Annie Dillard has long been a favorite writer of mine. This morning, a walk in the woods with my 18 year old daughter got me thinking about Dillard’s essay, Living Like Weasels from her book, Teaching a Stone to Talk.
Hana and I were discussing life after graduation and the various career paths suited to her diverse gifts and interests. We talked about the choice between following a safe, well-marked trail or setting off into the wilderness to blaze her own. We talked about passions and calling – and this is where the weasel comes in.
In this brilliant essay, Ms. Dillard begins:
A weasel is wild. Who knows what he thinks? He sleeps in his underground den, his tail draped over his nose. Sometimes he lives in his den for two days without leaving. Outside, he stalks rabbits, mice, muskrats, and birds, killing more bodies than he can eat warm, and often dragging the carcasses home. Obedient to instinct, he bites his prey at the neck, either splitting the jugular vein at the throat or crunching the brain at the base of the skull, and he does not let go.
The paragraphs that follow reek of pungent creek life in all forms and finally jettison the reader into the very brain of a weasel. (Really, this essay is not to be missed.) But it is the closing section that strikes a particular chord with me today.
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.
The passion in this writing both startles and grips me, no matter how many times I ‘ve read it. I can’t help but reflect on my own way of living, my own calling, my own trail. But today, it’s about Hana.
As your high school years draw to a close, I have only one piece of advice for you, dear daughter – courtesy of Annie Dillard: live like a weasel. Live as you are meant to live, grasp your one necessity and do not let it go. Dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Stalk your calling.
And go read this essay. (Yes, I own the book and yes, you can borrow it.)