The Prairie Crocus Hunt | A Sign of Spring

When the days get longer and the snow disappears, spring begins to show signs of arrival. We watch the weather and take advantage of any extra warmth the sun gives us. And as a kid growing up in the country, it was also time to start watching for the prairie crocus. Finding this little purple flower signified that we were past winter and moving towards hot summer nights and more time outside.

Keeping with tradition

With the COVID-19 pandemic, and having been in isolation since mid-March, seeing the crocuses on our west hillside was the gift that I REALLY welcomed from Mother Nature. It made me think back to the annual crocus hunts we would have when my brothers and I visited my grandparent’s place. They lived just a few miles from us, so we spent a lot of time with them.

There was always lots going on at the ranch when spring showed up. Cows were calving, and Grandpa was a busy man feeding, doctoring, or sorting cows and newborn calves. But amazingly he always made time for the crocus hunt with Grandma and us kids. It was a family event. A tradition. There’s countless photos of the crocus bouquets in their old photo albums to mark the occasion. The images represented another spring bringing new life to the ranch. Here is a photo of a crocus bouquet taken by my Grandpa, Harry Nicoll in the spring of 1982 that I dug out of the archives. These memories are precious to me, and it felt good to have the time to reflect on them.

A bouquet of crocuses
Crocus bouquet taken by my Grandpa, Harry Nicoll in the spring of 1982.

Sometimes you cannot see what’s in front of you

Hunting for the prairie crocus takes some effort. You can look and look and see them nowhere. I went on several evening walks coming home empty handed. I was jealous of everyone else’s photos on social media about their springtime prairie crocus sightings.

Did you know that the crocus is known as a windflower? The old tale was that they blossomed only when the wind blew in springtime. Maybe that’s why they grow so well in our area! This plant first emerges from the ground as a hairy flower bud, and the furry leaves are hard to see at this stage. When the purple sepals open, they reveal bright yellow stamens inside. The flowers open in the sunshine, and close in the evening or in cloudy weather. When my friend and I went out scouting on this Sunday morning, we drove along the hillside in the Gator. We were silent, waiting to be the first to shout out a crocus sighting. It took a while, but we finally saw the little faded purple flower sticking out from the native prairie wool grass.

Taking photos of crocuses
Holly looking for that perfect crocus photo out on the hillside. Photo Credit:  Janine Sekulic

Once we saw one crocus, we saw hundreds. We laughed at how silly this was. It was a metaphor for the saying, “Sometimes you cannot see what is in front of you.” Once we found it, and our eyes adjusted, we could see them everywhere around us. How many times has that happened in our lives?

Hunting for crocuses
My crocus hunting partner, Janine walks down the hill towards the windflowers.

Cherish the real moments

The past 8 weeks have been nothing that anyone would have thought would happen with the onset of COVID-19. I feel blessed right now and have absolutely nothing to complain about. I have a great job, and live in a beautiful part of the world with lots of wide-open space. Canada is a great country, and I am surrounded by a supportive network of family and friends.

This quarantine time has forced me to slow down and enjoy the many things that I love but have put aside due to a busy schedule.

I have had more moments to think about photography. There’s been time for editing photos that have been waiting in folders for many months. I have been outside more often with my camera, observing and thinking.

I rarely harvest crocuses and bring them home. Usually I admire them, snap some pictures, and move on. But, this spring morning was different. I decided to bring some home. Why? Because this moment took me back to my childhood days hunting and picking crocuses with my grandparents. I brought the bouquet back to the house and arranged them in my little childhood glass that my Grandpa had etched my name on. It was always set at the table in my spot for a meal when I visited my grandparents.

Crocus bouquet on the table
The bouquet of crocuses from the hillside proudly displayed in my childhood glass.

I placed the beautiful purple arrangement on the table, contently agreeing that spring had arrived amongst all the pandemic craziness. The crocuses had appeared just like the years previous. At that moment, I realized that the real things haven’t changed. And, it’s the simple pleasures in life that make me happy. There’s nothing like a crocus hunt to make you realize that!




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