Pasque flowers: the first blooms of spring

The pasque flower plays a prominent role in “Proving Her Claim.” I chose it for its color and because it is one of the first signs of spring — something that we’re desperately waiting for this year on the prairie.

The flowers bloom in a range of colors, from deep purple to pale lavender, and even white. The people of South Dakota were so taken with the pasque flower, that it was named the State Flower in 1903. My guess is that it became the state flower because South Dakotans often saw pasque flowers even before the winter snows had thawed. It’s a promise of spring.

Long before it became a state flower, Native Americans used pasque flowers as medicine. The flowers also are part of beautiful Lakota legend, which Two Hawks recounted in the novel. In the legend, the pasque, called hoki cekpa, played a part in the manhood ceremony of a young Lakota man:

He went out on the prairie alone for three days of fasting in his vision quest. The first night was very cold and when he pulled his robe tightly around him he heard a small voice say ‘thank you’ in our language. “Looking around, he saw a little white flower. The flower said, ‘don’t unwrap the robe. It keeps me warm.’ The boy smiled and fell asleep.

“On the second day, the boy talked to the little flower, happy that he had found a friend. That night he wrapped himself and the flower in his robe, and slept again, hoping for his vision.

“On the third day, he was worried that he had not had his vision yet. If he did not have a vision, he would nae become a man. The little flower assured him that everything would turn out as it should. Just as the little flower foretold, a vision came to the boy just before dawn. He saw himself as a medicine man taking care of many people.

“When he awoke, he told the flower of his vision and, feeling grateful for the flower’s friendship, offered the blossom three wishes. Hoki cekpa said it wished for the warmth of the yellow sun in its heart, the beauty of the purple skies around it, and a heavy fur robe to keep it warm in the early spring. And that is how the hoki cekpa got its golden center, purple petals and furry leaves,” Two Hawks concluded.

This year on the first day of Spring, the pasque flowers are under five feet of snow. But when the snow is gone, I’ll look for Spring’s lavender blossoms.