For years my mother’s favorite picture has hung in our home — “The Prairie is my Garden” by South Dakota artist Harvey Dunn. The painting is of a prairie wife outside their sod house, her two children playing at her feet, and her arms are full of wild flowers. Growing up on the western prairies of South Dakota, my mother, a rancher’s daughter, would gather wild flowers for the rural cemeteries in their neighborhood and place them on the graves of neighbors, family and friends. When we were growing up she taught us to watch for the crocus to come in the early spring and then later identified the gumbo lilies and the blossoms on the prickly pear.
Today (June 8th) I was out in Makoshika Park. Because of the abundant rains we have enjoyed, the prairies are alive with delicate wild flowers — yellows, whites, purple, blue and the prairie rose which figured in the narratives of Lewis and Clark. You must not miss this Spring in the park. The flowers will not stay around long.
Dr. Bob Hiatt, long time Makoshika scholar, mentored many of the community in the hidden glories of our park. The wild flowers were one such glory. He documented over thirty years of varieties of birds and flowers. He often said that rain would make the difference in what you would see over the years. Some flowers seem to store their seeds. In dry years the flowers would not grow, but give them a little rain and they will come forth in their best colors.
When I was out today I noticed the buzzards riding high on the air currents. The last time I saw them was last summer sitting in a couple of trees in the Dawson County Cemetery. That was a bit eerie, but I have pictures to prove it.
Buzzard Day has been celebrated in Glendive a long time and is a special way to get out in the Park and enjoy its beauties. As children, when our families would picnic in the park, it was a time to hike down the coulees, across the flats and imagine all kinds of wonderful adventures. In those early days when part of the Park was still BLM land we would find an occasional cattle herd grazing quietly. The McCarty cabin, now being refurbished, has a wonderful view down the coulee and across to town.
Obviously I can’t climb around like I once did, but it is a joy to hear other young folks talk about the badlands, hiking, picnicking and just enjoying listening to the wind blow through the pine trees. I do appreciate the fact that more and more people are enjoying the park and even traveling just to visit it. Even more to me is that thought that it has been here for millions of years. Paleo-anthropologists have found evidence of early man in this region as well as the dinosaurs. And if the dinosaurs had never been here, we would still have a place of quiet and peace on our doorstep.
Make the prairie your garden this year.