The first bog was the hardest. We didn’t even see it coming as we lumbered across northern England, nearing the end of our 135-mile Coast to Coast hike. But that’s the tricky thing about bogs—they often lurk beneath a deceptive cover, a blanket of heather or verdant moss that disguises the muddy morass below.
High on the Yorkshire moors of eastern England, we walked trails flanked by miles of mauve-blossomed heather. The rains that dampened our steps earlier had spent themselves in a tumultuous thunderstorm the night before and now the August skies were brighter. When Tony, head guide on our National Geographic Expedition, paused at the edge of a broad field, he pointed out two distant trees. The trees were our goal, he explained, but no path traced a route across the expanse before us. We faced a boggy stretch that almost guaranteed wet feet by the end of the crossing, he warned.
Warily, we zigzagged into the marsh, watching as Tony pushed a boot into a cluster of reeds and stepped quickly onto a fragile raft of grass. He stepped swiftly ahead, passing his weight to another stand of reeds before the first group gave way beneath him. We followed his lead, seeking fresh clusters of reeds to bend beneath our boots.
We learned soon, at the risk of muddy feet, that it pays to move quickly and strategically. There can be no mid-bog hesitation once a path is chosen. At times, five or six steps led to a patch of solid ground that offered a few steps of stability. Then we’d hit another boggy patch and plunge ahead on the narrow reeds we hoped would carry us to safety. Sometimes they held. Sometimes they didn’t. Then, the brackish water swirled up across, or into, a boot.
My thoughts carried me into the bogs of life-- the everyday bogs that lead to quagmires at home, or work, or with ourselves. Bogs of finance, work ethics, personal values, honesty, trust. We know them well. Probably there’s no way to avoid them, so I’d like to celebrate the strong, thin reeds that carry me over the muck that lurks below. I am thinking of these reeds as sinewy connectors – the love, the respect, the faith, or the shared history in relationships and work, that offer portage across muddy spots. We emerge perhaps a bit wet from the passage, but moving forward again on our paths -- giving thanks for the reeds that provide buoyancy in the midst of an everyday bog.
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