In the footsteps of ants

Other than the scary time once, when I got lost, I don’t know that bogs and wetlands are noted for drama of any sort. It’s the silence and the solitude of bogs that I seek, not the adrenaline highs of extreme adventure or any excitement of the chase. A visit to the bog is not the kind of item I can see anybody adding to their bucket-list  Nor are the bogs I know destination locations for either traffic or tourists on Haida Gwaii.

The landscape of a bog is inscrutable, really. The scrubby trees and endless hummocks of sphagnum moss rise and fall in all directions the same, a mantle of yellow-green and sepia across a glacier-scraped land form.

Sounds here are distant, muted and ephemeral. The murmur of a passing car starts way off in the distance, circles around in all directions and then drifts off, upwards into the sky and fades to nothing.

I have read that there are very few places in the world now where you can find silence from man-made noises for more than 20 minutes. On Haida Gwaii there are bogs I have been too, where if you walk in for awhile, on a still day, the silence soon becomes so entire and profound that I swear you can hear the footsteps of the ants.

On a grey day with no sun, the whole world becomes silent and directionless. When I go any distance into the bog now, I mark the way, Hansel and Gretel-like…for fear that I may find myself lost once again and wandering forever on a never-ending Argonaut Plain.

Last week we headed up to the area around Gold Creek on the road between Tlell and Port Clements. The bog there is easily accessible (for most people) and I wanted to see what shrubs and flowers are blooming. So off we went, parked the van by the bridge and scampered  down over the rip-rap rocks on the slope and forged our way into the sedgy marsh at the edge of the creek. Actually, to be truthful, while some people scampered, I clambered with hands and feet…carefully.

I tend to be a bit clumsy at the best of times, and with increasing age, my vision and co-ordination aren’t exactly improving. So, as I was marching through shoulder-high grassy sedges along the winding channel of Gold Creek, I tripped over a half-submerged, invisible log, and found myself in the midst of a slow-motion, gentle but total, smack down. Disappearing from the known world, down I went deep into the all the spiky greenery, coming to a stop in full-body contact with several inches of cold, brown gurgling bog-water.

Oh dear! Time and motion came to a halt, as me and the cold goo were integrated as One.

Some people study bogs… like go to university for years to learn what-is-what in a bog. These people have a firm footing in systems of ecological classification and elegant descriptions of all things to do with swamps, bogs, marshes and fens. Obviously, I am lacking a firm footing in anything at all.

My tumble in the marsh was a sense-ational experience of bog, a penetrating experience of bog in its most bog-like qualities of soft, wet, clamoring ooziness. It was a moment when the pretense of thinking I know what I am doing at any given moment abandoned me entirely. Me and the bog…we had one of those deep relational encounters that change everything. And I am reminded, as I ought to be, of the true nature of my faltering footsteps on this broad earth.

And so, I picked myself up, very, very slowly and with careful and detailed consideration, figured out exactly how waterlogged I was. Which was thoroughly. I looked a mess. I was a mess, and a wet one at that.

At first, I felt like a little kid wanting to whine and wail all the way home. But, I was having a brave day, apparently, and the weather was grey, but neither windy nor cold. So onward I traipsed through the jungle of sedges and onto firmer ground along the creek edge.

And I found what I had been coming to see. Blooming all along the creek were masses of sundew, and trailing cranberry, almost invisible in layers of moss and sedge. The Labrador tea shrubs were in full and fragrant blossom and even the swamp laurel had a few beautiful purple-pink flowers remaining.

The creek wandered through the meadows in many snaky S-bends, reflecting sky and trees and green, green grasses. The birds sang from afar in the forest, and the stillness enveloped us.

Notes to self re: clothing protocol for bog walks.
Buy gumboots.
Do lot leave them in the van.
Carry rain gear, pants and jacket in backpack.
Put them on before getting soaked!

(All photos by C. Davies.)

Labrador tea about to bloom.

The flowers of the tiny bog cranberry trailing through the moss.

The last blooms of the swamp laurel for this season.

Lingonberry in bloom.

A macro view of the carnivorous bog plant, the sundew, in sphagnum moss.


About blue sea sky

By Cynthia Jones Davies, writer researcher who lives on Haida Gwaii.
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3 Responses to In the footsteps of ants

  1. Looks like Simon has his gumboots on!

  2. josina says:

    I love having an excuse to go into the bog. I pick cranberries every year and love sitting (in my rain pants) on the soft moss. This year Linda and I will be taking families into the bog. I just found photos that Mike Cheyne took and information from other trips with kids to the bog. The other plant I love is the cotton grass…

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