The Definition of Fog (a short story)

fog(1)

noun

1. [common noun] A thick(2) cloud of moisture in the atmosphere at low altitude near the earth’s surface that restricts visibility to less than 1km.

‘the flight was delayed due to thick fog’

2. [well that’s an understatement] Thick? You’re damned right it’s thick in these parts. I’ve got a sample of it sealed up in a jam jar around around somewhere that I could show you if you like. Thicker than frozen peanut butter, it is. I chipped it off the corner of a fog bank back when I was a bachelor and held onto it for safekeeping, just in case inquisitive folks like yourself came around and had questions. You can guarantee I like to be prepared for these sorts of things, being the expert that I am on the subject. The problem is getting it out of the jar to show it off, though. The bloody stuff is stickier(3) than wet glue. Now, it’s not quite as bad as it used to be in the old days, but it’s still enough to trip you up if you don’t mind where you’re walking when it rolls into town.

3. [that’s just the thing!] Nobody considers the stickiness of the stuff. My goodness, I remember walking back from the cobbler or the market on a damp morning and having to wash my hair three or four times to get all the fog out of it! It was like syrup – all gloopy and stringy – and sometimes you’d get it all jammed up behind your ears or clogged in the corner of your eye and it would take a dog’s age of digging around with a wet rag to get it all wiped off. I recall more than one embarrassing moment where I got caught with a finger halfway up my nose while I was trying to hook the stuff out. I shouldn’t have felt ashamed, though, because everybody and their mother-in-law was doing it in those days. It wasn’t uncommon to see – during a bought of particularly heavy fog – a crowd of your neighbours strutting down the road with one hand covering their eyes and the other picking away at their nostrils with wild abandon. It was a constant irritation – not that any of us had any time(4) to complain about it in those days.

4. [we just got on with our lives] Consider this: you are a fisherman who works every day. You want to get out on the water (assuming you are not an underwater fisherman) before daybreak to make sure you find a good spot. You could get up at 5 o’clock, dress yourself, eat, and make your way down to the harbour. By the time you loaded your lunch, your bait (all prepared the night before, of course) and yourself into the boat and rowed out to sea, you could probably get in position and be ready to start by sunrise at around 6 o’clock. Sounds reasonable, right?

Now, consider the following: in order to get yourself from your house to the harbour, you need to accommodate for the bank of fog that rolled into town the night before. You spend 10 minutes trying to shove the door open (and many people switched to inward-swinging doors to avoid this) only to be faced with a blinding-thick, sticky mass of fog all piled up against the side of your house and blocking the road downtown. What’s a sorry fisherman to do but grab the axe and shovel and dig yourself a tunnel(5) to get to work in the morning? And then, upon reaching the harbour an hour or so later, you find your boat piled 10 or 12 feet high with wet, sticky fog and need to dedicate another hour – at least – scooping the blasted thing out so it doesn’t capsize with all of the added weight. Most folks had to get up as early as 2 o’clock in the morning to make it out on the water on time, and some became partially nocturnal to accomodate for the extra planning and preparations.

5. [and it was dangerous work, mind you] Oh, I remember one poor fellow who – in the process of digging a tunnel from his front door to the market – found himself in a very unfortunate situation. A pickle, as they say. He had made it about halfway to the market – about 50 yards deep into the fog – when the wind picked up. Now, the wind is a wonderful thing when it’s foggy because it will blow the stuff away, but a seaward breeze can be a frightful thing when you’ve got yourself burrowed into a bank of fog the size of a small mountain. As a result, the whole mighty pile of fog – with that poor fellow trapped inside – blew itself about 10 miles offshore at 8 o’clock in the morning. Visibility being as poor as it was, he didn’t even notice he’d been carried away until he finished digging his way out the other side of the bank and nearly fell overboard. Luckily, another shift of direction in the wind carried the fellow to a small island, where he was treated to some fine hospitality by the local lighthouse(6) keeper. By the time he was able to hitch a ride back home, we’d given him up for dead. He was always bitter about that, and argued that a week was hardly enough time for his wife to remarry and sell the house in the process.

6. [the lighthouse keepers had it hard back then] Those poor souls had their hands full, that’s for sure. My great uncle – I’ll call him my grandfather’s brother from here on, to avoid confusion – used to work as a lighthouse keeper back in the day. He moved out there at the young age of 14 to work and stayed there until he was too old to look after himself any longer. At that point my father and my father’s cousins made arrangements and had the poor fellow put in a home so some nice nurses would blend up his food for him and give him a sponge bath once in a while. Before he went senile he used to tell me stories about things that happenned out there at the lighthouse. They would spend much of their time tending to the fog cutters as they used to call them – great, long blades that would be hoisted up on masts along the shoreline surrounding the lighthouse. These were used to slice up the fog bank as it rolled in and stop it from piling up against the lighthouse and blocking the beacon altogether.

According to my grandfather’s brother, sometimes sea creatures would get tangled up amongst the fog banks and be carried for days at a time through the air. The fog, you see, would graze the surface of the ocean and if a creature was near the surface of the water it ran the risk of being sucked up into the fog and whisked away with the wind. Taking advantage of this, my grandfather’s brother and my grandfather’s brother’s wife used to set up great butterfly nets behind the fog cutters, all in an effort to catch the fish as they fell out of the sky. It was not uncommon to see a school of mackerel or a sea turtle or even monstrous sharks gliding through the air on a particularly foggy day, basking on the wind like paper kites.

People today will tell you that much of the sea life has disappeared but my grandfather’s brother would disagree with their argument. In his final days of clear-headedness he would tell us stories of the many creatures that were lifted up by the fog. Fog, as we all know, rises away in time. Those thick banks that we used to curse did eventually lift up and drift off into the clouds, and the fishes and creatures trapped within must have risen up with them. My grandfather’s brother believed to his final day that after the many years of drifting and rising fog there was now a second ocean floating in the sky, above the one we know, and that if we were to explore above the clouds with a keen eye we would find the creatures that had been spirited away – the schools of fish, the turtles, the jellyfishes, the seals, the auks, the krakens, the sting rays, the schools of capelin and bait herring, the swordfish, the tuna, the great sea birds, the megalodon sharks, the long-necked sea reptiles, the last of the great whales – all safe, all still swimming and thriving and breaching on the wind under yet another endless sea of stars and constellations, far from the hooks and lines of fishermen far below. “Oceans under oceans under oceans,” he would say, staring out the window of his sterile little room. He would watch for hours on end at the long clouds rolling by, every now and then chuckling to himself and nodding his head, though I was never quick enough to catch whatever it was that he had seen.

All nonsense, I’m sure.

Tempest (a poem)

pilgrims, nomads, sentinels against the fury of the coast:
backs bent sidelong,
straining, still,
they sway with loving ease under the eye of that relentless ghost.
the ocean draws its breath.

that salt-stained silhouette of shore under a frosted glow:
a mirror pool,
watchful gaze.
thunderclaps of memory accost the tidal mouths below.
she smiles in her sleep.

in dreams aquatic, giants, titans cry their hopes and fears alike:
the air collapses,
crystalline.
the column pauses, dreading, waiting in anticipation for the strike.
and yet, the dawn arrives.

Dunes (a poem)

oh, we watch those holes,
those wholesome moans.
the velvet breath.

we coalesce
we lift.
we drift.

rolling, washing through the grass.
the summer sun reflects
across our teeth.

the heat,
the breeze,
we float with ease
and rise to disappear.

oh, that frothing mist awaits:
that great blue orb of the sky

Whalesong (a poem)

needles scraping bone,
heel and sole.

sliding cold inside your boots
you bear the weight of all you love,
while inches underneath
the giant gods of other worlds relay
their shepard songs.

empty aqua loneliness.

they disappear,
soaring softly into darkness and
sinking,

willing,

deeper than the sky is wide.

their dreams are of a solid state;
the breath that leaves their backs a
force of nature,

strong enough to rent the field on which you stand that now,
to us,
seems still as stone.

Where No Man Comes (a poem)

this void of land,
this spear of sea,
divides with lonesome lines the air.
the livyers, swaying, fold with fate
as eons fade from being,
and hearts of stone pulse beneath
the fragile frame
of mountains.
each beat an eternity;
a flicker consuming
the rise and rot
of ages.
the pitiful remains
of some benign beings persist
as subtle blurs in elevation;
refined beyond recognition
by the birth and death
of countless seasons.
no witnesses remain
which might exclaim, yet maim this majesty.
those which have are all but disappeared,
their true undying legacies
rebuilding what was ground away.
their lives unending
mending
all those scars begat by greed.

Return to the Fjord (a poem)

as a child I watched those hills
rippling and shivering in an emerald haze.
the mighty birches swayed with the breeze,
the ancient tides sloshed in on kelp-dressed granite shores,
the sun melted lazily into rocky, barren peaks.
and in the coldest dark, the moon would come to dance
on the water

and I came back one last time
to scrape my heels on salt-stained rocks,
to feel the feathered fingers of mossy twigs brush my face.
aching to taste the earth on the wind and remember,
remember,
the breath of owls in the night;
the sweet stench of shore at low tide;
the warmth of the garnet sun as it chased away the stars.
but now the trees are gone;
the hillside scarred;
the waters grey.
where ground had been, now lies the floor
and walls, fences, climb higher each day
to keep out the world.
fumes fill the heavy air and the stones succumb,
as if to fear,
as engines roar to pave the road
through the land that man should not have found.

Birds, or: The Circle Unbroken (a poem)

a ruined bed, two lovers lay,
outside, the first slow breath of day,

a song is sung – a bird, up high,
born years ago, somehow survived

the rip and tear of tooth and claw,
hatched from a nest that did not fall,

a slender limb that did not break
on sleeping earth that did not quake

grown old and tall and straight and wide,
a withered seed that never died,

blown from afar on autumn breeze,
stirred from the ground with careless ease,

a little boy raking the ground
looked to the sky, and heard the sound
of birds

Daydream of a Tired Mind (a poem)

shaking while walking, I look past the streetlamps
and over the rooftops at the hidden hillside.
endless anxieties await me this morning.

I’d be over those hills by mid-day if I tried.

daylong time crunching and endless deciding
and all I desire is the sunlight outside.

birdsong and wind are the sounds of the traffic.
the land at my feet and the sky open wide.

in time I’ll succumb to this life without living.

my name and my items have been left behind.
the pain of my hunger is life’s only torment.
the pulse of the earth and my own coincide.