Magellan’s pretty good about guessing his gifts. But an easy time he was not having with a heavy present under the tree the Christmas before we went to Haida Gwaii.
He did look surprised, even a little bewildered, when he opened the largish box…
A pair of brown gumboots. (Hidden away in our garage was the woman’s version, a gift to myself.)
Why gumboots? Canada has more bogs than any country in the world according to Dennis Harwood in his book on Haida Gwaii. If you plan to explore Tow Hill Bog—and I knew we’d want to see it—he says you’d best have gumboots. Plus, I knew they’d come in handy for other outdoor activities on Haida Gwaii, and elsewhere.
We’ve been in bogs before but always on elevated man-made pathways in parks, like the Shorepine Bog Trail in Pacific Rim National Park.
But Tow (rhymes with wow) Hill Bog in Naikoon Provincial Park is totally wild.
There are no roadside signs, not even a mention of it in any of the region’s brochures or pamphlets we saw.
To get to it, you start across the road from the Agate Beach campground, climb one of the faint paths up the escarpment and follow the deer path among stunted conifers for about ten minutes until you’re in the bog, exactly as Dennis indicated. He suggests (and we agree) that you visually commit to memory the landscape around where you entered so you can find your way out. When you see brown hummocks of sphagnum moss and your gumboots start to sink into spongey peat, you know you’ve arrived in the bog.
Here’s another “Canada’s #1” for you. The forests in Haida Gwaii support more living tissue, by weight, than any other ecosystem—even more than the equatorial jungle.
Dense with life, Tow Hill Bog is fascinating. Some plants here date back to the Ice Age and are found nowhere else in the province, their closest counterparts are in Asia. For example, although there are no firs growing naturally in Haida Gwaii today, researchers found a species that grew here thirty thousand years ago.
When we were there early in July, the bog was dotted with pools festooned with Western Yellow Pond-Lilies, waxy bursts of intense sunshine-yellow. Because the habitat is deficient in minerals and nitrogen, many plants in Tow Hill Bog are insectivorous. Their glandular or hairy leaves bait insects, which are then dissolved and absorbed by enzymes in the plants.
It was a bit like playing hopscotch in “In-Between,” neither land nor water, as we stepped from one dry area to another in the bog, searching for a pond with nicer lilies, a pinker Shooting Star, a juicier Bog Cranberry. “Bogged down?” After experiencing Tow Hill Bog, for us that phrase is synonymous with “Feeling great.”
In the end, how many guys besides Magellan can say they’re happy they got gumboots for Christmas? Probably quite a few in Canada, maybe more than anywhere else in the world.
Harwood, Dennis. Haida Gwaii.Canada: Heritage House Publishing, 2016.