I can tell when it’s really misty before I even draw back the curtains in the morning, because I can hear the foghorn with the windows closed. A three-second moo, every thirty seconds, softened beyond intrusiveness as it sounds through two and a half miles of mist between my bedroom and the lighthouse on St Anthony Head on the other side of the estuary.
A comforting sound, a sound of spring and autumn, that goes with skies of a certain kind of blue, still seas, a high and filtered sun, and little wind.
It is the sound of invisible horizons, where the haze, intensified over the long perspective, seems denser where the sea ought to meet the sky, but doesn’t quite, each fading into the other with the sort of blur that made up the backdrop of every school photograph I ever had to sit for.
It is the sound of chalk pastel landscapes in quiet colours strong in shape and atmosphere but weak on detail.
It is the sound of soft focus: do not adjust your set.
It is the sound of walking to the top of the hill on my way to the station, where I can see the sea from two directions; but only being able to see where the sea is and not being able to differentiate between sea and sky.
It is the sound of apricot sky and the sun at eye level in time for a short commute: a sun you can look right at, a sun like a streetlight that’s just flicked on. I like the view from the train out down the valley to the sea and I like the way these seasonal mists grade the scenery into cut-out layers of relief in paling shades of grey superimposed on water the same colour as the sky.
Twelve o’clock in town the mist has gone. Clocks strike midday as though it’s midsummer. It is a clear sound in a bright sky, the other end of the sound scale of the foghorn first thing.
Meanwhile at the coast the mist might not have gone, keeping the beaches under wraps (not yet, not yet: you’ll have all summer for all this). Or maybe the sun’s burnt through and its all blue, indefinite blue. Indefinable blue.
Sometimes it never leaves. Sometimes it reappears with stealth, breathing its way into the landscape at a pace too slow to chart. Sometimes it rolls in like stage smoke over the hill lines so quickly spilling over and cutting off the promontories one by one into islands before these too are swallowed up.
And evening, the whole scene in reverse, the egg yolk of the sun making its way down the other side of the sky, reflecting on window panes so that the houses look lit from within.
Sometimes you’ll look up on a misty night and there’ll be stars in the top of the sky, sharp above the softness that clings to the ground. Then to bed and listen for the little noises to cease, leaving the three-second sound of a safeguard at the edge of the land, the edge of the sea, the edge of the sky, even as all edges are blent under this contradicting indistinction where fog is fair weather.
look out William Carlos Williams’ poem ‘Mists Over The River’ which doesn’t seem to be online anywhere so you might have to read it the traditional way in his Collected Poems: 1939-1962 published by Carcanet.
You may also like on Open the Curtains:
Season of… Mists and Unmoving Air. Season of Nights and Days a constant temperature. Season of Seagulls gone out to sea, and of waiting for a break in the ground level cloud line of misty September.