Cranberries lie by my feet, in the sodden skin of the bog’s sphagnum moss. I pick one up, rub the moisture from its shiny red skin and eat it. Bitterness bursts into my mouth.
I am accompanying Andy, the reserve officer, on his data-logger rounds of Kirkconnel Flow. We are on top of ten metres of peat that shakes with each step, pooling glossy water around the soles of our wellies in a way that feels like a threat. Kirkconnel Flow is a solid wetland, an uneasy truce between water held stationary like soil and peat that moves like liquid. It feels like one careless step could undo this truce.
It is more productive to walk over the heather, though it is misleading to experience the flow drily walking from heather clump to heather clump. It is called a flow for a reason. Water gurgles around us, the wet ground sucks at our feet. Andy’s data-loggers are recording the water level of the flow. He gets a laptop out of his rucksack, plugs it into the data-logger and kneels in the heather while the technology reveals whether the peatland restoration – their attempt at fixing a leaky bog – has done its work. Whether the flow is full with water again, whether it is flowing with life. And while he looks at the screen, I look around at the warmth of the winter vegetation. The heather is twiggy, bony in its winter bareness. It sits over a layer of dark-green blueberry bushes and light green reindeer moss. Sodden sphagnum is a green in-between. Like the cranberries, it is only through looking down that this world is revealed.
To look up: through the bare heather a wren fidgets, flicking from clump to clump, its tail cocked, its voice irritable, scolding our presence. It is a warmer brown than the heather, but not as warm as the tawny colour of the bog, that I can’t fathom. The brown and green at my feet becomes richer, warmer when seen at distance, not dissimilar to the warm brown of the Scots pine bark that is our horizon. Distantly there are ponds the colour of coffee. But this is not as distant as its possible to see in a peat bog. Peat bogs accrete dead matter that doesn’t decay, instead without oxygen materials are preserved in their state of death. This is to say that peat bogs grow at a measurable rate. One millimetre a year. The ten metres below me has steadily accumulated over the past 10,000 years. And if I was to sink below the surface – which always feels possible on this weird ground – it wouldn’t be long before I was closer to the last ice age than the current day. The wren that flicks through the bones of winter heather, could be only metres from an Irish elk skull.
And it makes me feel weird, like vertigo. Here I become as small, young, and inconsequential as a cranberry in the bog of time.