Detour: Slugs on the Beach

The “Spanish slug,” also known by the name “killer snail” for its tendency to eat lesser members of its own species, is a highly invasive and pesty breed of slug found all over the European continent. Identification: The front half is pretty standard brownish (sometimes orange) color, but the second has a remarkable texture — like scat extruded through a delicately asterisk-shaped icing piper. They can grow to nearly five inches long and crop up everywhere after it rains in Denmark.

I found the densest carpeting of slugs yet in a wheat field on Falster, a southeastern island of Denmark. The island is dominated by farmland, but is flushed with vacationing Danes during the summer, eager to sun themselves to ruddy pinks on the beach. I was lucky enough to be staying in Falster with a half-dozen Danish friends, collectively exhaling after the end of exams and eager to leave Copenhagen.

Our last day in Falster, after hours of rain, we set our sights on an abandoned radio tower in the middle of the farmland. The thing had been taunting us all week, a gigantic graphite sore thumb sticking out of the otherwise placid pastoral landscape, simultaneously alluring and foreboding. Alternatively, aliens with a taste for Soviet architecture could have deposited it. We decided that the property was best approached from the back, through a narrow depressed pathway in the surrounding wheat fields.

Entering the center of the field, the panorama expanded to include the summer cabins behind us, the heavily outlined plots of land, a few windmills and highways leading up the longitudinal spine of the island as well as the surrounding ocean. Despite being incredibly flat, the island is small and narrow enough that even from the southernmost point, both east and west coasts are visible, as is Rostock across the water in Germany. From the middle of the field, a range of ninety degrees afforded me a drastic range of perspectival scale, measured from straight down to straight ahead: slugs at the feet, wheat up to my thigh, radio tower in the far foreground and another country on the horizon.

Squatting in a circle on the ten-foot wide cap of the tower, five or six stories in the air, the island was distilled into one comprehensive vision and our presence was cemented into its composition. With such a view, covering a completeness of land unrestricted by the claustrophobic skyline of a city, it was easy to feel attached. I had been here for only a few days, but being able to see the entire physical limitations of the land around me made it seem both familiar and relatable. It’s not nostalgia nor any saccharine-soaked belonging but a respect for the presence of the land.

I can’t assume that any of my companions shed a nationalist tear from such a view but I had other facts to support my theory of their attachment to the scenery. Most of my data was culinary, but that shouldn’t be a fault, I think – the food we ate in Falster directly cited the traditions of past generations that inhabited the island, but willfully adapted certain factors to experimentation. It seemed like my friends understood their debt to the historical landscapes and the cultural rituals while also feeling free to do with them as they wished. No dogmatic attentiveness to propriety or custom, just free play with well-established tropes.

Example: The first night we arrived in Falster, we ate a standard Danish meal of frikadeller (fried minced beef patties), boiled potatoes and roasted cabbage. For dessert, someone had the ingenious idea of grilling a raspberry rouladen, placing the roll of cake and fruity preserve on the grill until the sugar had caramelized and grill marks appeared on the surface.

This may seem petty — novel methods of heating cake do not a national identity make (rhyme unintentional). But the food expressed a phase change, a two-stage process of acceptance and reinterpretation within the traditional simplicity of meat and potatoes followed by the playful indulgence of grilled pastry. And it helped that this all went down pretty easy, digestively speaking.

Culinary reinterpretations of cultural data could also be seen as a diluting threat to local culture, detracting from regional ownership of a flavor, but in this case the borrowing is done generationally, not territorially. And it appeared as a generation of people who take traditions to be plastic and social, to be interpreted spontaneously and deliciously.