Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Photo of canoeist paddling in fog © James DeBoer

Exploring by canoe on a foggy day is fun, but play it safe.
© James DeBoer

August 2010

Time in a cloud

In cloaking what we see, fog provides a moment to reflect and think clearly.

Anita Carpenter

A big cloud settles to earth, enveloping the lake and the surrounding northwoods in a warm, misty fog. I slip the old green canoe into the tranquil water. Slowly, silently I paddle across the small, mirror-like lake. A lone fisherman, lost in his own thoughts, is unaware as I glide behind and disappear around an island into a slough.

White fragrant water lilies line the shallow, narrow channel like beacons. Hundreds of minute black beetles unwilling to fly in the fog seek refuge on the lilies' yellow stamens. Thousands of half-inch striders rest on the smooth surface. As the canoe slides in their midst, they skate out of harm's way then close ranks as the canoe passes by.

Fog imposes silence. No whirs of insect wings or whines from mosquitoes fill the air. No bird song. Even a majestic eagle silhouetted against a white pine's massive trunk stays perched. He knows I am here, but the slow-moving canoe is no threat as I pass below. He continues his vigil. An occasional banjo-like plunk rises from the cattails just to alert me that a green frog is nearby, but there is no amorous chorus this morning. I drift to within two feet of an incubating red-winged blackbird. Yesterday she fussed; today she lets me glide by.

I nose the canoe into shallower water and a sharp kid-dick, kid-dick, dick, dick sound erupts from the reeds. I can hear the irritated caller moving back and forth within two feet of the bow, but the Virginia rail never shows itself. The agitated adult must have a nest nearby and I quickly retreat. Silence returns.

Fog paints a wash of softness on the familiar landscape. Varying pale shades of greens and whites seem to blend and flow as shapes move in and out of view. Forms become muted and sharp distinctions fade. Even the pointy tips of spruce don't seem so severe. The trees lose their individual character. Beeches become indistinguishable from oaks. Towering white pines disappear and are lost in the fog, then momentarily regain their "tallest tree" status where the mist clears.

Fog touches everything with moisture. Strands of sparkling dew bead up and outline the orb of a spider's intricate web suspended among the cattails. Diamond-like droplets cling to the fine hairs on the cattail leaves. Plate-like lily pads collect drops in geometric patterns that follow the veins in their leaves. Minute fog droplets settle as mist on my head and my curly hair becomes even curlier.

The fog cloaks and slows down everything. A foggy morning forces us to pause and allow a few moments for reflection. It gives us more time to think precisely because we cannot see clearly. It soothes the soul. Soon the cloud will lift and life will return to its normal pace. For now, a little time in a cloud is a special gift from nature.

Anita Carpenter writes from Oshkosh.