The Words of the Moffitt Family
Once upon a time it was winter and a light snowfall had put an inch of fluff over old snow that had turned to an icy crust capable of supporting a grown man if he went slowly and spread his weight along his stride.
For a boy of 13, however, the crust was thick enough to run on without constantly breaking through into the foot of snow below.
Ice crystals sparkled on the moonlit ground with the appearance of a careless diamond baron having passed through the woods. There was no wind to disturb the delicately formed weasel prints and no sign of wear to indicate whether the tracks had been there an hour or a thousand years. All the boy knew was that he was a half hour into the hunt and that he would go the distance.
The air coming into his chest was cold and dry and when it came out an instant later it tried to take the lining of his throat with it. His mouth kept filling with mucus as his body rallied to defend itself from the dryness. As he ran, he turned his head to spit, but the wind of running was quicker and soon a trickle of ice began to form across his cheek.
The hunt wasn't a whim of the moment but came from the question country children always ask whenever they come upon a set of prints in the woods: Where do the tracks come from and where do they go?
And though he never spoke them, the questions that always filled the boy's mind were beyond those of other children. He asked himself: "Where is this weasel going?" He wanted to know the whole story of this weasel and how many brothers and sisters it had. He burned to know in detail, what this weasel was thinking that could make it run so far.
There were always tracks of one kind or another around the house, but this morning he decided he would follow the clearest set he could find that night. And he would follow them until he caught the weasel.
Thus, within a day, he had told himself that morning, I will know better than anyone else where the weasel goes. And I will know what he thinks.
He knew if he were ever to be as wise as Solomon, he would have to do many things like this. And wasn't that his dream? His determination? Someday I want to know everything, he had told his parents. Someday I'm sure you will, they answered. He believed them.
He had been at it for over an hour now and for the first time, caught a glimpse of a brownish gray tail as it slid out of sight behind a rock. For the first time since he began, the weasel was aware of him and the hunt was now a chase.
The sight of the weasel alone was renewal to the boy's energy and warmth to his limbs. Hands and feet which had begun to feel the cold and fatigue were forgotten. They and the other parts of his body would have to fend for themselves. His mind was abandoning all for weasel.
He burst up an incline and suddenly found himself knee-deep in an erosion gully that had filled with snow. The animal scampered up the 200-foot run and into the trees beyond, but the boy had to lift his knees to his chest in a slow and painful trudge. He began to crawl on all fours and finally to skim on his belly to keep from sinking. Snow went up his sleeves and into the front of his cloth coat where it melted next to his body, turning his sweat to ice water.
It was three in the morning and he had been going for five hours without rest. He alternated running with walking but avoided stopping altogether. He told his mind that if running was normal for chasing, then walking was the same as stopping to lay down. Because he knew the weasel wouldn't be stopping tonight he would rest by walking.
He looked ahead in the moonlight. The weasel was pausing to look behind trying to understand why he was being pursued as no other had done before. Even a wolf would have stopped before this. There were plenty of other tracks crossing mine. Why me? Why doesn't he stop? The weasel stepped on stones across a small creek leaving four bunched prints atop each powdered mound.
The animal was almost in sight now. It rested whenever it could by walking over deep soft snow to delay the boy. Once, it lay down, looked back and wearily rose to go.
The sky in front of the boy was becoming a lighter shade of black. He had never gone so far without stopping, but whenever he thought about resting he would see the weasel less than 50 feet ahead. For the last two hours he had begun to feel as if he were touching the animal's fur. He could feel its heart beating in its chest and when their eyes met, he thought he could see his own face reflected.
By 6:00 the sun flecked through the trees and he found himself on a knoll near a village 20 miles from his home. At the clearing's edge the weasel was laying on its side, breathing heavily, watching the boy's approach. It didn't move as he came closer.
The boy touched his fur, then knelt beside it to stroke it soothingly from head to tail. The weasel's eyes watched every move but they were eyes of surrender nonetheless. From so close, the boy clearly saw, not his face but his spirit, reflected in the eyes of the animal. No matter the redness of the boy's face the blood-laced eyes and the ghastly beard of frozen breath and mucus on his cheeks and chin: no matter his appearance. As the weasel understood the boy's spirit, all panic left it and its fur lay down on its back, sleek and calm.
In reply to the boy's mercy and in respect for his determination, the weasel's eyes told of its life, and gave up its secrets. The feeling of kinship brought tears to the boy. He spoke softly. "Thank you," and rose to walk toward the village.
He was intensely aware of his hunger so he knocked at the first house to ask for breakfast. Between bites he told them who he was and what he had done and why. When he had finished eating, the farmer's wife smiled and asked.
"And what were the weasel's thoughts?"
"He was thinking of me," the boy said.