Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Spring Returns

A black capped Chickadee rests on a branch.
Spring Returns
Pȟežítȟo Alí

By Dakota Wind
Bismarck, ND – My youngest son and I went for a hike north of Mandan, ND a few weeks ago. At the time, all the snow had melted but for icy remnants tucked away in constant shadow of tree, bush, or along the river banks. The sunlight was as light and warm as a constant summer day.

Meteorologists were prognosticating that there was one more snow on the way, but my faith in their reports is only about fair to partly. Then we heard the Mourning Dove. The Lakȟóta call this bird Wakíŋyela, and they say its springtime song it warns of late snow. There it was, cooing in the branches of quaking aspen and the buffalo berry bush, its song answered by the questioning tweet of škipípi, the chickadee. The Lakota say that when the škipípi sings in springtime it’s really asking if it’s still winter or if in fact that spring is here. We head home.

Then it snowed, but not enough to constitute an emergency shutdown of schools, roads, or work, but enough to lay a soft blanket of powder on the land. There was no roaring wind that came with the snow either, and at best, it might be described best as a quiet light breeze. The snow itself melted as soon as it touched the earth, at least until the earth itself was cold enough to maintain a little accumulation. Then it warmed up, and the snow melted away as quietly as it had come.

I decided to take another hike, and it was a good thing I did. A cool breeze embraced me in my solitary walk. But this breeze came somewhat from the south, over the rolling hills, and across a lake before it enfolded me.

The trail was long but not grueling, and only slightly muddy. A little snow remained collected in the shadows of trees and brush which grew on the north side of this one particular hill. The other side, the one I was aiming for, was covered with last year’s brown grass. The wind and snow had matted the middle grasses to the hilltop like hair on a fevered head.

Sandstone jutted out of the hillside like a toe that worked its way through an old sock. Broken sandstone, worn and blasted from years of wind and rain, lay strewn upon the sides of the hills. 

A Pasque Flower, or Easter Flower on the Northern Great Plains. 

I searched for the first flower of spring and eventually found it on a hillside facing the sun. Glowing in the sun and ready to open their purple petals to the sun. The settlers and their descendants call it the Pasque Flower or Easter Flower, but to the Lakȟóta its known by two names: Hokšíčekpa, which means “Child’s Navel,” because it resembles a child’s bellybutton that is healing after the cord has fallen off; Waȟčá Uŋčí, which means, “Grandmother Flower,” because as it is the first flower of the new year, it is also the first to die.

The Lakȟóta say that the Grandmother Flower sings to the other flowers of the season, telling them to have courage, and that all things go in their time. The flowers have spirits too, you see. They are the colors of the rainbows.

I looked around where the Grandmother Flower was growing and saw the return of something green. It was there, determined to grow, pushing its way through the surface of the earth.

I lay down upon the hillside and reached out and touched the flower before me. It looks like it has a coat of soft fur, and indeed, it is soft to my caress. The petals and leaves as well. Botanists could tell you that it is an ice age flower. That it evolved over time to bloom in the cold and ice. The Lakȟóta could tell you that this flower was gifted her coat, and the color of its coat, by the creator ages ago. Regardless what you would believe, the flower is medicine too.

My lekší Cedric shared with me that the Grandmother Flower can be used to treat dry skin. Others say that the whole flower is used to treat arthritis ailments.

The impulse to pluck the Grandmother flower is strong. The feeling is almost overwhelming as I lay on the ground looking at this flower. I remind myself that I have nothing to leave if I do take one, but also that I have no reason to take one in the first place. I take a few pictures instead, stand up, and dust off bits of dirt and grass.