Wild City: Nothing happened

1. March turned to April without a warming.

2. Baseball season began, and the hapless Twins played game after low-scoring game.

(A man from Africa joined us to watch a ballgame last season. He lives with friends of ours and attends the University. After three haphazard scoreless innings he turned to us and asked, “How do you know when it is over?” The implied part of the question was, “…if nothing happens.”)

3. If you are eating at a restaurant and your companion knocks over his glass, though ice water has sloshed into your lap, and you may be startled, uncomfortable and peeved, you say about the mishap, “It’s OK.” Etiquette dictates that we deny our feelings.

If you are in Germany or Austria and your companion bumps over his beverage, you jump up, and, as you dance around, cold and dripping, you say, “Nichts passiert,” or “Nothing happened.” People there get daily practice in denying events.

4. One of our family jokes involves the movie, “Winged Migration.” When it came out several years ago we saw it with our teenage daughter. My husband and I are bird watchers, so we enjoyed the footage of birds in flight, but our daughter was bored to the point of stupor.

“Nothing is happening,” she whispered fiercely part way through the show. Ever since, whenever we say we don’t like a movie, she says, “It couldn’t have been as bad as that one about the birds.”

My husband and I did actually did see a movie called “Sweetgrass” where even less happened. Our attention was focused on the back ends of sheep as they made their way up a mountainside in Montana with the goal of reaching summer pasture.

5. My husband was diagnosed with cancer at the end of 2008 but has yet to be treated. His is a no- or slow-growing variety, at least so far. His most recent scan showed that the cancer has receded, for now; the imaging machine couldn’t pick it up. Though the “C” word made us familiar with a new kind of grief and fear, medically and physiologically nothing has happened.

6. On a recent cold, overcast day which featured a raw wind, my husband and I drove around Bloomington looking for the place where, years ago, we saw native pasque flowers blooming. They have a lovely Latin name: Anemone patens wolfgangiana. I was using the same directions we had used back then, with the same results. We got lost.

The person who wrote them must have been ambivalent, both wanting people to appreciate this small remnant of undisturbed goat prairie (on which nothing has happened, and nothing is happening) but also wanting to protect it.

Goat prairies occur on dry, south-southwest facing slopes that get a lot of winter sun and repeatedly freeze and thaw. The soils are thin, with bedrock near the surface. These factors make it difficult for trees to become established.

Besides pasque flowers, other goat prairie plants are: little bluestem, side-oats grama, porcupine grass, dotted blazing star and puccoons.

Aldo Leopold wrote in “Sand County Almanac,” “The chance to find a pasqueflower is a right as inalienable as free speech.” Eventually we were granted that right. We found that prairie, mostly by happenstance.

A person could easily walk by pasque flowers, which are low, and, on the day we were there, faded and drooped from a recent snow. Get on your hands and knees, though, go nose to nose with them, and see that they have magical qualities.

The flowers are large so as to attract the few insects out in early spring. Silky hair covers the stems and blooms, distinct veins run up the stems and deep lavender buds poke out from under the tawny dead grasses.

Other common names for the pasque flower reveal much: wind flower, prairie crocus, Easter flower, May Day flower and meadow anemone. One naturalist, Holmes Rolston III, writes of the pasque flower: “It dares to bloom when the winter of which we have wearied is not yet gone.”

He also writes: “Its sap has a low freezing point, and all its parts are soaked with an acrid irritant, which discourages foraging deer and elk.”

The irritant is toxic to humans, and perhaps even carcinogenic, according to one source. The Blackfeet Indians used it to induce childbirth when birth was imminent but had not yet happened.

7. “Hap,” the root of both “happen” and “happy,” is an archaic word meaning “a person’s luck or lot,” and also meaning “an occurrence, happening, or accident.” A happy person is one awash in haps, that is, one who is lucky, and has positive things happening to them.

A happy, lucky piece of land, though, in my opinion, is one where nothing ever happens.

Mary Jean Port writes at home, near Minnehaha Creek and Lake Harriet, and teaches at The Loft Literary Center.