Thursday, September 17, 2009
Messing About on the Bog
Some days, I really feel my age (67): bad eyes, achy joints and all. But other days (and despite those complaints), I feel like a 12-year-old kid: wet feet, muddy knees, torn pants and all. I sure felt like that kid-Jackie yesterday, when my fellow nature-nut Evelyn and I went prowling several wetlands together.
We started out at the Ice Meadows on the Hudson north of Warrensburg, where Evelyn wanted to check on a stand of Japanese Knotweed invading one of the river islands there. The only way over was wading through rocky rapids, pants rolled to our knees, walking sticks in both hands to preserve our balance as we tottered and slid among slippery rocks and rushing water. I didn't dare bring my camera along, for I was sure I would dunk it. Well, I made it without slipping, but now I sure wish I had a photo of us two old ladies messing about in the river. (We found the knotweed, but Evelyn -- an Ice Meadows steward -- felt reassured that it hadn't spread since she found it last.)
Back safe on shore, I saw this platinum blond of a caterpillar, climbing a stem of another invasive, White Sweet Clover (which we pulled out by the sackful). I found a photo that looks like this in my book Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner: Yellow Bear (Spilosoma virginica), larva of the Virginian Tiger Moth. The long soft hairs of variable length, including some that are very long, match Wagner's description.
Curious as to which end was which, I turned the caterpillar over, and just adored these cute little feet.
Our next adventure took us 30 miles farther north to a bog near Indian Lake, the first genuine bog I have ever had the experience of walking on. What looks like a solid grassland is actually a floating mat of sphagnum moss, built up over decades and decades, each generation of sphagnum sinking below the new.
Walking about on the bog was a very eerie experience: climbing out onto what looked like solid ground but which sank like a soggy sponge beneath my feet, water oozing up over my shoes, and in spots it thrummed underfoot with an soft crashing sound that seemed to echo down, down, down to unknown depths.
To reach this bog, we carried our Hornbecks a few hundred yards through a woods to Center Pond, then paddled to where the bog mat began and pushed our canoes up onto the sphagnum bed. Here, the sphagnum grew in amazing colors: ox-blood red, golden yellow, pale ivory, gorgeous green. Baby Leatherleaf sprouts and Small Cranberry plants poked through all over the place, ripening berries strewn all over the moss.
I wonder if this stripy caterpillar likes to eat cranberries. Check out those pretty pink feet! This is most likely a Striped Garden Caterpillar, larva of the moth Trichordestra legitima. Wagner describes this "handsome brown and yellow caterpillar" as having "yellow stripes edged with white; black spiracular stripe contrasting with white spiracles [the respiratory pores along the side]." (If you click on the photo you can see those spiracles.) His description of an orange-brown head won't help us here. He never mentions those pretty pink feet.
The waters surrounding the bog mat teemed with all kinds of pond life, including this (algal?) slime, which you could pick up by the slithery handful. Some residual girly part of me said Ewww! but mostly I just thought Cool!
There were Pitcher Plants everywhere, some in colors I've never seen, like this radiant yellow-green:
And this gorgeous orange, lit up as if from within by a slanting sunbeam:
Here was one lone Pitcher Plant flower, nestling among the boughs of a baby Black Spruce, one of the few trees that can tolerate the acid conditions of sphagnum bogs.
American Larch, also known as Tamarack, is another bog tolerant tree. This one is just a baby. Our only deciduous conifer, this tree has soft needles that turn a glowing gold in autumn before they fall.
Common bog shrubs include Bog Rosemary, Bog Laurel, and Labrador Tea. This topmost twig of a Labrador Tea shows the leathery undercurled leaves so typical of bog-dwelling shrubs, as well as the orange furry stems that distinguish this particular shrub. The undersides of the leaves are furry, as well, and usually browner than the ones in this photo. Perhaps this furry coat helps protect the evergreen leaves through the long cold winter.
I wish I had brought a handful of Labrador Tea leaves home with me: they have the most intriguing scent, which Thoreau described as "between turpentine and strawberries." If I made a sachet of those leaves, I could breathe in the scent of the bog any time I wished. Of course, I hope to return, especially in spring and summer, when the heath plants and orchids come into bloom. But even as autumn descends, shortening the days and chilling the water (yes, I did plunge through to my hips at one point), this complex and strangely beautiful wetland revived a deep sense of wonder in me. Like a kid on a trip to Disneyland, I was dazzled by delight. Thanks for taking me there, Evelyn.