Engaging Journeys, Engaged Journalism

Go Coasting in Fall to Forget About Fog

Keep in mind, though, that fog created California’s north coast, and still defines it. Fog is everywhere, endless, eternal, there. Even on blazing, almost blinding days of sunshine when the veil lifts, the fog is still present somehow, because life here has been made by it. Stands of sky-scraping coast redwoods need fog to live. So do many other native north coast plants, uniquely adapted to uniformly damp conditions. The visual obscurity characteristic of the coast also benefits animals, providing a consistent, year-round supply of drinking water and, for creatures vulnerable to predators, additional protective cover.

Fog even seems to have political consequences. As elsewhere in the northstate, the secessionist spirit is alive and well on the north coast, but the fog makes it seem fuzzy, and the urge is taken less seriously here than it is elsewhere. For example: When, in the mid-1970s, some Mendocino County citizens banded together to form their own state (they called it Northern California!) the response from Sacramento was off-the-cuff and casual: “The county’s departure, if it ever goes, would scarcely be noticed, at least not until the fog lifted.”

People often find fog disquieting, depressing. Some almost fear it. If only momentarily, in fog we become spatially and spiritually bewildered. Our vision seems vague; we hear things. We fall prey to illusions; we hallucinate: trees walk, rocks smile, birds talk, rivers laugh, the ocean sings, someone unseen brushes our cheek. All of a sudden, we don’t know where we are and haven’t the foggiest notion where we’re going. Life as we know it has changed. We have changed.

Dense coastal fog occurs along this cool-weather coast, according to meteorologists, as a result of shoreward breezes carrying warm, moist oceanic air over colder offshore waters. The air’s moisture condenses into fog, which rolls in over the coastal mountains in cloudlike waves. As the marine air moves inland and is warmed by the sun, it reabsorbs its own moisture and the fog dissipates.

But of course science doesn’t really explain fog at all, not fog as change, as creator, as fashioner of fantastic forms, as shape-shifting summoner of strange sounds, or protector of the primeval purpose. Fog, in the mythic sense, is magic.

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