Unfolding the Map
We cross into Maine with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) and head toward the farthest easternmost point of our journey. As we part the fog in Ghost Dancing, I'll reflect on fog and what it has meant to me. To find yourself in the grayness, trudge through the mist to the map.
"Although I was still miles from the ocean, a heavy sea fog came in to the muffle the obscure woods and lie over the land like a sheet of dirty muslin. I saw no cars or people, few lights in the houses. The windshield wipers, brushing at the fog, switched back and forth like cats' tails. I lost myself to the monotonous rhythm and darkness as past and present fused and dim things came and went in a staccato of moments separated by miles of darkness. On the road, where change is continuous and visible, time is not; rather it is something the rider only infers. Time is not the traveler's fourth dimension - change is.
"The towns - Springvale, Sanford, Kennebunk - watery globs of blue light, washed across the windows in the cold downpour that came on...."
Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 1
Carl Sandburg wrote in a famous short poem that "fog comes, on little cat feet," or something of the sort. I am not sure that I ever saw fog as a cat, though it does slip in silently and disappear just as fast.
One of the things I miss most after living in the desert for 8 years is fog, or really, any air moisture at all. As LHM discovers driving into Maine, fog can be intense and thick. Growing up along the Pacific Ocean, fog was a regular part of my life. Sometimes it lay offshore, a silent presence reminding you that your beautiful day could be fleeting. Sometimes it enveloped the area in a cold blanket of gray, turning everything but the nearest objects into indistinct, ghostly replicas of themselves.
I used to love those times. I can very easily slip into reverie when the fog rolls in, almost as if the mists serve as a melding of time and space and everything, past, present and future, converges in that spot. Fog can serve as a metaphor for many things. My wife still remembers and never fails to embarrass me about how I used a fog metaphor to sum up my indecision on our budding relationship.
Within the fog, everything becomes silent. At one and the same time, sounds nearest you become more distinct, even as sounds farther away become more muffled. Yet even that does not become a universal law. In the midst of fog, I have heard the offshore buoys cry their mournful moaning sound, like the sound of lost souls at sea, almost as if they were right beside me, even though I might be a mile away from the ocean, and maybe two miles away from them.
The most beautiful thing to experience in fog are the forests, particularly the coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest. Only the part of the forest right around you is apparent. If you look up, often the tops of the trees are shrouded with mist, and only the spatter of large, falling drops of water remind you that there are indeed leaves and tree crowns above condensing water and sending it earthward.
There is something about the fog that seems to calm everything. The ocean that was raging just the day before now lies gray and placid beneath the feathery light yet implacably dense and heavy blanket of moisture. There are barely even waves, as the mighty Pacific appears to settle into a period of quiet restfulness.
There is something about fog that alters reality. It changes our view of time and space. I'm not sure that I necessarily agree with LHM's assertion that change, rather than time, is the fourth dimension. I still feel the passage of time in fog, though it seems different, perhaps slower. I have driven, like LHM, down the fog shrouded coastline, sometimes in fog so thick that on roads that I would usually travel 40-50 miles per hour I have to slow to 20-30 miles per hour because of visibility. The fog stretches out the length of the drive, leaving me more time to myself, to reflect, to think. That reflection and thinking, time that I wouldn't necessarily have to engage in such activity otherwise, is a boon, for it's in that extra time that the seeds for change is laid.
It is on a foggy night, when the fog is extra thick, that one really gets a true measure of themselves. The inky blackness gets inkier. The lights from houses shine wanly, barely penetrating the blackness. In driving one's headlights, especially on high, hit the wall of water in the air which might as well be bricks as far as the light is concerned. It is at these times, especially along the coastlines, that one can feel alone, wrapped in a cocoon of cold dampness. One might wonder if he or she is part of the world at all, or if somehow in travel one has slipped into an alternate and lonely universe of monocolor - a muted, sepia-toned world of light and dark and all measures of gray in between.
I love when the fog breaks in the daytime. It is not a glorious infusion of sunlight, splintering the grayness and suddenly bringing color into the world. Instead, the fog breaks slowly. One notices, at first, a lightening of the sky above. A hint of blue appears in what had been grayness overhead. Around one, flowers, trees and plant hues go from muted or even drab to a hint of the glorious color that they possess. As the fog gradually lifts, the colors emerge more brightly, until suddenly one realizes that the fog is gone. It has slipped out like a master thief, having stolen time and reality, color and sound, but in the end leaving just a brief memory of its presence and nothing else to mark its passage save, perhaps, a few rapidly disappearing droplets on the leaves.
You'd think I'd be satisfied living in a place that gets an average of 320 days of sunshine a year. But you can't take the coast out of the boy that has been raised there, and sometimes, I miss the fog.
I couldn't find a song that really captures what fog is to me. There are pieces of what I want in a few things, so I will put them here. The first is Fog by Hiroyuki Eto. I don't know anything about this artist, but the song sort of captures the laziness and calmness which which I associate with fog.
The next is by Mnongo Neb, another artist that I don't know about but whose tune, Road in Fog, captures some of the melancholy that comes with fog.
If you want to know more about Springvale, Sanford and Kennebunk
Next up: Kennebunkport, Maine