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Victory Bog in Winter

01/07/02 12:00AM By Alan Boye

The instant I step out of the car, the pure, cold stings my face. For a moment the sheer exhilaration of the frigid air is all that I feel. I breathe like a man suddenly come up for air. The abrupt cold is an elixir. My lungs have been too long confined in stuffy oil- and wood-heated buildings. It's as if some distant, mid-summer haze has been frozen and purified by cold.

I triple-check my parka's zipper to make sure it's as snug as it can get. As far as I can see in the wide, white bowl of Victory Bog, there is nothing but the empty grace of winter.

Snow comes early to Victory Bog, long before most other places in Vermont have so much as a shovel-full. And there aren't too many months of the year that it isn't winter in Victory Bog. This open valley has one of the shortest growing seasons in Vermont. A scant 85 days between spring-frost and winter-kill forces the plants and animals of this place to adapt to a climate far more like that of northern Quebec than northern Vermont.

I start out on a faintly marked trail. The soft noise of my snowshoes as they flop-flop down the way is the only sound. On all sides of me - the white valley, the distant mountain peaks, the green-gray forests of fir all suddenly burn fire-orange in the long, low angle of a winter sun.

I never grow tired of this special Vermont place. I consider it hallowed ground, a spiritual center of the wild-ness that remains in Vermont. Way back in 1969 a power company wanted to dam the Moose River in Victory Bog and use the pent-up power for electricity. Instead, the area was set aside as a natural preserve; a museum, of sorts, of bogs and fens, of moose habitat and water fowl.

In summer there are mudflats here, teeming with life. But today, the cold has driven away all but the purest signs of life: a single beech leaf caught mid-tumble in snow, a splash of deer tracks faint and blue across the whiteness, the tips of meadow grass, seed-bare and delicate, above the flat white sheet of snow.

At home I watch goldfinches and chickadees at the feeder. Here I catch a glimpse of odd, white-feathered sparrows. These are creatures that usually make their home in the white winter wilderness of tundra and muskeg further north.

Since Victory bog contains one of the largest boreal bogs in Vermont, it is prime moose habitat as well. This snow-bound trail is at the heart of a dense population of the large beasts. Along side my own trail, I pass the track of one such giant's passing: legs like massive cylinders have punched deep into the snow.

I walk for an hour, past leafless maples, and the round shapes of boulders, snuggled in quilts of white. I pass a dark blue circle in the snow: it's the vortex left by a small spring of water, now silent beneath winter's blanket. I stop. There is nothing but silence, nothing to hear but the beating of my heart. I stand in a frozen wilderness, made more remote and untamed by the grip of winter. A single crow appears in the dusky-sky. The back ribbon of bird sails silently across the empty white bowl of Victory Bog. Right here, I tell myself, right here is the real Vermont.

This is Alan Boye just walking the hills of Vermont.

--Alan Boye teaches at Lyndon State College.
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