Canku Ota Logo

Canku Ota

Canku Ota Logo

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America



pictograph divider


Students Blossom with the Flowers on Prairie Outing


by Dorreen Yellow Bird Grand Forks Herald


credits: photo: White-leafed Canadian Anemone

About three months ago, I had a visual field exam that tested my peripheral vision. I scored 100 percent. I attribute my good peripheral vision to roadside deer. They keep my eyes sharp trying to spot them before they leap onto the highway in front of my car.

On my return trip from Turtle River State Park on Thursday, I perked up when I spotted tawny brown movement in the grass between the field and highway. A doe was jumping through the tall grass at a fast clip, coming toward the road. I know that when they're moving that fast, they usually don't stop until they're across the road. But for some reason, when this doe reached the leggy rushes and cattails, she stopped, turned and bounded back into the open field.

This doe may have been the same one that left tracks in the prairie I had visited earlier that day. I went with students from the Dakota Science Center to the prairie west of Grand Forks. The program is for students from rural and reservation areas, and they are at UND for a summer science program. They set up a home base in the beautiful new Turtle River community building for a day of prairie exploration.

The group walked the deep, grassy prairie with Richard Crawford, UND biology professor; his wife, Glinda, environmentalist; and Francis Country, Dakota spiritual leader. They were there to identify and teach about prairie grasses and plants -Crawford, the botanical names and uses; Country, the spiritual and medicinal sides.

As we started, we followed deer tracks that disappeared into the matted prairie. And only minutes into the prairie, the mosquitoes found us. The little pests seemed to rise up from the prairie grasses like fog on a late summer evening. Their arrival was followed by slapping and spraying.

Luckily for us, a wind came up and the mosquitoes headed for cover, leaving us to a more pleasant outing.

When you look across open grasslands such as the ones we walked, it looks as if the grass and vegetation might be shin deep. When you actually get into the prairie, it's deeper - some grass reaches above the knee. It is matted and uneven and there are holes from prairie critters. In certain areas, the ground is soft, rubbery and watery.

Near to the road, we found a small patch of prairie smoke. It either was just blossoming or near the end of its cycle, because when it is full - as I have seen it at other prairies - it looks like a prairie fire smoldering with a soft smoke rising.

Although the prairie smoke is an exceptional plant, it surely is overshadowed by the yellow lady slipper. These flowers are a rich yellow with a drooping head. They have a tiny opening in the flower head that makes it look like a shoe or slipper. Insects entering that opening usually don't get out.

The students tried the slippers on by poking their little fingers into the opening. They were hesitant at first; I think they thought the flower might grab them and suck them into that tiny hole. They must have watched "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" too many times.

I caught the pungent fragrance of sweetgrass, but couldn't find the plant. Students found the plant with the help of Wayne Fox - counselor Fox, who is a teacher and is aware of the traditional uses of sweet grass.

We reached a ridge - one of the shorelines of Lake Agassiz, the lake that once covered most of the Red River Valley. It is hard to imagine that this whole area once was a lake and that I was standing on one of the shorelines.

The top of the ridge was dotted with white-leafed Canadian anemone. They're a simple but pretty flower. They always remind me of a flower my grandmother called buttercup.

The sky was full of thunderheads that didn't form anything solid, and we only got a sprinkle.

We ended the day with drum songs from Country and a meal of fried bread, stew and home-baked pies, served in the Turtle River community center.

One of the goals of the Dakota Science Center is to whet the interest of students in the areas of science. When it comes time for these young people to make decisions about careers, I hope these trips into the prairie will help produce scientists who study prairies, prairie critters, mosquitoes and other fields. Hopefully, these students can help make our world a better one.

Yellow Bird writes columns Tuesdays and Saturdays. Reach her by phone at 780-1228 or (800) 477-6572, extension 228, or by e-mail at

Map Showing the Areas of Lake Agassiz and of the Upper Laurentian Lakes

pictograph divider

Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us

Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us


pictograph divider

  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 of Vicki Barry and Paul Barry.

Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo

The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter
Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!