Moonlight on the bog

by Jude Holloway

I strapped my headlamp on my head, but never did need it. As I started snowshoeing toward the bog, my eyes adjusted quickly to the evening’s light. It never seems to get very dark in the winter. The bright whiteness of the snow holds its light, even through the night hours.
I sure was glad for my big ol’ Iversons tonight. In the last two days we’ve gotten an awful lot of new snow, and today’s accumulation was like the cherry on top.
We winter people love snow. I was born on December 28, and it’s my guess that some of my first introductions to the world included the cold wind on my face. I don’t know how much I liked it back then, but now it just feels right.
The going was rough. Even with my 10-by-32s, I was sinking a good foot or more with each step. Although I’ve made this trip many times this winter, retracing the same trail to pack it and make it a little easier for my friend Bud, you’d never know it by any resemblance of tracks. With all the new snow and the big winds I followed it now only by memory.
0902iodmAs I wound my way through the woods, the tall maples were swaying like they were trying to rock babies to sleep. Far above, the wind roared like the passing of freight trains. I was glad I had dressed extra warm. Pulling gear through deep snow was enough to keep me warm on the way out, but out on the bog’s exposure, it would be a whole different story. So why did I want to sleep on the bog? Exactly that; exposure. It has the most wonderful exposure to the stars, moon and sky.
I left the hardwoods and worked my way down into the cedar swamp. I’m amazed how my feet remembered where to go as I wove my way through the cedar maze. All the usual bunny tracks were well covered over now. My night vision was becoming clearer. Who knows? Maybe behind all that cloud cover, the full moon really was rising. As I reached the edge of the swamp, it was like approaching an opened door, more light and a lot more wind.
In the middle of the bog was a small pond. I named it Snow Angel Pond affectionately due to the tradition I have of fulfilling these reoccurring urges while there to flop down on my back, gaze up at the beautiful expanse of sky and flap my wings like a child. (Everyone ought to have some traditions.) Upon emerging from dense woods and a thick swamp, the openness just moves me that way. What can I say?
No angels that night, though. If I would’ve flopped down in this blizzard, they may not find me ’til spring.
I scanned the bog for the little shelter I’d built, but couldn’t see it, even though I was starting to make out some of the tamaracks and black spruce that speckled the openness. I walked in the general direction, and figured it would appear soon enough. It did, but certainly not where I had expected it. My sense of direction has never been my strong suit.
It is just a little teepee structure covered with clear plastic, but it is enough to shelter me from the majority of the wind and it allows me the visibility I crave. The lean-to door had blown off, and it took me a while to find it and dig it out from under the snow. I couldn’t believe I even found it. It was nice to get out of the wind for a while.
I know tradition says entrances should face east, but in the U.P. with the winter’s north wind and the sun and moon in the southern horizon, this one opens to the south—to each her own. No moon yet, though, as I unrolled my bedroll and sleeping bag and got cozy. I laid and listened to the wind. When the wind eased off from time to time, I listened as the snow hit and slid down the walls.
A few hours later, I woke with the whole shelter glowing. Through the open peak, I saw the heavenly spotlight. A few small, thin clouds slid quickly past it. Ahh, my long-awaited full moon. I scrambled out of my bag and stepped out onto the bog, totally washed in moonlight. What a glorious sight. Very few stars were visible with such a powerful dominating light.
Although the few remaining clouds were racing quickly across the sky, the wind really had died down. I didn’t need shelter from the wind anymore. I pulled my roll and sleeping bag out and up onto the snow and climbed back in. Toasty warm and thrilled with my view, I laid with a giant grin on my face and blinked away the tears in my eyes. It’d be hard to be anything but elated in a setting such as this. It is such things that allow me to bear the harder things of life.
Directly overhead, the Big Dipper pivoted on the North Star, its ladle sweeping the sky. By morning it would be hanging from its handle, retiring until the next night’s star harvest. I dozed on and off, trying to keep my face from freezing. A couple of times I woke to what sounded like someone snoring. Oops…it must have been me. Each time I looked, the moon and the Dipper were further along in their night travel. The moon was encircled with the most beautiful rainbow-colored ring, clearer than I’d ever seen. Then finally, it dipped below the western horizon of spruce spears and was gone.
The sky now was graced by different light, northern lights. Moving very slowly like spirit clouds, they glowed softly of green and white. They danced over me, soft and subtle, coming in and out like waves of the Big Lake.
Again, I dozed and woke—this time to the light of dawn and the sound of a flock of American goldfinches flying overhead. Memories ran through my head of my mother’s call: “Get up! It’s daylight in the swamp.” If only she could see me now. So I heeded the memory and got on up.
I wished I had followed my brain when it told me last night to put my boots in my bag with me. Ice shoes in the morning are not one of my favorite things. I shuddered as I slid my feet into them.
Soon, I had water heating on my little stove and was enjoying the morning. There’s nothing like a hot drink in the cold and the calling of chickadees and ravens.
I just wished I could feel my toes.

— Jude Holloway
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