How do the crocuses know?

It’s official.

Deep breath in and out.


After a winter that dug its frozen fingers in, ate us out of house and home, turned our skin pasty and soft and all in all outstayed his welcome, peaking up from the once frozen ground is the first genuine promise of warmer days to come.

And when I say genuine I mean it, because this little signal that comes to us quietly on the hilltops has never failed to lift the dreary spirits of country people in the northern states.

Yes, the crocuses are here.

And if there was anything I needed to do upon returning to the ranch yesterday evening after a lovely day with family sitting out in the 60 degree sunshine–if there were chores or phone calls or words that needed to be said to you about Easter and family and the sweet memories this holiday stirs inside of me, all of that was trumped by husband’s and my deep desire to fling open the doors of the car, pull off our town clothes, change into our muck boots and climb the hills to find springtime treasures.

For anyone who grew up in a northern state or in the countryside where your world turns white for months you will understand this. You will understand what the crocus means to us here in rural North Dakota.

You will understand the sweet smell of dirt that accompanies the search and anticipation of spotting that first vivid purple petal emerging from the cold, damp, brown earth. And if you have patiently watched the snow drifts disappear and reappear outside your front porch as the months drag on, you will not laugh when I say at that moment you feel as though you have never seen a purple that deep, a petal as soft, a color so vibrant. Beauty has arrived.

And if you are from the prairie you will smile as you think of that first breeze catching your hair and the sunshine warming your shoulders as you fling off your spring jacket, ย let the warm soak in your skin and fall down to your knees to inspect the new arrival.

You will understand how, at that moment, you are eight years old again and you have your grandmother’s hand and you can hear her voice through the breeze. You can hear her exclaim “Oh, now look at that…” as your eyes move from the first flower and across the hill to notice that there are purple dots are everywhere. Scattered.

And if your world has been white and you have been restless you will appreciate the challenge you face just then where your enthusiasm for the change of season begs you to grab the flowers up, collect them for your pockets, pluck them for your basket or your bucket and bring them home to proudly display on windowsills and kitchen tables and countertops.

But instead you pause as your fingers run over the fuzz of the fragile flowers that reach for the sky in groups, holding hands with a promise to face this uncertain sky together.

Yes, if you are from the windswept buttes, the wheat fields, the quiet streams that cut through small cow pastures you will nod your head when I tell you that yesterday, when I finally found what I was after, I made sure I only picked one crocus from each group, careful to not leave any alone out there, certain not to pluck the hilltop clean of this precious flower that enters this world so confident, the first bud of prairie spring…

because life is short and a little piece of me felt like, for all this flower has given me, there should be some left out there to live it.

Yes, if you are from the once frozen Dakotas, you will nod your head because you have done the same thing and returned to your home with a modest bundle of furry purple flowers, shaking off the tiny bugs that have made their home inside the petals before setting the bouquet on your table with pride.

This is the ritual, these are the emotions conveyed by such a small and simple gift from nature. And we repeat this ceremony year after year, our excitement builds, our childhood reinvented, our hope for a new season renewed.

We anticipate, we make time, we know it’s coming every year…

But how do the crocuses know?

How do they know the ground is ready and the sky won’t forsake them?

How do they know that momma’s desperately need flowers just as much as papas desperately need to pick them for her?

How do they know when children need a treasure hunt and grammas need to lead the way?

How do they know just when to make a quiet and brilliant entrance to come and finish thawing us out?

How do they know just exactly when we need them?

22 thoughts on “How do the crocuses know?

  1. I know exactly what you mean. As a small child, we went to visit some friends in Arena ND. We went walking over by the grain elevators and there were the sweetest flowers I’d ever seen. It had been a long winter and this spelled the hope of spring and sunshine. I’d never seen them before and I was so happy. I think Chad should have polished his nails for the occasion, too. K

  2. WOW.

    Such stunning photos – the crocuses so perfect, they look like silk.

    Thanks so much for finding me! Although southern Maine isn’t remote like the Dakotas, I sure do understand the meaning of a long winter. I am so ready for spring. What a beautiful tribute.

  3. I have such great memories of growing up in Northwestern ND (Williston), and of picking crocuses on the hills across the creek from our farm. Thank you for this beautiful post to remind me of those warm memories.

  4. They are up?! They are out?! Yahoo…can it really mean warm days are here? Spring is actully happening? I am so giddy (can you tell this winter has been too long…) I was so excited to read your writings and see the photos….I am out and on the hunt tonight! We were out in the hills yesterday..didn’t see any…maybe not looking in the right spot, but now I know where I need to go!

  5. What a gift this post was to me. I have not lived on the prairie since I was 14 and that is almost 46 years ago. You put into words the very emotions I have felt and still have tucked away in my memories to be brought out to remember every Spring.
    Thank you for the virtual visit to the prairie for this city girl.
    Your photos are amazing!

  6. Love this post! As a kid I would go out in the pasture and picked the first crocuses. A couple of years ago I had to plant some crocus bulbs in my flower bed just to remind me of spring. Mine came peaking out before our last snow – they are beautiful!

  7. I lived near New Town, ND for the first 19 years of my life, and remember ever so sweetly the first crocuses every spring. They were beautiful….and still are. Very good pictures. Thank you for the memories.

  8. Thanks for the memories… I grew up on a farm by New Town, ND and so remember looking for the first crocus. One of our pastures would be just covered with them if the spring was ‘right’. And, thanks for sharing your beautiful pictures.

  9. You just gained another fan in East Texas. Your writing is wonderful, as is your music, but I’d visit your site if there was nothing more than those beautiful pictures that take me back to my childhood. I think I even recognized the Blue Buttes in one of them.

    Get those cabins built so we have a quiet place to stay when we visit the state!

  10. Thanks for the gift of going back home to western North Dakota and the memories of picking crocuses. I miss seeing and hearing the creeks rush with run-off from the snow, but even that you captured so I could almost hear the water.

  11. Pingback: Quick, change your season! « Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

  12. Pingback: Crocuses and how it could keep getting better… | Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

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