It concerned the link in my psyche between grasses, which I’ve loved and studied since childhood, and the weasel who had wandered through my yard one afternoon, pausing just long enough to make eye contact with me before disappearing into the grass at the top of the hill.
In class later that month, our instructor had led us on a guided meditation, and this paper was the result. I edited it down considerably—this is just the “good stuff.”
All my life I’ve loved grasses, drawn by their fragrance; their grace and beauty; their nurturing nature that allows them to be harvested and utilized by humankind without being killed. Grasses are an ancient group of flowering plants. Their earliest ancestors were probably small forest-dwellers, but over millions of years, they evolved into sturdy species that make up the bulk of the vast grassland ecosystems that support huge herds of grazing animals.
These prairie grasses, to which I’m strongly drawn, are the ones that form the vast, rolling seas that the prairie schooners sailed across generations ago, carrying my ancestors to their new homes in Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska.
Grasses have a quiet, almost secretive aspect to them. We tend to think that they’re all about the leaves—for lawns, for hay. Most people are not aware that grasses, as flowering plants, have flowers just as much as do tulips or roses or lilies—but shy grass flowers are small and unobtrusive. They rely for their pollination not on insects, birds, or animals, but on the wind. As their panicles sway gracefully in the breeze, their pollen wafts along to their neighbors and cousins a block or a mile away.
Weasel: the meditation
In my mind’s eye I am lying in a grassy field near the edge of a wood. The sun is warm; it’s early fall, I think. A light breeze blows the drying grasses and I can hear them rustling. Our instructor, the guide in this meditation, suggests that if I look around I will see an animal approaching; this animal will be one I can converse with.
I hear something, all right—it’s small, quick, purposeful. I can’t see it yet. Aha—there it is: a quick, dark flash through the undergrowth. A weasel!
It’s obvious that in spite of the instructor’s suggestion, this weasel has no interest whatsoever in talking with me. It’s on a mission of some kind. I follow it in my mind, glad that this is a visualization, where I can make myself small.
Weasel and I tear along what appears to be a tunnel in the grass. He’s moving at a clip, intent on whatever it is he’s following. I get closer and closer, and at some point, without realizing it, Weasel and I become one being. My conscious mind is still working, but quietly, in the background. As Weasel, I have no use for higher cognitive functions—my awareness is focused on the moment, on the hunt, and on any sensory information that is important to my survival and my rumbling belly. Nothing else matters; nothing else exists.
The earth is cool and moist under our feet as we move deeper into the wooded area at the edge of the grassy field. Suddenly there’s a hole down into the ground—we follow it, down a tunnel into the dark, following a wonderful warm musky scent. Earth presses around us, but our streamlined body fits without difficulty.
Around a bend we rush, and the tunnel opens up just a bit. There! The source of the wonderful smell—a nest of squeaking baby rats squirming in a ball of shredded dry grass and plant fibers. Their blood is salty-sweet, and their flesh crunchy in our mouth. We eat rapidly, ravenously, our muzzle dripping. Once the last sweet morsel is devoured, we turn in the tight space and retrace our footsteps, sniffing as we go in case the adult rat has come home to check on her brood. Outside the tunnel, we course through the grass again, seeking the next delicious odor. Our belly is never full.
Weasel: Natural History
The Long-tailed Weasel, Mustela frenata, is a small, streamlined creature measuring less than two feet from snout to tail-tip. It inhabits most of North America, from Canada south into Mexico. It evolved four or so million years ago, with a body precisely suited for tracking and following rats and other rodents into their burrows.
Weasel is active mostly at night, though it isn’t uncommon to spot one during the daytime, when the tasty little voles are most active. In the northern parts of its range during the winter, the weasel’s dark brown coat changes to white, except for the black tip on its tail; it is then known as ermine, and hunted for its fur.
Weasels are thought of as sly, scheming, ruthless killers, without morals, killing for the sheer pleasure of killing. Calling someone a weasel is a serious insult. Weasel’s close relatives—Skunk, Ferret, Badger, Wolverine—mostly have similarly bad images. But in fact, rather than being sneaky or disreputable, mustelids are efficient carnivores admirably adapted to their environment. It is only when we put moral judgements on them—or when Weasel’s taste for chicken blood comes into conflict with our economic needs—that “ruthlessness” or trickery becomes an issue.
Weasels are sharp, canny, and extremely focused. Their high metabolic rate—nearly double that of most animals their size—gives them a voracious appetite that never quits. They are tireless in pursuit of a meal.
Another trait for which weasels are known is courage far beyond their small size—they will take on anything that 1) might be edible or 2) threatens them. A story is told of seeing a hawk stoop on a weasel and take off with the small animal in its talons. But a moment later the bird dropped like a stone, dead, with the weasel’s jaws locked in its breast.
Weasel in the Grass: the Message
I think it is significant that it is not the forest grasses or the bamboos that draw me, but rather the grasses of the plains, steppes, and rocky slopes. It’s the nurturing, sustaining, background/landscape quality of them, the subtle and hidden individuality of them, that I think speaks to my nature. For many years I have set aside two days a year for introspection, planning, and goal-setting, and each year the top item in my values list is “loving and encouraging others.” That’s a nurturing, grass-like value indeed! And I can see that in my character: the quiet, background supporting of other people, encouraging them, building them up, sustaining them with gentle energy. It’s a feminine, earth-mother quality, a deep and rhythmic energy that others can sense and that draw them to me for sustenance.
Weasel, on the other hand, is a very masculine force: focused, determined, courageous, outgoing, assertive, totally self-centered. Weasel is the yang to the grass’s yin: the much-needed balance. The prairies all too often are overgrazed, overutilized, used up and burnt out; but they never complain. They just quietly succumb to grazing pressure and the advent of weedy species.
This has happened to me in my life, when I’ve sublimated my own needs and desires to those of the people I love. But now, especially now, as I’m moving forward along the path that leads to my as-yet-unseen goal, I need Weasel’s energy and directedness to counteract my grassy passivity. My own rumbling psychic belly needs feeding, and Weasel has come to show me how to fill it by turning that hunger into a creative and determined intelligence.
And if I put these two—Weasel and Grass—imaginatively together, the message might be something like this: I must pursue my vision relentlessly, tirelessly, and fearlessly. I am part of Nature; I can trust my instinct, my intuition, to guide me on my course as surely as the weasel finds its prey. Courage and trust in myself are all I need, for I will be able to “ferret out” whatever it is that I need to know. And all the while, by my very existence I enrich the land and the life around me. I nurture because it is who I am.
I/Weasel am running again. Suddenly, the psychic connection is broken—I am myself, following Weasel through the grass. As though he feels the change, for one instant he turns to look at me with his bright, beady eyes. We acknowledge our kinship, and then he is off, following a scent to his unseen destiny.
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)