Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Ode to a lowly garden snail

On a morning walk, I almost missed seeing a small garden snail crawling across a paved road.

            Garden snails don’t belong on pavement. They’re too vulnerable. They carry a shell with them, but it’s no more protective than an eggshell. A car tire, or my foot, would crush it instantly.

            I took a break to watch the little creature.

            Its body was almost translucent. Its front end kept reaching forward; its hind end hung back, until it had to let go and suck itself back underneath that shell.

            I wondered how the hind end felt about being dragged along to an unknown destination. Did it scream, “Whoa! Stop! Where are you taking me? I don’t want to go there!”

            And did the front end, in fact, know where it was going? Can a snail possibly know in advance that lush green dewy grass lies on the far side of a paved road?

            Does a snail have a destination in mind when it sets out for a morning slither?

            The snail could see, certainly. It had eyes, on the ends of two stalks which, like the rest of its body, could be instantly retracted in case of danger.

            But what do those eyes actually see?

            They didn’t seem to see me stooping to watch, for example. They didn’t retract in alarm when they encountered my shoe.


Left- or right-handed

            In my fascination with the snail’s mental processes, I failed to note whether this particular snail’s shell was left- or right-handed.

            Snails don’t have hands, of course. But their shells curl either to the right or to the left -- clockwise or counterclockwise. Only a few snails -- about the same proportion as left-handed humans, interestingly -- have left-handed shells. As a leftie myself, I should have paid attention, to see if this snail was one of us or one of them.

            Whichever it was, that snail had no choice. Its right- or left-curled shell was determined by random code in its parents’ chromosomes.

            Like my own left-handedness. Or, as we seem to be learning, about human sexual identities.

            Being a left-handed human doesn’t affect my ability to have offspring. Being a left-handed snail does. Left-handed snails cannot copulate with right-handed snails -- their shells clash.

            The spiral of that shell conforms to the Fibonacci sequence made famous by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code. Numerically, it goes 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 -- each number being the sum of the two previous numbers. The Fibonacci sequence appears not just in snail shells, but in pine cones, rose petals, sunflowers, even the proportions of the Parthenon on Acropolis hill in Athens.

            The progression produces an irrational number, 1.61803…, that the ancient Greeks considered the perfect ratio of length to width in any rectangle.

            Who would have guessed that snails knew higher mathematics?

            I left the snail to its slow journey, wondering about my own. Over the years, I’ve changed my ideas about many things -- God, life, success, meaning, purpose…  Did I have a clear destination in mind? Or did I just know I had to move on, to something, somewhere, which would reveal itself when I got to it?

            Maybe I’m more like that snail than I like to admit.


Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.

                  To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca





Okay, everyone has dreams. They don’t necessarily match mine -- especially about a wild boar attacking me, in last week’s column.


Tom Watson hasn’t had awild boar dream -- “yet. Generally, it's either 3 or 4 tough guys closing in on me, or I'm about to go into the pulpit and discover I don't have any pants on. If you can figure out that boar thing you could help me work on my dreams.”


Steve Roney had the wild boar thing worked out: it was “the same as the lion Samson fought, and the Nemean lion which was the first labour of Hercules. In northern climes, he often appears as a wolf or a boar. It was a boar which Sir Lancelot fought, like you. He is also the angel with which Jacob struggled. He is the imaginative embodiment of the individual conscience.

            “If you run from him, you are shirking your moral responsibilities. If you stand and fight, you are taking responsibility for your acts. And if you defeat him, you are given, like Jacob, God’s blessing.

            “National Geographicfollows Freud and Jung in saying that dreaming is the mind pursuing its own will. But this is actually nonsensical. The mind has a mind of its own, independent of the mind? [Consider] the implicit infinite regression: the mind of the mind presumably then also has a mind, which has a mind, which has a mind of its own, which has a mind…”


Laurna Tallman sent a long and insightful letter about dreaming. In part she noted, “a dream may be composed of a prevailing distress strongly coloured by the emotions of the right-brain. The sensations may be strong enough viscerally to rouse the left-brain. Sometimes the left-brain intervenes in the dream to change it or to stop it.

            “Dreams occur close to the state of wakeful consciousness; therefore, a dream may be exactly like a waking vision or prophecy of which there are many Biblical accounts. In that quiescent state where normal time sense is suspended, people gain glimpses of what we call ‘the future.’ Thus, Joseph knew he was to accept Mary and he also knew he must take his little family to the Jewish colony in Egypt…

            “In a similar fashion, metaphorical images and words will come to a person -- visions and prophecies, as they are called -- that solve a problem, make a statement, provide teaching, carry inspiration, reveal some important truth about another person or situation, or reveal a healing.

            “These experiences were the stock in trade of the Old Testament prophets, of Jesus and his disciples, and were received or revealed in vast numbers of his followers. But they are not exclusive to Jews and Christians. Accounts of dreams with genuine import and meaning for the waking world are part of primitive and complex societies….”


John Finlay offered reassurance: “I have yet to find your musings boring; often ‘boreing’ as you challenge me to dig deeper in thought!

            “Harold Mozak, one of the chief practitioners/proponents of [Adler’s thought] had a neat description of how we approach new and different ideas/philosophies/perspectives. Each unique viewpoint is like a pair of glasses. We try on the glasses to determine if they will bring the ‘world’ into a clearer or sharper focus. Adlerian thought did that for me.

            “Adler postulated that dreams are ‘effort stress’ -- they indicate our attempts to deal with issues or circumstances which we think may lie in our future. There is no way I will attempt any sort of speculation about the boar or the thicket or anything else in your dream. Besides my spectacles may be totally wrong for you.I think we keep fine-tuning the prescription of our glasses as part of our life-long learning.”


John also asked for clarification of Peter Rabbit vs Br’er Rabbit. Br’er Rabbit appeared in the Uncle Remus stories of the American South; Peter Rabbit comes from Beatrix Potter’s stories for British children.


Bob Rollwagen found a political connection: “Lots of issues need to be attacked. Sometimes dreams are like a private room where current knowledge or awareness comes together and a plan of action or vision results. When I listen to current debate about social issues in my neighborhood, I wonder whether anyone was really listening or even awake during the last provincial election. They are getting what the leader they voted for promised, and nothing they had hoped for. What a dream they must have been in!”


So did Isabel Gibson: “Funny that you should be writing about dreams and making the link to Martin Luther King Jr. I've been wondering why none of our current crop of politicians want to talk about their dreams for the country, instead of what's ‘Catastrophically Wrong’ with those other guys. Why none try to galvanize us with a vision of what we could be/do.

            “It's enough to give me nightmares.”


James Russell: “I suspect that dreams are just disturbances echoing along the various links between brain cells as the cells are washed down at night.(Cleaning up after the day’s work seems to take a lot of energy and may be one of the big reasons why we sleep.)

            “If so, the significance is not in the sleeper’s dream, but in the sleeper’s interpretation.  So, what vicious boar/bore has borne you such ill feelings of late?”


Sharon Adams reminded me that in the Chinese calendar, 2019 is“The Year of the Boar.”






Psalm 85, like so much of what we call the Old Testament, treats God as an external engineer or puppeteer, running the natural world. I’m not sure that someone has to be running things -- sometimes merely surviving is cause for celebration.


1          I am truly fortunate.

2          I made mistakes, but you did not penalize me for them.

8          I believe in you again.
In the depths of the storm, I doubted you.
I doubted me.
I doubted everything.
I despaired.
I thought I would die.

9          But you didn’t destroy me, in spite of my stupidity.

10        The storm is over now.

11        Clear skies stretch ahead of me;
warm winds press me on, like a helping hand in the small of my back.

12        Indeed, you are good to me.
One day like this makes my former misery tolerable.

13        Thank you, God.
I am no longer at the mercy of the elements.
I can set a safe course to my destination,
following your directions.


For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com.






If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, jimt@quixotic.ca.

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                  I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, jimt@quixotic.ca, or send a note to sharpedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

                  And for those of you who like poetry, I’ve recently posted another poem (about the prairies) on my webpage .https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca,  or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca(If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)






To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have been blocking my posts because they’re suspicious of some of web links.

                  Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8

                  Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The original website has been closed down, but you can still order the DVD set through Wood Lake Publications, info@woodlake,com

                  Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTcaHe’s also relatively inexpensive!

                  I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos.

                  Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet



                  I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge.


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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Snails, Fibonacci, left-handed



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