Ermine Eyes

Vole in the snow, an ermine's delight

Vole in the snow, an ermine’s delight

The ermine’s eyes were dark, set off by the shine of his white coat, the transformation from weasel completed weeks ago. I don’t call those eyes black, for if the sun were different, lights would flicker in their obsidian depths. The sleek mustellid was hunting voles in the back pasture. His bounce caught my attention, so I skied up on him by only moving when he was hidden under the snow. Then he emerged while I was mid-stride, and my presence was known. Our eyes met, both of us motionless.

Predators look into you, a different feeling from locking eyes with prey species. My experience has shown me that the hunters, from wolf down to weasel, will stare beyond your eyes, leaving you revealed, stripped of any falsehoods. Elk, deer, and smaller prey such as squirrels, look at you, not into you – which is not to say I haven’t shared some soulful glances with an elk or two.

In part, the difference is how the species’ eyes are set in their heads. Predator eyes face forward, allowing for depth perception and a better sense of distance, assets when hunting down a meal. Predators are physically looking directly at you with both eyes, creating a penetrating gaze. In contrast, prey eyes are set on the side of the head, giving them a wider range of view, allowing them to be on the alert. This means they can’t look straight into your eyes with both of theirs.

Yet. There seems more than eye-set at play. A keen, wildness sparks behind the hunters’ eyes. An intelligence, wisdom if you will. It flickers in the predators’ stare with an intensity that strikes to the core.

Still and intent, the ermine watched me watching him without a twitch or a blink or a shudder. The little hunter held me motionless for a time, dark eyes concentrated on mine. There is no guessing what was in his mind. Weasels think like weasels; all species hold their own ways of awareness.

Stillness, quiet, motionless, and then I twitched, blinked. The weasel departed, ducking under the snow and disappearing through subnivean corridors, returning to his hunt. I returned to my ski, noting how widely the ermine tracks were stitched across the pasture’s new-fallen snow.  

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