Winter is here and I am now on Poem 25 and in another lockdown, albeit now in the U.K. There have been too many distractions, some wonderful like cuddles with a new baby and dinosaur games with a three year old. Others have been nail biting as coronavirus cases rise here and the American Election creates a cliff hanger. When will it all be over? We need courage and patience to know ‘it’ will all take its own time.
This poem is about weasels because a weasel is one of my main characters in The Call of the Wild Valley. But the poem touches on how we use animals to describe human characteristics and often to the detriment of the animal. Why do wolves have to be bad when their social relationships are supportive and for the good of the whole pack. Why do we have the phrase ‘weasel words’? Usage appears to go back to Shakespeare where weasels were thought to suck out the egg yolk from a shell.
‘I can suck melancholy out of a song, as a weasel sucks eggs’ As You Like It 1600.
However it may be thanks to Theodore Roosevelt in 1916 who used the words for the ability of humans to obscure meaning or fail to take responsibility with clarity and honesty in communicating. ‘one of our defects as a nation is a tendency to use weasel words; when one weasel word is used after another there is nothing left’. ( With thanks to Wikipedia and I trust verified)
I hope clarity can return to communication and weasels can be appreciated for their role in nature and ability to tackle rats.
Writing Words for Weasels
Weasels do not have those words
That deceive with tricks and lies
If weasels really did speak out
Would their words be heard
Above the human need to shout
About nowt, while a bird flies
Through a sky of sighs.
In creating my novel about the lives of different species in the animal and plant kingdoms of Navaselva, a weasel became one of the main characters. In many ways after I created the first chapter and a journey narrative I felt the novel began to write itself. The characters, the places, and the challenges faced seemed to fall into place. However, one aspect of my way of writing was to avoid speech, I did not want talking animals that would be too like humans. But I needed characters with personality and feelings.
Comadreya is the word for weasel in Spanish. I named the weasel this but then changed it to Comadrito when Ruth was drawing him. She wanted a more engaging name. At first I wrote with some distance from the character and in 3rd person omniscient ( this now seems to be an old fashioned style, if an all knowing narrative perspective). I now realise the need to engage the reader by being more in the point of view of one character.
The beginning idea came from a story told by our yoga teacher Juanjo. I struggled to understand the Spanish but this was about someone seeing a bird of prey lift up a weasel in its talons but then drop the weasel fairly soon after, possibly as the weasel bit the bird’s feet.
Weasels are known for their sharp teeth and ability to kill all kinds of prey. Much later after creating my bird/ weasel encounter I saw the iconic photo of a weasel on the back of a woodpecker. It seems both survived the encounter but the weasel was trying to kill the bird.
The smallest weasels, Mustela nivalis are very light, about 50 grams but are known for their need to eat a good percentage of their body weight every day. Hence their ability to tackle a wide variety of prey from small rodents to rabbits and large birds.They could be seen as opportunists, sharp, able to act quickly and fearless.
The first chapter of my novel begins with a weasel waiting on a rock to go on a journey of discovery. One of my two encounters with tiny weasels at Navasola was looking out of the front door and seeing a weasel on the rock by the olive tree. It seemed to look back at me but in its mouth was a mouse. I had to ponder the possibility that a mouse that I had recently released from being trapped in a large box in the house, had been delivered, tired and intimidated by its encounter with me, into the sharp teeth of the weasel.
These are some of the reasons I chose a weasel, a small enough animal to travel on the back of a large bird, an animal that can hide easily, but able to slip in an out of many different places in a quest for knowledge about a rapidly changing planet. Knowledge that can be shared to help all species adapt and survive. One of the main themes of the novel is facing challenges through cooperation and coexistence.
I have one more poem to go and it is ready as it is one I wrote for my artist friend Ruth Konigsberger’s exhibition a year ago. It has also been translated into Spanish and I hope to work on some of these poems and translate some into Spanish as they are very much about the flora and fauna of the Sierra Aracena.
I will also do a final fundraising on that post because the one I started at the beginning was time limited and closely connected to the London Marathon and losses that charities are facing in this pandemic.