The Conserve School campus is dotted with many bogs. These bogs help buffer rainwater and provide habitat for a variety of animals. They also happen to be some of the most beautiful places on campus.
There is an interesting dichotomy of thought when it comes to how bogs have been viewed historically. Native Americans hold bogs in reverence because some of their most important medicinal and ceremonial plants come from the bog. Sweetgrass, in particular, is one of these bog plants. Early Europeans also believed bogs to be spiritual places; however, we inherit many dark and sinister stories about bogs from our European ancestors. These stories persist to the modern-day in our folklore and literature.
One bog phenomenon that has a particularly interesting scientific and cultural explanation is the Will O’ the Wisp. The Latin name for this phenomenon is ignis fatuus or “fool’s fire”. The Will O’ the Wisp appears as a blue or white light that floats above the bog at night. Scientists have explained this occurrence as bog gases that spontaneously combust when they react with oxygen. However, before the rise of science, there were many different cultural explanations for this phenomenon. According to the people of the British Isles, the Will O’ the Wisp is a fire held in the hand of a spirit (called a pwca in Welsh or a pouke). The spirit uses the fire to lead unwary travelers into the bog where they meet their untimely demise, hence “fool’s fire”. In other traditional stories, the Will O’ the Wisp marks buried treasure or the watery graves of the dead who lost their way in the bog. The Will O’ the Wisp appears in many popular books such as the Harry Potter books, The Lord of the Rings, and Dracula.
If you have time over the summer, maybe watch a bog at night and see if you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this bog phenomenon.
–Leanna Jackan, Graduate Fellow