The Bog (part two)
But one might fairly say that with the Free Lander, he shared eighty percent of his genes.
“So if I start choking after a while, just ignore it.” He barked out another of his bitter laughs, and talked himself back to his lost place. “What I’m trying to say…what I’m trying to say… We got a preserve here, we got a refuge two counties over, we got a national forest upstate. Maybe a rock formation gets to be a national monument, maybe an estuary gets to be a bird sanctuary. Thing is…”
He moved his hands, groping after the thing. “The sundew. The sundew drops its seeds right where it blooms. A mouse, a deer, a crow, puts its foot down, foraging, and if it has someplace else to go, it carries the seed packed between its toes, and plants a sundew in some other bog. The crow might still have a chance, maybe the deer. The mouse is pretty much stuck at Rust Creek. And the other two, while they may range outside our bog, aren’t likely to make their way to some other bog. Rust Creek is one of only four protected boglands in the state.”
A woman and her husband, Tara and Dennis…Carpenter, was it?…maybe Carter…
Closed in on Duffet, Tara asking him a piercing question about habitat corridors. One or two in the group tarried at the fringe of their circle, offering over-conscientious nods as Duffet elaborated his point. The rest returned to the line of cars parked along the road, their right-hand wheels (some stubbornly left-hand, drawn up nose to nose) banked on the ditch.
Tara was a type, Laurel thought. People had these intense little exchanges about things they knew already, things they talked about and emailed about. As though to make an inventory of the group’s phrases, touch base on commitment: I say “habitat corridor” to you, you say “tipping point” to me. Tara, introduced to Laurel, had shaken hands; she had thrust hers out first, but her eyes throughout this formality sought escape.
Laurel had thought of a friendly remark. “I really liked that photo you posted, the sunset and the blackbirds…all the amber light and contrast…” She fell into meaningless praise-words: inspiring, beautiful…
Tara drifted off, making what seemed to Laurel a pretext of hailing Dennis, murmuring she had to tell him something. Am I teacher’s pet, Laurel thought, because I’ve been given an assignment? Where is this friction coming from?
She was to camp here for two nights, spend two days counting checkerspots.
“We’re past the egg-laying season, so it’s safe to pin them.”
This conversation, she had been having with Rachel before Duffet arrived, late for his talk.
“I don’t want to kill a butterfly.”
“You don’t have to.” She shook her head at Rachel’s open mouth. “No, I mean, I will kill them. You don’t have to.”
“Probably. But the Frazey’s is hard to identify. You know…” She tried this again. “There’s nothing dangerous, camping. I have a GPS…transponder, whatever… I have a phone. The Free Landers don’t come into the bog.”
They might, Laurel supposed. It was easier to envision Duffet stalking by moonlight. And Duffet the Wildman wasn’t dangerous, either. “If you’re not into it, you’ll be bored.”
“No, I can help. I said I would.”
“You’ll be sorry,” Laurel said.
The sad thing, maybe the ironic thing, was that at the heart of the bog, signal strength, phone reception, looked fine. Two towers could be seen, on not-so-distant hilltops, already—or always—lighted red. It was dusk, and with Amanda, Laurel and her sister were hiking a mile deep along the plank walkways. Soon they would beat their way over dry ground onto the slip, an elevation of sand and pebbles that had avalanched into the bog near a century ago. Somehow 1920 hardly seemed so. In the days of canals, dredge taken from Rust Creek had grown into a man-made hill. They had forgotten its nature, the county fathers, while the mound with no bedrock grew a meadow. Picnickers had spread blankets. No one, luckily, had died. Now asters, goldenrod, waving grasses, these and others indifferent to topography, remained on the slip, sowing unwelcome seeds.
Bare spots exited the public zone, climbing through burdock, a young grove of sumac and black locust, to a leveled clearing, padlocked storage shed, portable toilet, and outdoor table, belonging to Fish and Wildlife. As for tenting, the women had their choice of any clearing on the slip.
“But,” Amanda began.
An awkward moment for the three of them, women failing to take the initiative, watching each other falter instead of hoisting gear. Amanda, of a younger generation, not owing Laurel her assistance, only her guidance, moved first. She grabbed the zippered tube of nylon. Rachel caught one handle of the cooler, Laurel the other, and the sisters lurched forward in the officer’s wake.
Amanda laid the tent on top of the table. They heard the clacking of its fiberglass exoskeleton. Her radio squawked two messages that Laurel heard only as static, and that Amanda ignored.
“You heard the weather report?” she asked.
“Um,” Rachel answered.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)