A foggy day in London town - and a few other places
NOT since 1907, possibly, has there been such a February fog. In 1907 the American record was set in meteorological pea soup when the Sequin Light Station on the Maine coast logged in 2,734 hours of fog. That comes to practically one foggy day out of every three, and certainly more during February, winter's foggiest month.
Still, for half a week or so, we, the fogbound of 1984, could match anybody, anytime, here in New England, the fog capital of the world. The thaw moved in and the snow went up like wet smoke. In the depthless fog, streetlamps twinkled like stars, light-years away. Trees thrust up into the swirling mists until the top boughs seemed to attenuate into dotted lines and finally vanished from sight. The world became about 10 feet tall - a universe without a sky.
If one could find no sky, he could barely verify the ground, either. Automobiles became subtly disembodied - reduced to nothing but headlights. Even the sound of their engines lost dimension, muffled as if by gray cotton batting.
In a fog all that is solid, all that is spacious, gets lost.
Some people like their meals by candlelight. Some people like their world in a fog. George Santayana thought that their pervasive mists have given the English a kindlier, calmer view of life - blurring the sharper edges. A worthy fog can turn a smokestack into a monument and a gun turret into a kind of statue , disguising the violence of modern times.
Certainly fog takes a bit of the intensity out of everyday life. It is difficult, if not dangerous, to become agitated in the fog. Life in a fog assumes the leisure of a good dream.
Perhaps for this reason the impressionists of the turn-of-the-century loved fog. Debussy serenaded it in his music. Whistler painted it. The impressionists made fog exotic. Were there ever bridges like Whistler's, suspended in the mist as enchantingly as a spider's web?
Filmmakers, those technological impressionists, cannot resist a decent fog. It is so cinematic. Fog serves equally as the friend of the Hollywood melodramatist, looking for a cheap scare, and the art-film symbolist, longing to represent moral confusion.
The week in February made us all Englishmen and impressionists, and maybe poets, too.
Modern poets tend to confuse fog with their cats. T. S. Eliot, a noted cat-lover, wrote of fog ''that rubs its back upon the windowpanes.'' Carl Sandburg came right out with it: ''The fog comes on little cat feet.''
Eliot, writing of London fog, colors it brown in one case, yellow in another. Sandburg, writing of Chicago fog, does not specify.
Everybody insists upon the superiority of the local product in some way. Dickens claimed fog as a ''London particular.'' Having given away our provincial bias in favor of Down East New England fog, we must concede that there is no fog like fog at sea.
In a fog everything appears to be at sea anyway.
Anybody who has been on a ship in the fog knows the mystical feeling of a universe full of UFOs (unknown floating objects). Just because one cannot see beyond one's little moving island of water, the world out there seems to be crowded with a thousand ships waiting to materialize, along with a hundred jutting tips of land. And at the same time, nothing else seems to exist except one's ship on its tiny watery pad.
Few circumstances stimulate the imagination more than fog. Yet even in February, fog cannot be as menacing as it pretends to be. No matter how densely it coagulates those drops of moisture (2 to 50 microns in diameter), we know something that fog doesn't: It will lift sooner rather than later.
When the drummer finishes his roll and the magician waves his wand, the February cloud simply evaporates, and winter with it - and presto, there rises in its place something very like another spring.