Volume 12, Issue 8 ~ February 19-25, 2004

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Earth Journal

The Mink
by Gary Pendleton

The mink came suddenly into view, then it vanished into the marsh as quickly as it had appeared.

A mink. There are minks here? Apparently so.

Poet Wendell Berry begins To the Unseeable Animal with a quote from his daughter: “I hope that somewhere there is an animal that nobody has ever seen. And I hope that nobody ever sees it.”

Berry’s phantom creature is a “Being whose flesh dissolves at our glance … dwelling in the oldest sycamores.” The mink, until that moment, had been an unseeable to me, and there were plenty of sycamores around for it to take shelter in.

Unseeable, rare even, but certainly known to the world — at least in a general sense. Still, this one and its clan were quietly living there by the Patuxent, unknown, perhaps except by the keenest human observers.

Like otters, minks are members of the weasel family and live near water. They are small, about two pounds or less, but they are aggressive hunters of opossums, fish and birds. They are famous for their beautiful, glossy fur.

“That we do not know you is your perfection and our hope,” continues Berry.

Hope for what? Perhaps hope that the world is big enough and our natural places are wild enough that something like a mink can live within our larger community of roads and houses and be unseeable to you and me, while its gaze passes over us. Or hope that in some remote part of South America there still might live a species of parrot without a name … and that it might never be named.

How about a worm? In the spring of 2002, a previously unknown species of earth worm was discovered near the shores of this very river. It was given the name Diplocardia patuxentii.

May the hope that unseeable species of worms thrive beneath your feet bring comfort and inspiration to those who seek it. As another poet said, “We love the things we love for what they are.” We need some kind of hope to keep us alive.

Wild places and wild creatures provide an important reservoir of hope and inspiration. One need not seek out the rare or the unknown, but there is always the possibility of encountering the unexpected: an orchid, a wild azalea, a scarlet tanager. I imagine a person out there who will someday discover many of these things for the first time, and I am glad that transformation awaits.

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Last updated February 18, 2004 @ 11:59pm.