As an atmospheric phenomenon, fog produces all kinds of changes in the landscape –– Just as it does so metaphorically. This is a brief homage to its breadth and beauty.Under the thinning fog the surf curled and creamed, almost without sound, like a thought trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness.
-Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep
From the Latin nebŭla, fog is a dense cloud made of the tiniest droplets of water suspended close to the surface of the earth, which darkens or limits visibility (much more than mist –– fog reduces our visibility to less than one kilometer). It may perhaps seem odd that this entire space, an article, is solely devoted to fog, but it is such an elegant and amazingly darkening phenomenon that we can increase our understanding of the world and ourselves through it. For starters, in the fog everything behaves like the fog: shifting, atmospheric, mysterious.
If trees were green before, under the spell of the fog they become grey; a hue of grey that hints at green that is hidden by a veil, just like everything else. Only grey can do this: it can hint at the existence of any other hue but it never ceases to be itself, a combination of black and white which engulfs the Newtonian spectrum as if it were an enormous ghost ship. Jose Emilio Pacheco articulated it best: “Amidst the fog / the majestic kapoks / red ghosts”.
In the mental realm, we find all the clichés we used as metaphors: in this sense, the fog is used to describe uncertainty, confusion, and “fogginess”. This phenomenon, as a figure, has bestowed an existential compensation upon us. We speak of the fog in the same way it speaks of us, our hidden, blurry and discontinued aspects; features that are as human in their essence as they are meteorological. But out of all the things that the fog can mean (and from all of its humid atmospheric beauty), the light that awaits behind it is especially diaphanous.
Among clouds, light loses its strength and speed. Photons bounce, are reflected, contained as if they were minuscule fireflies around the lighthouse that emits them and they cannot go too far. The serene haziness of a lamp. This is why throughout maritime history, a foghorn was needed to keep the lighthouse company. Light does not reach far out enough in the fog, it is unable to reach a lost sailor’s eyes, but sound can reach his ears, even if this is also softened by clouds.
Ontologically we can use the image of a lighthouse as it is surrounded by fog as a metaphysical beacon; as a truth that glows behind the clouds without disturbing them. But we must get really close to be able to see it. Walk towards it as if we were moths, whose blindness forces them to feel or perceive light –perhaps in their entire body— as a temperature. Light within fog is a condensed, bright and laconic gleam, like a traffic sign, which guides us in the midst of gloom towards our path.
We can use fog as a resource to reconsider this, or simply to feel (in our mind) the thousands of moist drops running through our body. The fog is like a sea or a ghost, but always a type of fiction that casts a spell on everything it touches. And we need fiction to take us beyond our everyday surroundings; like fog, this is a painting of the world, one which resists the most obvious descriptions, and perhaps that is why it can explain it to us with such simplicity.
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