CORN FLOWER IN BLOWING SNOW ON THE GREAT PLAINS
Third in a Fiction Series Based on the Four Seasons
Corn Flower in Blowing Snow on the Great Plains
Based on the novel by James D. Lester, Jr.
Copyright 2020 – James D. Lester, Jr.
Contact: James Clois Smith Jr., Sunstone Press / (505) 988-4418
LOGLINE: Eleven-year-old Corn Flower is a member of the Kansa tribe living along the Cottonwood River in the 1820's where she tends her family’s herd of goats and finds adventure in the activities and challenges of life on the Great Plains.
January 1822. Eleven-year-old Corn Flower delighted in the first snowfall of the winter. She knew that more snow and deeper drifts would soon follow. One morning she noticed her two brothers working with wooden planks and long rib bones left from the Bison hunt last fall. They were making sleds for hillside races. Not to be outdone, Corn Flower and her best friend Night Sparrow enlisted the help of Corn Flower’s married brother Wanji in the creation of a glider for races in the snow. After the next heavy snow, the girls and boys go to the hillside for a race. Corn Flower’s sled seems slow, and she loses her race. Then her brother Wanji, who helped to build her sled, takes his turn against his younger brothers. He wins, and Red Cloud and Two Bears must shamefully roll down the hill in the cold, wet snow.
That night Corn Flower has a vision in her dreams of a large rabbit called the Mastinca who leads all of the rabbits in his tribe in a special rabbit dance around a hollow log. The thumping of the beat from the rabbit’s foot is like the beating of the drum on special occasions at the Kansa village. When Corn Flower awakens, a furry, gray rabbit is curled up beside her. Although her brothers want to eat the rabbit, she holds the bunny close to her. When the tribal storyteller Walks at Night comes to their lodge, she says that it is a sign from the Great Spirit. Later that morning, Corn Flower and Walks at Night release the rabbit in a snowy clearing near the protective covering of a hollow log.
When there is a warm-up from the cold weather of winter, Corn Flower and her brothers work together to mend their family lodge with a muddy chinking paste made from clay, sand, and straw. This will keep the icy wind from blowing between the wooden boards of their home when frigid air returns. The children also assist the elderly tribal storyteller Walks at Night with repairs to her smaller lodge. They chink the gaps of her home, and their father White Plume works to replace rotten logs where the walls touch the ground.
As they work, Corn Flower sings the Song of the Kansa and Walks at Night tells stories related to the winter weather. One story is of the Mani'towuk four winds that blow from the four corners of the earth. She also speaks of the wise and crafty Dabchick or Pied-billed Grebe that outsmarts the Spirit of Winter by making banked fires to blaze, thus scaring away the cold and icy air.
In the chilly days of winter, much of the activity moves indoors. With an invitation from Running Dove and her mother Brown Loon, Corn Flower and her friend Night Sparrow learn how to make beads from the thick hoofs of the Bison that provided their meat supply for winter. Running dove makes a bracelet that holds nine beads. This signifies the nine months until she will have a baby. Corn Flower puts nine beads on a necklace as a gift for her mother who will soon be a grandmother with the arrival of Running Dove and Wanji’s baby.
The coming days bring the heaviest and deepest snow to the Kansa village. Each night the snow packs tighter as the young men prepare a long trough in the white covering. This long, frozen trench will be for the challenge of the snow snake. A snow snake is a long, carved piece of wood with a slight upward curve at one end and a notch at the other. Beginning with the youngest children, players throw their snake down the trough as far and fast as the staff will travel. Each player’s distance is measured and a champion is named. For much of the game, Corn Flower has the longest throw until she is bested by Night Sparrow’s brother Keya and then her own brother Red Cloud. Red Cloud is named the winner.
The winter time is also a special time for reflection. Running Dove invites Corn Flower to help her with the Waniyetu Wowapi, the winter count for the Kansa tribe that records all of the events of the previous year. On a deer hide that is rolled out flat, Running Dove and Corn Flower make drawings of the happenings that they remember, including the Okokipe Osiceca, the danger storm from last summer, the invasion of the grasshoppers, the Bison hunt with how many animals were taken. They also include depictions of those who left their tribe to join The Great Spirit. Days are spent preparing the tanned hide which has its line drawings burnt into the deer skin with sharpened, hot sticks drawn from the fireside.
Warm weather again returns to the Great Plains, but it also brings out other animals, such as a mother skunk and her three little ones. After leading their goats to the hillside on a sunny day, Corn Flower and Night Sparrow pass the time talking and singing together until the mother skunk struts near the hillside. Not knowing what a skunk is, Bully goat, Corn Flower’s oldest goat walks up to the skunk family. Corn Flower yells caution to the goat, but it is too late. He is sprayed with the foul odor of the mother skunk who was protecting her little ones. The whole village also suffers as Bully goat brings the smelly aroma back to his corral with the other goats.
To get away from the odor of the skunk-laden Bully goat, Corn Flower and her father White Plume go to the deep opening of the river where the ice has not covered the deep pool to cast nets for a mess of trout that will bring fresh food to their fireside for dinner. Even Corn Flower casts the net, but she only catches one trout. In total, White Plume and Corn Flower take eight trout, and Red Cloud and Two Bears are able to shoot three pigeons for their evening meal.
Twilight stories are shared at the lodge fire as the storyteller Walks at Night joins Corn Flower’s family for the feast of fish and fowl. She related the story of the sacred pots that were kept by the oldest woman of a neighboring tribe. The old woman was the only one allowed to touch the pots. One day while she was out picking berries, five naughty girls entered her lodge to view the lovely pots. They decided to take them outside into the sunlight, but a wolf suddenly appeared. The disobedient girls ran into a nearby lodge to get away from the wolf. As they ran, one of them fell over the reed mat that they used to cover the ground under the pots, and instantly there was a noise like thunder. The wolf was frightened and ran away, but all of the pots were shattered into tiny pieces. When the old woman returned and found out what the girls had done, she told the five girls that what they had done was a very bad thing. As soon as she told them, a magic spell took place, and the disobedient girls were changed into five black crows. Each blue-black bird flew away, cawing.
Walks at Night also shared the story of how the porcupine got his quills from the hawthorn tree. To add protection because he moved so slow, a kind rabbit used mud to attach the thorns to the porcupine so that any bear or coyote that attacked him would be struck with the sharp points. From these stories, the children learned not to be disobedient and how animals are often smarter that we may think.
To try to rid her chief goat of his nasty skunk smell, Corn Flower ground herbs and many rose hips for sweetness to make a wash at the river for Bully goat. The mixture was very sweet to smell, but a coyote lurked near the riverside. When they left the water, the coyote first tried to jump on the back of Bully goat. He bucked and kicked to get away. Corn Flower ran to save her goat. Her walking stick was in her hand. The coyote was very quick and dodged the thrashing motion of Corn Flower’s arm as it came down. The Coyote bit into the front of Corn Flower’s deerskin dress. It was then that there was a loud thud and the coyote was kicked into the air by Corn Flower’s horse Brownie. Corn Flower fell back and hit her head on the ground as the strong brown horse stood guard above her. Once Bully goat returned to their lodge alone, the family came to find Corn Flower lying on the ground. She had a concussion from hitting her head, but she was safe.
In the coming days, the warm weather held out, so many families made repairs to their homes or traveled to the Trading Post to barter and swap for items needed. White Plume led his sons Red Cloud and Two Bears as well as Corn Flower on a day-long trip to see Mr. Timmons. Corn Flower delighted in receiving a bag of cookies from Mrs. Timmons. Her brothers are excited to watch as pioneer men shot long rifles at a target. Two Bears moved closer until one of the men offered him a chance to shoot his rifle. Two Bears took aim and fired, but the force of the shot knocked him onto his back. Yet he had hit the target and was rewarded with a bag full of peppermint candies. Every member of the family left with something to please their sweet tooth.
On the return trip, the sun dipped low in the sky. Up ahead Corn Flower and her father could see Red Cloud and Two Bears drawing arrows and leaping from their ponies. They had taken a large deer that had only one antler. It was a curious thing, but the fresh meat would be very welcome at their lodge. The boys and their father field dressed the deer and hefted it onto one of the ponies. Corn Flower rode the rest of the way home sitting behind her father as her brothers sat tall upon the backs of their ponies. Their hearts were filled with pride.
In only a few hours after their return from Mr. Timmons Trading Post, the entire Kansa village was battered by the blustery winds and stinging snow of a blizzard. Fires inside of each lodge glowed, and every family member bundled themselves in blankets and buffalo robes. After a slow morning of waking up with chilly noses and ears, the morning meal warmed all members of Corn Flower’s family. She was also delighted when she and her mother received an invitation to weave baskets.
The craft time for basket making was at the lodge of Corn Flower’s married brother Wanji and his wife Running Dove. Running Dove’s mother Brown Loon had collected willow reeds for the baskets. Many of the stalks had been sitting in water for several days to make them limber and easy to work with. On their way to the basket weaving, Corn Flower and her mother Kicking Swan stopped to see if the elderly tribal storyteller Walks at Night was staying warm. White Plume delivered a stack of dry branches built up the fire. Walks at Night trudged into the icy wind to help with the basket making. All who made baskets left with warm fingers and warm hearts.
After returning home, Corn Flower and her mother prepared and carried a pot of venison stew to the home of Night Sparrow and her mother Winyan, for they had been sick for many days with a fever. Once they arrived, Night Sparrow sat up and began to talk, for she had been alone with the fever for days. Now the fever was broken, so Kicking Swan left Corn Flower to talk to her for a longer time. After a time, Corn Flower took her leave, but she wanted to check on Walks at Night to be certain that she was warm and had something hot to eat. When she arrived at the home of Walks at Night, the fire pit only had a few burning embers. The elderly storyteller was not inside. Corn Flower looked for footprints in the snow. Finally, she found Walks at Night on the ground, shivering in the snow. Taking off her own coat, Corn Flower covered her friend and raced home to get her father White Plume to assist her in the act of mercy.
Placed on Corn Flower’s bed, Walks at Night was covered in deerskins and blankets for warmth. Corn Flower prepared an herbal tea with her wild crafting skills. The mixture of dandelion leaves, yellow root, rose hips, and a drop of honey was warmed and served to Corn Flower’s patient. With a second dose at bedtime, Corn Flower huddled beside her elderly friend under two blankets. In the morning laughter echoes in the lodge as Corn Flower opened her eyes. Walks at Night was sitting at the fireside with Kicking Swan telling stories. Corn Flower had saved her.
The final scene moves forward to a break in the cold weather as wildflowers, prairie clover, and green shoots of sage grass emerge on the hillside and across the prairie. The shell ceremony is held to acknowledge another year of growth for every child and young maiden in the Kansa tribe. Corn Flower received a new, twelfth shell on her necklace. It was pink with a white rim. She was thankful for her family, her friends, and the joy of being a member of the Kansa people.