventies...No idea whatever happened to it. I was about twelve and I remember a lot of synthesizers...

  11. That's an amazing close up of the snail. We only get snails at the shore, I think. I've never seen one inland. Lots of slugs, though - homeless snails :D

  12. GZ: I actually sort of like them. They ARE fascinating. As you said, I wish they'd just stay away from certain plants!

    Jennifer: I'll try to find it! I've never heard of it!

    Ms Moon: Yeah, you really DO have everything else. LOL!

    Red: It's easy to go down a rabbit hole, isn't it? Pretty soon you're reading about things you never expected to be researching.

    Sharon: Your comment sent me looking for Page Street on Google Maps. I found those buildings -- bizarre! I don't think I've ever been down that street but I may need to go check it out!

    Robin: FIFTY snails?! That's insane. Mother snail must have laid her eggs on or near your plant!

    Catalyst: LOL. You ARE an escargot lover. You ever know escargot jokes!

    Briony: They ARE fascinating. My method of dealing with them is just to keep them off our plants as best I can. When I find them, I move them to a remote corner of the garden where things are a bit more wild and they can munch in peace. (Or I just let them go on their merry way, which is what I did with this snail. As long as it's on the wall it doesn't bother me.)

    YP: I think he WAS probably pretty mad.

    E: Synthesizers were the thing back then! Florida doesn't have the same type of garden snails that we do here. (Why, I don't know, because it seems like they'd prosper in Florida. Maybe it's too hot.) I remember seeing snails in Florida but of all the possible garden pests there, I don't remember them being a huge problem.

    Jenny-O: Poor slugs! I'm surprised slugs survive in Canada's climate. Seems like it would be awfully cold for them.

  13. Oh! Wonderful: "Cough Music" made me LOL---I will never hear anyone cough in a concert again without thinking of it! Thanks.
    And even better was Diane Wakoski's poem, which I had never read--the two (music & poem) make a great tag-team--as touching as snail's little delicate eyes looking at us.
    I like how she describes him--not mad, but,
    ..."Brilliant and well organized,
    And then he fell apart."