The prairie crocus, the first flower of spring, holds a special place in the hearts for many. I have fond memories of looking for these mauve petals each spring with my family. I've always thought the furry stem looks like its trying to keep warm in the cool spring air. I was delighted when I read this traditional Indiginous story telling a beautiful tale of where it got its fur coat. The scientific minded will explain that the fur coat is not for warmth but rather for protection against small pilfering insects, but as flower lovers we are privileged to ignore such rules of cause and effect and enjoy the story for its poetic value.
Wapee shivered and drew his robe tighter about him. It was cold on the hillside, but the shiver was more of fear and loneliness than of cold. Always before, he had slept in the tipi of his parents, where his father could protect him.
But at last his father had said, “Wapee is no longer a child. It is time he went to the hills to dream and become a man.”
So here he was, by himself, on a hilltop, with great stars above him, the long line of the mountains still sleeping far to the west and nothing about him but a great emptiness.
The morning before, he had set out with a light heart. The snows of winter had but lately melted, the sun was warm; and would he not, that very night, dream a great dream that would change him from the child he had always been to the man he was to be? But now the sky was lit by the coming day and all through the night he had lain, not with bright visions, but with dark space and loneliness and fear.
The mountains turned from dark, cold grey to rosy pin, then to purple and last to shining blue, but Wapee still crouched on the hilltop, motionless and brooding. Three more nights like the one just past and he must return to his father and his friends and tell them that he was not a man but only a coward, whom the Great Spirit had found unworthy even of a dream.
The day grew warm and the feeling of great weariness and failure lifted, as it always lifts in the presence of the warm sun god. Besides, Wapee was no longer alone. He had found a friend. Beside him on the hilltop sat a beautiful flower, as white as the snow that was now resting on the slopes of the far-off mountains, before its summer journey to the north land. The flower opened its heart to greet the golden sun and swayed and nodded to Wapee until his troubled mind was calmed by the peace of blue mountains and wind-washed prairie grass.
Wapee sat on the hillside watching occasional crows pass back and forth, or a hawk wheel far above him, or listening to the stir of growing things beneath and thinking grave thoughts. So the day passed.
The mountains turned to rose, then grey. The sun dropped down behind them, leaving to Wapee once more the darkness and the stars but not emptiness, for now he had a friend, the little white flower, near him.
“Little brother,” he said, “it is cold for such fragile loveliness on a night like this. I will lie close and shelter you with my warm robe, but I must not crush you with my big body.”
So while one part of his mind slept and rested, the other part kept watch over the flower.
When the dark of the night was just preparing to meet the light of the day, the flower spoke. “yesterday , Wapee, you were sad because you had been afraid. He who never knows fear is a fool. The wise man learns to overcome it and profits by it.”
Wapee sat up with a start and bent over the flower to hear better what it might say, but the flower only nodded and swayed in the morning breeze.
All day Wapee pondered on the saying of the flower and the next night, when he lay down to sleep, he again sheltered it with his robe of fur. Again, just as Morning Star looked out across the prairie, it spoke.
“You have a kind heart, Wapee. It will lead you to great things.”
Next night, still sheltered under the robe, the flower spoke again.
“Wisdom and a gentle heart will make of you a great leader. But when you are bowed with troubled and cares, remember that on a nearby hill-top you will find peace and wisdom.”
Then Wapee slept and saw, dimly, many visions of what was to come when he should be Chief of his tribe and his people happy, contented and prosperous.
Before he rose to go to his people he thought once more of the flower.
“Little brother,” he said, “three nights you have comforted me in my loneliness and brought me visions. Tell me now three of your wishes that I may ask the Great Spirit to grant them to you.”
The flower, nodding, answered. “Pray that I may have the purple blue of the distant mountains in my petals, that men may seek my company and be rested. Second, let me have a small golden sun to hold close in my heart, to cheer me on dull days when the sun god is hidden. Last, let me have a warm coat, like your robe of fur, that I may face the cold winds that blow from the melting snow and bring men comfort and the hope of warmer winds to follow.”
The Great Spirit was pleased that Wapee’s first thought had been for the flower, and his prayers were answered. Now over the hillsides thousands of the descendants of Wapee’s small white friend face the cold winds of early spring with the colour of the distant mountains in their petals, a bright sun in their hearts and a warm furry robe wrapped securely about them.
Tale taken from “Old Man’s Garden” by Annora Brown, Mary-Beth Lavioette and Niitsitapi (Siksika) Bishop The Right Reverend Sidney Black. (2020)