Eight years ago this summer I found myself in Philadelphia for an afternoon with nothing to do. I had come down on a small plane to the city for a prep school job fair, and the pickings had been slim; I had walked the historical district, but this was a last chance of sorts before what would turn out to be three months of vagabond joblessness with a toddler and a newborn in tow, and it was clear what lay before me. I needed something more essential to cool my fears.
And so I took myself to the zoo. Because there’s nothing like pondering the base questions of the universe while marveling at the way we cage some critters and not others of equal majesty, while squirrels scamper in and out of the giraffe enclosure begging for a taste of your popcorn.
I try to go to the zoo in every city I visit, and I’ve been to quite a few: Frankfurt, nestled up against posh apartments overlooking the rhino; Omaha, which sports the world’s largest indoor desert; Amsterdam, with its guinea pigs and raccoons prominently displayed, reminding me that one countries’ pets and vermin are another countries’ exotic ex-patriots. I love zoos. I love their design: their open air walkways, their winding rain forests and cool nocturnal passageways. I love that good zoos serve as conservationists and caretakers of the lame and the orphaned, leveraging their edutainment value for science and society. And of course, I love the animals, each worthy of its own wonderment and awe.
And so it was that the very first eternal morning of summer arrived today, with Mama at her new job, and the Wee One up at her grandparents in Vermont. And so the elderchild and myself found ourselves at the Forest Park Zoo in nearby Springfield – an intimate venue, and hot, but full of wonders, from parrots whose whistles pierced the ear to an adorable fourteen-month old lion cub chewing at the legs of its teenage keeper. My own baby, now approaching the tween years, got to hold a tiny two week old pygmy goat, and asked if we could have an aardvark, because they really are cute, after all.
We caught a movie afterwards, and a chinese buffet. We drove home talking about animals, and telling each other our favorite jokes to pass the time, just the two of us. And when we pulled into the driveway, my little monkey claimed tiredness, and excused herself for the tube, leaving me with thoughts of where to go next into this endless summer, and thankful for both the father-daughter bond itself, and the time to strengthen and savor it.
This playlist, a broad indie-to-tradfolk set built around the animal kingdom and its various wild denizens, is dedicated to her; though it may be too mature for her ten-year-old tastes, the seeds we sow for these our children must be deep and carefully planted. So may they one day serve as a re-introduction of sorts to another kind of sharing, previously pushed through carefully constructed bedtime mixtapes and our now-archived kidfolk collections. May you enjoy them, too.
- Donavon Frankenreiter: Wondering Where The Lions Are (orig. Bruce Cockburn) 
- Okkervil River: Simon Smith And His Amazing Dancing Bear (orig. Randy Newman) 
- Chris Smither: Crocodile Man (orig. Dave Carter) [ ]
Download our whole Zoo Mixtape in one convenient file!
Bonus Video Track
Flying Colours: At The Zoo (orig. Simon & Garfunkel) 
They say it’s all been happening at the zoo…