Anytime anyone talks about a 3-hour tour whether on land or on sea, I immediately think…”and we all know how that ended for Gilligan and crew”. And though the 3-hour hike description we read identified a glacially impacted, remote, long wooded area most people don’t get to see, we still went in part because late fall’s the best time to hike. The bugs are mostly gone and it’s too cold for snakes.
I’m good with the woods, I actually think I know a lot about what goes on in there and this sounded easy enough. I interpreted the descriptor “family hike” to mean well-defined, hard-packed trails without bugs or snakes. I was wrong in all instances.
My husband and I continued to the meeting spot even when the real road ended and we bounced and scraped the fuel tank along divots, gullies and rocks for 3/4 of a mile. We tarried forth as did 33 others ranging in age from 5 to 82 plus a couple of super wussy canines.
The guide told us all about glacial formations. I might not have known the proper names, but I knew the random boulders (erratics) were glacial deposit; I knew the glaciers moved from northwest to southeast digging out u-shaped valleys and scratching rocks. I knew it was the weight of compacted snow that changed the nature of the snow, made it more plastic and able to edge forward maybe 100′ a year, and actually melted back more than actively retreated as the earth warmed.
Through my fault alone, I did not know we were going to walk across a six acre bog or that bogs dry out enough to make this possible. I should have read the details. Bogs are pretty rare in Essex County, MA, and I’d never visited one beyond the Ocean Spray commercials on TV. There was one point during the hike, shortly after my husband stepped on a garter snake on this cool, down vest and fleece late fall kind of day (wrong about the snakes being inactive, too, I guess) that we were given the option to cross the bog or wuss out and go around. I asked the sensible question…”why would someone wuss out?” It was not a rhetorical question though it was regarded as such.
So I went along only to figure out very, very quickly why someone would opt out. You see a bog is covered with waist high grass, it is spongy and challenging to traverse. Even the two dogs in our midst insisted on being carried. Walking on a bog feels like walking on a water bed. You can feel the springiness by jumping on the rotting plant mattress, a mattress made of 8-10 feet of very slowly decaying plants layered on top of poorly draining water). Deer must have a recessive 70’s gene; they just love water beds especially when tall grasses keep them hidden from intruders, unless you know where to look. Our group knew where to look and directed us to a deer clearing. Can you say “tick haven!” Strategies shifted. For the first time I gladly let anxious kids and pants-inside-of-socks hikers pass me on the trail in the hope they’d leave in their wake some sort of a clearing for me as we bushwhacked our way through the grass.
Our guide had an amazing headful of facts and patience as big as the bog we were crossing. From him we learned all lakes are temporary and all bogs are lakes without rivers or streams feeding them and that they become engulfed from the edges in by plants gone mad. The bogs high acid content fosters some very odd plants – Carnivorous pitcher plants that entice bugs with the promise of food and water and, then eat them like Sweeney Todd.
Peat Moss (officially named sphagnum) that carries many times its weight in water and has antiseptic qualities. And Cranberries….cranberries grow wild in this bog (lean through the tall grass for a look down low, close to the mattress part) and many daring folks plucked them and ate them without a pre-rinse of either fruit or hand. I declined though my husband tried three of the jewel-like berries, and still lives today. I couldn’t get beyond the tick potential as the reeds bent toward me to offer their ticks an easy on-ramp. I imagined or felt invisible little suckers stalking me and waiting to thrive on my blood. I was so ready to return the bog to its fearsome plants and reclining deer.
We may have cleared the bog and arrived on the big trail, a former albeit long abandoned dirt road, but I could not clear my mind of the potential calamity that bog presented. My crisis management planning began in earnest. We would strip in the living room on the hard wood floors so as not to harbor any critters in the carpet, we’d stuff our clothes in plastic bags and immediately hop in the shower and then give each other the tick once over…you can’t imagine how many places a tick can hide. I’d shave all shavables in the hopes of scraping those critters clear. And then, only then, would I be clear to sit in an upholstered chair or lounge on a mattress. The danger would be mitigated.
It was a spur of the moment thing; I wasn’t appropriately dressed, but the following day I was just going to see a couple of pine saplings and oak variations we’d discussed on the trail. I headed into the woods behind my house, this time alone. I’d gotten pretty far, beyond the view and most of the noises of civilization. I’d gone through briars, scratched my leg on a stick, and desperately tried to remember which were the poison ivy stalks.
Then I came upon a clearing that was cushioned by pine needles and hidden by tall weeds. The creepy voice inside my head whispered “deer would find it very comfortable here”. I wanted out. Then I heard what sounded like a shot. I’m not the kind of gal who can say definitively it was a shot and assess caliber and danger levels. I’m the kind of girl that thinks “Holy crap, I’m in deer territory, in the woods, near where I’ve seen hunters before and I’m wearing my best deer costume – a super oversized buck tan down vest that goes to my knees. ” And then I wondered “is it deer season?” I didn’t know the answer, but I don’t think it’s any easier being shot by a poacher than a legit hunter. So I high tailed it out of there, whistling madly trying not to sound like a deer. An hour and a half into my 15-minute walk, I popped out of the woods in a back yard where legions of turkeys and a half dozen or so deer congregate, but by now the tick danger was eclipsed by the hunter danger so I trespassed. Another pile of clothes dumped on the hard wood floor, and the most stubble free legs ever.
Despite the fact that I feel like a cool kid for having taken on the bog experience and learning so much more about nature, I made a vow I will probably ignore: to next time find my wild life in the mall … where coincidentally, I might also find a pair of those pants-tucking-into socks.
Thank you Middleton Stream Team for showing me that if you want to experience wonder and amazement, sometimes you have to move away from the computer.
(c) Alison Colby-Campbell
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE MIDDLETON STREAM TEAM http://www.middletonstreamteam.org/
LEARN MORE ABOUT LYME’S DISEASE: http://www.ilads.org/lyme_disease/about_lyme.html http://livinggreenmag.com/2013/10/28/food-health/lyme-disease-infographic/