Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Wetland Wanderer: An Ode to Ice: Exploring the Caribou Bog in Winter

by Brenda Zollitsch


Maine’s recent ice storm and the nation’s current cold spell has certainly reminded us of how our world changes when we hit deep winter.  During this time of the year, we look for any positive ways to enjoy our natural world and, of course, our wetlands.  As ASWM’s Wetland Wanderer, this means getting out into wetlands, no matter the weather.  And a favorite of mine is the Caribou Bog in Hudson, Maine.  My enjoyment of the Caribou Bog is a cherished lifetime relationship.  This blog is an ode to a lifetime of enjoying the spectacular Caribou Bog in the depths of winter.  Happy New Year!

When I was young, every winter we (my parents and siblings and I) would take our cross country skis and whump and thump through the underbrush to get out onto the openness of the peat bog just north of where we lived in Orono, Maine.   We would park on the winding road of Route 43, trying not to get run over by wild Old Town drivers on their way to ice fish on Pushaw Pond.  Wrapped in scarves and clothes from the pre-performance cloth era, my dad guided my black-toed ski boots into the old gold metal bindings and snapped them shut.    Then we were off through the tangled woods that led you out onto the bog itself, me in the lead.

After a deep freeze, the frozen ground of the Caribou Bog can be maneuvered easily.   More so, the bog transforms into a crystal wonderland, with layer upon layer of sheet ice collecting on the surface with air pockets between.  The trees are crystal fingers reaching out in the sun and the crunching and cracking of the snow and ice under snowshoes is almost musical.  There are no roads, vehicles or buildings within sight.  It is mind-boggling to think about how ancient the bog is, the depth of the peat layers, and of glaciers scouring the land.  Walking in the peat bog in winter transports one away from daily life and into a precious, reverent, ancient place.

The Caribou Bog is made up of raised bogs or domes, separated by streamside meadows.  Pushaw Stream runs through this part of the bog, creating a diversity of wetland communities.  These consist of wet meadows, shrub thickets, extensive silver maple floodplain forests, and open freshwater stream habitats bordered by plant communities associated with peatlands, such as shrub heaths and wooded cedar and spruce bogs.   The bog and stream wetlands, along with the adjacent uplands and associated transition zones, provide important habitat for many wildlife species.

I can personally attest that a spectacular number of animals live and thrive in the refuge.  In winter, snowshoeing along Pushaw Stream, you can see otter slides and muskrat trails.  I love to picture them zipping underwater and slipping up onto the shore to gnaw on their fish feasts.  You can see their holes in the ice and snowed-over burrows in the banks.  On our wanders, we have seen mink, raccoons, and handsome porcupines huddled amongst their quills high off the ground in the elbows of trees that blow slowly back and forth in the wind.   Deer are common and my father has shown me deer beds in the refuge, where dozens of deer bed down each night.  I am perhaps most taken with the tiniest of the furry bog inhabitants – the voles and meadow mice.  You can see little scatterings of seeds and berries and holes and trails with their miniscule paw prints —so delightfully delicate you wonder how they can survive in the vast, cold bog.

Back when I was ten years old, I remember one winter when we were sure we had seen a wolf out on the tundra.  It was such an exotic thought, something so primal —us standing there with binoculars, it looking back across the great expanse at us— that I have never forgotten it.  There is an off chance it might have been a large coyote, but, to this day, I imagine that magnificent wolf wandering the peat bogs, looking for voles and half-white hares transitioning from their fall to winter coloring.  At other times of the year there are endless numbers of ducks, kingfishers, woodpeckers and song birds.  In winter, the amphibians and invertebrates are hunkered down beneath the icy layers for the season.  But simply knowing that they are there, silent and still, holding strong for Spring, is fascinating in and of itself.

Each time I come in from the bog, even on icy days like this last week, I feel renewed.  Like I have just  glimpsed into the actual evolution of time — seen how things were, back in time — seen how the earth refreshes itself with the passing of the seasons —seen how creatures have to adapt to live and thrive in such a wild place.  And I think of that wolf and think wow, he’d be 34 years old now.  But somehow I still think he is there, the Keeper of the Bog, the rugged phantom of my childhood.  And that makes me smile.

For more information about the Caribou Bog, click here.

For more information about how you can support the Hirundo Wildlife Refuge, go to: http://www.hirundomaine.org/

To learn about other bog-related trails in the region, click here.

For a more detailed look at peat bogs, click here.

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