Prairie crocus. Wind flower. Pasque flower. Meadow anemone. The many names of our state flower are almost as exquisite as the diminutive tundra flower itself. Springing up in the earliest weeks of the spring, or even the latest weeks of winter, sometimes emerging to a world still covered in snow, these hardy little plants survive both blight of frost and chilling wind, covered in their silvery protective coat of fur.
They’re hardly worth remarking on before they blossom – They have no glorious foliage of glistening green, or beautiful petaled buds waiting to burst open. They cling close to the earth, almost invisible in their beds of pine needles and dead grasses. Yet there is beauty there, a strange, unearthly sort of beauty, and they hold in their heart the purple bud, waiting for the sun and the little bit of warmth. Finally the color is revealed, like opening one’s hands to glimpse the treasure held inside. Hunting for pasque flowers yesterday, the barely-waking ones nearly drove me crazy in anticipation of finding a fully-open, wide awake one. As enchanting as the unopen flowers are, how much better to find one in the prime of its blooming! We stumbled across a single patch of the wind flowers yesterday, in a little grassy area beneath some low-growing pines and junipers, near the rim of the Box Canyon. We saw a few there a week ago, without open blossoms, but something must have happened in the air in the last week. Some spell of springtime must have been cast.
Their dainty cups of lavender, velvety on the outside but dark-veined and satin smooth on the inside, opened cheerily to the sunshine. Although there were no spreading patches of the flowers, they did seem to like this one area. We had walked a long ways without seeing any – What was special about this one little grove of trees? As soon as one was found, it seemed the flowers were springing up all over, every time we turned around. Beneath this bush, and that tree, and hidden in the clump of grass over there.
Early pollinators were already hard at work, burying themselves in the yellow centers, going from flower to flower, busy and industrious, ignoring the human interruption.
And even fading, even when a few of their petals had fallen, there was still a loveliness, subtle and understated.
These flowers are one of the many treasures of nature that God has so carefully placed on this earth for our enjoyment and His glory – And I truly believe He means for us to enjoy them. Yet they are also some of the flowers most able to be overlooked, springing up in the still-wintry or too-early springtime, springing up and fading fast, or nibbled away by wildlife, or crushed underfoot. Unless one is looking for them, they won’t be noticed. And it makes me think that oftentimes that is how God’s personal gifts to us are, those things He does specifically in our lives to bless us and draw us to Himself. We don’t notice them in time, or we don’t notice them at all. They get choked out by the cares of life, trampled in the busyness, they wilt in the withering glare of our own selfish worries, they die unnoticed and unappreciated. We take those blessings for granted, and miss out on the greater blessing of recognizing them as being from the hand of God.
The winds sound different in the pines. They hum and murmur and sing in the needles and in the sun-warmed grass, sweeping clouds from horizon to horizon, drying the earth and warming the earth and waking up all the little messengers of springtime. The earth feels different in the springtime, ready to burst with life, like a person holding back mirth, or like someone with a delightful secret. Tiny plants push through the red soil, little barrel cacti and the elusive pasque flower and star lilies not yet bloomed.
Any excuse to get down to the Pringle place is a good one for me, and today’s excuse was that my cousin Ben was down in Pringle with my aunt and uncle, and I was already going to be in Custer this morning, which is more than halfway there. So after cleaning the church, Roy and I drove down to Pringle – I, armed with my camera, Roy armed with various muskets and pistols – and picked up Ben for a hike. We couldn’t have picked a better day than the one our Heavenly Father had picked for us.
Our hiking took us along Box Canyon, and down west of the old stage stop, through red gullies and golden meadows, in and out of deep-cut ravines, over and under barbed wire fencing, looking at the favorite places and searching out new. We stumbled across the remains of an ancient log cabin from the homesteading days, found a piece of a rusty old license plate from 1922 and an old stove lid, and picked up a rusted steel trap that must have washed down the gully, or been dragged there.
All the little early wildflowers are beginning to bloom, giving me fresh subjects to capture and identify, from little phlox-like flowers growing low to the red earth, to scrubby yellow complex flowers with foliage that smelled like celery, to a yellow succulent-like flower growing all by itself on a little hillside.
And yes, we found the pasque flowers today! A week ago down on the Pringle place, the little wind flowers were waking up, though were not yet awake, but today they were in beautiful bloom, tucked beneath scrubby pines, nestled down deep in last summer’s grasses. Whimsical nodding blossoms of palest purple, covered with their coats of silver fur, blending in and almost invisible, but unmistakable. Grasshoppers chirruped. Mountain bluebirds flickered like blue flames as they lighted on fence posts and fence wire and darted here and there. The junipers and pines were spicy in the warm air, the sky was brilliant and dappled with clouds, the wind was sweet and restless, and the rocks were cool to the touch. Lichens crusted the red stone, quartz sparkled dazzlingly, and the day was perfect.
We picnicked on the tailgate of Roy’s pickup, and when we were done hiking, we did some target shooting. “Shooting makes a bad day good and a good day better,” Roy said. Though, it hardly needed improving – Friends and family, God’s good and glorious creation, a sturdy camera, a picnic in the open air, and the sight of a small herd of antelope hightailing it across the prairie – And, yes, firing a few rounds at some makeshift targets.
A good day. A very good day.
Given that my portfolio of wildflower photographs is growing in leaps and bounds, I thought it was time to start a wildflower identification project, partly for my own reference, partly for anyone else who is interested in wildflowers. These will be mostly flowers from the Black Hills, but I have a fair number of Illinois flowers in my portfolio as well that I’ll probably include in this project.
So my new page on this website is called Botanical Reference, and will be precisely that: a reference for wildflowers and, as I expand my photographic portfolio, pictures of their leaves, fruits, and notes on their growing locations, etc. This might be a little ambitious, but it is worth being a long-term project.