Fear

One Foggy Day

I live in Michigan and, if there’s one thing we have in abundance, it’s water.  The Great Lakes alone contains about 84% of the fresh water in North America, which is somewhere around 6 quadrillion gallons of water.[1] [2]  And that’s not even counting our 46,199 inland lakes.[3]

The point is that Michigan is a rather damp state.  We also have really inconsistent weather, which means that it can be a good 40 degrees cooler in the morning than it will be in the afternoon.

I like this fact because it results in a lot of really nice fog.  I love fog.  Foggy mornings were, by far, my favourites on the days I had to ride the bus to school.  I live in a very rural area and the sides of the road would have miniature clouds hovering above the wetlands that are pretty much everywhere around here.  On those mornings (and I use that term loosely because it was at least an hour before sunrise), I used to daydream about dressing up in white and just standing in a fogbank by the road to freak people out.

Though that idea has not entirely lost its appeal, my idle thoughts on foggy days have since grown a bit more sophisticated and have evolved into a three-phase (ish) process.

  • Identification: “Hey, that’s fog!”
  • Evaluation: “That fog is pretty!”
  • Reflection: “Why do I think that the fog is pretty?”[4]

I feel comfortable in assuming that most people agree with me that foggy days often have positive aesthetic value.  A scene like this is, I’d suggest, fairly universally beautiful.

Photo courtesy of Terri Moore Photography http://terrimoorephotography.squarespace.com/

The puzzling thing about that fact is that we judge something to be beautiful when we can’t see it very well.  In fact, I would argue that we judge it to be beautiful because we can’t see it very well.

When you look at something close up, you see it in complete detail.  Everything that is good about it is evident, but so is everything that isn’t as good.  Even when the positive aspects of the object in question outweigh the flaws, the flaws do tend to build up in our minds so that we think of that object as beautiful in spite of its flaws instead of just beautiful.

However, when something is shrouded in a light fog (or strategically draped clothing, or a fresh coat of paint), you see it in a much less detailed way.  The general form of the object is visible, but the flaws are hidden.  And, as we all know, humans are exceptionally good at ignoring problems we can’t see.

On the other hand, we’re also really good at imagining problems we can’t see and that probably aren’t real.  While fog can add an ethereal beauty to a landscape, it can also inspire fear, as evidenced by such horror films as The Fog:

There’s nothing scarier than an army of oversized Jawas.[5]

I know that I prefer to be in environments where I can see what is going on around me.  It’s a survival instinct – if you don’t know that the dinosaur is standing behind you, you don’t know to run away.[6]  When fog is thick enough to actually conceal what is around you, it can get reclassified from “beautiful” to “dangerous”.   After all, anything could be hiding in the fog, just waiting to attack you as you stand, blindly, unaware of its approach.  And, even though there’s probable nothing there, we tend to invent a few attackers if we look at the fog long enough.

Perhaps what we see in the fog are not really solid objects, but the idea of the thing.  A tree shrouded in mist can be what we visualize as the perfect tree in a way that a completely visible tree cannot.  Likewise, the monsters in our minds tend to be hiding in the fog, as well.

When we can see things perfectly, we will generally admit that they are not perfect.  When we cannot see them at all, we open ourselves up to worry about what might be lurking out of sight.  A light fog seems to be the middle ground between sight and blindness, between knowledge and ignorance, that we can find truly and perfectly beautiful.


[1]http://www.great-lakes.net/lakes/ref/lakefact.html

[2] Yes, “quadrillion.” I’m not making that up because “lots” wasn’t big enough.

[3] http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10364_52261_63251-160092–,00.html

[4] There’s always been a Step Three, but it was previously “plan practical joke”, not “form thoughtful response”.

[5] I have not seen this movie, but I’m guessing my version of the plot is better than the reality.

[6] *Disclaimer* I am not an expert on dinosaur attack survival skills.  This blog post should not be taken as advice as to what to do in the event of a dinosaur attack.