A Small Universe

Teeming with insects and plant life, including jewelweed (bottom right), rare ferns, and carnivorous indigenous plants, mysterious McClure’s Bog in Henderson County is protected by the Nature Conservancy. Photo by Michael Oppenheim.

The word “bog” may conjure up an insalubrious patch of muddy, mosquito-ridden terrain, but to photographer Michael Oppenheim, it is a small universe of beauty and harmony. His vision is evidenced in the North Carolina Arboretum’s exhibit A Year in the Life of a Mountain Bog, featuring more than 40 of Oppenheim’s pictures shot over four seasons at McClure’s Bog in Henderson County. Some of the photos are printed in large format on five-foot-wide metal sheets that emphasize in stunning detail the unique features of a delicate, secret, and ecologically vital site.

“The McClure bog was the first mountain bog I had visited,” Oppenheim says. The project was undertaken in conjunction with the regional chapter of The Nature Conservancy, which now owns and protects the site, and for whom Oppenheim has photographed other projects. The 15-acre reserve is well hidden and accessible only by an old game trail, which helps keep it in near-pristine condition: the species found in mountain bogs are generally classified as rare, threatened, or endangered.

To capture the fauna that dwell in the bog — including the gray bog lemming, several species of frogs, and a variety of waterfowl — and the luxurious flora that includes sedges, four-foot-tall cinnamon ferns, and the carnivorous Sweet Pitcher Plant, was a challenge that required wading boots, rain pants, kneepads, and a keen awareness of the poison sumac that is also native to the bog environment. (Some Conservancy volunteers took to wearing hazmat suits during the bog’s restoration.)

“I often had my tripod set up pretty low in the muck to photograph,” Oppenheim recalls. “But I was looking for a long-term project to devote to a local environmental organization, so the timing was perfect.”

McClure’s is one of five French Broad Valley bogs, a Southern Appalachian subtype, that have merited the Nature Conservancy’s protective efforts. “Whereas this particular exhibit at the Arboretum has more of an artistic angle, I’m hoping it could lead to a traveling multi-media experience complete with interviews and video vignettes from the bog,” says Oppenheim. “One of the goals with the investment I’ve made with this [show] is to generate interest from local organizations that might want to sponsor a traveling exhibit.”

“A Year in the Life of a Mountain Bog” is open daily from 9am-5pm through Sunday, October 1 at the North Carolina Arboretum Education Center (100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville). For more information, visit ncarboretum.org.

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