Sunday, April 2, 2017

Grandmother Flower, First Flower Of Spring

The Prairie Crocus opened her petals as the sun broke through the overcast. 
First Flower Of The Spring
Grandmother Flower Returns

By Dakota Wind
Mandan, ND (TFS) – I awoke to the distinctive call of Tȟašiyagmuŋka, the Western Meadowlark, outside my window this morning. Last weekend I went out looking for what the settlers called the Pasque Flower, or the Prairie Crocus. The Lakȟóta have two names for the same flower: Hokšíčhekpa, or A Child’s Navel; Uŋčí Waȟčá, or Grandmother Flower. My search was unsuccessful until today.

I hiked on a trail located at a recreation area in the rolling hills of Heart River Country. The sky overhead was overcast with gray clouds and teased the possibility of rain. A light wind blew in from the west and picked the cold up off a lake yet frozen. Last year’s grass was matted from the weight of this winter’s snow; banks of snow lie scattered about the prairie steppe in protest of the coming spring. 


It's easy to see the Prairie Crocus against last year's brown grass.

I stepped off the trail and ascended the north face of a hill, stepping between brush and broken sandstone outcroppings, until I stood on the top. The scree of Čhetáŋ, a hawk, and the honking of a lonely Maǧá, a goose, echoed off the icy lake. I imagine their conversation for a moment, the solitary Maǧá honked, “Tuktél huwó?” and Čhetáŋ screed out into the sky, “WótA!” Maǧá asking where his flock was, Čhetáŋ replying that it’s time to eat.

Škipípi, Chickadee, flitted among the trees and brush whistling, “Alí,” an inquiry if spring has indeed arrived. Wakíŋyela, Mourning Dove, cooed an announcement to all that surely a rain was due. Ištáničatȟaŋka, the Horned Lark, sang out, “Optéptečela, optéptečela!” thinking that perhaps another snow was coming instead. Of all the birds to sing in the spring, it is Tȟašiyagmuŋka whos whistle rises above all, “Oíyokiphi! Ómakha Théča!” or, “Take pleasure! The new year [season] is here!” 

I had to manually focus my camera on the Prairie Crocus' golden heart. 

I reached the top of the hill and fell into step with another trail that took me along the plateau edge and straight to Uŋčí Waȟčá. Her purple robe is outstanding amongst last year’s brown grass and shattered sandstone. Last year’s prickly pear shown bright red against the grass, little bulbs of Missouri Pincushion sat in little round clumps, barbs from both still sharp, but it wasn’t cactus that brought me to the hills.

They say, a long time ago, that a young man went to pray on the hill at the end of winter. It was cold, lonely, and dark, and the young man drew his robe tight about himself. As he did so, a little voice called out in gratitude for the extra warmth. Over the course of the young man’s time on the hill, the flower assured him that he would have his vision. The young man eventually left after his quest was finished, and the flower shivered in the cold. Creator looked down on the flower, and offered gifts of her choice. She wanted a robe of her own, and said that she enjoyed the colors of the mornings and the warmth of the sun. 

From the side, one can see the "fur" of the Prairie Crocus. 

Creator bestowed upon Uŋčí Waȟčá a purple robe and painted her heart gold. She’s the first flower of the new year and as the first moon passes, her robe opens less and turns gray. The first flower sings courage to all the other flowers of the new season and reminds them not to fear their time, but to rejoice because their spirits will go on to color the rainbows. Once in a while, however, the robe of Uŋčí Waȟčá is white, which indicates that a bison drew its last breath in that spot.

The urge to pluck the soft fuzzy flowers is strong, but I can’t take from the earth without leaving a gift in return, so I leave all the Uŋčí Waȟčá as I found them. Long ago, the Lakȟóta gathered and used the whole flower from root to petal in treating arthritis. Someday, as the pain increases in the knuckles of my hands, I may return for these gentle flowers. 

One of many Prairie Crocus growing on a south-facing bluff.

The sun broke through the clouds as I prepared to leave the south-facing hillside, and the flowers began to open. I snapped a few more pictures as I made my way back to the trail. A Kaŋǧí, or Crow, let loose a raucous laugh I felt was at my expense. I was dressed as though it were a summer day, and it was still spring. Kaŋǧí laughed out, “Kȟá!” as if to say, “[You] should have [dressed for the weather]!” I stood and stretched, stiff from the cold, and walked back to my car wishing for my coat.

I thought I was by myself this morning, but in the midst of creation, Makȟóčhe Wašté, the Beautiful Country, was laughter, whistles, and songs that filled the air, and even the wind let up when I passed by the frozen lake.




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