A Hike Both Eerie and Enchanting, Autumn Dazzles at Ponemah BogOctober, 2019
By Tom Long
Fiddlehead Contributing Editor
Nothing celebrates nature like a walk in the woods, and fall foliage enhances the experience.
Tell me no tales about your fall auto trip. You can hop in a car and watch the colors blur by like an impressionist painting, but we prefer to savor the season by foot, so close to the trees you can touch them, see every splash of color and smell the decay.
Every perambulator has their favorite fall trail. We are particularly fond of Ponemah Bog in Amherst, the perfect place for a pre-Halloween walk when the fall foliage flares crimson and raspberry, where there is a Halloween-like whiff of death and decay.
Even the ground is otherworldly. It is a “quaking bog” created by a mat of sphagnum moss that trembles underfoot.
When we visit, we can’t help but think of the “bog people” of Europe, the leathery remains of prehistoric folk found embalmed in the acidic wetlands of Ireland, Great Britain and Denmark. As far as we know, none of the creepy folk were ever found in Amherst, but “Ponemah” is thought to mean “land of the hereafter” and comes from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Song of Hiawatha.”
The bog is home to the pitcher plant, which consumes and digests flies. And that’s pretty spooky, isn’t it?
Ponemah has been designated a “unique natural feature” by the state. The bog is a kettle-hole pond formed when a large chunk of ice fell off a retreating glacier after the last ice age about 12,000 years ago. Sphagnum moss grew in the meltwater. As the plants died, new plants grew on the top of them until a mat formed.
The bog receives little surface water flow, which creates an acidic water resulting in an unusual habitat. And that habitat is home to dozens of unusual plants including carnivorous sundew, pitcher plants and horned bladderwort. Shrubs such as leatherleaf and bog laurels, cranberries and rare orchids have adapted to this acidic and nutrient-poor soil.
The 75-acre Ponemah Bog Wildlife Sanctuary is overseen by the New Hampshire Audubon Society. It provides a short hike of about 45 minutes or so on a boardwalk, which allows a stroll across the water and bog mat.
There are four overlooks along the way. In the fall, when the shrubs blaze scarlet and the larch, or tamarack trees — the state’s only deciduous conifer — turn yellow, the trail offers a short walk that is as spooky as it is enchanting.
A trail guide to Ponemah Bog may be downloaded from nhaudubon.org.