Toole Castle on the Gulf of Finland [again, courtesy of the panorama setting on my camera]

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Entry VII-a: Catching Up [a blog miniseries brought to you by procrastination and technical difficulties]

     I realize that I have been putting off writing a blog post for several days. Part of this has to do with the fact that I can't upload pictures with this computer; I have to go to the library or impose upon my host parents' machine. But mostly I'm avoiding another entry because I'm worried I won't be able to write thoroughly enough. I'm paralyzed by bloggable material. A lot of the paralysis is due to last weekend's excursion, wherein we trekked all over the north of Estonia. I don't want to leave out anything important, but the prospect of writing down everything that happened makes me tired. So, I'll do it a piece at a time, and I'll make no lofty promises of full disclosure. If you feel like something is missing from the story, let me know and I can add the desired element, whether it actually happened or not.

     Let's begin at the beginning of last weekend's excursion. We left Tartu at 8:30 Friday morning, carried out of the city in a fourteen-seater Peugeot bus we had chartered until Sunday. Our first stop was Kakerdaja bog, in the north of Estonia. We drove deep into a forest where we met Triin, a slight woman with sheered short hair, a gentle demeanor, and the finest of outdoor apparel. She emerged wordlessly from her little red van and pulled out several big plastic bins. One had a supply of rubber boots, the other was filled with what looked like miniature toboggans--or plastic snowshoes, if you prefer more conventional similes. I skipped the rubber boots and went straight for the bogshoes, thinking with confidence that my trusty Keens would see me through the bog safely. I strapped on a pair of red ones. I was ready to go. Then Triin informed us that we had to walk several hundred meters before actually entering the squishy part of the bog. I unstrapped my red bogshoes.

Preparation for our soggy descent into the bog.

     Long story short, Keens were not enough for the bog. I almost immediately stepped in a soft part and sunk down past my ankle, soaking my jeans and filling my ultra-absorbent shoes. But, the damage was done, so now I could get just as waterlogged as I pleased. With every step, I could feel the ground around me move. When others bogshoed up next to me, I could feel it in the ground, and see the surface of the bog tremble. Between 90 and 99 percent of the bog is made of water, with the peat moss and foliage on top providing only a scant surface for walking. At one point we came upon a black patch of what looked like mud.  Triin poked the rear point of her bogshoe into the muck slowly and deliberately, like someone prodding their french fry into a pile of ketchup long after their hunger has been sated. Looking around to make sure we could see the bubbles burble where she broke the surface, Triin explained that this was a pocket of CH4. The gas causes the moss and water to stagnate and turn black. She told us that the CH4 is flammable, and if you were to strike a match or a click a lighter right next to one of the openings made by an invasive bogshoe, you would see flames. Of course, it was raining at this point and no one had fire, so we couldn't test the claim. 

This tree--one of the biggest ones growing in the bog--is used by birds as a tool for procuring seeds from pinecones. See the cones wedged in the crevice in the bark? It's a hands-free device for seed-eating. Pretty cool. 

Our plywood path home.
      Another long story short, two people fell into the bog. First Maria sunk down in a soft spot and lost one of her shoes. Both shoes were retrieved, but not before she was submerged up to her knees. It required several people to pull her out because the ground was so unstable and the moss layer over the water so thin. Soon after, Dominique followed suit and fell in. Again, removal from the squelch was a lengthy procedure. With more bog-intimacy than we bargained for and a lot of wet socks, we retreated from the bog, seeking a quick return on a narrow boardwalk of two-by-fours. As we tramped back to dry, solid ground, bogshoes unstrapped and held uselessly at our sides, I found myself looking at my feet--my squelchy Keens, called upon to do the duty of rainboots--and I wondered how these boards beneath me were managing not to sink to the depths of water, peat, and the ghosts of Estonians past. I still don't know the answer to that question. But the boards were sturdy indeed, and we made it back safe and sound.


  1. Steven, I know exactly what you mean about having so much to write that it's exhausting to even think about where to begin. I had that situation with some of my journals/letters from camp and such. Encounter that a lot actually and it keeps me from writing as much as I'd like to. Glad you are still writing what you can. I always look forward to the next entry. Skype sometime?

  2. Funny you mention bogs... there are tons of bogs in Norway as well (I was curious and took another look at a map of Europe and we're pretty much at the same latitude - hey!). I learned this the hard way when, I too, fell into one. It was a sneaky one, though, just hiding out by some rocks and grass. I thought it was just a little patch of wet grass until I stepped on it and fell in to my knees. Was your bog smelly? This one was smelly. I became the smelly kid from elementary school that no one wanted to sit next to on the bus. I finally feel for that smelly kid.