“I would like to learn, or remember, how to live. I come to Hollins Pond not so much to learn how to live as, frankly, to forget about it. That is, I don’t think I can learn from a wild animal how to live in particular–shall I suck warm blood, hold my tail high, walk with my footprints precisely over the prints of my hands?–but I might learn something of mindlessness, something of the purity of living in the physical sense and the dignity of living without bias or motive. 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.
I missed my chance. I should have gone for the throat. I should have lunged for that streak of white under the weasel’s chin and held on, held on through mud and into the wild rose, held on for a dearer life. We could live under the wild rose wild as weasels, mute and uncomprehending. I could very calmly go wild. I could live two days in the den, curled, leaning on mouse fur, sniffing bird bones, blinking, licking, breathing musk, my hair tangled in the roots of grasses. Down is a good place to go, where the mind is single. Down is out, out of your ever-loving mind and back to your careless senses. I remember muteness as a prolonged and giddy fast, where every moment is a feast of utterance received. Time and events are merely poured, unremarked, and ingested directly, like blood pulsed into my gut through a jugular vein. Could two live that way? Could two live under the wild rose, and explore by the pond, so that the smooth mind of each is as everywhere present to the other, and as received and as unchallenged, as falling snow?
We could, you know. We can live any way we want. People take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience–even of silence–by choice. The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse. This is yielding, not fighting. 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.
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. Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even, till your eyes burn out and drop; let your musky flesh fall off in shreds, and let your very bones unhinge and scatter, loosened over fields, over fields and woods, lightly, thoughtless, from any height at all, from as high as eagles.” -Annie Dillard, from “Living Like Weasels” (full text)
I remember being assigned this in AP Language in the 11th grade, remembering first singly devouring and then as a group picking apart the sentences… clinging to the words. So. I still adore these words. Thanks, Mrs. Kay Rosetti. At the time, a bookish and awkward teen with writerly ambitions (ok, so I’m almost twice as old but otherwise very much the same) words like these rang to the bone with a deep resonance that still holds. As did this a year or two later:
I Saw Myself
I saw myself
a ring of bone
in the clear stream
of all of it
always to be open to it
that all of it
might flow through
and then heard
“ring of bone” where
ring is what a
Times like these, one clings to these things… to reminders of and to becoming. Someone asked how I was feeling… “Like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders, until I look down. The ground has dropped out from underneath me and I’m in free-fall.” But it will be ok. I will just remember weasels and rings, or living like wild things. And the only ring I need is that ring of bone… that reminder to be very, very alive and very open and to listen, listen. Everything else may be falling but it will fall into place. Of that I am certain. Some days you find the ceiling on the floor, and other days you find a floor under filth. Sometimes they are the same days… and some days you find you have no floor and no ceiling but must keep on… these some days you hope never to find again but know you will be all the stronger for getting through them. These are those days. These are your feet. This is your work, though this is not your floor, though it was once and it could be. Your feet, and your steps and way of working and walking, you own these. Go forth.