Annie Dillard’s “Living Like Weasels” says more than embrace one’s ‘animal’ instincts but delves more on the idea that one must latch into our own necessity that instinct dictates us to go for, “Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even, till your eyes burn out and drop,” as she candidly puts it in her essay’s last paragraph. From a chanced encounter with a weasel, the writer conveyed how the small animal could give humans some lessons on how they should live their lives. From the first paragraph, Annie Dillard’s first sentence, “A weasel is wild,” summarizes the basic behavior that a weasel has.
An animal that sleeps, stalks, kills and eats. A vicious cycle, one might call it but the writer already neutralizes the reader’s thoughts by following the first statement with a question, “Who knows what he thinks? ” and again stating that the weasel is “Obedient to instinct. ” It is interesting to see that Dillard started her essay with what the weasel is, simply an animal driven by instinct to survive. No more, no less. But her interest is more on the instinct and determination that drives the animal to latch on to its victim even if it’s an animal or even a man without fear, without ‘thinking’.
This fascination was again raised in the second paragraph, “He examined the eagle and found the dry skull of a weasel fixed by the jaws to his throat. The supposition is that the eagle had pounced on the weasel and the weasel swiveled and bit as instinct taught him, tooth to neck, and nearly won,” with Dillard even romanticizing the particular event to some extent, “I would like to have seen that eagle from the air a few weeks or months before he was shot: was the whole weasel still attached to his feathered throat, a fur pendant”.
The succeeding paragraphs, however, only laid the setting for what is going to unfold, but still we can see that there is still the man and nature dynamics, because Hollins Pond, where the weasel and Annie meet is categorically, where both world’s meet, as illustrated by the following statements, “Twenty minutes from my house, through the woods by the quarry and across the highway, is Hollins Pond, a remarkable piece of shallowness, where I like to go at sunset and sit on a tree trunk”.
The sequence of the places near the pond suggests that the world of nature and of man are actually not far apart and in the middle of it is, Hollins Pond where animal and man will soon meet eye to eye. The writer’s description of her actual encounter with the weasel draws the reader to participate by watching the events unfold as if right before our very eyes and share in the excitement on her encounter with the animal, “Our look was as if two lovers, or deadly enemies, met unexpectedly on an overgrown path when each had been thinking of something else: a clearing blow to the gut.
It was also a bright blow to the brain, or a sudden beating of brains, with all the charge and intimate grate of rubbed balloons. It emptied our lungs. It felled the forest, moved the fields, and drained the pond; the world dismantled and tumbled into that black hole of eyes. If you and I looked at each other that way, our skulls would split and drop to our shoulders. But we don’t. We keep our skulls”. The writer, the weasel and the reader are interconnected in this exact part, and that also explains that when the weasel broke the connection, both writer and the reader are totally disappointed and as the reader, I felt it.
From the encounter, the shift becomes clear as Dillard wrote, “I would like to learn, or remember, how to live,” owing to her ‘mind-reading’ of the weasel’s ‘thoughts’ that very moment that they have met to which she admits, “Can I help it if it was a blank?… What goes on in his brain the rest of the time? What does a weasel think about? He won’t say,” and this reveals what we were, as Annie Dillard explains, has been missing, the state of being mindless, only guided by pure instinct.
“The weasel lives in necessity and we live in choice, hating necessity and dying at the last ignobly in its talons. I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should. And I suspect that for me the way is like the weasel’s: open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will,” Dillard emphasizes the importance not of rationalization in everything that we are to do, but to live and act from what we know we need.
Rationality stops us from doing what we really need to do because we tend to think of things to be moral or ethical before we accomplish something. But for the animals, especially the weasel, it lives because it does not think; it latches on to its prey until either him or the victim dies. A behavior worth emulating by humans. This essay is effective and very appealing because as humans, we are living in a world where rationality rules us especially since we are bereft with choices that will bear results that really matter in the future.
However, we also wish for freedom and when we say ‘freedom’ it entails no limits and what matters only is what is now, the present, exactly what the weasel cares about, “A weasel doesn’t “attack” anything; a weasel lives as he’s meant to, yielding at every moment to the perfect freedom of single necessity,” to which the writer believes and enviously would want to emulate, “I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.
Then even death, where you’re going no matter how you live, cannot you part,” and definitely a practice that we would all want to do regardless of human circumstances. References: Dillard, Annie. Living Like Weasels. 29 July 2009. http://staff2. esuhsd. org/.
Courtney from Study Moose
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