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John Mahoney's Free-fire Zone
John Mahoney
John Mahoney
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is editor of the Log Cabin Chronicles.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 03.02.01
Fool's Hollow, Quebec

JOHN MAHONEY

[EDITOR'S NOTE: I wrote this column in 1992 while I worked at the Stanstead Journal. Albert and I had been friends for twenty years, ever since he sawed out the logs that I used to build our new home when we immigrated here to Canada in 1972. He was a true woodsman and a dedicated conservationist in all the best ways. It was a privilege to have been his friend.)

Travels with the Bog Man

It was shortly after high noon as the Bog Man and I followed the fresh moose tracks down the soggy woods road leading towards the newly-created Marlington Bog Nature Reserve (also known as the Bog at Mud Pond).

The Spring Beauties, Painted Triliums, and Flowering Dogwoods were in blossom but most of the trees and bushes hadn't fully leafed out so we could still see for some distance through the trees -- that would change quickly, once we got into the dense puckerbrush -- and it was early enough in the season that the biting, stinging, sucking creepy-crawlies weren't a nuisance.

Except for birdsong and the occasional rustling of a soft breeze through the trees it was silent but there were stories everywhere: The deer trails were damp and well-trafficked; here a coyote had left his fur-filled scat; over there, in a circular depression on a sunny, sandy bank below a large spruce, the partridge flutter while taking dust baths; at our feet a foot-long garter snake slowly swallowed a green frog half the size of my fist -- fearful of losing its dinner, it attempted to slither backwards, pulling the unprotesting frog along.

The Bog Man, also known as Albert Elliott of Griffin Corner, was on a quest. He was looking for a corner marker of the 30-acre peat bog that Joel Andress, a local boy now living in the U.S., has donated to the non-profit Nature Conservancy of Canada to protect it from future despoliation.

Located between Route 247 and the Marlington Road and drained by the Gustin Brook, the bog is home to several rare orchids and a very rare dark red, three-toed salamander that some swear has blue spots. It is considered by many a valuable ecosystem worth protecting; indeed,

Andress bought it in 1972 to keep it from being destroyed. For, in addition to its flora and fauna, the bog also contains sphagnum moss and peat that the Quebec Ministry of Eco-rape estimated could be worth millions of dollars, once the bog was dredged, drained, and packed neatly in plastic bags. That is when Andress stepped in.

During the past 20 years the Bog Man and his wife, Enid, have worked quietly but unceasingly to preserve this small piece of the planet by raising local consciousness about its value to future generations; they have led hundreds of people on bird-watching, plant-identifying bog walks. Indeed, it was on one of these walks that I saw my first Lady's Slipper.

So now, on this hot, sunny May afternoon I followed the Bog Man on an arduous but interesting trek, looking for a corner post and some high ground from which to make a photograph of the bog. What a tripů

Our rubber boots went "sluck, sluck, sluck" as we trudged through the rare muck and the rare slime; we Jungle Jim'd it from hummock to hummock, stump to stump, and around, between, and under swamp cedars with sharp broken branches that threatened unprotected body parts -- my nose bled very little, considering the poking I received, and my left ear didn't bleed at all. In places one false step would quickly drench you to the knee, but in due time I dried out.

After a false start or two that found us deep amid puckerbrush of Dantean dimensions -- about the fourth level of Hell, I estimate -- we located a floating "bridge" across a 15-foot-wide stream that flowed slowly between us and the way home.

Well, the Bog Man called it a bridge.

It consisted of several small cedar tree trunks floating on the water. They weren't connected. To each other. Or at either end. Which meant they bobbed, dipped, twisted, and tended to roll. We each broke off a small tree to serve as a staff to help balance our sideways trip across the brook.

Now, the Bog Man is 75 but he scampered sideways across that so-called bridge slick as you please. I wasn't afraid for my person, mind you -- it was only 2-3 feet deep -- but I sure didn't want to dunk my camera. However, thanks to my trusty staff and a cautious, deliberate passage, I got across o.k. and felt very woodsy and survivalist.

Although the bridge scene is not part of a regular bog walk, let me caution you about the glories of getting back to nature and all that. This isn't a lark for the fainthearted, the sidewalk stroller, the urban powerwalker, the backyard naturist. No, in addition to loving all birds, the warm and fuzzy creatures of the woods and fields, and the flowers and the trees, you must also like hard walking, not mind sweating, and be able to shrug off the attention of millions of insects.

In a word, you should be cheerfully serious before you attempt this kind of back-to-nature trip.

If you would like more information about the bog or how to join Conservation Elliandress, Inc., which will adminster the Marlington Bog Nature Reserve for the Nature Conservancy, telephone the Bog Man at 876-5552.

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