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By Andi C. Buchanan in Issue Seven, November 2022

snailsforleni: discovered this group of Cavellia brouni in leaf litter in Khandallah park after a rainy week. Like to think they’re a family, looking out for each other. Love the markings on their pale shells. Fingertip included for scale; like most New Zealand land snails they’re much smaller than people think.

#snails #snailsofinstagram #cavellia #cavellia-brouni #molluscs #khandallah #wellington #parks #native-wildlife


When I get back to Davey and Taylor’s house, I rinse the mud and leaf litter from my shoes on the outside tap and shake out my clothes. It’s a new build on one of the developments near Johnsonville; there’s not only a spare bedroom for me, but an ensuite bathroom too. Everything is beige and cream, with only a few strategic splashes of colour. There’s ducted aircon and solar panels on the roof, and every moment I’m here I’m terrified I’m going to damage something.

They say hosting me is easy, and I should stick around longer, but I’ve told them I’ll be out next week. They say they have plenty of space and it’s nice to have company; I only see the thousands of ways I could destroy their perfect world.

I can’t live with that kind of anxiety. Besides, I’d rather have this as a place to come back to in a true emergency.

They were told, when they bought it off the plans, it would have a sea view. If you go to the upstairs games room and crane your neck to the right of the window, you can see it angry and grey, sloshing across the harbour, breaking waves against the sea walls, and houses long since abandoned.


snailsforleni: Potamopyrgus antipodum found in Otari-Wilton's Bush, just on the edge of the stream. These are mud snails - I like how their shells spiral upwards - I’m used to introduced species, but these are a New Zealand native that has spread to Australia and Europe.

#snails #snailsofinstagram #potamopyrgusantipodum #nativesnails #molluscs #otari-wiltons #wilton #wellington #nativewildlife #worlddomination


It rains heavy every night for a month, flash floods erupting around the city. But in patches of dryness I find snail after snail, documenting them all for my account, building up followers. I’ve sublet a room from a friend of a friend while she’s visiting family in Korea. It’s a poorly maintained student flat, but it gives me a month of stability and it’s dry.

We’ve been having the heaviest rains on record for four years now, and the longest periods of drought for at least ten. Each turn of the seasons breaks new records. Bush fires break and crackle on the hills in summer, despite the warnings. The city clouds are heavy with smoke.

Perhaps it’s this growing sense of doom that means people are focusing on documenting nature, even urban nature - insofar as our hilly harbour city, where you can always bump into someone you know in the street, counts as urban. A few months ago I could expect a couple of likes for my pictures. Now? Well, I’m not exactly an influencer or anything, but there is a pretty keen following.

I get comments, sometimes, asking who Leni is. I say she was my grandmother, which is true, and that she taught me to care about nature, which is also true. When we were little she’d send Leo and me out into the garden and then the stream and the bush beyond, setting us a challenge: five different snails, a native bird, plants in every colour of the rainbow. Sure, it was a chance to get a few minutes’ peace with a coffee or a glass of wine. But she took a genuine interest in the photos we brought back, on an old phone with no simcard and the wifi disabled, and in helping us to identify the species. I remember the snails best because, even though Leo was better than me at most things I was better at finding snails. At spotting their camouflage among scrub, at knowing what piles of damp leaf litter to carefully search.

I don’t tell them that she had been the mum our mother never could be, and that even though I’ll be thirty next summer, I still would give anything for a mother who knew how to be a mum.

I don’t tell them that I don’t know what my grandmother would think of me if she was still alive, whether she’d even speak to me. I know, though, that she’d be angry about how things had turned out: at how the house her parents had built began to flood every year, then became uninsurable and then unsaleable; how we had no choice but to demolish it and sell the land for a pittance.

It would have been no comfort to her to know she was far from alone.


snailsforleni: Empty Physa acuta shell. I like the shape of these for how elongated the wider part of the shell is, and then this little spiral at the top. I assume that’s why it’s also called the left-handed pond snail, rather than anything to do with how it holds a pen. Found in the Kaiwharawhara stream. Thought about taking it with me but I don’t have space for a collection at the moment.

#snails #snailsofinstagram #freshwater-snails #kaiwharawhara-stream #wellington #wellington-waterways #physa-acuta #streams


You’d think that the more photos I take the better at them I’d become. I do think that happened at the beginning, for maybe the first couple of dozen. But lately, getting a good image has been so hard for me. It’s as if all my most basic senses of size and perception and focus and composition… they’re just gone.

It’s not just in photos. I misjudge distances. I’m clumsy, falling all the time. I probably just have a virus. Or I need to try the antidepressants again. This winter is proving long and cold, and maybe it’s getting me down.

I don’t read the news apps any more. All those thinkpieces about how we shouldn’t be letting in so many climate refugees when we have so many homeless people here. Well, those people haven’t been me, and they don’t speak for me. I don’t see them giving up their second homes. I don’t see them giving up on their quarter-acre-section dreams and supporting sustainable apartments with parks and roof gardens and communal spaces and solar energy.

I don’t have a home, but I still have these hills to wander. In the Pacific, whole islands are gone, sunk below the waves forever, or so salt-logged little can grow.


snailsforleni: Just some regular garden snails, found on a frosty early morning walk in Wadestown. I know they’re considered a pest but I like them anyway. Snail fact: they have something in their blood that’s basically snail-WD40 and stops their internal organs from freezing up.

#snailsofinstagram #snails #wellington #snailfacts #gardensnails #wadestown #snail-blood #antifreeze-for-molluscs #friendly-pests


It seems to me that photography is as much about what you leave out as what you put in. How you frame the photo, angling round to avoid the recycling strewn across the street in the background, or strategically including the graffiti others would cut, because it’s part of the atmosphere.

People wanting to make a bit of a mark on a city that they’ve given up hope of ever owning their piece of.

It’s the same with the captions I post with my Instagram photos. I don’t say that I’ve been walking all night. I don’t say that it’s been over a year since I had a home. I don’t say that even though I’ve been wearing polyprop and gloves and have a good coat, I’m still frozen to the bone after being out all night.

No one wants to hear that shit.

I’ve been getting by as best I can. A fortnight on a friend’s couch here, a couple of months in a sublet there, clusters of nights in the only hostel that will still take locals stringing them all together. Some days in warmer weather I sleep in a park or take a borrowed tent into one of the regional parks; other times I walk all night with my backpack or doze in the library during the day.

I’m not without friends; there’s always someone to store my stuff, and someone to use as an address so I can still get the benefit, even when they don’t have space for me to crash. But I find myself growing increasingly distant from them, falling out of touch. I always move on long before I’ve outstayed my welcome, wanting to spare them the awkwardness more than I want to spare myself.

I don’t tell any of them about my Instagram account, anyway. I’m not sure why. It’s only snails after all.


snailsforleni: Georissa purchasi. Tiny, and perfect, and how great a name is Georissa? If I had a daughter - unlikely! - I’d totally call her Georissa.

#snailsofinstagram #snails #wellington #snails-on-rocks #karori #tiny-snails


It’s quite a lazy metaphor, to use the beginning of spring as a jumping-off point for hope or new beginnings or shit like that. But I don’t think I have much originality left in me at this point.

Despite the fact I’m paying for the privilege of crashing in a dorm with nine other people, and all the risk that entails, even (especially? I don’t know) in a mixed-sex dorm, and despite the fact that I’m still having these episodes where my vision goes all weird and I feel detached from the world around me – my friend Kat says they’re probably migraines – I am hopeful. Summer is around the corner, and once exams are over there’ll be students wanting subletters.

I know that this isn’t forever, even though it feels like it right now. I know that one day I’ll find something as permanent as anything can be when the laws and the market are on the side of the landlord. It’s not really been about the money. I mean, being on the dole does price me out of a lot of rooms, but being a trans guy with a terrible credit record makes it far harder.


snailsforleni: Another tiny native snail, not sure which this one is, suggestions welcome. As well as tiny snails Aotearoa has giant snails as well. Something to do with islands and isolation makes giant and miniature versions of animals more likely to evolve. That’s how you get the giant weta and the Galapagos tortoise, and probably how you get snails like these. Though the giant snails aren’t something you come across here in Wellington. A few years back they had to forcibly relocate some away from a mining development on the West Coast. I remember it being really controversial at the time but it seems so long ago now.

#snailsofinstagram #snails #wellington #snailfacts #islandgigantism #giantsnails #tinysnails


Growing is the first transformation you imagine, and it’s a safe one. Children grow, compare themselves to other children and to adults: larger and smaller. When we moved to my grandmother’s house, she encouraged it, marking off our heights and ages on the side of a bookcase, making us stand straight in our bare feet.

And it’s not exactly surprising that I’ve always been drawn to every whispered possibility of transformation, long before I understood how I needed to transform myself.

Eat me. Drink me. Optimus Prime. Animorphs. Anything that gave me any indication that a transformation was possible, or at least something someone else somewhere had thought about.

Not a surprise, either, that I have always been comforted by the very large and very small. The extremes. Anomalies. Outliers. Statistically unlikely confirmations of one’s existence.


snailsforleni: Charopa coma. Having a weird day, but thought you’d enjoy.



I’m taking a photo of a snail with a flat-spiral shell that I think I’ve identified as Charopa coma, finding the right angle, adjusting the focus, and suddenly it grows. Or I shrink, the whole world looming in and out of focus, even when I put my phone camera away. I’m not much bigger than a snail, and then I’m towering above, taller than the power lines, looking down on them.

Definitely migraines, Kat says. Unless it’s a brain tumour.

“Doctor,” she tells me. “I’ll pay for it. Go.”

It’s not about the money. I mean, it’s not that I have much, just that it’s sort of the least of my problems. I haven’t had a doctor since uni. The one that I know has a reputation for being trans-friendly is booked up for weeks. I use Kat’s address, and join the queue.

The doctor agrees it’s migraines and offers me meds. I take them. They make me feel worse.

I get a sublet for the whole summer, through until late February. No more moving for months. It’s really a sun room rather than a bedroom, with enough room for a mattress and not much else, but even though I’m paying rent I’m saving as much by being able to cook my own food.

Being inside makes me oddly claustrophobic. I wake up early each morning when I don’t need to. Sometimes I force myself to stay inside, restless under my duvet, as if some private performance of gratitude is required for the simple fact of having a roof over my head.

Other days I give in and I set off walking, shedding off the claustrophobia, almost comforted by the early-morning cold and the sound of my Docs on the footpath.


snailsforleni: This leaf-veined slug isn’t a snail, but they’re closely related. You can see why people liken them to gherkins.

#slugsofinstagram #notasnail #leafveinedslug #wellington #brooklyn #molluscsthatlooklikepickledvegetables #slugs #molluscs


Late February and I’m back out on the streets again. I have a little money saved that would get me a hostel bed, but I’d rather save that - and any remaining goodwill and/or crash space - for when the weather gets colder, and when the angry rain-winds start to lash the hillsides.

The first couple of weeks are horrible. I fear that I may have lost my acclimatization, that temporary shelter was a mistake. I know that at a minimum I feel the cold more easily - and the nights are always cold these days - much more than I used to. But with time, I fall back into a rhythm. It’s still horrible, sleeping in parks, not even able to pitch a tent because I know I’ll be moved on much more often if I do, having to fend off the Salvation Army. I never feel quite clean, even though I usually manage to get showers when I need to. But I become more used to it, and it doesn’t weigh so heavy on me after all.

The migraines, or whatever they are, only come when I’m looking at snails. At first, I think it’s because I’m using a camera. Something about the changed perspective or visual field that triggers a visual disturbance.

That all changes on a cold morning when I’m up in Miramar, above the harbour, above the walls built up to protect the airport, the strip of flat land that connects this peninsula to the mainland. Walking up a flight of steps that connects one street to another, I find an empty snail shell on a rail.

I aim my camera and it looks impossibly large, but when I look directly at it, it's still out of proportion. A step closer, and it’s perhaps the height of a bus. It doesn’t make sense that it’s still balancing on that still-regular-sized rail – and not even taking up all its width – but it shows no sign of falling.

The inside of the shell glistens in the light of late-summer. I stop to take it in, the curve above me, not sure whether to liken it to a cathedral or a tunnel, to an abandoned home or a sculpted spiral. I reach my arms forward, expecting it to switch back into focus as soon as I touched it, but it doesn’t. I can fit my whole hand inside an opening that should be no thicker than my finger.

I dart backwards, as if I’ve been shocked. The shell wobbles on the wooden rail.

I approach again, because how can you not? I lean in towards it, craning my neck to see how far inside I can see. I’m not sure if this could be a home or a tomb, not sure if it is welcoming me in or threatening to envelop me. I stretch my head and then my neck up inside, and it’s impossible but I fit easily.


snailsforleni: unidentified species of snail, deceased, taken from inside.

#snailsofinstagram #snails #molluscs #wellington #inside-view #squatter #hermit-crabs-are-never-homeless #new-home #looking-for-decorating-advice


I remember once when our mother was having a good day and she took Leo and me to the fair and we carried the scratchy mats up to the top of the helter skelter and when we dropped ourselves onto the spiral slide it was like the one moment I could let everything go, that I didn’t have to be responsible for everything.

I could escape this world now.

I’m circling the edge of the rabbit hole. My hand is on the wardrobe door.


snailsforleni: so uh this isn’t exactly a selfie account and I’m not much of a selfie person, but hey, here we are, I’m Felix, and this is me on the deck of my friend Kat’s place where I’m crashing for a few nights. Haven’t seen any snails round here yet, but I’ll post them if I do.

I don’t want to go into too much personal detail here, but I think I need to record this so please excuse the vaguegramming. I’ve been having quite a rough time lately, and last week I got an opportunity that would have made things easier for me. I think. It was a super weird opportunity. Anyway I turned that down, and maybe that was because it was just too weird, and maybe it’s because I was scared of something going right and how fragile that can seem.

But it’s also because… I think it would be convenient for a lot of people for people like me to just disappear. And I’m not going to do that, even if it’s a good opportunity for me. I’m going to stick around and if my presence makes them uncomfortable, I’m good with that.

Unfollow if you like, but I’m sticking around. Scheduled snails will resume shortly.

#snailphotographersofinstagram #dork #okay-but-i-like-my-eyes #new-hair #wellington #island-bay #personal #brain-dump #weird-philosophising #no-snails-today #snails-tomorrow-instead

© 2022 Andi C. Buchanan

Andi C. Buchanan

Andi C. Buchanan lives and writes just outside Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand. Winner of Sir Julius Vogel Awards for From a Shadow Grave (Paper Road Press, 2019) and their short story “Girls Who Do Not Drown” (Apex, 2018), their fiction is also published in Fireside, Mermaids Monthly, Cossmass Infinities, and more. Their novel Sanctuary (Robot Dinosaur Press, 2022) tells the story of a queer, neurodivergent found-family who live in a haunted house. You can find Andi at andicbuchanan.org or @andicbuchanan on Twitter.

Fiction by Andi C. Buchanan
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