Written By Sheina Vogt, CSU STEM VISTA Leader 2016-2017 CSU Chancellor’s Office
A satisfying slurp came every time any of us unstuck our gumboots from the mud. A herd of students slurp-stomped our way through the thick mud between the stand of trees hiding the housing development where we had parked, and the bog ahead of us.
In imagining my first trip to a bog, I had conjured images of stagnant swamp water with lily pads and hordes of mosquitoes. This was far from the case. Rather, it was more like the strangest field I had ever seen. Bogs like the one we went to are becoming rare as they are cleared to make space for roads, buildings, and agriculture.
All noise was sucked downwards into the moss and peat. The clearing was stark and left me feeling exposed in a way that previously I had only reserved for laying down while stargazing. A reverential silence hung amongst the students. As usual, our professor took the lead, walking up the slight rise that the moss created. He assured us that it was quite dry, and we wouldn’t get wet despite this being a wetland.
Each of my steps was like walking on a fluffy trampoline, springy and light. The huge upwelling was made primarily of a moss called sphagnum (also known as peat moss). Throughout the bog there were also small shrubs of different types. I was drawn to one with small, red berries. My professor, seeing me interested, walked up, plucked, and ate one of the berries. After chuckling at my shocked expression, he explained that this was a wild cranberry plant.
I got down really close to the shrub to get the best look at the leaves and berries that was possible. They weren’t particularly appetizing looking berries, somewhat shriveled and old. The leaves, small and waxy as they were still fascinated me. And all that was before the professor pointed out the carnivorous plants that love to call bogs home. Once the tiny, bright green and red Sundews were pointed out, I couldn’t look away. They were everywhere! Plants that eat animals were always something from movies before this, but now they were a biological trick made into reality. So cool.
The innate magic of this place is evident in every tiny piece of this ecosystem. However, some of the best magic can’t be seen. This magic is called being a carbon sink. Bogs take large quantities of CO2 out of the atmosphere, holds onto the Carbon in the plants, which eventually partially biodegrade into fibrous peat. Peat is dense, nutrient poor soil that stores the Carbon in the soil. That is to say, bogs are combatting climate change by taking a major greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere and storing it in the soil. Which was part of the reason that this troupe of environmental studies students got to go on this particular adventure.
I never expected a field trip for school to change my life. The experiential learning experience that took place was irreplaceable. Suddenly, I made connections to concepts that would have otherwise have stayed as theory. My professor took a group of relatively disinterested students and turned us into stakeholders. I cared. I still care, perhaps even more now upon reflection. And as someone working for the future of higher education, this is part of why I’m here. Deeper, reflective learning that puts students’ experience out of theory and into practice is an inspiring practice in higher education.
As the group trudged our way back to the vans, our professor was stopped by someone from the neighborhood. At first I was concerned we were going to be told off for being somewhere we shouldn’t. The woman looked sad though, she told our professor that the development was expanding, and that the bog was going to be converted to cul-de-sacs and 4 bedroom homes in the next 6 months. We were all very quiet the long drive back to campus. In the silence, I reflected upon why I wanted to study human impact on the environment. This made me stronger, and it made me want to be able to show others the importance of wetlands. I was inspired.