Woman was epitome of 'be prepared'
That's exactly what happened in a little drama that played out in and around South Bay Bog, a neat, beautiful, wild little piece of geography near the First Connecticut Lake in the state's northernmost town of Pittsburg — if your definition of “neat” and “beautiful” fits other terms, like “bog,” “swamp,” “extremely remote” and “primordial ooze.” Other stories that begin like this end with “never seen again.”
The scenario was pretty straightforward. Sharon Matthews, 49, of Warwick, Mass., and her husband, Donald, 52 — who've been coming up to the territory for more than two decades and have a second home on Sugar Camp Acres — set out for a day of looking for sheds. Not utility sheds, but antlers shed by deer or moose. Sharon likes to collect them, somewhat unusual in what passes for civilization's scheme of important endeavors, but then Sharon also happens to be Warwick's grave digger, so there's probably another story in there somewhere.
Anyway, Sharon became disoriented in the thick spruce and fir in the swamp, and then her dog fell off a tall piece of ledge that sticks up out of the swamp. This was after she had become separated from Don, who alerted Fish and Game when she failed to show up at their vehicle. Conservation officers Christopher Egan and Adam Cheney converged on the scene and, with the help of Police Chief Richard Lapoint, began searching logging roads and snowmobile trails.
They convened for a strategy session in a clearcut overlooking the bog and spotted a thin plume of blue smoke rising from the morass. “I'm not going in there, no way, bub,” one said. “Me either, I'm a family man — you go,” said the second to the third.
Just kidding. They all wanted to go in there. No, really. But Egan beat his way out of the scrum and, taking a compass bearing, in about 40 minutes, according to Colebrook's News and Sentinel, “made voice contact with Ms. Matthews,” which did not specify what she said, but it was something like, “Get me out of here.”
I liked what Egan had to say in his official report:
“She was carrying a day pack that contained a GPS, water, food, rain jacket, flashlight and, most importantly, a butane lighter. It was ultimately the smoke that led us to her location.”
She did what anyone should do in a similar situation, he added. “When she realized that darkness and rain were beginning to fall, she remained calm, collected firewood, built a fire, used her rain jacket for shelter and stayed put. Had she waited until dark to light the fire, it would not have been seen from the road due to the dense vegetation.”
South Bay Bog is indeed one of nature's neat not-so-little places. It consists largely of a thick mat of vegetation overlaying water, some of it fairly deep. It is what the geologically-minded call a “quaking bog,” because there are places where when you walk on it (surprise), it quakes. In fact, there are places where (and I've personally tested this) if you point your toes straight down and jump up and down a few times in the same spot, like a moron, you'll go straight through the mat, saved from oblivion only by your armpits and, of course, their attendant pathetically flailing arms. (Mental note: If this is your idea of experiencing nature at her most sublime — and achieving bliss — you need counseling.)
In sum, South Bay Bog is a great place to go. Pack a picnic. But also pack plenty of bug dope (“The mosquitoes were hell,” Sharon shared). Also, pack a pack — a real pack, with everything you need to make yourself comfortable, and findable, alive, in a bog — and at the top of the list, of course, a butane lighter.
John Harrigan's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. His address is Box 39, Colebrook 03576. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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