My daughter loves reading right now. Mostly she’s obsessed with Curious George; but when I get the chance I read her a little book called Over in the Meadow. If you’re familiar with the dulcet sounds of Raffi in your family, the title of this book may sound familiar. It’s actually an old counting rhyme, listing out a series of meadow creatures from one to ten. I sing it rather than read it, which keeps V pretty entertained.
I’d heard Raffi singing “Over in the Meadow” many times, but honestly never listened to the lyrics other than briefly noting it generally had something to do with crickets and muskrats. So when hunting through the library shelves one day, I was intrigued to find an illustrated version. We brought it home, I cleared my throat (trying to remember exactly how the Raffi goes), and jumped in. Unfortunately we were only a few short pages in when the beauty of what I was reading/singing hit me. I started weeping, couldn’t keep singing, and needed a few minutes to collect myself while a surprised daughter looked on.
Simply put, if you’re not familiar with Over in the Meadow (or maybe even if you are), it’s one of the best pictures of the creational norm, of the way life should be, that I’ve found.
Each verse is quite simple. It starts by mentioning that over in the meadow some animal, or bird, or bug lives. Then it goes on to describe a mother of [insert animal, bird, or bug] instructing her offspring to do whatever it is said animal, bird, or bug does. The offspring respond enthusiastically, agreeing to do whatever it is they ought to do, and in conclusion they do it happily.
Take for example the third verse about bluebirds:
“Over in the meadow, in a hole in a tree,
Lived a mother bluebird and her little birdies three.
‘Sing!’ said the mother.
‘We sing,’ said the three.
So they sang and were glad,
In the hole in the tree.”
This simple ditty portrays the full glory of creation. In the creation, God said to each living thing, “Do this.” The world responded and God looked upon it declaring it good. The turtles dug, the fish swam, the muskrats dove, the bees buzzed, the ravens cawed, and so on and so on. And then each living creature turned to its offspring and repeated God’s command, teaching their young to joyfully do exactly as the Lord had given them to do.
All that is, except for humankind, leading a simple little book like Over in the Meadow to remind me of the full tragedy of the fall. When I sing this book to my daughter, I feel a deep and longing ache. If the frogs know to croak and they know to tell their young to croak, and this is what they were made to do from beginning of the dawn and what they will find joy in doing until the end of all, what is the equivalent for me and my daughter? What is the one word summary I could give her to sum up the very meaning of our existence? That thing which she might do in response to my command which would give her the joy and satisfaction this song describes of life in the meadow finding the natural rhythms of their short lives? In the fall, humanity lost not only its memory of the life-defining command given to us by God, we also lost the joy inherent to that command. “Be fruitful. Have dominion.” This is a command we barely remember and when we do, it often feels bitter in our mouths. Unlike the bees who buzz in response to the millennia old command engrained in their genetic code, we are a lost and disjointed version of life, leading every human generation to ask again what our purpose here is.
I want my daughter to grow up, knowing and feeling the pain of this loss. I want her to look at the animal world around her and to long for a simple obedience to God’s creational command. I want her to hear this song and one day ask me, “Mama, what should I do?”
My favorite verse is the last one. The tenth verse is about fireflies:
“Over the meadow, in a soft shady glen,
Lived a mother firefly and her little flies ten.
‘Shine!’ said the mother.
‘We shine,” said the ten.
So they shone like stars,
In the soft shady glen.”
When I sing this verse, it takes my mind to words far more ancient that Over in the Meadow.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of this crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”
Obviously, this mouthful is a lot more wordy than can fit into an eleventh verse of Over in the Meadow. Nonetheless, it’s a solid reminder of the directive that still remains for us fallen and lost children. Obey. For it is God who works in you. Do not complain. Rather shine in this world. Hold on to the word of life. Rejoice and be glad. These are things I can tell my daughter if she ever asks what she, like the animals, birds, and bugs, ought to do.
*I’m guessing there are more than one illustrated version of Over in the Meadow, but I personally recommend the version by Ezra Jack Keats. You may know him as the author and illustrator of The Snowy Day (another personal favorite). His illustrations of this old folk song will not disappoint.
And because I'm woefully behind on this whole one-post-a-day project, I'll just leave this little story right here:
Once upon a time, three women walked through Washington Square Park. The sunlight was flitting through the trees as they laughed loudly with each other and sipped their cappuccinos. Jazz wafted across the square from the Japanese musicians honing their craft for all to enjoy. The day was beautiful and magic was in the air when...
All three women jumped and immediately started to shriek. To their left a healthy and plump squirrel had just leapt from one 100-foot-high tree branch to another 100-foot-high tree branch, only to grasp onto a dainty twig too small to sustain his weight and plummet to the asphalt. Expecting squirrel brains and guts to spill out across the sidewalk, the women watched in horror as the squirrel twitched violently and then lay flat.
Hurriedly averting their eyes in a mad attempt to block out the horror, the three women rushed away from the sight, crying out in sorrow. But the youngest of the three glanced behind in pity only to find...
The squirrel running across the sidewalk.
Needless to say the recently quieted shrieks resumed once more, but this time passersby noted amazement lining the edges of the women's sounds. Running back to the location, they gazed in awe as the squirrel sat very still in the grass, collecting his breath. How could this make sense? The women had just watched this little animal plummet to his death not seconds before. They had witnessed him twitch and writhe, and ultimately go cold. They had heard the dead and sickening thud of his body against the ground. How in the world was this squirrel now...
Climbing the tree?
With supreme agility the tiny creature made his way back up the 100-foot-high tree and lighted once more upon its branches. The women stood in wonder at the little guy, wishing him sturdier branches and better days ahead.
And that is how we found out in a New York City park that squirrels can sustain a fall of over one-hundred feet and be totally ok. According to online sources, these amazing little animals fluff out their tails to use as a parachute when falling and are able to puff up their bodies in order to break the fall. This would be the equivalent of an adult human sustaining a fall of more than six-hundred feet.
The Snoke women have a new hero. And his name is squirrel.
By the age of 10, I had wanted a dog for most of my tender years. I imagined playing with it, taking it for walks, grooming it, all of which periodically led me to beg my parents for the realization of this pet. Due to our many moves and rental abodes, the habitual answer was "no." Eventually, my family landed in Pittsburgh and bought a house in my tenth year of life. This in and of itself felt like paradise and I once again reinstated the petition for a Snoke family dog. It seemed unlikely for us to move again, we had say over the house, and most importantly, we had grass. So one day I mustered up the courage to write a note of promise to my mother and father. I don't remember the particular phrasing, but the sum of what I wrote was, "If you let us get a dog, I promise with everything in me to be responsible for it, even the gross stuff. Please, please, please, please." I wrote it from the bottom of my heart and snuck downstairs to place it on my mother's desk, not having the courage to hand it to her directly. I went back to bed and prayed against reason that this note would somehow finally have an impact.
Well, the note disappeared. There wasn't an immediate response, which was a new and interesting development. For a while, I resisted the urge to bring it up in the hopes of displaying grown up detachment. But eventually, I could not hold back any longer and ventured questioning my mother to ascertain if she had actually received the note. Of course she had and I remember a quite serious conversation in which she leveled questions at me to ascertain the level of seriousness and commitment in my young heart. Oh, I wanted that dog so badly, I promised and promised to be faithful to the note and suggested my mother keep it and use it in times of unfaithfulness on my part should they ever arrive, which of course they never would! If she would just let us get a dog.
I started looking at the classifieds for free puppy adds in the newspaper. Every week, I breathlessly pulled out the printed sheets and imagined each and every breed mentioned. Then, things started to get really serious. On trips to the library, my mom started pulling dog training books of the shelves and bringing them home. She read up on the most hardy breads and how to tell if a puppy has a passive personality. One day, she announced her desire for us to get a beagle. I can still see the picture on the cover of the beagle book she was reading. We. were. getting. a. dog. Joy!
Sometime the next summer, the glorious day finally arrived. My mom's research plus my faithful classified search stumbled upon an add for free beagle puppies. They were a bit older than most puppies looking for a home and came from a farm outside the city. By now, everyone in the family was bursting at the seams with excitement and on a Saturday, we piled into our baby blue Dodge Caravan and headed for the farm. Elation sat in every seat.
After a clamorous ride, we pulled into a long driveway and immediately noticed a kennel with two adult beagles and a hoard of four puppies greeting us with howls as they jumped on the fence. We climbed out of the van and as my parents went to talk with the owner, I and my three younger siblings scoped out the puppy situation. Eventually the adults joined us and the one male and three female puppies were set free to run around the property. Two of them were highly energetic and the children immediately took a liking to them. My mother on the other hand, did not. The farmer had temporarily nicknamed them Houdini and Ankle-biter, certain bad omens for future prospects at dog training. We turned our attention to the other two. One trick for discerning a puppy's disposition my mom had read about was to pick the dog up on its back and hold it like a baby. If it struggled to get free, it would have a more active personality. What you wanted was a dog who contentedly lay passive in your arms. My dad bent over and picked up the third female and flipped her over. She lay there quietly and then suddenly reached up and gently licked his beard. She had long, soft ears and big, brown eyes. My dad said, "We'll take this one."
Ecstasy broke free and the children rushed to pet and meet the new addition. We bundled her up in a box and put her in the car, excited to start the hour long drive home. As we pulled out, the little puppy started shaking, displaying what was to be a lifelong malady of nervousness to the point of being sick when in moving vehicles . We children thought it was all purely amazing, not knowing how pathetic the poor creature would always be when it came to travel.
The puppy's six new owners commenced on the long and difficult task of choosing a name, again resorting to tips my mom had gleaned. We were instructed to think of a two-syllable name ending with an "ah" or "oh" sound since such names were supposedly easier for dogs to recognize. Somehow this task proved a lot harder than originally expected. How many pet names can you think of that fit this criteria? An early suggestion in the conversation was Sarah, but it was quickly dismissed as too much of an actual name for "real" people. But by the end of the drive home, we faced a serious shortage of other viable suggestions and decided it would have to be Sarah.
And so Sarah became a part of our family.