There’s a gap in between

On week day mornings, I am hauled from the depths of some dream or other at precisely 6.45am when my alarm goes off (to the sound of Led Zepplin playing Whole Lotta Love), and back up to the real world, where it’s cold and still dark. It’s early July, and here in the Southern Hemisphere we are almost right in the middle of our winter.

The sky lightens imperceptibly while I eat toast and drink a cup of tea, so that by the time I’m almost ready to leave, around 7.30, you can see outside, although the color is still missing from everything in the grey, pre-dawn light.

When I left my house one chilly morning recently, I didn’t notice the unusually thick, low-hanging fog as I drove to the train station. Perhaps because there was about 20-30 metres of visibility, and that is the range of my focus when driving in the built-up inner Melbourne suburb where my commute by train starts. But as soon as the V-line (country) train pulled out of the station, I settled in to my seat and looked out at the view going past on the embankment above me, and saw a sight that is unusual in the city – only a few metres of shops and houses were visible, and the rest were  swallowed up in the white swirl of low hanging cloud.

Now, I am not good at sleeping on planes, trains or automobiles, but I can occupy myself quite happily by staring out the window of a moving train any time, as I always find it mesmerising to watch the landscape go whizzing past me at high speed. On this particular morning, the view was all the more fascinating. Yes, I was awake, but the world outside the train looked like a dream landscape, or landscapes, racing past like hazy images from my subconscious.

Since I was so inspired by the fog (?!) I scribbled some notes on the train, and those (edited and extended) are incorporated into what follows, accompanied by photos.

*

Staring out the train window now, we are skirting around the outside of Melbourne’s outer suburbs, and pulling into the last suburban station before we really have left the city behind. My view is of a strip of dirt, some brownish-greenish grass, and then just a haze of white fog that has hidden everything else. Usually from here I’d see the matching rooftops of suburban houses just across the paddocks, and city buildings even further away in the distance.

 

Foggy morning from train 16.06.02-3

 

On sunny mornings I’ve stared out those same windows across those very same paddocks, and marvelled at how clear and detailed the view is for miles – I can pick out telegraph poles, as tiny as specks, far away on the horizon.

I hesitated, just a moment ago, about whether to describe the fog as white, or grey. From here, its appearance is an off-white, which I think would be on the scale of greys. (As opposed to the scale of creams, for example.) I’m pretty sure if I was trying to capture this color in paint, I’d need to mix the tiniest bit of black into my white paint. Maybe the tiniest bit of black, and the tiniest bit of blue.

As the train rumbles swiftly along, all sorts of ghostly grey shapes can be discerned by someone staring intently out the window, i.e, me. I can just make out some dark, organic, curving lumps hovering in the mist – these are trees, bushes, and mounds of dirt where digging – for a new housing estate or a road – has taken place some time ago and then seems to have been abandoned.

I notice a group of birds – is three birds a flock? – fly into the fog and vanish. The dark shape of something I can’t quite distinguish looms in the foreground – I think it’s probably earth moving machinery, as we are still travelling past a patch where work has been taking place. A bit further on, two dull yellow lights glowing – a car driving slowly down a side road, towards a railway crossing. Then for a while there’s nothing, no shapes reveal themselves. Just the hum of the diesel engine and layers of cloud hiding the world outside from view.

We could be travelling in this train along a track that runs parallel to the edge of the world. There’s maybe 30 metres between us and where my vision can see to – the middle of that paddock there. Maybe that’s where the earth just drops away and beyond that, all there is, is a swirling mass of vapour.

Imagine that: out there, in that paddock, hidden from me by the mist, is the edge of the earth, and beyond it, the unknown. I pretend that’s what the wisdom of the day tells me. How, in that case, do I imagine that unknown space beyond the world? Is it just swirling vapour, or is it a vast ocean, that the earth floats on, as some people thought hundreds of years ago?  Should we be afraid of reaching the edge, and seeing what lies beyond? When the mist rolls in, should we shiver, and huddle close, the hairs on our arms standing up, not with cold, but in fear of where the mist comes from, and what it brings with it?

Of course this is all daydreaming, and when not on a train staring out at the fog, I don’t believe any of the above, but on a morning like this, it’s easy to imagine how people living hundreds of years ago could think the earth had an edge, and that humans should be cautioned against the folly of exploring beyond it.

In those days, when mists came rolling in across the moors, or the fields, depending where you lived, it must have seemed as if they came from that dank and murky place outside of the edges of the earth.

Looking into a fog like this, hundreds of years ago, surely only the bravest amongst us could envision themselves striding out across the grass, disappearing into the swirling mist, and entering the gap that would take them across into the unknown.

 

Building in fog

 

Of course I’m not the victim of such fantasies. All the same, I’m glad I didn’t drive today.

 

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3 Comments

  1. weebluebirdie

     /  July 8, 2016

    I love how fog/mist/low lying cloud can transform a familiar landscape. Round these part it often chops the tops off the hills, which means I can imagine them as magnificent Alps, rather than the paltry hillocks they actually are.

    Liked by 1 person

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  2. I remember, as a schoolboy, going to school in the fog. I was unhappy at that school and during the week would yearn for the all-too-short weekend. The last part of my path to school was across extensive playing fields. As I turned onto that path from the road, I would see the school looming on a rise in the distance and I would experience a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. On a foggy day, the school would be invisible and I would make my way slowly towards it, my eyes fixed on where it ought to be, hoping against hope that it really had disappeared from the face of the earth.

    It hadn’t, of course. First would appear the glow of lights from the windows. These would come into focus and the rest of the building would emerge from the blankness and gradually take shape.

    The school is still there though I have not seen it for many years. The fog never managed to swallow it but at least I no longer fear it and my Sundays are no longer made gloomy by the thought of returning to school on the morrow.

    Liked by 1 person

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    • Oh dear…I remember having the same sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach on Sunday nights. It’s sad that kids used to feel that way isn’t it?! (Actually I still feel that way on Sunday nights now, even though I don’t hate my job. It’s the end of the weekend that I hate!)

      I love that image of you as a child, walking slowly through the fog hoping desperately that the school had vanished. And then the school emerging slowly in the fog. I can just imagine the immense disappointment you must have felt.

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