Thursday, September 13, 2012
In October of 2009, while moose hunting in the Nulhegan River Basin of the Silvo O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, I discovered something extraordinary. While it wasn’t the 900-pound, massively-palmated bull moose I’d been tracking through the swamps that day, in nature’s context it was every bit as wondrous; it was the Yellow Bog.
Located along Peanut Dam Road, the Yellow Bog is an area populated almost exclusively with Tamarack trees. The wet, spongy soil of this pseudo-swamp lies buried beneath a thousand years of yellow tamarack needles, for the tamarack is one of only two deciduous conifers in North America--the other is the southern bald cypress. Each fall it sheds its needles. But before it does, the tamarack shifts from green to golden yellow and almost every hue in between.
When the yellow needles drop, they pile up on the boggy surface beneath the trees. Walking through this dense forest in an experience both luminescent and gloomy, soundless and unnerving. Light from above fails to penetrate the closed canopy; instead it’s channeled down into the roots of the trees, where it’s released into the ankle-deep padding of glowing needles. Having a light source come from below is as disorienting as it sounds, and the .30-06 slung over my shoulder offered little solace in such close, eerie quarters.
There is no sound in the Yellow Bog. The squishing of my boots was baffled before it could reach my ears. The sound of a snapping twig died in the air before it could be heard. At first, I thought this was an advantage. I began to see plenty of evidence that the moose were using this area for bedding and traveling. But then I realized that if nothing could hear me coming, I could hear nothing coming in turn. Coyotes could emerge at any moment; a horny young bull could stumble across my path and become enraged when he learns I’m unsuitable for mating; or another hunter could be lining up a shot, clueless to my presence.
I walked out of the Yellow Bog without getting my moose. My feet sprung noiselessly from one glowing tussock to another. When I bumped a tree, I was rewarded with a shower of golden needles and a breathless chill along my spine. Back on the road, my eyes took a moment to adjust to the dull colors of our world. My knees buckled under the force of gravity.
The best time of the year to see the magnificent tamaracks of the Yellow Bog is in late September, before the moose hunting season of mid-October. The Conte NWR in the Northeast Kingdom is an ideal place to see large concentrations of this tree, and it makes for a great day drive from Stowe. There are other areas closer to us, offering the same visual stimulation, but there’s nothing like the Yellow Bog.