Friday, September 09, 2011

The fog

        The phone jars us awake. I glance at the clock to see it’s past seven, exceedingly late for me. 

“That’s not a good sign,” Lori mumbles.

It’s Peter. “The fog,” he says breathlessly, as if he’d been running a marathon or under the spell of some enchantment. “The fog, it’s in layers and colors, it’s breathtaking, you have to grab your camera and drive north of the bridge.”

“Okay,” I say. I can barely think I’m so dopey.

“You are awake, aren’t you?” he asks in an accusatory tone.

“Absolutely. I’m an early riser.” Except for today, that is. Today was that rarest of rare events, a chance to sleep in, and I meant to squeeze the life out of every second of it come hell or high water. But not, apparently, come Peter.

“You have to go now,” Peter says. “When the sun rises it won’t be the same. Go. Now.”

“I’m going.” I sit up and place the phone on the cradle. Wan light filters through the blinds. I desperately need coffee. 

“Where are you going?” Lori asks.

“North of the bridge.”



“Have fun.” (Translation: Don’t even think of asking me to join you.)

I clump downstairs, slip into my customary shorts and T-shirt, glance at the face in the mirror. Besides the usual wrinkles, bags and sags, angry red splotches mark areas being treated for skin cancer.  Not for the first time I wonder who stole my face.

I grab the camera and briefly hesitate to weigh taking the tripod, the monopod or the camera bag. Or make coffee. A glance out the window at the growing light nixes each idea. Out the door I fly, and it’s not until I’m halfway down the stairs that it hits me: it’s cold.

Which makes sense. Our local variety of fog forms when cool air settles over warmer water, in this case the Blue Earth River. The thicker the fog, the cooler the ambient temperature. According to the little digital thermometer in the Malibu, it’s 46 degrees. I crank up the heater and head through town.

       The park is wreathed in ghostly tentacles writhing through the chain link fence and bleachers, foaming in an undulant wave over the banks of the levee. The effect is interesting, even beautiful, but hardly reason to leave the warmth and comfort of the bed. I’m building into an energetic rant about too-friendly friends when the town falls away revealing the sweep of the road arcing toward the bridge and the fields below white with masses of vapor reflecting the pre-dawn luminance. Striated into separate bands of varying thickness, each distinct and independent of the other, the conglomerate shimmers and weaves as if directed by conscious thought, less atmospheric phenomenon than living entity. It coalesces along the river swallowing trees and ridges, in places boiling upward geyser-like, bubbling and boiling like stew in a cauldron. 

       I’ve barely time to take it in before I’m across the bridge and climbing toward clear skies. The eastern horizon is aflame with each vale and gully choked in fog glowing spectrally. At a cutoff I whip the car around and descend into the valley trying to determine the best angle for a shot but already portions of the main body have drifted off. What I need is the ability to fly to capture it from above but like the fog I’m earthbound and must remain so. 

Just before city limits I track left onto a gravel road that takes me on a meandering loop into lowlands tall with corn and on toward the grassy monolith of Capitol Bluff. It would be the ideal vantage if not for the absence of roads to the crest, but I’ve an idea now that the ghost town of Irving might prove fruitful so I turn southeast at its base and pick up speed along the railroad tracks. I’m racing the sunrise and losing but all thoughts of sleep have vanished which is at least a blessing. 

The road angles sharply to the south after crossing the tracks, the valley broadening and flattening before being squeezed into a tight chute several miles ahead. To my left the fog roils and fumes and glows silvery bright and the horizon a sliver of gold and peach pinned beneath a turquoise vault. Three deer burst through the brush giving me a minor heart attack before veering off waving white flags of surrender. Gravel pings against the undercarriage as I gun the engine and flash past skeletal bulwarks of center pivot irrigators and shorn fields dotted with hay bales and clouds of meadowlarks, tapping the brakes at the turn and fishtailing to the east. Already the fog has drifted deeper into the river bottom as if purposely avoiding me. I feel like I’m trying to nail down a moving blob of mashed potatoes with a fork.

Past the wildlife parking lot and the grassy clearing denoting the memory of the town that became the inspiration for Baum’s Oz the road suddenly turns rocky and rutted, gnarled trees closing in on either side to form a tunnel beyond which only a white luminance can be seen. I slow the car and navigate my way down toward the invisible bank and stop where the road forks. A riot of color marks the roadside vegetation, sunflowers and thistles competing against purple gayfeather and snow-on-the-mountain and russet grasses tall as a grown man. For all practical purposes the end of the road, impassable by car. 

I’ve come to the wrong place, I realize, a place without an adequate view or strong foreground or anything approaching composition, but time has run out. The sun stabs into my eyes and lifts ponderously above the rim of the valley as birds chatter and sing and the cold seeps into my flesh. As I watch in mute awe a plume of mist churns upward masking the sun, suffusing in an instant the entire valley in a golden nimbus through which the fleeting shadows of birds pass like dark thoughts and the woods fall silent and still. The fog envelopes the fields and rises like a flood to obscure the trees and the wildflowers, gilded now into a radiance both warm and forgiving, each suspended molecule incandescent and luminous, light itself, scintillant and lustrous and dankly wet, here on this rutted dead-end road not just another morning but the dawn of creation.

2 comments: said...

Fog, insight, happiness - we chase them all until they find us.

Tom Parker said...

And hopefully we have the insight to recognize them--fog is easiest, obviously, the other two somewhat more difficult to nail down.