Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

August 13, 2006. Burin, the bog

I said something a while back – while rambling in Indiana – about bogs. How I really had some affection for them, but hadn’t gotten to walk across one since back in college, on an ecology field trip where we bounced across springy peat moss with an enthusiastic graduate student.

Well, that sure changed in Burin. The morning after Jarrod and his friends came to visit, I ran into Nancy again, and she mentioned the walk to Cook’s Lookout. The sun was out and the weather was splendid, so I happily agreed to join them on a trek up the hill. Jarrod invited himself to come as well, so after sending him home to let his mom know we were taking him with us, we all set off – Nancy, her husband John, their children Mike and Sarah, Nancy’s older brother Lewis, and Jarrod and me.

Nancy had heard that the trail wasn’t being maintained, but it seemed pretty good as we headed up. We skirted Penny’s Pond and began to climb, initially between thick pine stands, then on a grassy path surrounded by shrubs. In a few spots nice boardwalks took us over wet spots, in others we dodged patches of mud and puddles. Nancy and Lewis kept up a running

commentary on the local flora – insectivorous pitcher plants, alder bushes, a fern with a root that Louis claimed tasted like bananas (it didn’t), an occasional raspberry, and lots of blueberries that we devoured as if we hadn’t all just had a big breakfast on the wharf, at the morning event in the heritage festival. Jarrod raced ahead, while Nancy and I chatted and stopped from time to time to catch our breath.

At the top, the views were every bit as good as promised – a 360° panorama of all the hills and coves and inlets that make up the town of Burin. Jarrod and I took photos on my camera. Mike constructed an inukshuk - a stack of rocks in a distinctive Inuit form - on the hilltop. Nancy and Lewis pointed out houses where this uncle or that cousin used to live, where the hospital used to stand (Lewis was born there), and the clearing where a scary old lady had a house when Nancy and Lewis were children. We looked at their mom’s house on a distant hill, and Jarrod’s house just behind it, and we even spotted Matilda’s windshield gleaming in the sunlight.

Nancy and I agreed that we could have stayed up there all day, but of course we didn’t. No one wanted to return the way we’d gone up, so after conferring a bit, Nancy and Lewis agreed on the route we could take down. Or so they thought. From the top of one boggy hummock, it’s hard to see what’s around all the other hummocks, and we didn’t really know where the path was. But we set off in what looked like a promising direction, springing across the turf and eating blueberries.

The trouble was, there was no path. So we’d scramble along for a few minutes, bouncing on the mossy bits, holding down branches with our feet on the brushy bits, and warning each other of sports where the bushes were deceptive and you’d put your foot down only to sink to your waist in

brush, in an unseen dip in the ground. Jarrod is big for nine, but he was still a lot smaller than the rest of us, and after one slip on the mud and a few sudden plummets into unseen holes, he wasn’t too happy. But Lewis jollied him along, and lifted him over a few holes he was afraid to step into, and he did as well as any of us at scrambling down, across, and sometimes through, the boggy hills.

But we’d cover some distance only to realize that there was no way through, or we’d arrived at the top of a sheer drop, fifty feet down a rock face. We never actually backtracked, but we did a lot of dipping and wheeling and heading sideways along the hillsides, hoping that the road would come into view with a clear route to get there.

We weren’t too far away – at least in horizontally, if not vertically – when the brush got a lot deeper and it was apparent that we were going to have to do some serious

slithering. At the end of the line, John and I pointed our cameras at Nancy and the kids, bushwacking through alders and tall grasses. But then I fell into a hole and was up to my shoulders in brush, and as I stood there laughing, Lewis pointed his camera at me. So much for my dignity! (Louis, if you’re reading this, I still want that photo!) The last thirty feet we all just gave up – turned our faces to the hillside, grabbed at the tough alder trunks, and leveraged ourselves down the steep slope, trusting that if our feet slid we would not lose hold of the branches or uproot them.

And it worked. At the bottom of that stretch we found ourselves on the road, a short walk from the house, to which we all returned to collapse over lunch.

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