Old Mother Earth
[Fairy tale improvisation with 2nd graders at Notre Dame des Victoires, 2016. See curriculum here.]
“Gather around mouse children,” said Great Uncle Mouse in a serious voice. “I will open the Golden Purse because you are now old enough and strong enough to see the Sun Charm.”
Little ears stood straight up. Whiskers trembled with excitement. In all their lives they had been warned never to touch the Golden Purse hidden in the cottage wall of Old Mother Earth. The purse’s luminous glow sparked curiosity in the mouse children.
“Before we feast upon Old Mother Earth’s gifts of strawberries, Brussels sprouts, cheese, and apples, I will tell you why the Mouse People have been guardians of the magical Sun Charm for generations.”
The excited mouse children scampered to their places to watch, with wide-eyed anticipation. They watched Great Auntie Mouse open the Golden Purse and take out the Sun Charm. She laid it ever so gently on a velvet cloth. It shone like a tiny sun. While they stared in awe, Great Uncle Mouse began.
“Once upon a time, very long ago, Old Mother Earth was a young girl who lived by the sea with her father. Before he died, he sent her to live in this cottage in the deep wild woods. He also gave her a shell box that holds the magical necklace. Whenever she wears the star-shaped circle of shells, she has the power to understand and speak all the languages of the forest animals. Furry animals, feathered creatures, and even the fishes and frogs in the pond can talk with her. Old Mother Earth’s magical power, kindness, and generosity created a peaceful community. That is why playful animals and children love to visit her in the forest. When human children wander to this place, they splash in the pond; play with all the creatures of the forest and fill the woodland with laughter.”
“Old Mother Earth lived peacefully in this cottage for hundreds of years without ever getting any older, but there was a time when she was in great danger.”
“What happened?” squeaked a little mouse.
“Jealously and rage is what happened,” Great Uncle Mouse said in a thunderous voice. The little mice trembled. “In her house built on chicken legs, Baba Yaga detested the joyful sound of children at play. She raged and began to scheme how to end the long life of Old Mother Earth."
"All Baba Yaga needed was a sneaky helper. One day she overheard Dragonfly whining about how no one noticed him because of his small and delicate size. His jealousy of the large, reigning forest animals made him just the right companion for Baba Yaga’s evil scheme."
The mouse children huddled together as they shivered in fear. Just the mention of Baba Yaga’s name terrified them.
“Quiet down now, and I will tell you the story from the beginning,” commanded Great Uncle Mouse.
“When he was not much older than all of you, Great Grandfather Mouse ran all the way to the pond even though he was forbidden to leave the cottage alone. It was said that this was a dangerous place for little mice to go to by themselves. While hiding in the reeds, Great Grandfather Mouse found Baba Yaga befriending Dragonfly.”
“‘Listen to me Dragonfly. I am sick and tired of watching children go and see that old, smiling woman. They should be coming to my house so I can eat them. She must have a magical power because she’s been around for hundreds of years.
I want that magic. She is sure to shrivel up and die without it. And when she does, Dragonfly, you can rule all the animals yourself.’”
“‘How can I help?’ asked the menacing Dragonfly. He began to feel powerful as he imagined himself as emperor of the forest; making animals big and small bow down to the almighty Dragonfly.”
“‘All you have to do is whisper into the ears of all the animals that Old Mother Earth is tricking them and planning to do great harm. Make them fear her with lies. Come close Dragonfly, as I put a red spot on your head. It will give you all the evil stories you need to frighten the animals. When all are full of fear they will want to attack that old woman. Once I have her powers, I will declare you as emperor of the forest and even huge bears will bow down to you as the king of beasts.’”
“Your brave ancestor mouse raced right to Old Mother Earth and told her everything.”
“What did she do?” the young mice asked in chorus. “She must have had warriors with weapons to fight that terrifying Baba Yaga.”
“Not at all,” said Great Uncle Mouse. “Here is what she said.”
“‘Oh little mouse I have no power over Baba Yaga if she wants to hurt me. My strength comes from kindness and the necklace that lets us all talk to one another and live in peace. If the animals choose to attack, I can do nothing at all.’”
“Time passed. Day or weeks or months, I cannot say. All the while, Dragonfly buzzed in the ears of the animals spreading lies that Old Mother Earth’s kindness was only a trick to bring the animals close enough for her to destroy them all. Only fools would trust her.”
“Meanwhile Baba Yaga created a spell to weaken the shell necklace until Old Mother Earth could no longer speak kindly to her animals friends. Dragonfly, with his red dot, kept telling lies. ‘You see,’ he would say, ‘Old Mother Earth doesn’t care about you anymore. That is why she is silent. She never cared about you.’”
“Baba Yaga waited. She watched. She listened. Children stopped playing near the pond because the animals ran from them, or snapped at their heels. Instead of laughter, screeching arguments and growling fights filled the air. All of this was music to Baba Yaga’s ears.”
“One day Old Mother Earth saw a letter slipped beneath her door. She read a threat from Baba Yaga. ‘If you don’t give me the Golden Purse, all the animals will turn against you and tear you to pieces. Your peaceful days will soon be over.’”
“Great Grandfather Mouse heard her read this out loud. The necklace was weak, but not too weak for his sensitive mouse ears to hear.”
“‘Golden Purse?’ Old Mother Earth asked. ‘I have no such thing.’”
“Yes she does!” the listening mouse children cried. “It’s right here!”
“Quiet down little ones,” Great Uncle Mouse said. “I will surprise you now. Old Mother Earth did not know about the purse in those days. She did not know about the Sun Charm within it. Only we knew until Great Grandfather Mouse told her.”
“He said, ‘You have fed us all these years. Strawberries, apples, Brussels sprouts and cheese have been your gifts to my family living in your walls. You never harmed us. You never asked for anything in return. We can save you now with the Sun Charm. It is only to be used in times of great danger. This is the time, don’t you agree?’ He disappeared through a mouse hole in the wall and ran right to this place where the purse has always been.”
Great Aunt Mouse interrupted the story. She lifted her paw to quiet all the mice, including Great Uncle Mouse. “Look at this small charm laying on the velvet. It glows like the sunrise, but that is not all it does. If you lift it to your teeth and tap it three times upon the ground, a dome of pure light surrounds the cottage. It becomes an impenetrable barrier against danger. Go ahead Dear, you may continue with the story,” she finished as she nodded to her husband.
“Everything happened at once. Baba Yaga flew in her mortar and pestle to the cottage. Dragonfly fluttered amongst the animals telling them, ‘Attack now, before Old Mother Earth turns her witching power on you.’”
“All the animals panicked. Bees, moles, foxes, and birds rushed to attack. All were urged by shrieking Baba Yaga and the lies of jealous Dragonfly. Old Mother Earth heard the buzzing, growling, and chirping of the creatures she thought were her friends. She saw a beady eyed rat with long yellow teeth rush toward the cottage. Just in time, Great Grandfather Mouse grabbed the Sun Charm and tapped it. Once. Twice. Three times.”
“A waterfall of golden light poured down from the sky. The rat bounced right off it as if he had smashed into a wall. He landed on Dragonfly, crushing his weak insect body. Dragonfly was dead.”
“The cottage glowed as did the gentle eyes of Old Mother Earth. Dragonfly’s lies melted away. Even Baba Yaga could not cross the beam of light. She screamed at the animals, ‘Attack! Don’t be fooled by Old Mother Earth!!” ‘Uh huh,’ the animals replied in chorus. ‘We remember who she really is.’”
“‘Hurumph,’ screamed Baba Yaga, as she flew off. Her wicked spell on the necklace went with her.”
The mouse children cheered.
“Hush, little ones,” Great Uncle Mouse said in a calm, serious voice. “It was truly a great day that we must all remember. And now you know why we are protectors of the Sun Charm. You must always take care of the Golden Purse and the light it holds. Do you understand this is not a toy?”
“We do,” the mouse children squeaked with pride.
“Very good children,” Great Aunt Mouse said with a playful twitch of her whiskers as she put the Sun Charm back into the Golden Purse. “Now you know what to do if great danger returns. Don’t forget, Old Mother Earth is counting on us.”
“Three cheers for Great Grandfather Mouse!” exclaimed one tiny mouse.
“Can we eat now?” asked another.
“Let the feast begin!” said Great Aunt Mouse.
On the other side of the cottage wall, Old Mother Earth touched the shell necklace and smiled.