Into the Fog

Earlier this week we awoke to a fog so heavy and dense we could barely see the bird feeder tree some 30 feet or so from the bedroom window. Foggy mornings, a special treat of environmental “softness”, generally pull me outside to commune with nature’s many offerings. Most times with a camera in hand.

You see, I bank ideas. Image thoughts. Sometimes as we’re driving I’ll pass something that makes me think it will make a subject in the right light. Like in a heavy fog, perhaps. A tree down the way in a bit of a prairie hollow I’ve passed probably 100 times always make me think of fog. And now just south of town is a hill of emerging pasqueflowers going into spring bloom. I sensed an early morning calling. As we gathered around the steaming water pot for morning tea and coffee, a particular pasqueflower image came to mind, of the pastel purplish flower blending into the softness of fog. This is easier to visualize than explain, and perhaps it’s something Georgia O’Keeffe might have painted were she a prairie artist.

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The tree down the road has beckoned for years, searching for a portrayal in fog. And, it nearly worked.

So we quickly loaded up for the drive to my favorite patch of pasqueflowers, a route that conveniently took us past the tree down the road. And past the wetland up on the hill above our upper prairie that sometimes offers me framing for Northern Lights minus light pollution from farms to the north of us. Driving in dense fog is often chilling, for in my newspapering days I covered too many accidents, including some fatalities, on foggy roads. Seems there is always some asinine fool who quite possibly thinks to him or herself that they can see just fine without headlights in dusk, blizzards and fogs … and in every single fog wreck I covered it was because an unaware driver couldn’t see a car coming toward them because the other driver didn’t have on their lights.

Thankfully we safely survived our way several miles due south of here to the pasqueflowers. The gate had a beautiful long resting necklace of heavy dew drops stretching across the horizontal rounded metal beams. Across the hill itself tiny blossoms poked through scraggly grass that perhaps had never seen a plow, and hopefully never will. I don’t remember ever seen pasqueflowers on a restored prairie, and certainly not on mine here at Listening Stones Farm. This isn’t uncommon among prairie forbs, and many of which are so rare they’re on an endangered species list. Dense grasses also seem to crowd out the delicate rooting systems of pasqueflowers.

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Once getting past my visualization, the disappointment disappeared and the beauty appeared.

With the O’Keeffe inspiration in mind I began scouting for just the right blossom, one that angled freely toward the gray sky. Most were hugging the slope of the hillside too closely for my visualization. Such disappointment  isn’t rare. For years I’ve carried a mental image of a series of four or five pasqueflower blossoms pointing away like a small choir of bonneted singers. Not once have I found a cooperative bunch. One blossom will be pointing off in a different direction, or one or two will be split just far enough away that the focal range isn’t right. That is the will of nature, for it is rarely there for our beck and call.

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Once I began to look around, the beauty appeared. Dew droplets clinging wherever possible, glistening like diamonds.

My writer friend, Tom Watson, calls my affliction, these unmet visionary dreams, “the Dulcinayas to my Don Quixote photo quest.” Perhaps he’s right, although these visualizations fuel my “artistic fires” enough to get me into the field. Time and time again. I’m not a painter. I must work with nature as it presents itself. I cannot create a nature I cannot see. Painting is not my art.

Maybe, though, I was looking for the wrong things. Rather than dealing with the dissatisfaction of not finding my pastel blossom high and free enough of the lay of the land, perhaps I should think and look more metaphorically … to seek imagery within this vast fogginess much like we are all searching for hope within the fogginess of our coronavirus pandemic. While Mary and I are somewhat fortunate in our age that we are settled in our respective ways, we are no different than anyone else in our search of hope. Could this dense, foggy morning on the hillside overlooking the Minnesota River serve as a metaphor for our lives right now? In finding positivity? Hope?

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Trees seemed to disappear ghostlike into the grayness, silhouettes shading away into oblivion.

That simple change of thought altered my view significantly. Looking at the broader view, of challenging myself to see within the grayness the small things, small pasqueflowers seemed to appear in all directions. A near carpet of them. Nearby, as if magic, dozens of birds appeared as leaves on a tree truly barren of them. Being partially deaf I had not heard them, and up to that moment when I started to look around me I hadn’t seen them. Dew droplets, clung to the dried dormant autumn-browned plants, glistened like miniature diamonds even in the gloomy grayness. Trees disappeared ghostlike in the grayness, silhouettes shading away into oblivion. All of this brought a deep and reflective sigh. I had not found just a single Dulciana, but rather many that surpassed my thoughts of a simple if hidden beauty …  Don Quixote be damned!

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Nearby, as if magic, dozens of birds appeared as leaves on a tree truly barren of them.

As we delve deeper into the weeks and possibly months of the pandemic shutdown and social distancing, seeking  elements of hope and beauty becomes paramount for our individual health and harmony. This is what we need, individually and collectively, as we traverse this health fog that has settled upon all humanity. We must find and concentrate on jewels of hope beyond our limited vision. For now our personal survival depends on finding the small pasqueflowers and murmurations resting in treetops … however hope may be defined to us individually. Those small tokens of hope and beauty are all we have at this point and time; absolute yet small, but beauties to grasp just the same.


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About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

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