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An Essay for Orion Magazine

April 6, 2013  |  by Bryan Pfeiffer  |  6 comments  | 

Note: My contribution to Orion Magazine’s feature “The Place Where You Live,” published in the July-August 2013 issue.

On my way to work in Peacham Bog I am blood walking. Black flies swarm in a frenzy at my ears. Deer flies turn my right hand into a lobster claw. Mosquitoes are rendered quaint by comparison. But this is the least of my problems.

Pink Lady’s Slipper / © Bryan Pfeiffer

At age 55, here in the woods of Vermont, I now need eyeglasses to read my compass. And I fall more often while bushwhacking. It’s a matter of my clinging to a pace I kept in these forests three decades ago. My brain wills me forward faster than my legs can respond.

So as a toppled balsam fir hooks my left ankle and muck envelops my right leg, I fall slowly to earth like a wounded dinosaur. But I do not rise. Grounded here in the bracken, I find opportunity and humility.

The Pink Lady’s Slippers are pristine and sensuous. We are now the same height. A metallic-black dragonfly with green eyes zips overhead and lands on a dead fir still standing. It’s a rare Ebony Boghaunter, a surprise. I snap a photo for proof. Above, a Hermit Thrush broadcasts his ethereal, fluty serenade, which hangs like mist in these woods.

Onward. I rise and walk toward a break in the forest. Into the light. Onto the bog.

Itchy welts, sore shins, a bruised ego – I only mention them because I would bear far worse to reach a bog. Even on those painful walks, when I mutter, “I’m getting too old for this shit,” even then the bog makes everything right. The attraction is a force of nature, like sex or gravity.

On bogs I find Calopogon orchids glowing like little magenta flames across squishy mats of sedge and sphagnum. On a bouncing carpet of laurel and leatherleaf I rekindle the exuberance of youth. On bogs I find comfort, like some genetic destiny fulfilled. On bogs I belong.

I live in the community of Montpelier, Vermont, where I walk to local merchants, meet friends at the diner, and even get into the woods in 10 minutes flat. I have a life in Montpelier … but in bogs I am most alive.

  1. Jennifer says:

    George & Sue have been telling me about you for years and I always seem to miss your walks when I visit. Maybe this year. I’m with you as my best days and nights are in the swamps or woods, no matter how many times I take a tumble.

  2. Rita Pitkin says:

    Yes, elegant. At 65, I hear you loud and clear!

  3. Bryan says:

    Thanks, Ruth!

  4. Ruth says:


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