Piancavollos’ Traveling Snail

Sign of the "Piancovollo" city limit sign in the Dolomite mountains of North East Italy.

From 2000-2001, I was stationed at Aviano Air Base in North-Eastern Italy, at the base of the Dolomite Mountains. One day I hiked to the top of a nearby mountain named Piancavollo. From the top, you can see miles and miles of farmland, small towns, and the long runway of Aviano Air Base. They say on a good day you can see Venice, an hour’s drive away. From Piancavollo all of civilization is spread out before you in a panorama. It makes you wonder how many people are milling around down there going on about their lives? How many dramas, how many love affairs, how many tragedies, how many criminals? But then again, you know all about what’s going on down there. You live there, somewhere, and you’ll be back before you know it. But from up here it seems so far away as to be surreal, just like how the top of the mountain does from down there.

Arial photo of the city of Piancavollo, looking down from the mountain of the same name

When I first arrived in Italy and saw that mountaintop commanding the horizon I told myself that I had to climb it to be able to say I did it and chalk up one more experience in the story of my life. When I finally got to the top and started looking down at so many places that I hadn’t been yet I started thinking about all the other places around the world that was craving to visit before I die. I didn’t want to look back on my life and say that I didn’t live a vibrant life because I never went to Hawaii, or Moscow, or London, or Key West, or Alaska.

I’m terrified of living a mundane life. Never mind the fact that in the short 22 years of my life I’ve been to Athens, Jerusalem, Cairo, Paris, Rome, Florence, Pisa, Vienna, New York, LA, and Cancun to name a few. But that’s not good enough. I’ve gotta keep moving,

Anyway. So I was standing on this mountain, eye level with the clouds, adding up all the places I needed to visit when my concentration was broken by the thought that I really had to pee. So I scurried over behind some tall rocks and whip it out to do my business when I realized that there was a large snail lying right where I was aiming. So I took a step to the side, and while I was standing there waiting to finish relieving myself occupied my attention by staring at that black and yellow snail.

Look at this little snail. Its life was a total contradiction to my quest for variety. In its entire life, it would never travel more than 20 feet (or something like that). It may never even see another human. It might not even see me right now. It certainly will never notice the vast panorama that’s embracing a hundred miles of varied landscape behind it or understand what’s going on in any of those towns. But do I have the right to say the snail’s life is a tragedy because it won’t see the Eiffel Tower or touch the Wailing Wall?

I won’t ever get to see what a blade of grass four times my height looks like. Surely that snail is getting to see some pretty amazing things down there. But there’s something more important implied by this snail than appreciating the view from a quarter inch above the ground. How many amazing places do you have to go and how many amazing situations do you have to get yourself into before you can say that you lived an amazing life. What if there were more than 7 wonders of the ancient world ever built? What if there was a structure built in every single city on Earth that was worthy of being called a “wonder of the world”? You couldn’t see all of them in one lifetime. So how many do you have to see before you officially lived a vibrant life? How few can you get away with seeing and still say you didn’t live a mundane life?

Taking this idea one step further let’s ask if you really need to see any of these “wonders” at all. Maybe I’m wasting my time and money traveling, and all these adventures that I’m so proud of having have really been distracting me from focusing on something more important. Maybe visiting amazing places is less important than having an amazing personality. Maybe the quality of your environment is determined by the extent that you appreciate it regardless of what or where it is. Maybe it doesn’t matter how many mountains, rivers, or antique buildings you get to see, especially when there’s an entire universe of complex uniqueness in the mind of everyone you pass on your way to see these inanimate buildings and rocks.

Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Whatever the answers I at least figured I could lighten up a little about not getting to visit more famous places. By the time I finished thinking about all this, I had been done peeing for about a minute now and had just been standing there on that mountain exposing myself to a snail and staring into oblivion. So I collected myself mentally (and physically) and started off down the mountain back to my busy, little town where I had plans to do nothing for the rest of the day.

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like these:

My Goals
My Life Stories (in chronological order)
My Art

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