Bogs have stagnant water and swamps have some drainage.
And then there are fens and marshes. A fen is a peatland, but so is a bog.
The more I read, the less I understood. I don’t know if I am capable of writing the following story, because I will have to use those terms I do not fully understand.
It seems the places I want to take you in this article have a little bit of all the criteria above.
I just want to write about the joy of getting your feet wet, while enjoying a myriad of flowers. It is the orchids that really excited me this year: there are so many!
And yes, they grow in wet places.
Wetland is the general term, so I will stick to that.
There are wetlands everywhere in the Yukon, never too far from anywhere you are, it seems, at every elevation.
Wetlands are also to be enjoyed at every season. I like them in early spring when all the snow is melted and there is open water, but in between the hummocks of thick moss or grasses the ground is still frozen.
They make places accessible that are later on too wet to reasonably keep the water out of your rain boots.
To me, there are two kinds of wetlands near where I live. One has larger bodies of water, open places with waving, green swamp grass all around.
Then there are the ones I want to take you to today. They are more hidden, surprises in the forest; the ground cover, green moss with that typical red-brown colour in it.
There are varying degrees of wetness—the more water, the smaller the spruce trees. The bigger ones are of the past, now dead and silver skeletons. Sometimes there are no trees at all; the moss floating.
What they all have in common now is lots of flowers. A colourful display of reddish purple and white, with bright yellow splashes here and there.
At the end of May this year, the first flowers started to appear in the wetlands close to my house. The first was the large exuberant flower of the coltsfoot.
While I was still searching the hillsides for small flowers that bloom soon after the snow melt, I stopped at Elfin Creek and there she was! Looking like a chrysanthemum you might buy in a store.
I knew of another place close to home where there is a willow growth in stagnant water close to a pond. Later in the summer I like to go there to pick coltsfoot leaves for my winter supply of cough medicine.
Before the leaves appear the flowers bloom. Indeed, in that spot I found hundreds of blooms and picked a few for a spring meal. The flowers and stems, slightly cooked, make a delicious vegetable dish.
A week later the coltsfoot flowers were already withering. I walked around the ponds and, in areas above the waterline, the ground was dotted with white flowers resembling strawberry flowers—the dryas, or mountain avens.
Those weeks on every walk when I went through an area with water nearby, I kept my eye out for orchids. It was into June before I met a tiny orchid, a straight stem with no leaves, but that typical orchid flower with three petals, a lip and a spur.
This one even had dots on its lip. It was tiny—a coralroot, one of the first orchids to bloom.
It took some years to learn to even notice any orchids. I don’t know if I just became more aware of them this year, or if this is a good orchid year. In the past I’m sure I have sloshed through a bog without even noticing them.
Every year at the first encounter, I am struck by the smallness of such flowers. They are often smaller than my pinky nail. In pictures taken with a macro lens and enlarged on the computer screen, they seemed to grow in my memory over the winter.
After this encounter with the coralroot, I was hooked more than ever. “Bogs” were my goal from now on.
On one such walk I tripped, camera in hand and no hands free to break my fall. I was soaked from the knees up. And forget about staying dry trying to smell a flower that is hugging the ground.
Later that month a neighbour/friend took me to her orchid “garden” close to her house. This wetland is next to her driveway, right beside the Alaska Highway, with an overgrown path leading into a forest.
The ground was grassy at first, then became more spongy and mossy.
Right away we saw the old seedpods of the white lady’s slipper. They were not blooming yet, but two steps further on, I fell to my knees (on purpose this time).
There were other orchids blooming already. Species such as twayblades, which I had never seen before.
On subsequent walks with her and others, or on my own to that particular wetland, I kept finding more species of orchids, and many other flowers.
A friend from Arizona called a patch of flowers in the moss a miniature world. I saw what she meant. Not only were there lots of different flowers, sometimes I would find only a few of a certain species.
I found one—one single one—white variety of the Amerorchis, which apparently is uncommon. But more often (with the common flowers) there would suddenly be hundreds of them, everywhere you looked.
So it was with the Amerorchis, which is my favourite orchid. Perfect in every single way, down to the white and pink flower with purple spots on the lip, to the round leaves on the bottom of the stem.
In the past I would find a few of those here and there. Here they were everywhere! Thick stands, or among other flowers, between the trees or right on the moss by the water.
I had to watch every step I took in order not to step on them. As I explored the wet woods here, past the big spruce, it was now a moss landscape with the occasional dwarfed spruce.
On one walk, I came upon a little creek connecting small pools of seemingly stagnant water. In the third week of June, right on the water’s edge, the cotton grass was blooming. Bright white with the red/purple of lousewort and Eskimo potato.
The Eskimo potato roots are bear food, and I did come upon areas where a bear seemed to have dug up the ground. Luckily, I didn’t meet a bear, but other animals and birds inhabit these places, too.
There is always so much more to tell, so much to delight in. I will keep going back, mainly for the flowers. My friend Parzival spotted some tiny pumpkins on a stem, the seed pods of the single delight.
We saw the green pear tree-like leaves (it is in the pyrola family, pyros meaning pear) and the bent-down flower bud.
Soon enough it will bloom, and I don’t want to miss it.