Long Lake in the early morning is glass-smooth, but there is nothing smooth about paddling around it. Long Lake (at Long Lake Conservation Center in Aitkin) is in the process of turning into land. We’ve come for several years now to see the orchids and other boggish flowers that bloom in the floating bog around the edges of the lake, and each year the lake is muckier. Ragged islands of loose soil lie just below the water surface, lily pads abound, colonies of mosses and sundew gradually cover over discarded or abandoned beaver logs. Some day, not in our lifetimes, the lake will fill in, and trees will grow where we’re canoeing. But for now, we’re happy to paddle (and sometimes pole) our way through the muckier places, because the edge of the lake is the most amazing bog habitat we’ve ever seen. And who would want to hurry past that? Not us.
Tuberous grass-pink and rose pogonia orchids bloom brightly in the thick green growth. Yellow swamp candles and wispy white cotton grass poke up. Purple pitcher plant flowers show us where to look for the plants’ low, specialized leaves that lure and dissolve insects. Early morning dew dots the ends of sundew’s glandular hairs, making them look like beautiful little alien creatures. In one small section of lake edge we find pitcher plant, bladderwort, and sundew (almost in bloom), three of Minnesota’s four kinds of carnivorous plants in a row, each luring lunch in their own way.
Bright yellow pond-lily and American white waterlily dot the surface. All across the water the single flowers of water-shield look like tiny crowns. These purplish-brown flowers open for only two days each. A brief breeze ruffles the stamens in the middle of the “crowns” like hair blowing in the wind.
A beaver swims silently, two loons make sure to keep between us and their fuzzy brown chicks, frogs jump from lily pad to lily pad, then splash into the water. We glide (as much as the muck allows) silently around the shore, so grateful we can be here, now, a part of this morning, this lake, this abundance of orchids and sundew and light and water. Luckily for us, lakes turning into land (a process explained in this month’s Conservation Volunteer as terrestrialization) takes years and years, and we’ll be coming back to Long Lake to paddle the edges as long as the lake allows.
As we’re driving away from the Center we spot stalks of elliptical shinleaf in the woods and stop to investigate. From the top of a hill we see another trail leading to a short boardwalk, so, of course, we make our way down to the boardwalk to check it out. Across the boardwalk the trail leads uphill again, but off to one side toward the lake we see another bog (or more of the same one) dotted with so many tuberous grass-pink orchids we quit counting them, along with plenty of rose pogonia, Labrador tea, and wild calla gone to seed, all growing among soft green tamarack trees and sphagnum moss in shades of red and green.
Bogs are magical places, so silent it’s easy to think the deep blankets of moss actually soak up sounds. Silently we soak up this new bog, a bonus bog, and feel as though this morning we have been touched by bog magic.