Story Behind “Rattlin’ Blog”

What does “Rattlin’ Blog” even mean and why did you choose it?

For those of you who want quick answers: Rattlin’ Bog is a popular camp song and Irish folk song about a bog with a bunch of stuff in it. It’s cumulative in nature (like Twelve Days of Christmas), and in the context of the original folk song, “rattlin'” means splendid. I study bogs (and other wetlands), feel like science is cumulative, and have the totally unbiased view that this blog is splendid.

The whole story: I spent more time than I care to admit trying to come up with a title for my blog that is both a pun/play on words about wetland science, and is representative of my views on science in general.

First some history. I was a Girl Scout growing up, and worked for a summer during college as a wilderness trip leader at a Girl Scout camp in northern Wisconsin. In those years, I learned a popular camp song called “Rattlin’ Bog” and probably sang it over 500 times. At this point I highly recommend listening to a recording of Rattlin’ Bog or the rest of the story won’t make a ton of sense.

By the time I was working at the camp in northern Wisconsin, I was teaching young girl scouts Rattlin’ Bog without even thinking about the lyrics anymore. Toward the end of the summer, one of the girls finally asked me what “rattlin'” means. It caught me off guard. What does rattlin’ mean? What have I been singing all these years? I honestly didn’t know. A quick google search revealed that Rattlin’ Bog is actually an Irish folk song, and the word “rattlin'” is short for “rattling,” which in context means “splendid.” So Rattlin’ Bog is really just an unfamiliar way of saying Splendid Bog. Mystery solved.

Fast forward to me trying to come up with a name for my science blog. I was hiking and brainstorming words that are related to wetlands that I might be able to cleverly use in the blog name: peat? marsh? swamp?  Then it hit me. Bog! Bog sounds like blog! It was perfect. I immediately thought back my hundreds of times singing the song Rattlin’ Bog and decided Rattlin’ Blog would be a good name that was simultaneously a play on the words and a subtle pat on my own back (I do think my blog is splendid after all). With a few miles still left in my hike, I passed the remaining time reminiscing on all those years being a Girl Scout and singing the song.

The more I thought about the song Rattlin Bog (and inevitably got it stuck in my head), the more I felt like its structure was a good symbol for the science in general. As mentioned above, the song is cumulative in nature.

The lyrics start out with the simple statement,
“And in that bog there was a tree.
And the tree in the bog,
And the bog down in the valley-o!”

Many verses later, the initial simple bog with a tree has become incredibly complex and detailed.
“On that louse there was a tick,
A rare tick a rattlin’ tick,
And the tick on the louse,
And the louse on the hair,
And the hair on the worm,
And the worm on the feather,
And the feather on the bird,
And the bird in the egg,
And the egg in the nest,
And the nest on the limb,
And the limb on the branch,
And the branch on the tree,
And the tree in the bog,
And the bog down in the valley-o.”

I see the Rattlin Bog as a symbol of science. On the surface, it’s pretty simple. Wetlands are land that is wet. But then you start digging in and it gets more and more complex. Wetlands are land that is wet, they are wet because the water table is elevated, and the water table is elevated because the stream flow rate is low, and the stream flow rate is low because a beaver colony dammed it, and the beaver dammed the stream because it was already in low relief terrain, and the terrain is low relief because of past glaciations, and it goes on! Every question in science is nested under hundreds of questions asked and answered in previous studies and experiments. That’s where the ultra-specific super-niche science papers come in that are so specialized you sometimes wonder how on earth the author got to thinking about that question in the first place.

But, like the song, as long as everything gets consistently tied back to the big picture (the original bog in the song or wetlands in general in my example) and the progression into greater depth is clear then even a 6 year old Girl Scout can tell me why there is a tick in the rattlin’ bog, and how that tick fits into the greater bog environment.