Quaker Testimonies

Eating the Climate Elephant: One Bite at a Time

I walk through what was once a lively forest, now reduced to charred standing skeletons devoid of branches, needles, shade. This was once a welcoming vibrant forest retreat, but now I am hypervigilant, watching for a strong wind as swaying snags threaten my head. There is life here—beetles furiously chewing in the snags, woodpeckers hammering to pry them out—but it is hard to focus on these small signs. Surrounded by these visual reminders of forest trauma, I am overwhelmed by the grief and shock of this rapid change to the forest ecosystem—not just the loss of our forest community, but also of homes burned, towns burned. It stirs my memories of people living in tents on the roadside because they had nowhere else to go.

How do we recover from this? I recall a lesson learned as I was working on the fireline, which starts with an old saying: “How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” That never made sense to me; even if I ate one bite at a time, I’d never finish the elephant. What I realized fighting this fire was that in this one-million-acre fire, with my crew of logging equipment operators—bulldozers, feller bunchers, masticators, skidders, water tenders—we were each taking bites— constructing a stretch of fireline that held on Grizzly Ridge. My fellow firefighters—handcrews, air tankers, and engines—were each taking bites near Mineral, Old Station, Chester and Janesville. Each of us was using the tools that we had—our experience, our determination. We were taking action, doing what we could, and we finally caught the Dixie Fire. Lesson learned: it’s not just one person who takes a bite. It is all of us taking bites, working together to eat that elephant.

Since the Dixie Fire, I have been taking on climate leadership. I have been sharing in presentations and informal conversations about how we eat this elephant together in our recovery, each doing what we can. I am a forest manager. I have been leading a community protection and forest recovery landscape-level project. I am implementing projects with partners to make the forest more resilient in a changing climate and resistant to catastrophic wildfire. I am tending the forests that are still standing. I am collecting cones and planting trees on those lands that burned. Not only am I tending my forest community, I am also tending my human community. I listen to others’ climate grief. I am listening to their stories of fire, of loss—their loss of homes, livelihoods, places of recreation or retreat, tradition, their spiritual connections. Sometimes I just listen. Other times I can offer a bit of hope, perspective or empowerment. We are interconnected with nature; what affects one of us affects the other.

So, how do we tackle something so huge and overwhelming as climate change? Consider your tools, your experience, your strengths. Perhaps you are a teacher and can encourage the next generation of creative problem-solvers. Perhaps you grow a garden, and you save heirloom seeds. Perhaps you are the first one in your neighborhood to own an electric car and solar panel array, and you teach us all how to use it. Perhaps you take your kids on a nature walk and inspire them to learn from nature. Perhaps you are an artist, and you help us all appreciate with gratitude the beauty and gifts around us. Perhaps you educate others through your activism or research. Perhaps you listen and support your children or grandchildren through their own climate grief. If we are mired by grief or anxiety, we can be paralyzed from taking action, and we ALL are needed to take action. What you CAN do within your light, and what you ARE doing, matters. That is how we will eat this climate elephant, by all of us picking up our forks and taking one bite at a time.

Kristin Winford, RFM Blog Contributor

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.