Pitcher plants and wild bloom iris in Hawley Bog

Half a mile from the trailhead, the boardwalk heads into ferns almost as tall as I am. I’ve been walking in the Berkshire woods for 20 years, and I’ve only seen a place like this once or twice before. It’s been eight years since I last came to Hawley Bog. 

A redwing blackbird rasps, and farther off I hear the low-throated twang of frogs. It’s a sunny morning, and this high up the air is cool when it stirs. I’m walking on weathered boards above a mat of sphagnum moss 30 feet thick. 

This is one of the highest-elevation acidic bogs left in the state. And plants are growing together here, ferns and flowering shrubs and young pine trees, with a green exuberance that feels balanced in a way I can’t define. 

I feel as though I’m remembering how a living landscape breathes.

The Nature Conservancy cares for about half of these 65 acres along with the Five Colleges. I’ve driven up Route 2, climbing out of the Hoosac River valley, and I’m a few miles south of the old highway here, just over the Pioneer Valley line.

Thom Smith brought me here years ago with an old friend of his, to look for rose pogonia orchids. It seems to be too early in the summer for those warm pink blossoms, but here’s a wild azalea, and the bog laurel are budding.

A pool of standing water opens on the right with yellow water lilies almost open. And there are many more I’ve never seen before. Low bushes with sturdy leaves open clusters of small white blossoms.

This whole landscape is tough in one way and delicate in another. Signs remind me that putting weight on the mat of moss can easily break it, and an accidental step can stop a plant from blooming for years. I’m thankful the colleges built this walkway, so I can see past the first fringes of the ferns without harm.

The trees give way to bushes and the broad stretch of the moss, and walkway ends in a circle. I’m remembering that the flowers in my garden all began in meadows and marshy places like this, though not always on this continent. 

I take the first few steps back along the trail, and I almost walk by something I’ve never seen before. 

At my feet in the sphagnum moss a glossy amber-red curve rises at the top of a stem. It’s a flattened circle like a chestnut, and it’s a chestnut deep red. Then I see the whorl of lighter green at its foot, and I realize it’s a pitcher plant in flower.

For a while I sit on the boards, looking as closely as I can. The pitcher plants are ruby-throated and delicately veined green.

The moss is a range of color, copper and deep green and straw.

A few feet away, a wild iris is in bud. The petals are folded close, but up close I can see the layers of their fine edges in deep indigo.

Wild Iris bloom among the tall grasses in Hawley Bog.
Photo by Kate Abbott

Wild Iris bloom among the tall grasses in Hawley Bog.

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