A Real-Life Encounter with Flesh-Eating Plants


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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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Biggest Adventure Yet

Dog-Mounted GoPro

Hey, guys! Molly the Adventure Dog, here. I’ve been so excited to finally share my latest video with you! I made it myself!

Last summer, my girl and I went on the longest car ride ever–all the way to Lake Geneva Wisconsin! (You’re almost in Chicago once you’ve gone that far!) My girl was doing research for a novel. I wanted so bad to help. So she gave me her GoPro camera and said I could record her reference footage of the town!

We also camped and hiked in the amazing Dalles of the St. Croix River, on the opposite end of Wisconsin from Lake Geneva. It felt like we were in the mountains! My girl and I had the best time ever.

Chocolate Lake

A whole lake? Made out of chocolate??? Yes! At least that’s what it looked like … Good, clean mud never kept Molly from going swim-swim!

P.S. It’s two for one this week! I was invited to guest post on Karen R. Sanderson’s Blog as part of a series of posts about our great state of North Dakota. The irony? The video above features a scoria beach. The post below is all about a scoria road. I guess it’s Scoria Week!


Scoria Road, a guest post on Karen R. Sanderson’s Blog

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Instead of getting me into trouble–like you’d think it would–my bent for aimless wandering keeps turning up new treasures I never would have found any other way.

My dog Molly and I were driving home on Highway 83 one day. The sky was blue and full of big summer clouds and the pastures were the vivid green you only see in North Dakota in spring, before the Indian summers scorch everything brown. …” Go read it!

Lost Lake

The results are in.

Lost Lake is indeed lost.

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I was exploring the North Dakota countryside via one of my favorite modes–Google Maps–when I spied a tiny splotch of green indicating some sort of recreation area. (Another reason green is my favorite color–green splotches on maps.) I zoomed in until the name appeared: Lost Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge was located squarely in the middle of nowhere and was small enough to lose on the head of a pin.

Exactly the kind of place Molly and I would love to see.

Satellite view on Google Maps didn’t tell me much. There did not appear to be any roads through he refuge. Or trails. Or even an entrance.

Most notably, there did not appear to be a lake.

Two creeks ran through the green splotch, and there were two or three small bodies of water, which may or may not be worthy of the name “lake”–depending, perhaps, on whether you had just arrived from Death Valley, and whether it had been raining in North Dakota recently.

The locale was both so remote and so mysterious, of course Molly and I had to check it out.

Google Maps offered two routes to get there. I started with one, penetrating deeper and deeper into the country, only to discover that there were no road signs. Meaning I couldn’t find my turn.

Now, let me define the word “lost,” according to me. “Lost” is when you have no idea how to get home again. By that definition, I don’t think I’ve ever been “lost.” I’m very good at following a trail backwards to my starting point.

However, I frequently have no idea where I’m going. In fact, I usually have no idea where I’m going. Hence why I’d rather just stuff the map in my back pocket and follow my nose. Maps stress me out. All too often, I find discrepancies between where I think I’m going and where I end up.

Google Maps is fun from an armchair perspective–but gets all complicated on me out in the field.

My search for Lost Lake was a classic example. I tried several roads–and saw plenty of pretty scenery–but didn’t find anything like what was drawn on the map.

I finally gave up on the first route Google Maps gave me and tried the second.

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This road proved more direct. I finally found a large brown sign proclaiming, “Lost Lake National Wildlife Refuge.”

Where one finds a sign, one would presume to find an entrance.

Not in this case. The barbed wire fence stretched endlessly to the horizon.

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So I followed it.

A couple of miles later, I almost missed the gap in the fence, the turn-off, and the cattle guard. No sign. No fanfare. Apparently Lost Lake intended to stay lost.

I followed the road into the park and drove from one end to the other, about two miles. Pleasant stretch of road, ending in another gap in the barbed wire, another cattle guard, and (oddly) a gravel pit.

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Something was missing.

I turned around and retraced my route.

Yep. No lake. Not one. Not so much as a damp, duck-infested ditch alongside the road. No turn-offs or trail heads, either, that I could see. Lost Lake was indeed lost.

This, then, was the Bermuda Triangle of North Dakota: where lakes disappear, never to be seen again.

To make the trip worth our while, Molly and I poked around the surrounding area, had a great walk, and came up with some nice photographs.

But Lost Lake is indeed Lost. Maybe we’ll try again another day.

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