There was once a tortoise and a mole who lived in a strawberry patch in the middle of a great garden. One day, while cleaning up a mess the elephants left behind, the two began to argue.
“We simply must do something about these elephants continually coming into our garden and stomping everything to bits.” said the mole, “We should really consider just getting rid of these pesky elephants altogether.”
“I think we ought to get some elephants of our own to guard our strawberry patch.” the tortoise considered.
The mole was skeptical. “But then what’s to prevent our own elephants from accidentally ruining our patch or even stepping on the two of us?” inquired the mole sarcastically and unquestionably rhetorically, “You know your shell can’t withstand an elephant stomp, and neither can my tunnels. Wouldn’t it just be better to have no elephants at all?”
“Oh, don’t be such a wimp!” the tortoise quipped as he became angry, confidently bullying the mole from the confines of his tough keratin shell, “What we need is an army of elephants who answer to us!”
“What we need,” stubbornly insisted the mole, “is no more elephants at all! We just don’t need them. There’s no purpose for them. There should be none whatsoever. What we need is to not have any elephants. They should be gone forever!”
Now at an impasse, and making no progress at all, the tortoise and the mole paced up and down, making the same arguments over and over. They strode farther and faster in hopes of making their point better despite having no new words. Before they knew it, they were striding through the garden, shouting and waving their arms, occasionally stopping to gesture and point for emphasis. They rehashed old rants at various places throughout the garden in spite of each other, not caring one bit that the other had already heard it. Each thought that somehow, if stated whilst standing on a different hill or corner, it would re-energize an already thread-worn argument.
Along their walk they passed a pond where some ducks and muskrats carried on their regular business of dunking their heads and dragging sticks around. The ducks and the muskrats, seeing that something was very much afoot, promptly asked the tortoise and the mole what the matter was. The mole was happy to oblige. He reminded them of the recent difficulties with elephants and declared that everyone must, quickly and without haste, rid the garden entirely of all elephants, for elephants were so very powerful and only capable of doing harm.
The fed-up tortoise quickly countered that everyone in the garden, once and for all, must assemble an army of elephants to guard against the unruly sort of elephants that always seemed to be around causing trouble.
Well, the ducks took the mole’s side and the muskrats took the tortoise’s side, and they began to argue as well. And they continued to argue long after the tortoise and the mole were gone.
The tortoise and the mole passed a field of deer and pheasants who were gently grazing and picking at the ground as deer and pheasants are wont to do. But after hearing each of the two sides of this traveling debate, they then stopped their activities altogether and began shouting at one another, leaving their digging and picking for some later date.
And, as they went, the tortoise and the mole spread their argument to whoever would listen, and some who were merely within earshot. Every animal took a side. And each time the tortoise and the mole walked on, they would leave behind more and more animals arguing about elephants.
And, just like that, they left a ruckus everywhere they went. Where ever they tread, they left a mess behind.
And on and on they went, past the blueberry patch where the monkeys and the squirrels hung out, and who soon had a quarrel.
They went past the sunflower plot with the mice and the crows, leaving them to bicker and grouse.
They went past the ditch with the racoons and the flies who had existed peacefully for eons before but could simply stand each other no more.
And down the trail they went, setting neighbor against neighbor. Some animals stopped being friends. Some stopped carrying on business together. Some even picked up and moved to different parts of the garden.
Finally, a skunk stepped out onto the trail, blocking the way and holding up his big stinky tail as a warning. The skunk huffed, crossed his arms in front of him and his face turned pink with anger. “I am disgusted with the two of you!” shouted the skunk as loud as his voice would go. It carried over the sound of the wind and running brooks. He could be heard from every corner of the garden and a hush finally descended over the arguing animals everywhere. “Can’t you two see yourselves? You see everything in black and white! Even I know it isn’t right. Look at the chaos you make. Look at the mess you leave in your wake. You two are a fright. You’re only doing us harm. I’m telling you now, I’m telling you, you two, you, you… you stink!”
The skunk held them there with his threatening tail until they agreed to bring their debate before the wise old owl who lived in a giant oak tree in the middle of the garden.
So they went to the owl.
The owl, though he lived quite high up in the tree with a commanding view of the whole garden, was still a quite humble creature and not one to feel right talking down to all those around, so he flew down to the ground and invited animals from all around to join in.
And the animals came. From all corners of the great garden, the animals showed up for this important, yet impromptu, meeting: There came big hairy animals such as buffalo and bears, and the four-legged skittish things with horns of all sizes and twists. There came the moody, temperamental, sorts such as wolves and tigers and other things with teeth and claws. And, of course, there were the regulars — like a million different kinds of insects and birds of every shape and color (and who everyone thought made a quantity of noise far out of proportion to their size). There were tiny little fuzzy things who scurried about and whose names nobody knew. And there were reptiles and other things without hair, such as the fish who nobody asked how they got there.
The owl stood on the ground among all the other animals and spoke. “Indeed, the elephants are a great problem. Each of them much more powerful than any one of us” the owl mused, “but, look around you. We do not live each on our own. Do you not see our diverse community?”
The tortoise and the mole each agreed with the owl and so did many other animals who nodded in agreement and murmured amongst themselves.
“Are we in this together?” asked the owl.
Wholeheartedly, the animals agreed. Despite their newfound differences, each felt they were part of a community and, agree or not, for that community, they felt strong responsibility.
“Mr. Hawk,” the owl drew attention to a majestic hawk perched on a fencepost at the edge of the group (All the animals were quite familiar with the hawk as he flew overhead all day where everyone could see), “what is your greatest strength?”
“Well, I’m only a bird after all,” said the hawk, “and birds aren’t known for their strength — especially against elephants!” The hawk drew a laugh from the crowd. “But I see quite well. In fact, from a mile in the air, I can see a field mouse scratch his nose.” He fixed his gaze on one particular field mouse who looked sheepish and the tiny little fuzzy things who scurried about were decidedly less comfortable to be there.
“Exactly,” pondered the owl. “And, Mr. Fox, tell us of a particular skill of yours.”
“Well, I have many skills.” The fox snickered. He looked from side to side, then snickered again. “But I will tell of one. My ears are so good, I can hear a field mouse scratch his nose from beneath two feet of snow and a foot of dirt.” And the small fuzzy things who scurried about considered going home but stayed just the same.
“Exactly,” pondered the owl again, and then spoke to the crowd at large, “Do not all of you each possess unique skills, attributes and qualities of your own?” asked the owl.
Some animals nodded. Others shrugged. The tortoise and the mole agreed with the owl, each having the ability to retreat into a shell and to see in complete darkness, respectively, and knew that what the owl was saying was true.
“If you were free to be what you choose to be, to help the community, what would you do? What would you be?” the owl posed his riddle for the gathering to consider. And, just then, the owl’s soliloquy turned into a community meeting. The owl proposed to the animals what they might do and the animals had ideas of their own. They discussed and exchanged suggestions, but mostly just thought of how to administer their strengths and what they already do. And the animals decided, together, to do what they each could do best.
After that, the animals worked together, but by doing their own thing.
The hawk set about his days as he usually did up in the tall trees and flying about, but always keep a watchful eye out.
And the fox went about his normal course of business but occasionally put his ear to the ground to listen.
And all the deer, wary as they always were, always kept a lookout. Always.
And the furry little things, who mostly stayed in their holes, were mindful of any shudder underground.
Even the flies of the dirty old ditch did their job, looking with their multitude of eyes, zipping about and landing on things, tasting with their feet (as disgusting as it was).
Each and every animal had a skill and a job. Porcupines and pigs and animals of all sorts — they paid attention and kept in communication, to warn each other. They were all vigilant and kept an eye, or an ear or a… tentacle out for danger. And if anyone sensed anything afoot, they raised the alarm that trouble might be coming and everyone could prepare.
They even had a small number of elephants of their own that were watched over by some lions who were wise and knew-well all the ways of elephants.
And the garden was mostly peaceful again. But sometimes not so peaceful. There were bad times, but they were not so bad as before, for often having been forewarned, and always benefiting from a community that cooperated.
So the deer and the pheasants went back to their picking.
And the ducks and the muskrats dunked their heads and dragged at their sticks again.
The racoons and the flies became friends again and the crows and the mice bickered no more.
The strawberries grew again and all the other animals forgave the tortoise and the mole for the great mess they had made of the garden.