30 years ago, I fell into a bog. The day was cold and clagged in. I couldn’t see more than a few inches in front of me and I slipped on a wet rock and fell. My partner and I were camping in a midge invested camp site at the foot of Ben Nevis in Scotland and had committed to climbing the monument that is Ben Nevis.
Bogs are an important habitat and I had no intent to damage the area I fell in. As we had walked up the lower slopes there was a mixture of heather moorland, grass and peaty bogs. We nibbled blaeberry (bilberry) as we walked past heather, mat grass, moss, thyme and milkwort. Bracken is abundant here and it had created great swathes for us to walk through. Higher up (400-700m) the main habitats were wet heath, upland grassland and bog. Plants included cottongrass, deer-grass, common butterwort, sundews and bog asphodel. Higher still (700-1200m), a wind-stunted heathland led to weather-shattered scree. We discovered alpine plants such as alpine lady’s mantle that look so fragile, procumbent pearlwort, alpine speedwell with a touch of blue and dwarf cudweed (with such an intriguing name). Alpine saxifrage including the beautifully named starry saxifrage and its relations tufted saxifrage, and alpine brook saxifrage exist in these harsh environments that most humans only visit on the ‘good days’. On the summit plateau (1200-1334m) there were very few flowers and vegetation was limited to mainly moss and lichen, many of which are arctic-alpine species.
I must be honest and share that my pausing on the journey uphill wasn’t so much for the plant observation as the weary legs and exploding lungs. A strange thing happens when you sit and rest a while, your eyes adjust to notice the tiny, the hidden and the low down. The large landscape of mountain disappears as you see a new scale of landscape nestled out of way of the strong winds and driving rain.
A similar thing happened the moment I fell in the bog, it changed my view of the landscape quite considerably! I felt the soft comfort of the peat below me as I had braced myself for impact onto the hard rock of the pathway. As the Sphagnum Moss gave way, I realised why it was used by ancient cultures for absorbing liquids as I sank down and the water was released and trickled down my back. The water sodden environment of a bog is a wonderful habitat for many things but not for me. After crawling out of the bog, the wet peat clung to everything and as I walked down the mountain, I fear I was something akin to a monster from the deep rather than a hill walker.
The reason I’m sharing this experience with you is not to suggest that you jump in a bog. Do not do that as they are fragile and need to be protected for the plants and animals that flourish there. I share my tale with you to suggest that sometimes when we go into wilder spaces, something unpredictable happens to realign our thinking. To ‘create a rift’ as Caputo (1977) suggests, pushes us to have a new perspective. My five-minute encounter in the bog, changed my view of them. When I look at images of bogs, or walk beside them or even see them from a car as I’m driving in the Scottish countryside, I can still feel the coldness of the water dripping down my back, the sponginess of a surface that looked solid to the inexperienced eye and the laughter as we struggled to clean me up.
When children experience the natural world its richer if it included a variety of landscapes, rather than sanitised nature in a box. How do we bring a bog to a child in the centre of a city? Well you can’t, because a bog is usually a remote, wet upland habitat concentrated in the northern hemisphere. So instead we should focus our energy on taking children to wilder spaces, to raise awareness of the importance of bogs to us as humans. We can bring the world of bog-like landscapes into the world of small world play, placing model animals into sensorial habitats.
One such example happened in the early days of my teaching when the children had been fascinated by Dinosaurs. They had created a swamp in the water tray with mud, water, rocks and vegetation gathered from outside. It had been a wonderful inquiry full of conversation about habitats and the varying needs of different types of dinosaur. We left for a long weekend holiday and when I returned to the nursery unit, I was met by the janitor. Arms crossed, unhappy look on his face. My heart dropped as we all know that the support team in school often affect the whole team within a setting. I was asked ‘What have you done in there?’ and then I realised that our swamp had developed a strong smell of decay. My reply was ‘Fabulous! Now we can really understand a swamp… We have a bog-like space… The smell of decay and rot will really bring it alive for the children!’.
As adults, we can raise awareness about different types of environment. It can occur inside our buildings in small world play and role play and outside so its affected by the weather.
The children at Auchlone Nature Kindergarten have created bog and swamp areas and have been delighted to watch some of the amazing plants such as Common Sundew as it traps a fly to digest.
The cycle and relationships in the natural world are more easily observed when we slow down, when we are close to nature, just as I was when I fell in the bog, all those years ago…