For me, Maine bogs have always held an allure. It may be the deer hunter in me. The buck of my dreams is always seen in a bog, ghosting its way silently on the mossy ground, weaving slowly between gnarled old cedar trees and gray, weathered deadfall. There is a dusting of snow underfoot. The air has warmed creating a rising mist. Antler tips can be seen intermittently through the tree openings as the fantasy monarch moves like a cat amid the gauzy, shifting layers of fog.
Whether you are a deer hunter or not, if you have an affinity for natural wild places, a bog can be both inviting and intimidating. Inviting for the mystery of it; intimidating because it can swallow you up if you are not careful.
Orson Bog just north of Brownville Junction is a case in point. Many Novembers ago, as a young deer hunter, Orson Bog and I became acquainted. Wary but fascinated, I hunted the edges of Orson Bog and a few bucks met their demise during my visits. Deer feel safe in these dark, moss-covered lowlands. For obvious reasons, many hunters won’t stay on the track when the quarry takes them into seemingly forbidden places. But it’s quiet going underfoot, for the hunted and the hunter. Once in the late afternoon I ventured too deeply into the bog and — though not really lost — found myself boxed in by standing water. Spitting snow and fading light had me worried, but eventually, through some creative compass work, the bog, with darkness coming on, lost its grip on me.
Over the years, a number of hunters have become lost or disappeared altogether in Maine bogs. In May of 2013, three people perished in Windsor Bog after their Jeep Wrangler became hopelessly stuck in the mud. Bogs merit respect from all interlopers.
Bogs all seem to have distinct features peculiar to themselves. Another of my favorites is Horseshoe Bog, which is part of the Scutaze Stream drainage. Not far from there, One Thousand Acre Bog has shared its solitude with me and some moose hunters whom I have guided. Yes, these bogs hold many personal memories, some of which have been shared and some that have not.
Michigan has some infamous bogs, too. Outdoor writer Betty Sodders has written about the fabled Gogomain, a 25-mile-square cedar swamp at the east end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Betty writes: “Historically, the swamp became infamous from reports of marauding slasher bears to unstable ground bordering on quicksand that could virtually swallow up a hunter daring enough to traverse its interior. Horror stories, many most likely exaggerated, caused folks to avoid the big swamp.”
According to Betty, the big swamp is home to upward of 1,200 wolves that take their share of Michigan whitetails. Does that make you wonder how hungry Maine coyotes find fertile hunting ground in our cedar bogs that are often wintering ground for whitetail deer?
The Great Heath in Washington County is Maine’s most high-profile bog. This protected eco-reserve comprises 5,681 acres. Geologically, it is a unique area. Called a “peatland, the Great Heath combines what is known as coastal plateau bogs and inland raised bogs. It is home for some rare wild plants, not the least of which includes: Bog Bedstraw, Canada Mountain Ricegrass and Jacob’s Ladder. Much of this famous heath is bordered by eskers, not unlike the Whale’s Back on Route 9, not far from the Middle Branch of the Union River, itself a bog of sorts.
On a black rainy night in November in the 1950s, my deer hunter father got lost overnight in this area. Disoriented, he eventually figured out his location by the sight of car headlights off in the distance bobbing across this famous highway esker. After spending a long night in an overturned canoe that he found beside the river, Dad paddled his way down river and found his way back.
The borrowed canoe? I asked him that question. He returned it in time to its rightful owner. At least, that’s how the story goes.
Maine bogs are special. They do hold stories.