The ancient Celts believed that barren wastelands existed because their leader and people were cursed. Surely whether or not a space is a wasteland has more to do with one’s point of view than a curse. A few days ago I visited a bog that I hadn’t seen since Hurricane Juan hit in 2003, destroying the old logging trails I used to follow to reach it. Due to the slow tree growth typical in bogs, it had changed very little.
For over a decade I walked through this bog daily with my dog, careful to place my feet on higher ground so that I wouldn’t sink into the bottomless black mud. Though the bog looked especially pretty in spring with its bright pink orchids and rhododendrons, in winter it could be equally wonderful. One cold day I suddenly heard wings flying above me and was surprised to see two bald eagles hunting for hares or other bog-dwelling prey just a few feet overhead.
Bogs were once considered magical places, probably owing to their reputation as cursed wastelands. Some Northern European cultures sometimes buried their dead in bogs and it’s suspected that human sacrifices were made there during the Iron Age.
Bogs were also places where treasures were hidden from invaders. In 2006 the Irish found a thousand year old illuminated psalter manuscript in one of their bogs. Could treasures still be waiting to be discovered here in Nova Scotia?
Today bogs are just beginning to be valued for their role in absorbing extra precipitation and acting as filters for air and water borne pollutants. Sphagnum moss which is abundant here is also being studied for its role in absorbing oil from disaster spills.
Many of the lichens that hang from the trees in bogs also absorb moisture from the atmosphere. The most marvelous of these can convert nitrogen in the air to a form usable by plants and animals.
Unfortunately, in Nova Scotia, bogs are still considered wastelands and cheap real estate. Locally, they continue to be filled with rubble and developed into subdivisions. If the original evergreens left standing at the edge of new streets appear stunted, chances are that the homes nearby were built in a bog. Sadly, once bogs are filled, they cannot go back to their original form. If urban planners refuse to consider the role bogs can play in alleviating flooding and cleaning the atmosphere, perhaps we really are a people cursed.