June 6, 2016
The Fox River originates in marshland in southern Wisconsin. Flowing down into northeastern Illinois it merges with the Chain O’Lakes, a region of glacial kettles and hills in the upper reaches of the Valparaiso Morraine. On June 6 my friend Paul and I visited Volo Bog that lies just east of the Fox River and south of the Chain O’Lakes. It was cool, cloudy and breezy, weather common each year to just few days in early June; great weather for a hike into and around the bog. Volo Bog is our state’s only quaking bog with open water at its center.
Walking the boardwalk into the heart of the bog we passed through successive rings of changing plant life. Cattail dominated marsh around the outer edges surrounds a ring of dense brush that encircles yet another ring comprised of Tamarack trees. Just inside the Tamaracks an inner ring, a floating mat of sphagnum moss, cattails, and sedges surrounds the open-water-eye of the bog. We were informed that all these rings, even the brush and Tamaracks, are floating. There once may have been fifty feet of water beneath them. They float on years and years of collected organic matter that has coalesced into a dense life supporting buoy, buoyant enough to uphold the weight of large trees.
It was quiet and still at the eye of the bog. The Tamaracks were mirrored perfectly in the small circle of dark open water and their reflection suggested the deep layers of organic material beneath on which the Tamaracks stand. This mysterious place invited imagining and we stood quietly not wanting to leave, conjuring ages and ages of natural history. Of course we did this in relative ignorance of the complex geologic, geographical, and biological facts and processes that make Volo Bog what it is. We enjoyed a naïve unknowing sort of communion with the Bog. No doubt we gazed unwittingly past a million precious facts to which we were oblivious.
But what would communion be in a relationship that could not sustain itself over the reaches of our unknowing? Whatever we may know about the world and ourselves is always partial, always incomplete. Communion takes us beyond our limited grasp of factual knowledge. It leads us to a kind of faith that the ineffable world we confront is one to which we are purposely fitted. Like Volo Bog itself, we float in faith over unfathomable waters below.