Nothing of Note
24: Bogged Down
Bilbo awoke with a snort. It wasn't his own, but one in his ear
that was unexpected and disorienting. He jumped and tried to sit up,
promptly smacking his face into that of a pony who startled back from
him with a whoosh and a staccato of hooves on the soft floor of the
"Aigh..." he rubbed his forehead. "Sorry to startle you, but ow. You
have a hard head. I suppose you are thinking the same of me, eh?"
He slowly sat forward and extended his hand, waiting until the pony
relaxed and came forward to sniff his palm for treats. He reached over
to a grain sack beside him and loosened the top just enough to dig a
bare handful out as an apology. The warm velvet and whiskers on his
palm tickled, and then the grain was gone.
He could see sunlight coming in the cracks around the doorway, the
straight, clear light of morning. Plucking odd bits of hay out of his
hair and brushing off his clothing he made himself as presentable as he
reasonably could. He drank a dipper of water, gathered his pack and
then unlatched the door to go out into the cool air. He was none too
soon, for a boy was coming around the building with a bucket and
currycomb in his hands heading for the stable.
"Excuse me," he said to the boy. "Can you tell me which is the best way to go to the Rushock from here?"
The lad's tea-brown eyes looked at him curiously, but he replied
politely enough. "The bridge across the water is over that-a-way." and
gestured down the road that ran east through the town.
"Thank you, but I didn't mean the way over it, but rather into it. The bog that is."
The boy blinked at him, then pointed southeast. "There's an orchard you
have to go through, but there's a path over that way. Right between the
two big willows." he said helpfully.
"Thank you! Much obliged. Good morning." He left the boy to his chores
and lifting his pack decided to head that way first and find a suitable
breakfasting spot later.
The ground sloped gently downward, slowly pulling away from the narrow
stone bridge that spanned The Water at Needlehole. He soon found the
orchard and slipped between the bars of the fencing without much
trouble then paused to listen. No dogs barked, no geese hissed.
Relieved, he worked his way down through a few rows of apple and pear
trees into an adjoining orchard of trimmed hazelnuts. Beyond he
could just make out a grassy, thick greenness. Shuffling along through
rain-softened leaves of the previous fall he felt a small thrill, a
spark in his breast. He felt like a lad again, exploring the
farmland around Hobbiton, hiding from his parents who were calling him
to supper. What a rascal I must have been, he thought, if that is
the sort of thing I remember best after all these years.
He came out into a border of mown grasses no wider than a cart-track.
Across lay the wilderland of the Rushock Bog, tangled and overgrown,
uncountable shades of brown, green and gold. Looking up and down the border,
he soon located the willows the boy had referred to, thick-boled and
whispering in the light morning breeze. Their new red-green leaves still
tender among the clinging brown ones of the previous year; he slipped
under the canopy of the nearest one and paused to listen to the birds
and rustling all around him. This was a fine breakfasting
spot if there ever was one. Hidden under the boughs from passerby
should there be any, he spread out his blanket sorted through his pack
for whatever breakfast he could still put together. He still had
provisions but he and Ponto had made great inroads upon it and it
wasn't lasting as long as he had at first thought it should. Still, two
flat oatcakes with a bit of jam and a paper full of sunflower seeds
soon cheered his insides up enough to match his outsides.
Leaving the willows found the well-trodden dirt path descended
over fat roots and under green tunnels of overhanging boughs until it came out
into a more open area; he was greeted by mosses and clumps of various
grasses extending out to a veritable wall of cattails and the bright
sky over all. Buzzing, chirping and the whispering of the grasses surrounded him. In spite of
the earliness of the season he had the impression of untraceable small
movements in the grasses, of garter-snakes and insects.... In the summer, what a bedlam it must be! He
remembered too late the insect bites that were as much a part of the
bog as the water and grasses, and grimaced slightly, rubbing his arms
in mute anticipation of unavoidable itching. Still, he decided, even if
he had recalled it as he should have it wouldn't have stopped him. So
much to see here!
His path turned and skirted along the cattails. He followed it,
though he soon found it more necessary to watch his footing than he had
at first expected. Roots and grasses layered and overlayered across the
path giving more opportunities to land him on his face than he cared to
have. He picked his way along, occasionally reaching up to enjoy
the soft velvet fatness of a cattail under his hand. The heads
were somewhat ragged, many of them completely in tatters, mere tufts
and bits still clinging to their stalks from the previous year; the new
ones had not yet formed. Even as he watched, a bird flew down to perch
on the bent stem of one, dug in its beak and flew off with a wad for
He remembered reading that cattail fluff made good tinder, though he'd
never tried it himself. He paused to dig his tinderbox out of his pack.
It was nearly empty anyway, so he pulled a cattail down to him and
pried it open to get at the dry inside. Filling his tinderbox with the
creamy fluff, he let the remains of the cattail spring back up and
slipped the box back into its pocket. Only time would tell if that book
had been right - he would probably be wanting a fire at the end of day.
He continued on, slowly picking his way south along the edge of the
bog, enjoying the nesting waterbirds, the bright chirps of small frogs
and the slow sway of the waterplants in the clear, shallow pools. He
crouched for a time teasing tadpoles with a reed, caught some in his
empty jam jar then after gazing at them in the sunshine a bit, poured
them back into their home. He sketched a little, tucked half a
dozen samples of grass, moss and bird feathers into his pack and
snacked on raisins, tossing a few to some ducks then laughing as they
all curiously dove for them.
As the morning drew on he began picking his way across. It looked wide
and shallow enough here, with an endless array of little grassy patches
to be followed like stepping stones. All went well at first, stepping
and occasionally leaping from one mossy little islet to the next, some
large and surrounded in their walls of cattails and bulrushes, others
so small he barely had room to land evenly upon them. He was a little
wet from the occasional splash but the sun was warm and bright, and the
insects weren't nearly as much of a nuisance as he had originally
It was only when he began to be weary and hungry nearing noon that he
took good stock of how far he had come and how far he yet had to go.
All of the zig-zagging he had done going from islet to islet meant he
had not covered nearly the distance he'd first thought. He was a little
disoriented, figuring his direction roughly by the sun and the way the
water was flowing. Looking back he saw the exact same view that lay
ahead. Cattails, rushes, mossy islets, hillocks of grasses all
surrounded by wet mud or shallow waters. And the waters were not always
shallow anymore. As he had gone on he had found them to be deeper; he
could see small fish swimming past down at the bottom. The water was
still fairly clear, but the depth was certainly increasing. And the mud
also. It wasn't the sort a body could stand on anymore, but a sloppy,
soupy mud. The sort that grabbed at his feet, pulling downward. It
worried him; if he should slip and become entrenched in it, what help
would there be?
He forged ahead, leaping and clambering, sloshing and splashing then
resigned himself to having to add wading to his activities for the
day. Another slow hour passed before he was brought to a halt.
The current in the water had been steadily increasing, and the depth
also; the small island he stood on was long and thin, a grassy ridge
surrounded by mud and water. The next one was much too far away, and
the water too deep. He could see the Eastern bank, tantalizing in the
distance with its trees but he could not reach it. The Water would not
allow the Rushock to tame it utterly, and its strength was found here,
on the Eastern side.
He sat down on the ridge to ponder, wet, muddy and sore from countless
small nicks on his legs and hands by the sharp-edged bog grasses. Of
course his earlier memories of the bog had also been from the
summertime, when the waters were lower and warmer. The recent spring
rains had greatly lifted the depth of the Rushock and the Water; those
storm rains were hurrying past him, deep, strong and silent. He was no
swimmer. He had acquired a small amount of dog-paddling skill long ago
in Laketown but only under duress and didn't think he cared to try it
"Not much of a barrel-rider without a barrel, am I?" he said aloud.
"Stopped by a little water. What's to be done?" He looked up and
down the river for inspiration but received none. Sighing, he turned
and began working his way upstream along the ridge, then started back
the way he had come. Leaping from one section to another he nearly
stumbled over a section of log, washed into the bog from some winter
storm. It bobbed and rotated slightly, turning it's green-mossed edges
He stopped and took a good look at it. He pushed on it with one foot.
It bobbed strongly, but stayed afloat very well. Not waterlogged
then. It had a long branch on one side, but it was cracked and
partially peeled away. He tugged at it until the branch came
loose then used it to pry at the log, guiding it and turning it to the
side of one of the tussocks.
"Maybe I'm crazy after all." he muttered. "But a barrel is a barrel
when one is in need." He pulled off his pack and adjusted the contents,
fastening and tightening everything inside, then pulling the cord to
strap the oilcloth and leather firmly in place. It should stay dry
unless completely submerged. Better practice without it first, just in
He lay his pack aside and carefully lowered himself onto the log, as if
he were mounting some strange sort of pony. It bobbed alarmingly under
him, wanting to turn to one side or the other. It was some minutes
before he felt he had it under control enough to try moving around on
it at all. Remembering Gollum on his darkened lake, he experimented and
laying flat across it and paddling with his hands and feet worked
Never know when something will come in handy... He tried minor
navigation, paddling first to one side than the other without too much
Feeling only slightly more confident, he carefully climbed back off (a trick easier said than done)
retrieved his pack and climbed back on again. Paddling and bumping
along he slowly navigated his way eastward with only a few mishaps. He
knew the stronger current was still to come; what would happen then?
All he could do was hope for the best...
The last ridge of grasses and mud was bumped past.
He could feel the current tugging and pulling at the log. He scooped the water with his hands
and kicked frantically on one side, trying to turn it quickly lest the
river water flip it over and drop him in. It bobbed up and down, the
entire front submerged badly but it came back to the surface with a
splash that made him blink water from his eyes and shake it from his
hair. He was still afloat! And he was moving, drifting along
without any effort at all. The current wasn't fast, but it was inexorably
pulling south. He began kicking and paddling as hard as he could for the eastern
That was when he heard a sound over his own splashing and panting that made him stop and drift to listen.
There it was again!
A child, crying.