The Long Line

Learn to live like weasels: Go and grasp your one necessity

Weasels are obedient to instinct and live by necessity. Humans live by choice. Submitted photo.

Weasels are obedient to instinct and live by necessity. Humans live by choice. Submitted photo.

When I was 36 years old, I found myself going back to college. It was the beginning of what ended up being six years of college. It was such a new thing for me that some days I wondered what had become of my life. I felt lost. Things seemed uncertain. School was only one of the many changes going on in my life. Before that time, I had envisioned my future differently.

During those first two years of college, I spent most mornings in a coffee shop studying and writing countless papers. It was on one of those early mornings that while sipping my usual latte, surrounded by the buzz of customers around me, I started feeling overwhelmed. It was an unusually dreary and rainy fall morning. Exhausted from too many late study nights, I opened up my text book to the latest assignment for my North American Nature Writers class. I groaned as I read the title: Living like Weasels, by Annie Dillard. “Weasels, how ridiculous,” I thought. I rolled my eyes.

And then I began to read one of the most profound things I have ever read that still sticks with me today. It has become almost like a mantra to me, like a sacred message or meditation. The essay had to do with the tenacity of weasels. The room around me slowly disappeared as I began to read. By the end of the essay, tears streamed down my face.



So many times I have found solace in simple things. Sometimes I find it in a book I am reading, in a song, or even a movie. I see things in nature’s creations. I find that there are hidden messages and lessons all around us if we look carefully. This was one of those times.

In the essay Annie Dillard shared about coming face to face with a weasel. She went on to describe what she learned from observing it and studying more about weasels later. Weasels are obedient to instinct. They bite their prey at the neck. They either split the jugular vein at the throat or crunch the brain at the base of the skull, and they refuse to let go. Grisly picture I know.

Annie shared in her essay a story about a man who shot an eagle out of the sky. On the eagle the dry skull of a weasel was fixed by the jaws to the eagle’s throat. He had been a stubborn thing. The belief is that the eagle had pounced on the weasel and the weasel in return swiveled and bit as instinct had taught him, tooth to neck. He nearly won.

Annie’s reflection was this: The weasel lives by necessity. As humans we can live any way we want. We live by choice. But, maybe we need to live more like weasels? The thing is to stalk your calling or purpose in a skilled and supple way, to locate the tender spot and plug into it, yielding to it and not fighting it. It is to grasp onto our one necessity and refuse to let go, and to dangle from it limp wherever it takes us. Then even death, where you are going no matter how you live, cannot you part. It is the only way to live.

I asked myself if I could sink my teeth into life like that weasel did that eagle? Could I yield to what God had in store for me and my future? Would I stalk my calling or purpose and grasp onto it and not let go? Oh, to live as the weasel did. Stubborn! Without fear and caution such as humans. Oh, to live fully and not to live avoiding risks.

It was in that moment in that tiny coffee shop that I realized that I was exactly where I needed to be. It wasn’t a particularly fun time of my life. It was hard. It seemed chaotic. Sometimes in the midst of what we see as a place and time of messy nothingness, we find everything. I knew that day it was time to grasp onto my one necessity and not let it go. I needed through faith to stalk my calling.

The eagle to me represented my faith that would lead me to where I needed to be. I decided then that I would not hide from life in fear, to try and live life easy, but I would soar high wherever life would lead me, yielding and not fighting. I would refuse to let go, hanging on with the tenacity of a weasel. I chose that day to live as if I was wild, out of my single necessity, a necessity to follow my passions in life and to live as I was meant to live.

Since that day whenever I feel like my life is muddled and unclear, I think about that rainy day. I remember how I felt so lost. Life seemed uncertain. Then suddenly clarity came. The lesson that I learned that day has over and over again filled me with the tenacity that I have needed to keep holding on, stubbornly refusing to never give up, continuing to yield to life’s journey.

“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.” —Annie Dillard

Jody Rae lives in Eveleth, MN, but spends most of her time in the woods.

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