It boggles the mind

Xaayda Tiiga
Haida tea, Labrador tea
Ledum groenlandicum    -photo C. Davies

It’s summertime. At least…it’s supposed to be! These days are flying by with travel, visiting with family and friends, and getting out and about on Haida Gwaii. This is an active and fulfilling time of the year, but it doesn’t leave a lot of time for blogging, which is a little sad because I’ve discovered that blogging is something I really like doing. I very much enjoy the writing and, even more, I am the huge beneficiary of all the conversations that get generated in the process.

As summer came upon our household with all its busy-ness, I had been thinking about signing off for a couple of months and firing up again in September as winter settles in and there is more time to write and think. But I don’t really want to loose touch… disappear off the screen, so to speak. So here I am, moving on, and will post bits and pieces when I can, sort of like letters home from summer camp used to be in the old days; like when I actually took up a pen in my hand, scribbled out pages and pages of news, gossip, trivia and “deep thoughts” (all jumbled up together freeform) and posted the whole volume home snail-mail style.

So there will be fewer posts in the next little while, but guaranteed they’ll be longer than the 247 characters, or whatever it is, that can be contained in a texting message.

So far this year, the summer weeks on Haida Gwaii have been mostly cold and grey. The temperature has barely cracked 50 degrees F and we have had the household wood fire going every day. Nevertheless, the days are long and the light is good, so we do things like hike in the forest, have food and a fire on the beach (wearing wooly hats and warm jackets), swim in the ocean (not me personally, but the grandchildren do), walk along the river banks to find new mint leaves, watch (and hope) for berries to ripen, and (in my case) stumble around the peat bogs among the wildflowers and blooming shrubbery.

I’ve spent quite a lot of time this summer out wandering around the bog lands. It’s not hard to do. The wetlands are everywhere on these islands… high and low, far and wide. The highway from Tlell to Port Clements and north to Masset cuts straight through the bogs, swamps, fens and marshes of the Queen Charlotte Lowlands. Fifty miles and more of bog(!) if you are travelling up the highway in a straight line, more or less.

So today, after several expeditions into the wilds at Mayer Lake and Gold Creek over the past few weeks, I am sitting at home, still and quiet for the moment, contemplating a branch of newly bloomed and blossoming Xaayda Tiiga/Labrador Tea which I brought back with me a couple of days ago. What a beautiful thing it is… with its cloud of white-petalled blooms and its newly sprung yellow-green and fuzzy long leaves. It’s a fragrant sprig too. All along the highway there are banks of Xaayda Tiiga/Labrador Tea blooming everywhere, and if you stop to see and notice, the air is pungent and aromatic with their spicy, resinous smell.

I used to think that a swamp was a swamp, that a swamp was the same as a bog, or even a marsh. And that whatever they were, as land forms they were all wet, mucky and un-interesting. Except for Jane Austen’s literary wanderings, did I know what a moor was, or a fen? Nope, not likely.

Fortunately, in these summer days, my thinking is under dramatic revision…and has been for some time. It’s a whole world of new-to-me discovery. Through a wide-cast reading effort, and rambling observations, I am learning that the world of bog flowers, shrubs and grasses is intricate and complex…exotic even, a marvel of evolution and adaptation.

It takes hundreds of years, thousands of years in many cases, for bogs to form. It’s a matter of climate and water flow, the history of which is held deep in the ground by layers upon layers of peat deposition–the decayed and decaying remains of that ancient plant, the sphagnum moss.

Bog lands are not only one of the worlds most important carbon sinks, they are also ecosystem “powerhouses.”  A few drops of water squeezed from a wet clump of bog moss contains hundreds of microscopic species.  One scientist apparently counted a mind-boggling 32,000 tiny animals in a single clump of sphagnum moss growing in a bog pool. So that puts the mucky bogs right up there with coral reefs and tropical rain forests in terms of ecological productivity.

Who would-da thought?

I didn’t.

And here it all is, reflected in this tiny sprig of humble Xaayda Tiiga/Labrador Tea, with its lovely blooms, and its specially adapted woolly leaves and stems, found ubiquitously in all the ditches from Tlell to Port Clements and beyond.

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By Cynthia Jones Davies, writer researcher who lives on Haida Gwaii.
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