On the banks of a wide river, there was a field of corn. This field was ploughed season after season by a team consisting of a camel, harnessed to a donkey.
Watching them work together, pulling the ancient plough through the deep soil, we may ask,
Why use this ill-fitting pair?
Why not two donkeys?
Why not two camels?
Why not two horses or a small tractor?
Does the harness linking two such different bodies not pull and chafe?
How do they adjust their steps to work in time as they criss-cross the field? How do they share the load between the big, strong, slow, plodding camel and the small, determined, busy, striving donkey? Or is there a secret passionate attachment between camels and donkeys?’
It seems not – it seems they hate each other. It seems the harness needs constant re-adjustments before they learn to walk in step; to share the load. The camel has great strength but easily gets bored with confined slavery.
The donkey has commitment. He persists unwavering until the job is done. He offers companionship and direction to coax the camel to pull the plough all day.
Initially they do hate each other, hate the frustration, the restriction, the smell, hate each others strange and snorting breath – and yet – after some time – a year or many years if you take that particular donkey away from that particular camel, both will pine, miss the routine and long for all those familiar characteristics that once were so hated.
After months and years of mutual adjustment, of working, eating, sleeping together – a deep affection grows and both the camel and the donkey fret if they are separated.
But we’ll return to watch what happens in the field.
One day a chook was passing by. A chook who had ambition.
The chook admired the fertile field and looked with longing at the ripening corn. The chook was scavenging, yearning for security. The chook dreamt of a little niche in a peaceful farmyard, a safe place to call her own. She scratched at the edge of the field and hatched a plan.
The next day the chook approached the camel and asked to be included in the team, to share the stable and to forage in the farmyard.
The camel was not much impressed, neither was the donkey. They could see no benefit in having a chook around. They had managed very well without a chook.
The chook offered to work with the team, to sit on the camel’s hump and give directions to keep the furrows straight. The donkey and the camel couldn’t see the point, straighter furrows would not increase the harvest. They told the chook to go away.
They told her very kindly, but quite firmly. They explained that they really did not need a chook about the place, they could not see what a chook could contribute and a chook may even interrupt the quiet plodding of their days.
The chook retreated to the edge of the field. She was a stubborn and determined chook and she deeply wanted to belong to a team.
As she watched she plotted, she scratched together all her courage and once again she approached the Camel.
This time Chook had a different proposition.
This time Chook proposed that she share the planting work. She described how she could scratch the soft dirt behind the plough and drop the corn seeds into holes. Chook was sure that she could cover the seed with her scratching and thus make the team entirely independent of humans. Chook could save the Camel and the Donkey the long and tedious work of harrowing the planted seed to cover it with soil.
Chook declared that his would reduce the pulling time by 38%, time that could be allocated to dreaming in the sun. She continued with her argument that she would need only a small proportion of the corn, not one third as might be expected by such a busy team member, but her need was amply met if she had a large cup-measure every day.
This time Camel and Donkey saw the benefit and though they were reluctant to commit they agreed to a short trial of this new technique. Chook worked very hard. The trial was considered a success and the team continued to work together as time passed.
One day a large, long, sinuous, shiny snake slithered past the edge of this green fertile field. His life had been precarious. He was hated and hunted and spent his days longing for sanctuary and acceptance. He saw the high dry corn that offered cover and harboured ample rats and mice to make his hunting easy.
The snake made a plan and decided to approach the camel, as the largest and obvious leader of the team. He slithered through the field and hissed toward the camel, ‘I would like to join your team …’
He hardly got the words out; Camel shrank back in horror. He snorted and he roared, ‘Get out! This is our field. We do not deal with ssssnakes!
It is unworkable, unthinkable! A snake is most repulsive and not even a domestic animal!’
The snake lay quietly, he did not move, he was determined to be heard.
When the Camel stopped to draw a breath snake said, ‘I could contribute to your harvest – and I don’t even need a share – I can protect your field from vermin mice and rats who plunder your good seed – I would be satisfied with hunting rights and the protection of the dense crop.
‘Also – I am widely feared – no wondering stock will dare to enter here without permission once they know I am a member of your team.’
Camel could not give permission. His shaggy coat stood up and shivers ran over his body. Donkey cringed against the corner of the shed and Chook sat silent on the highest post.
They could not work with snakes.
The snake remained – he would not give up his chance for a safe abundant life. He made yet another proposal.
‘I can use my pointed tail to push holes down into the soft earth in preparation for chook to drop the seed. With my help Chook will get much more planted, with a minimum of scratching. One light scratch and the seed will be covered. This will halve the work at least, enable greater planting and increase the leisure time.
I have observed, with seniority, we do appreciate the long siesta’s in the sun – to warm our achy joints before the evening chill.’
The snake did not go away.
Slowly the team relaxed, considered, and agreed to try this new technique. As time passed our team found the new work plan had very good results. Each happily gathered their share of the harvest, had their needs met for safety and companionship, and peacefully slept many hours in the sun.
One evening as the snake slid quietly through the furrows with the late sun gleaming on his back Camel realised that he had been inspired by Snake’s courage when he was hunted, his agility when snake was chasing mice, snake’s invisibility when he was hiding, all so unlike his own large hairy Camel self. Camel sighed with gladness that he had not sent Snake away, that he had not encouraged Donkey to stamp on Snake, as had once been suggested.
Camel was glad that he had not instructed Chook to harass Snake into leaving, which he had once considered.
Camel watched in admiration of that lithe efficient body, he marveled at the soundless ripple of the scales, and realised that he loved the snake who had enriched their lives and given them new opportunity.