Thursday, January 27, 2011

Winter fog

Usually when the fog comes in, it is a timid guest. It burns off by midday, then pulls back to reveal the sun, a well-kept secret. But today was a tule day. Today, the air got progressively thicker, fuller, and wetter as the afternoon wore on. I stayed in my office later than normal, absorbed in an essay I am writing on Spain, and was completely unprepared when I emerged from Voorhies at 6 pm and wandered straight into the clouds. The air was mythic. Light from nearby lampposts cut through the fog in broad rays; inverse sunshine.

Within minutes, my coat and pants were streaked in dewdrops, little globules that glistened perversely in the evening light. It was difficult to see further than ten or twenty feet ahead; beyond that was gray emptiness. It made biking through Davis feel like jumping into a void, holding my breath as I trusted the path in front of me to stay a path. This is the kind of environment where stuff can happen. Mysterious stuff. Good stuff. Bad stuff. Surprising stuff. Stuff that can jump out at you.

As a child I associated tule fog with the endlessness of winter nights. It was inevitable; there would always be nights that felt too long or too strange or made it hard to see. I only recently learned that tule fog is particular to the Sacramento Valley, due to the fact that once the cold air enters the valley, it is shut inward by the Sierra Nevada mountains. It's turned in on itself, forced to confront itself in wet streaks from Sacramento clear to Redding, even as far as Bakersfield. Often the air above the low-lying fog is warmer and clearer. The sky cheats, I think. Maybe it does this to remind all of us how blind we actually are. To make us turn inwards as well.


RachelVB said...

this is beautiful. Fog can be so terrifying. I remember once driving back from Napa, on the backroads, and I was stuck in the fog. Every turn seems so abrupt and jagged - like a broken bone.
Have you heard of the "pogonip fog" that occurs in Mono Lake Basin? Ice fog. Native Americans called it "white death"

miss J. said...

thanks for the kind words. "white death" - indeed! "pogonip" is an amazing word; it seems to capture both how unusual and how mystical the fog can be.

hope you are staying warm in PA!

RachelVB said...

It pops up in my brain every so often. I'll write about it someday, I think. I've always loved the idea of it - it seems so dangerous, but stunning at the same time. I did a photo workshop with my mom once in the winter there in Mono Lake. It was pretty incredible.

Not staying warm!! It's snowing again. But for now, inside, it is warm.