The Wandering Scientist

What a lovely world it is

Tag Archives: fog

A shadow upon oblivion

Written on: March 2, 2018
About: Philadelphia, February 19-20, 2018

     Monday night I drove to Philadelphia. I set out from my home in Adams Morgan in late afternoon, making my way through successive convulsions of traffic. As I drove North, the night advanced, bringing darkness, fog, and rain.
     Fog’s first appearance often goes unnoticed, I feel. At some point, I’m already surrounded by it, unsure as to when or how the fantastical transformation has occurred.  I find myself a bit like a character in some old folk tale – I have wandered down the usual path, lost in thought. When I looked up, all was changed, and I was in a realm far removed from anything I have ever known. When I turned around, but the path was gone, and even the country behind me was unrecognizable.
     And so it went. At some point, having passed Baltimore, I had noticed the wisps of fog already grown thick. I could not say when it befell the land. This was mist country and that simply was it.
     In Philadelphia, I had dinner with my friends, brief and served in plastic to-go containers on account of my much delayed arrival. Absence makes the shared meals grow more toothsome, and as I have not seen this pair in quite some time, it was a delight.
     Our plan for the evening was to go to a blues dance, where I was slated to play the closing DJ set. Going last I find much preferable. I myself function better as the hour grows late, able to tap into a sort of wakefulness only available in the unlit hours. The dancers, too, tend to have found their groove, gotten a bit more tired and a bit less self-conscious.
     The venue was a small art space in a stark and unglamorous neighborhood. A sliding garage door took up almost an entire wall, so the chilly night outside had a noted presence inside. A wood-burning stove near the dance did offset the frost a bit, but while my friend and I hung back as things got underway, jackets and scarves were still out.
     I feel a surge of nervous, erratic energy when getting ready to play in a new space and for a new crowd, still. Maybe, hopefully, always will. So I itched for a draw of whiskey to help even my keel. On the one hand, I regretted not bringing my flask. On the other, I would have been the only knocking back, and that feels like bad form. Anyway, I felt better a couple songs in. Nina Simone and Howlin’ Wolf will always set you straight.
     In the end, we filed out into the cold feeling light and perspiring – a room full of dancers will do as well as a furnace. The fog hung along the upper floors on the narrow streets, grim and orange from the sparse street lights. “Murder fog,” I joked, and we got into the car.
     Then, dreams.
     We all woke up early, ready for our respective working days. I found Philadelphia looking rather like the Great American Novel – gray and gritty, wet from a meaningful rain, all iron and brick, tragedy and triumph monumental in their anonymity. The low sky hung on to the slick rusted roofs. After breakfast, I got on the way and drove South.
     The fog was thin in the city, but grew thicker as the highway swung low toward the Chesapeake, ever more substantial as I dipped into the Susquehanna river valley. By the time I got out on the tall bridge, the mist blotted out everything.
     I could see the pavement and the railings, and the busy traffic tunneled a path of relative clarity, so I could see forward well enough. There was, simply, nothing else – no river beneath, no river shores, no sky, no horizon. Looking away from the cars directly in front of me, all was a perfectly even, featureless, colorless, woolen absence.
     A most delicate breeze must have been coming from the sea, up along the river. Motion of the fog, of course, could not be noticed, but that tunnel bored by the cars, the narrow absence of fog, was getting pulled and stretched away from the bridge. A line of sight launched in this direction found nothing by shapeless grayness.
     This ragged, tattered shadow extended up and away. Like some ancient ghost, its ash-colored corpus drifted against the flat white oblivion of the mist.

PS I now have a Facebook author page, to whatever end you all may use it.

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Midnight fog on Mississippi

Written: December 29, 2014, in Orlando, FL

About: New Orleans, the night of December 27

Fog rose up from the night-time Mississippi in tongues like ghostly flames. A low wind drove this fog, it slid over the levy and then lapped against the squat buildings of French Market. In places, the fog piled up, rising in a wispy columns. Gnarled and twisted, they rose up until they joined the low clouds, which themselves were held up by the glowing high-rises of the Central Business District.

The docks of Algiers, across the river, were but a disjointed collection of lights and angled roofs. Someone began to imagine them, but did not quite finish, and so they floated on, primeval and hypnotizing.

The wind picked up, and the fog grew into a shapeless behemoth that charged the shore. It moved fast, and almost instantly the levy disappeared, swallowed up. The lamps glowed weakly, like distant frozen comets. The massive wave of fog breached the flood wall, broke up into a legion of shadows and apparitions that rushed into the streets of French Quarter, growing ever more invisible with every step, every leap.

As the surge dissipated, it left behind a ragged sheath of fog, showing the water beneath. It looked taut, rough, grey, and wet, like the skin of some vast, languid animal dreaming under the fantastical cloak.

In all of this, Natchez, at her night dock, appeared as if behind a ward – completely free of the fog. The water around her sides was a pure, glistening black. Her light shone brightly, their clarity made more brilliant by the chaotic and unfocused world of the fog swirling around the ship.

Frozen air in Grünow

Dec 30, 2010

Grünow, Germany

My first time in Grünow, and this is as wonderful a winter as I could wish for. It has been snowing around Berlin (Grünow is about an hour North of Berlin) regularly through all December. With exception of a couple brief thaws at the beginning, it hass stayed below freezing. While there is a treacherous layer of ice beneath the snow, it’s been worn through on all the major streets. Thin sheets of ice also cover all the trees. Heavy accumulation of ice and snow has broken a lot of trees and branches, temporarily shutting down some highways and railroads in the area. Though frozen, everything has been back to normal, more or less, for about a week.

Yesterday I witnessed something I have not seen in a long time – an extra-cold front rolled through and froze the air. The temperature outside dropped from -5 C to -9 C in about an hour in the middle of the day, which is an unusual swing for the area. The physics is quite simple. When the temperature drops that quickly, past the dew point, the moisture remaining in the air doesn’t have time to condense somewhere, and so it forms droplets right in the air. This is how fog is formed. Of course, if the temperature is already below freezing, it’s a frozen, icy fog. Which looks far more ominous than regular fog.

I first noticed that something was off as we were driving home from a restaurant. I was looking at a hillside where some clumps of earth were poking through the unperturbed white snow. The country here is mostly farmland, so huge plots of snow go untouched for days except for a few animals that cross them.

My eyes followed the clumps up the side of the hill. As the hill rose, the clumps became less visible. However, they were not being covered up by more snow. Their obscurity was smoky and distant. More disturbingly, the clumps faded by the hill did not seem to end. It simply rose infinitely into where the sky should have been. There was no sky. The hillside simply extended into the whiteness that now included that whole side of existence.

As I looked around, I noticed the same whiteness creeping over the distant objects all around. Trees, houses, other roads, everything was slowly dissolving. This did not seem like a fog, or a low cloud, or a snowfall. Fogs and clouds have a texture to them, and a snowfall has movement. This manifestation was almost perfectly even and motionless in its distribution. Everything simply faded and dissolved, became erased.

The temperature continued to drop for a couple more degrees, and the frozen fog set in with greater intensity. As it thickened, all that remained was the stretch of the road ahead and the row of trees following the sides of the road. Everything else was at the most a shadow reminiscent of the object’s existence. Further out, the white fields and hillsides merged seamlessly with the equally white sky.

At first, I have to admit, this brought with itself the uneasy feelings of alarm. Things were disappearing, and even the sun itself was powerless to get through the freeze. For a while, it hung in the sky as a dimly lit token of its presence. After a while, however, even this sunk into nothingness as the sky became increasingly even. Though these feelings did not last long.

All became peace and simplicity.