Saturday, February 4, 2012

Bog Walk

Finally, a day of light.

It is sunny, bright, cold; the frozen sea glitters and the snow-covered pond lies in blue shadows. Our salt-caked windows refract and soften the light, turn it golden as the tones in an old photograph.

We decide to walk across the barrens, as the spruce bog that stretches between Port Dufferin and West Quoddy is called here. Impassable to humans in all but a deep freeze, the barrens are anything but empty land. Coyotes live and hunt and pup in the bog; we've come across the remains of downed deer while skiing, and stood at the edge of the tamped down ring from whence the coyotes howl. And twice we've followed the tracks of a black bear through the snow. The barrens are not a place to be at night, but they're fine to explore in the midday sun, the dog trotting sniffing happily beside us.

Deep ponds extend beneath the roots of the spruces and other arctic succulents native to the bog. This is really a rough and brushy northern desert, a place that stores water and nurtures plants with hardy, spiny, even carnivorous properties, like the rare--though not here--pitcher plant, which lures insects with its flower, and then, when they tumble into the waiting tubular stem, digests them. Hillocks of juniper shelter tiny sheepskill bushes, and short trees, no higher than my waist, gnarl in the wind.

Lichen and moss-covered ridges of slatey stone run at odd angles across the landscape; taller spruce forests grow up in their lee, and are quite impenetrable, forcing us, and the deer, to meander in circles on the perimeters of the barrens. Now and then, despite the cold snap these last few days, we break through the ice to the black water below. Ice gathers on our boots.

It is easy to get deranged in this landscape.  The bog appears to be a vast bowl surrounded by trees, though there are higher and lower sections, bounded--and thus hidden from view--by the ridges.  The landscape can look the same as itself from any direction; often you cannot quite see where you are going, or where you have come from.

It is warm on the barrens; here, in this bowl, we are sheltered from the bitter northeast wind blowing across the water, and we stop now and then to turn our faces to light. We take the sun as our guide and listen for the sound of the road so that we know which way to turn as we wander from one deer trail to another.  In this way we orient ourselves until we come to the edge of the barrens and see the backs of shut up summer cottages and an old barn, dripping icicles in the sun.

Elisabeth has been here before us; we see her tracks.  With the dog in the lead, we follow her footsteps back to the house, and Marike heats up squash soup for lunch.

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