A series following the 72 British mini-seasons of Nature’s Calendar by Kiera Chapman, Lulah Ellender, Rowan Jaines and Rebecca Warren.
Dear Readers, ‘Fog, Drizzle and Mist’ sounds rather like a Dickensian solicitors’ firm, but as Rowan Jaines points out in her piece on the subject in ‘Nature’s Calendar’ November really is the time for all three of these atmospheric conditions. Now that the smogs of my childhood no longer happen, it’s actually quite pleasant to walk about and see how familiar things are changed when they’re not quite clear. I always notice how my footsteps and my breathing sounds louder because everything else is so muffled. And then there’s the way that the dampness seems to concentrate the smell of the soil. The last roses on a bush, or the whiteness of mushrooms amongst the trees seem to glow. It’s all rather satisfying, provided you’re well wrapped up and have the prospect of hot tea and maybe a bun when you get home.
This is all rather different from the fogs when I was growing up, before the Clean Air Acts in London put paid to the ‘peasoupers’. To be fair, the worst of the fogs were over and done with by the 1960s but I still remember wandering home from school and not being able to see more than a few feet in front of me. From memory, we used to be sent home early from school if there was a bad fog, presumably to stop us having to contend with the failing light as well (it’s dark here by 5 p.m. in November) but it still strikes me as a bit strange to throw several hundred small children out onto the street without letting their parents know.
For fog and mist at any time of year I recommend a walk in the mountains of Obergurgl (though any relatively high ground will do). Every year when we go to Austria we have what I describe as a ‘Panoramaweg’ moment, when we look out over a splendid view to see precisely nothing. If we’re lucky, the clouds lift suddenly and the beauty of the vista is exposed, but sometimes we just trudge on, trying to avoid tripping over tree roots and being menaced by distant floppy-eared sheep, who just know that we have sandwiches in our rucksacks even if they can’t see us.
But why is November so good for all this foggy, misty, drizzly stuff? Jaines explains as follows:
‘During November the conditions are perfect for this process of condensation: the nights are lengthening, the temperatures are falling and the air is moist. The ground still retains some of the warmth of the summer sun, and the heat that it radiates is rapidly cooled by the frigid air; liquid water begins to condense on the surface of things, such as blades of grass and particles of air in the atmosphere. Light reflects off the airborne droplets in all directions, forming the whitish haze that we associate with fog, drizzle and mist. On days when the sun is strong it heats up the air after dawn, increasing its capacity to hold moisture, and the air clears. As autumn gives way to winter, the sun’s rays grow weaker and the moisture is no longer ‘burned off’ with the coming of day’ (Page 291)
But how beautiful the mist can be when it comes into contact with something as delicate and yet strong as a spider’s web! I remember seeing the hedges in Milborne St Andrew, where Mum and Dad used to live, being absolutely covered in thousands of tiny webs that were only visible when there had been mist or fog, their makers long since dead, their offspring waiting as eggs for the spring. There aren’t quite so many hedges here in East Finchley, but there are still some fine webs that are picked out on a damp day. It’s these tiny moments of unexpected miniature beauty that bring me such joy.
And finally, here’s a little, little poem, by American poet Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967). It isn’t in the form of a haiku, but it has something of the same quality. See what you think!
BY CARL SANDBURG
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.