Living Like Weasels is a fascinatingly beautiful story about an encounter between the writer and a wild weasel; an encounter that she claims is the first of its kind for her. While considering the weasel, the writer expounds on a number of ideas, especially those related to the concepts of mindless need and conscious choice. The writer seems to lament the fact that the weasel gets to live with a focus on the former while people tend to live with a focus on the latter, and she wishes she could live like the weasel, at least for a short time. However, what the writer misses is that her life is already surprisingly similar to that of the weasel, at least in terms of seeking out what feels necessary. It seems fairly clear from the text that the writer feels succumbing to the freedom of necessity and mindlessness exhibited by the weasel would be a benefit to herself and possibly anyone.
She talks about people being able to live any way they want, and that many people make choices about the ways they live. At the beginning of part six, the writer continues to praise the idea of grasping one’s necessity and never letting go, just like the weasel that latches onto the neck of its prey and does not let go, even in ultimate failure.
Interestingly, she seems to believe that this state is one that humans could rightly achieve, as if they could return to the wild and live without thought or awareness or conscious action. What she fails to acknowledge is that human consciousness and awareness are what separate mankind from animals, and shedding that awareness in favor of mindless necessity would not be freedom, but restriction. Instead, it seems the writer is championing a different sort of commitment to necessity.
Part six of the story is an exposition by the writer describing the action of a weasel as it exhibits its commitment to its necessity. However, that exposition is meant to explain the connection between the way that the animal stays committed to its need and the way a person should commit to his or her need. The need of the person may not be as instinctual or mindless as the need of the animal, but the commitment to that need is the similarity. The story shows that animals are committed to their instincts since they do not know any other behavior, which is mirrored against the idea that humans should be committed to the things that drive them, even those things that are not instinctual or natural.
An unyielding commitment to the thing that drives an individual is the only way an individual can relate to the animal that is totally committed to its instincts. If the writer meant to create this connection, which seems fairly clear, then it follows that the writer also meant to showcase her own feeling of mindless commitment to her craft. In that sense, the story is not just an exposition on how people need to release their hold on conscious living, but it is also an example of how one should live like a weasel.
The writer creates several parallels between the weasel and herself, even while also painting the image of many differences. Parallels include the sense of wildness that brought both the writer and the weasel to the same point in the same moment. The writer claims that she moved to Hollins Pond in order to remember, or learn, how to live, but it seems the writer is simply looking for a connection to nature that would allow her to follow her interest in writing about the natural world around her. This shows that she actually connects with the weasel in a way that she is championing in the story. Perhaps the most telling quote of the story comes at the end of part five. The writer says, “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 quote shows that the writer supports the idea of mindless commitment to the calling of an individual, and she explains this through the analogy of a weasel biting its victim’s neck. Some readers might misconstrue her promotion of that mindless commitment to a calling as a commitment to loosing conscious thought in favor of actual instinctual behavior.
In the writer’s mind, the weasel is not attacking when it bites onto the neck of its prey, but it is simply yielding to a single necessity and the freedom of a total commitment to that necessity. In that way, people need to commit to the thing that drives them without any thought of something else pulling focus from that commitment. One of the most intriguing elements of the story occurred when the writer described locking her eyes with the weasel and loosing herself in it for just a moment. The feeling the writer evoked was spot on for that situation or any other like it, and the idea of disconnecting from that moment and losing it forever is one that seems universal. Her description of the connection and its near immediate breaking shows a parallel between most people and how they deal with things that call them to action.
People might catch eyes with their calling and feel a fleeting instance of completeness in pursuit of that calling, but for most people, the connection breaks, the idea scampers back under the brush, and life continues on a conscious stream of decisions that deviate from the calling.
In this story, Annie Dillard does an excellent job of creating a connection between human callings, the desire to follow them, and the nature of animalistic behaviors and instincts. Her exposition attempts to show that she is outside the issue looking in toward her calling as a function of the connection with the weasel, but the writer is clearly following her calling with the same ferocity of the weasel.