Sex, Drugs, and Public Health

October 9, 2013

Estonia: The Bog

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 7:30 am

 This post to Sex, Drugs and Public Health recounts a recent rip to Estonia.

Ten P.M. last nite and the sun was still up. Four –thirty A.M. today and the sun’s already up. August and I need a sweater.

Not in Mariposa anymore. Probably not Kansas, either.

Alex expressed a desire to do “bog walking” on this trip. So that’s on today’s agenda.

Mr. Google told me, all the way back in Mariposa, that it involves donning snowshoes to traverse what, I deduced by reading between the lines of the carefully worded tourist info, was probably quicksand.

This’ll be interesting.

Our hostess has retained a guide. Tall, lean, with the bulging veins of a vegetarian exercise freak who has no body fat, he speaks to us in the charmingly constructed English most educated Estonians exhibit.

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His points:

  •  Bog, zhis one, is National Park,  seventeen kilometers wide;
  • Bog is not swamp;
  •  On the developed trail, you must stay;
  • Vhere you stand is under water. Is flood in Autumn. Up to here (he indicates the top of the sign, above his head). Is flooded, also, zee forest. Then the Bog, she grows;
  • You have suit? You can swim in Bog.

I remember an old National Geographic article about a northern European “Bog Man,” excavated about 4000 years after his death.  I vividly recall the photo. Not just a skeleton – a very well preserved guy with his shoes and clothes of hide still attached, but everything – including his skin – turned to leather.

Tests revealed him to be in his twenties.

         How did he die in the bog? I wondered then.

 

         Was it slow suffocation in quicksand? I wonder now.

A wooden walkway, raised above the forest floor on 6 by 6 beams, leads us quickly thru the birches, larches, pines, blackcurrant bushes, mushrooms and frogs of the forest. A forest which, as you drive thru Estonia, still covers half of the country.  They cleared areas for fields to grow their food, but the edge of the fields is defined by a dense wall of trees which is just itching to reclaim its ancestral soil.

Back from the digression, we approach the bog after a kilometer of walking. The walkway turns into steps. The steps go up.

Up?

“Is growing, the bog,” our guide explains, trilling his R’s. “Every year, a little bit more. The forest does not, zee same way, grow. But zee bog vill – how you say? – Eat. No. Take over. It vill, zee forest, take over, little by little.”

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I put my foot down – speaking literally here – to test the forest floor. It’s damp and green. Your eyes tell you that much. But it’s firm. Like any Pacific northwest forest floor.

Up the steps, onto a plateau about six to eight feet above the forest floor. Suddenly, sunshine and almost no trees. A few scraggly pines and even occasional twiggy birches grow as pathetic invalids. Otherwise, just a wide, flat carpet of green to the horizon where forest begins again.

We continue on the wooden walkway, now on the Bog, elevated above the forest. I put my foot down again.

Like stepping on a saturated sponge. I hear “squish” and water oozes up to flood over my sneakers. I feel no sense of firmness and wonder how deep I’d sink if I just stepped off with the other foot, too.

Not really needing to find out.

I snag the guide and ask him how this swamp can be higher than the forest floor.

“Not a swamp,” he reminds me, this bog aficionado. “Swamp is in warm climb-ate. Zhis is Bog.”

He reaches down to the thick green that is the surface and snatches up a handful of dripping green sponge.

“Sphagnum,” he explains. “It grows. Gets ticker. Higher. Every year, a little bit.”

Sure enuf. Looks like the stuff I recently bought at Mariposa Feed store to incorporate into our garden. To hold the moisture. Makes sense. But this sphagnum, unlike mine, looks happy, healthy. It’s dense green, sopping wet, and holds itself together with curling tendrils.

Like living Velcro.

As we walk deeper into the bog, it’s clear that the carpet of sphagnum plays host to multiple other plants with tiny flowers and, as mentioned above, to the unfortunate seeds of trees that landed a bit too far from the forest floor.

Another half kilometer, and our narrow walkway leads to a platform – I’m thinking “raft” – at the edge of a large pool of black ink. A hole in the sphagnum formed by – – – .  Well, I didn’t ask.

“Swim!” the guide beams like a gracious host.

“Splash” goes Estonian number one. “Splash” the cousin from Sweden. “Splash” the Canadian relative. Why not? “Splash” the Californian.

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It’s not surprising there’s nothing substantial beneath my feet. Visions of Bog Man refuse to be evicted from my brain. He’s down below me. He could be me. As I often do, I tell my brain to shut up.

I swim to the opposite bank to see if there’s substance there. Nope. The sphagnum surface just collapses into the pool. You can grab onto some sphagnum if you want to stop treading water for a few seconds, but all you get for it is a handful of dripping moss detached in your hand, and a sinking feeling.

So it’s float, and let the sun shine onto your face.

“A record, it is!” the guide yells. “Never before, zhis many people in zee pool. I take picture.”

Which he does with what he calls his “camera”

“Click” goes his i-pad.

I twirl. Must be 20 of us in the water. Some organized person calls for us to make a circle. Like ducks, we smile and appear comfortable while our legs thrash like crazy somewhere in the dark beneath.

Then someone submerges her blonde head, inverts upside down, extends her leg with gracefully pointed toes, and challenges us to Bog Water Ballet.

Eventually we climb up onto the platform again and devour the contents of the picnic baskets.

“Hot day,” observes an Estonian as I wrap a towel around my shivering self. I’m looking forward to sauna # 2.

We descend the steps from the bog. Katie emerges from the woods, her hands bloody from blueberry picking. Not blood, really. Berry juice. But it gets a few horrified gasps.

I feel a peace about being enveloped again by dense forest. The familiar forest.

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“Dust thou art, to dust returneth” was not spoken of the Bog.

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