My brother and I and my dog Molly had the experience of a lifetime during our trip to Bemidji, Minnesota, last summer. We saw a bog.
Bogs, I used to believe, were something that existed in Scotland, Ireland, and Middle Earth. They were places where only creatures like Gollum knew the way through, or where mad naturalists kept gigantic hounds with glowing teeth, and where the evilest of villains sank to their fates in bottomless mud.
So I was pretty excited to learn that there was a bog at Lake Bemidji State Park, just north of the town of Bemidji.
I was even more intrigued when our aunt and uncle informed us that there were, as my uncle put it, “flesh-eating plants” in the bog. Also known as carnivorous flowers.
Bug-eating plants, I used to believe, were something that existed in South America and other remote rain forests and perhaps in steamy greenhouses at academic institutions. They were the kind of plants kept as pets by mad scientists.
My uncle recommended that if we had time for only one stop, we should see Itasca State Park. My brother and I debated it out. We’d both seen Itasca before–the headwaters of the Mississippi–and we loved the place. But …
C’mon. A bog. With flesh-eating plants. How cool does it get?
So, yeah, the bog won out. Neither of us ever dreamed we could see one in person in northern Minnesota.
Much as I liked being home schooled (I could plan all of my own extra-curricular activities, like … I don’t know … WRITING), I regret we didn’t go on more field trips or read more literature on my own home state and surrounding areas. I grew up thinking that my corner of the world–the upper Midwest–was boring. All the cool history happened in Boston, Massachusetts, and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and all the amazing landscapes were in the Rocky Mountains and the forests of the Giant Sequoias.
I remember seeing the mammoth skeleton at the Heritage Center in Bismarck, North Dakota, and wondering what part of Canada or Siberia we had it shipped from. I was an adult when it finally dawned on me that that was a genuine North Dakota woolly mammoth. Why, he probably even wore bib overalls and a feed cap and drove a John Deere and said, “Ja, vell, I s’pose.”
Now, Bemidji, which I’ve visited many times, was already a land of wonders because it had lakes and trees and loons and black bears and moose.
But a bog! Like I’ve said, these things are only found in Middle Earth.
My brother and Molly and I had to hike a mile through the state park to reach the fabled Bog Walk. When we got there, we found a wooden boardwalk wending through the trees.
I think I expected the place to be putrid and bug-infested. Instead, we found the bog to be sunny and vibrant. The ground was damp all over, but every inch of ground was teaming with greenery, and here and there a vibrant bit of color.
However, I did encounter a strange little creature who knew the secret paths through the Dead Marshes. Okay, it wasn’t Gollum. It was a little brown mouse who scampered away without the least fear of being sucked down alive into the swamp.
My brother and I kept our eyes peeled for flesh-eating plants. There were two varieties we had to watch out–ah, look for. It took us a while, but we finally found one.
The pitcher plant.
At the base of this plant there grows a collection of unique leaves shaped to catch rain water. Insects are drawn in by the pleasant smell the plant produces–and drown in the pitcher. An interpretive sign said that the carnivorous plants in the bog resorted to fly catching to make up for the low nutrient levels in the bog.
Looking around at the abundance and variety of plants in the bog, I’d like to know what they call “good” nutrient levels.
I never really had that thought answered. Nor did my brother and I ever find the other bug-eater, the sundew. Lookling like a sea urchin, it was supposed to trap insects in a sticky residue. However, we did almost see a bug meet its death. It had landed on the lip of a pitcher plant and was thinking about going in. But it must have been suspicious. In the end, my brother and I ran out of time and didn’t wait to see whether or not the hapless bug would plunge to its death.
So maybe the Lake Bemidji State Park bog wasn’t as dramatic as the ones in The Lord of the Rings or The Hound of the Baskervilles, but it was still awesome to discover we didn’t have to go all the way to South America or Middle Earth to find one.