Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the July 10, 2005 Newsletter issued from the Sierra Nevada foothills somewhat east of Placerville, California, USA

About an hour later I was in a deep valley with steep slopes all around, next to a perfect little stream with a rocky bottom and cascades of frilly ferns along its bank. Here's where I'd spend the rest of the day wading upstream and down, turning over rocks and snooping in all the deeper pools. Off came my shoes and socks and... boy that water was cold!

In about ten minutes I had an ice-cream headache all over my body and my toes were so stiff they kept ramming into rocks. I hadn't expected this. Nowadays afternoon temperatures here nearly always get into the 90s, often above 100 in the Valley below. Later in the day when I was higher in elevation and the temperature was 87 I stuck my finger into the soil beneath a pine casting a heavy shadow and was amazed at how cold the soil was. I just need to keep telling myself I'm not in Mississippi anymore.

Making my way back to the backpack my feet were so numb I had to hold onto streamside trees to keep my balance. On a certain little alder's trunk I managed to place my hand right onto a very thought-provoking gob of spongy slime. I'd grabbed enough slugs in my life to know exactly what I had.

Earlier in the season when it still rained occasionally you'd often see six-inch-long, olive- green to brown slugs moving along the forest floor, but they'd disappeared lately and I'd figured they were now balled up in well protected underground slime cocoons. I suppose this little valley was so well protected from the sun and wind that slug season is longer here.

During my European years, especially in rainy little Belgium, big, colorful slugs were a major, inescapable feature of daily life. Sometimes it was hard to walk down our little country road without smashing them, and I just gave up planting lettuce. Here slugs are uncommon enough to want to look at them when they appear. Also, we have so few slug species that my books gave me this slug's name. It was ARIOLIMAX COLUMBIANUS, yellow forms of which are often called Banana Slugs, and you can see one at http://bayimages.net/animals/snails/i4343.html

As the above picture shows, a nice feature of this big slug is that the bottom fringe of its ample foot is ornamented with a narrow band of slender, alternating dark and light, vertical stripes. The effect is elegant, and I couldn't look at it without the usual thought: That the Creator always goes far beyond designing us living things with mere functionality in mind. Every organism I've ever seen, including us humans, has "something extra" about it that's particularly pleasing to the eye.

Undeniably, the Creator does Her work with a flair, and the implications of that are something I think about a lot.