Recently, my Dad purchased a large swath of overgrown and poison-oak-filled land behind his home in the country. Don’t get the wrong picture, the land is beautiful, but it’s just a little wild and uninhabitable right now.
To address the overgrowth, he purchased goats to chomp down all that’s gone unchecked for an inestimable amount of years. The choice of goats over pesticide was an ecologically-conscious move on his part, but little did he know that he’d be doing the local coyote packs the biggest favor of all by providing them with fresh meat on most evenings.
The goat family of nine has now dwindled to two.
So, now that my Dad’s lost the animal power, he’s resorted to an eco-friendly middle ground, which has him employing a friend and I to tame the jungly wildlands with chain saws, weedwackers, and burn piles a plenty.
Before engaging the 40 acres of fallen trees and stemming poison oak plants with our arboreal arsenal, my Dad engaged us in some brief Socratic dialogue:
“Do you know how to eat an elephant?” My Dad asked.
I’d heard this one before, but couldn’t quite recall the answer, though I knew it was something cheeky and wise – my Dad’s favorite combo.
“One bite at a time,” he stated, looking satisfied.
A quick thought toward my vegetarianism came and went before I could formulate a quippy reply and, besides, Dustin jumped at the opportunity to interpret my father’s parable:
“The 40 acres are the elephant and our tools are our teeth to bite it with,” he said, looking eager to begin the day’s work.
“Exactly,” my Dad replied.
Hours passed as we sawed branches and built up heaping piles of soggy oak and snappy branches. After many attempts of dousing the damp logs with diesel fuel, a fire eventually started. We all piled brush on top of it, watching the wildland slowly become welcoming.
“What do you want to do with all of this land?” Dustin asked my Dad.
“The vision is for it to look like a park,” he answered.
“And then what?” He asked.
“And then I’m just going to enjoy it.”
A few more hours passed as one of the remaining goats pranced around its unnecessarily large yard and we began to see real progress in a small section of the acres that we’d decided to munch on for the day. One bite at a time.
Then, my Dad spoke again, which can’t always be expected.
“The less you move out of your comfort zone, the smaller your comfort zone gets,” he said.
He was prompted to share this adage after we’d been talking about the projects that have eluded us over the years.
“I thought I’d have the back 40 cleared last year,” he added.
“I guess everyone’s got their own kind of ‘back 40’ to deal with,” Dustin exhaled.
I thought about the book I haven’t written.
The fire was now roaring and it didn’t much matter how wet the wood was that we added upon it anymore. Everything burned. We surveyed the portion of land we’d worked and reflected a fatigued pride for our day’s efforts.
In view of the entire elephant, today we ate a tail…maybe only half of it at that, but at least we began biting at something.
Now allow me to attempt to marry the day’s disparate proverbs together:
I know there’s an enmeshed relationship between discomfort and progress; pain and process; work and rest. I know this because I’ve never had a satisfied one without the other. Yet, I still go for the latter before braving the former.
So, let me preach:
Before our respective ‘back 40s’ are made habitable – so we can ‘just enjoy them’ – there’s an elephant to consume.
Your elephant is probably a different shape, size, and flavor than mine, but the same silly truth applies to yours as it does to mine as it does to my Dad’s as it applies to Dustin’s, etc.
You simply take one bite at a time.
It’ll be uncomfortable.
You might lose goats.
You might get poison oak rashes all over your face.
Your back might ache from heaving logs up hills.
But every little effort is a step in progress and process leading to rest.
Find your proverbial elephant and let the feast begin.