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Monday, 15 February 2010

Vigilant: Least Weasel


File:Mustela nivalis -British Wildlife Centre-4.jpg

Being the smallest of true carnivores is not an easy assignment. The individual must perforce remain constantly vigilant. Alertness and quick response upon challenge come with the territory. Why does this set of requirements seem so familiar. Must one always anthropomorphize everything. Yes, perhaps there is no choice. Negative capability leads to sympathetic identification, assimilation into the other. And of course vice versa. The Least Weasel becomes one. When there are two in a contentious situation, needs must. Soon enough there will become one. That terrible Darwinian model, never far from us. Or should one say them. No, us. Always vigilant, always alert, always on the lookout. Night blends into day without one having noticed it, then back again into night, much as the cows come home. What cows. What home. What day. What night.

Stuck in with tooth and claw, spinning in a natural dance of competitive antagonism, how adorable, the red tooth, the red claw of the tiniest carnivore on the planet. Who says size matters. Every individual is exactly the same size as every other individual. The dance of death never ends.

One comes into the world hairless and naked, pink, wrinkled, blind and deaf. Within forty days one must be prepared to kill or be killed. One must consume half one's body weight in food each day simply to survive. There are no breaks or days off or vacations. One spends one's time hunting, searching, watching and waiting to attack. The slightest movement in the perceptual field may indicate the presence of a deer mouse or a meadow vole, an insect or a lizard. The attack is frenzied, preluded by erratic dartings to and fro, how horrible this must seem to the prey, this hectic scurrying about of the predator, the victim must be thinking Why not just get on with it, let's not drag this out, but fears must be instilled, needs must, the fear cripples the will of the victim, paralyzes its instinct for flight, confusion is the antechamber to an unpleasant baptism in blood.

Maintain several dens as bases for covering your territory, never cease to hunt, do not cease to hunt and kill and eat even when you are no longer hungry, consume food beyond your needs to store up fuel against a lean day, a lean day will come, as indeed a rival will come, a competitor will come, stay on the lookout, a lean and clean machine of death rarely resting, rest only within the safety of your den, burrow in deep, sleep, but do not sleep deeply, forget, but do not forget for long, a light sleep must suffice, there is no time for dreams.

File:Mustela nivalis (two, fighting).jpg

Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis) on the lookout: photo by Keven Law, 2008
Two Least Weasels (Mustela nivalis) fighting: photo by Ainalem, 2006


u.v.ray. said...

The human animal, of course, being the most vicious animal on the planet.

I enjoyed the comparisons in this narrative, Tom.

I always remember John Morlar (Richard Burton) in the film, The Medusa Touch, when he observes:

"Man is inherently evil; we discover what powers the sun and we make bombs with it."

The difference being that, in the case of man, it isn't a question of needs must. It is pure hatred and greed.

Though speaking personally, I would posit that hatred and greed are just two of the natural inclinations of the human animal.

Curtis said...

There's much more to say than this, but the Least Weasel is indeed very handsome and will probably occupy my computer desktop as "background" (replacing the current image of Tristan Tzara posed in an amazing sort of uni-costume with Jean Cocteau) for a while and then intermittently for the foreseeable future.


Who KNEW all of this-- that such a beautiful, well-named creature ("least") is the smallest of carnivores, "always vigilant, always alert, always on the lookout" . . . . thank you for this, this morning ---


grey whiteness of fog against invisible
ridge, motion of green leaves on branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

more than formal expression,
almost to be tangible

a certain depth, as spatial
difference, after all

blue-white of sky to the left of point,
shadowed green of ridge across from it

TC said...


Yes the human repertoire is much more... would panoramic be the word?

(Thanks for the inspiration with this one, by the way.)


Awfully nice of you that, balancing the scales a bit. I fear I've risked making this creature seem unattractive, when in fact it's quite lovely in its way.

I think.

And indeed it is a formidable survivor, in almost every imaginable place and clime, never resting. It is one of the least endangered of species. It always keeps an eye out and is hard to slip a trick past.

Just don't try to barge into its two acre territory, if you're another least weasel, thank you very much.


Beneath the shadowed green of the ridge, out of the whiteness of the fog, there emerges the image of two small creatures locked in a terrifying embrace.

Who KNEW??

leigh tuplin said...

Arguably the most complete example of mammalian evolution. Such elegance and beauty in its purposeful honesty.