You Can Eat an Elephant (but you shouldn’t…but if you had to…you should try to do it this way)


Eric and I planned to set aside Sunday for farm chores. The ones I keep putting off, like weeding the potatoes in preparation for digging, and ripping out the tomatoes that have shown signs of late blight from this cool, wet summer. But instead of tackling the chores together, Eric was in bed with a fever.

I schlepped back and forth with the wheelbarrow, dumping calendula stalks in the compost more than a dozen times. (Because I have a problem in the spring when the calendula starts growing, and my problem is that I let it. I even weeded the heck out of it this year leaving one shoot and pulling the fifteen that had self-seeded around it. But it clearly wasn’t enough, and so, hence, a dozen wheelbarrow trips to the compost and that was just on Sunday). When I got tired I went inside and filled up Eric’s glass of water and forced him to sit up and drink. I covered him with more quilts and blankets upon his request, even though he was sweating. I brought him crackers but he couldn’t manage to eat until I told him I’d make him chicken soup for dinner. (I am crediting last season’s Thanksgiving turkey stock for his returned health and vigor).


The setback felt a little like par for the course. But instead of allowing myself to feel overwhelmed, drowning in the sea of work, I kept calm and repeated a mantra my mother taught me many years ago: “You can eat an elephant, you just have to eat it one bite at a time.” (My mother has nothing personal against elephants, nor has she ever eaten [a real] one herself). She did however draw a picture of an elephant inside one of my school binders to remind me of this mantra in case I happened to forget it. I never did.

The image of that giant elephant sticks with me in times like now. Such a large thing to eat. And where to begin? And if we’re being honest about trying to eat one, it is probably very tough with a knife and fork. (I will imagine, because I must, that I found it dead. But not so dead that it’s covered in flies or will make me sick). And also, I am going to starve if I don’t eat it. All of it. Because if I don’t eat all of it…then this metaphor does not make sense.


So I carved in to that elephant and started off at what seemed like the easiest place to start. And halfway through the day it seemed that nothing was wrong at all. I was moving forward, seeing progress, feeling good about what I was accomplishing (eating this elephant as it were). This is the best way to work on the farm. Without frustration.

I have heard that if you work frustrated you can carry your bad energy in to the gardens and it affects the plants. Whether this is true or not I don’t know. What I do know is that when I don’t follow this advice the birds scatter when I enter. All I see are weeds. And I don’t notice the little bits of magic all around me. But when I am calm I enter the gardens differently. The birds don’t notice me, or they are unafraid. And on Sunday, while I was harvesting dry beans I was greeted by this magnificent fellow:


Now he is my friend, and I’ve been visiting with him everyday since Sunday. He just hangs out on the dry bean vines, pretending he’s a bean pod. When the wind blows he moves a little in his rocking back and forth motion, which makes him look both like a leaf and a bean which is amazing. I just learned that praying mantises are symbols of calm, inner reflection, stillness, and healing. I think that is pretty incredible because the last time I saw a praying mantis it was at a time when I myself was suffering through physical pain and in need of stillness and healing. I will take it as a good omen.

Since Sunday it seems all the creatures have been arriving, or maybe I’m just paying better attention. A blue heron landed on our wood pile, giving us a majestic show of his 9 foot wingspan. A family of hawks has been perching on the pear trees and oaks. The hummingbirds are visiting the zinnia and canna daily. Because I work alone, and the work is so repetitive and maintenance driven, visits from these creatures help get me through my week. It’s like getting a visit from a movie star.

grapesAfter eating some soup Eric felt well enough to help me take our grapes off their stems in preparation for jelly making. Monday morning I brought him out to the gardens to meet Mantis. We decided (again) that we want to have a praying mantis farm where we raise praying mantises to sell and even if we never sell any, that would be okay too. So I’m adding that to the list of things to do, and not at all feeling overwhelmed by it.

P.S. It wouldn’t be fair of me to leave you with such a rosy picture of my Zen state of farming. When I wrote this post it was the absolute truth. But then, last night, after learning that we might (read: absolutely do) have a black mold problem in our cellar, I lost my cool while canning tomatoes. I couldn’t find a place on the table to put down a pot because it was covered in quart jars and slimy cutting boards and tomato skins. And I felt the Zen Mantis Calm disintegrate and suddenly I was that little girl whose mom needed to draw her a picture of an elephant on the inside of her binder. My Zen is in a state of fluctuation. The first step toward calm is accepting that fact.



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