We awake to a delicate white fog. Across Edinburgh buildings are opaque, the air wet, the city enthralled. The filmy presence calls for quiet. The trees on the Meadows are stark and solemn; Blackford Hill is nowhere to be seen. The whoosh of cars and buses down the street sounds out of place. The muddy ice patches lingering in gutters seem, as if in a trick of the light, more solid.
Whether the pale air was technically a haar, I cannot say – but opening the curtains I felt a quiet lift of delight. Like the first snowfall, or the thunderous pour of steady rain, fog arrives without qualm or caveat. It is indisputable, non-negotiable. Unlike so much of what is unseen, it is a kind of invisibility that announces itself, and in so doing it demands our attention.
In a haar at the beginning of November, I took Ben the collie to Arthur’s Seat. Except it was more like Where’s Arthur: I could see perhaps thirty feet ahead. So, apparently, could Ben, because when I let him off the lead he stayed close, darting back just as he threatened to vanish. With so much out of view, the space felt different: private, intimate, punctuated only by the occasional sound of a voice through the fog.
We walked more slowly than usual. We listened and paused and lingered. Ben’s collie-ish appetite for his ball was muted; I found that the mud slicks pulling at my shoes did not frustrate me. Invisibility invited me to be where I was, not where I thought I was going, and that was somehow a blessed relief. The fog, so often in literature and life a creature of murkiness and threat, felt like a friend.
Much of what we do these days is about what we can’t see. Sitting at our computers day by day, we drop into a hidden world of busyness and activity. We conjure meaning and connections, whether of ideas or people, but they seem to vanish when we close the laptop. The life of the mind has always been a leap of faith into what we can’t yet view, but in times of isolation, uncertainty, and faltering internet connections, there is less faith.
With some of this we have made our peace, or found new ways to look. But for many of us, sitting at our portals to the hidden world of life we feel our existence framed by a subterranean sense of where we cannot go, what we cannot see, and, critically, the feeling that we are ourselves unseen.
It’s the fog that does not announce itself. Because we can’t see it, we fight it, without knowing that we are doing so. We are surprised, tearful, and self-blaming when we put a foot wrong. We feel alone, and sometimes we forget that others are in the fog with us.
The arrival of fog is a reminder that it is not that Arthur’s Seat does not exist. It is that just for now, we can’t see it. Arthur is there, palely loitering. Neither are you alone in your faltering steps: behind the voice in the mist is someone navigating the mud slick, too. Here is the earth, and the collie-like form dipping in and out of visibility, and beyond that the hillside, and the sea. Treading the same earth are your loved ones, your friends, peers, and colleagues. We are here, even when you can’t see us.
All it is is fog. It will pass, rolling back out to sea, dissolving into the air. Take it as your cue to listen, pause, and linger. Allow it to teach you, gently, to be right here, right now; to go slow, to feel the ground beneath your feet, to look more closely at what is present. Befriend yourself, in the midst of it.