I can’t imagine how it must’ve sounded, fifty cars colliding in the fog on I-43 that autumn morning. It’s said that when one sense is removed or dulled (in this case, sight), others compensate in acuity. And so, it’s the sound that I remember most clearly that day. I remember hearing siren after siren that morning, after my husband had gone to work, and I was cleaning up breakfast with my daughter. Sirens are personal in small towns. In a town of just a few thousand, when an ambulance siren sounds, it’s usually headed to help someone you know, or at least someone you know of.
I went to the window to see which direction the fire trucks and ambulances were heading, but I opened the curtain to a wall of grey. The fog along the roads running along Lake Michigan’s shore was so thick that morning, my husband tells me, that he had trouble seeing to the end of the hood on his way to work. His path took him in the opposite direction of the crash, so he’d made it to work and back home that day, but several did not. Still, I wonder: did they hear the slam and crunch of crumpling metal alerting them to the danger in the fog yards ahead of them before their grey turned to black?
Months later, we moved to a little white farmhouse, just east of where the infamous October 11 pile-up happened. We lived a half-mile from the lakeshore, and many afternoons I’d watch the fog roll in from the lakeshore westward, inland, and over our yard. The movement always caught me by surprise. I’d imagined fog as something still, sudden, something immovably thick, not this slow float of earthbound cloud that slowly surrounded our house. I don’t recall the fog ever becoming as thick as it was that October morning.
When I think of disorientation, a distinct memory emerges: I was eight months pregnant, standing on the vantage point perched at the cliffs-edge at Point Reyes, hearing the waves crash into the cliff below, the slosh of the retreating waves back out to sea, and yet I saw only fog below. There was such poor visibility through the fog at the shore that day that it seemed possible someone could’ve just put a sound machine twenty feet below for all I knew. But somehow the realness of the ocean was made that much more acute by the fog.
The memory-knowledge that the ocean really did exist below made it all the more disorienting. I experienced a disorientation of faith and full evidence in a sense; the ocean was obviously there, as surely as I knew that my child not yet born was within the bump filling out my sweatshirt. The withdrawal of one sense—sight—made no difference to my assurance of the ocean’s existence, or to the existence of my yet-to-be-born daughter. In both ways, I was familiar with this partial-yet-total knowledge, the unseen and yet fully-known-ness of the mystery of pregnancy had taught me this. I’d been here before.
I made the drive up and back over highway 75 from Luverne to Edgerton yet again, as I took my daughter to school. The whole drive I was winding through fog. Mist settled in the low spots along the road in the calm. We had lived here ten years now, longer than anywhere else we’ve called home, so by then it was a familiar enough drive that I could anticipate where the fog would lie thickest in the miles ahead: in the valleys, along the creek bank, over the bridge that curves over the Rock River just into town. It’s a strange thing, having been in a place so long that my memory could trace this road even though much of it was invisible that morning.
On the drive home, I thought about having finally finished my college degree, about the stage of uncertainty and indecision my much-younger classmates were facing and how I was facing a similar, yet very different, sense of indecision at age forty-five. There, in that place, I was grounded, a fact which both calmed me and chained me. As they moved on to the fog and indecision of starting other adventures, I remained driving the paths I know by heart in a sort of fog of my own.
But on a recent morning, I could begin to see through the fog. I could see detail, color, contrast. I could see through the translucence that blue sky glows hopeful above, the first of anything like sunlight I’d seen in over a week. I could see beauty in the fog that morning. There was enough light, enough warmth burning through the moisture at 7:45 a.m. that when the road rose, the fog remained below, and I had a surreal view out my windshield. Wind turbines cartwheeled above the horizon, their poles obscured by the dense atmosphere, which by then blended in with the pink-blue of the just-risen sun. I could see fields clearly for about a quarter-mile before they faded seamlessly into the sky.
I’d never thought of fog as a thing that could be beautiful, but that morning I saw it differently, as my car rose and fell above and into the mist with the undulations of the road.
Cover image by Artem Sapegin.