There’s an unpredictability to the grayness of days in our cove by this water, us in this dent on the edge of the west. As if caught in an eddy, our Bay sends swirls of dark air to engulf us and wrap our landscape in mystery. It is something circadian, yet somehow always sudden.
When I was young, we would visit my grandparents in the Oakland hills, winding up and up the steep streets to the top where on a clear day you could see San Francisco glinting like a toy in a blue pool. But most visits, we’d arrive fresh out of the hot valley where we lived, full of sun and heat and sweat, and find that an eerie world of cool clouds had swallowed everything around us. In the dead of summer, when home was shining bright, we’d find ourselves in darkness.
Now this fog is a part of my daily life. Every day of summer that I wake up to sunshine is a gift. June and July mornings are gray, starting in the afternoons when a river of fog from the sea cuts across the Golden Gate Bridge to flood the East Bay, creating a quiet cloud covering that puts the day to sleep. A steady stream flows through the night, often not washing away until early afternoon the next day, just hours before a new flood pushes its way in. It is damp and cold, a constant presence made up of millions of drops of water and ice crystals suspended and hovering like ghosts around our lives and bodies.
My grandparents’ house was one of the first on their street next to the steep slope that connected this road to the next one, another level down the hill. This slope was mine and my sister’s play place, our typical game being one of disappearance. We’d both start at the top of the hill, then one would run down. The job of the person stationed at the top was to tell the runner when they had disappeared completely, slipping out of sight only yards away. I remember watching her run, long legs now cold in the shorts that were no longer necessary, strawberry blond hair bouncing and fading until all of her was steeped in fog. I would yell and she would yell back from this nearby abyss, invisible. Then we’d switch. She’d come back into view suddenly and I’d run down, listening for her voice to tell me when I was gone.
The sensation of becoming shrouded in invisibility is what you may expect: exciting, strange. I was gone from the world, yet could not lose myself from myself inside this substance that was both there and not. No matter how deep into the fog I ran, I could always see my body. Stretching my arm out in front of me, my hand was clear as day, feet planted squarely beneath me on the perceivable ground. But look back up the hill and it was all gone — my sister, the house, the street. It made me feel isolated, alone. But not entirely lonely.
I still feel this way in the fog. Taking an early morning hike in the hills often feels like entering the ethereal. Distances disappear and materialize out of the thin, vaguely tangible air, creating false landscapes in the sky and false gaps in the earth. It feels as though I am constantly on the edge of the world, but as I walk towards it, the edge becomes a delayed place, stretching on forever. Each step reveals a new scene, a tree top whispering out of the gray or a grassy hill un-smudging, like a watercolor painted in reverse. And me in the midst of it — visible, but not.
In these moments, I feel present. As a kid, finding myself alone in the invisible was like harnessing a small superpower, but now it is like discovery. Fog is impermanent and unique, never covering a landscape in the same orientation, never bound to a timetable or season. In this way, each walk in the fog is like entering a new landscape, like traveling to a new place. Each turn unearths an unseen terrain, like wandering the streets of an strange city. We travel to become lost, to immerse ourselves in the unknown, and from there become present in ourselves, watching the world unfold around us. At home in the Bay, the fog does this for us, swallowing what is known whole and leaving us alone to explore the rest.
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