Fog City

Katie and I headed south to the neighboring ranger district to help their backcountry trail crew. We have some special skills and tools which make moving recalcitrant pieces of rock much easier. We had scouted this piece of trail about a year ago, hiking up toward Bluebell Pass to a section of trail that needed the rock backslope widened. It had been a lovely late summer day, with changing colors and extensive views (also ripe huckleberries for snacking). Our guide pointed out Fog City–not a city at all, but an open basin below a bare ridge. At one time, he told us, there had been a mining settlement here. It even had its own post office. The topography and proximity to the Cascade crest made it a foggy spot. When the clouds blew in, they would linger in this place.

We got to learn about the fog first hand this past week. We camped there and experienced the typical unsettled weather of early September. It rained. The wind blew. We worked in mist. Sometimes there would be a tantalizing glimpse of a ridge in the distance, but soon the clouds flowed back in.

Long ago I learned that staying warm is much more important than staying dry. Dressing in layers, with fine merino wool next to the skin, holds the body’s heat in. Raingear keeps the wind out. A warm hat is a necessity. Keep moving. Eat high energy food. Have a hot drink at lunch time. Taking wet boots off after work is a real treat. Feet like cadaverous prunes go into dry socks, then into the sleeping bag. Nice. Then those same feet (happily warm and dry) go back into the cold wet boots in the morning. It almost makes me whimper, but I’ve been through the routine many times and I know it gets better after coffee and hiking.

The thing about fog is that it changes perception of space. The world becomes a little flatter. The light is disorienting. Without shadows and highlights, distances become uncertain. Looking down at the conical spires of subalpine firs, and am aware of the air around them. They are turgid and blue-green with condensation, growing in their own spaces. How have I never noticed the shapes around trees in such a way before?

Such noticing is a benefit of my job. As I hike back and forth from the work site to camp I have time to look and think, just as I would as if I were driving. But the walking is better–the scent of wet Alaska yellow cedar, the flitting of juncos, mist on my face, the brilliance of paintbrush against a green backdrop. I would use cadmium red light to paint the paintbrush flowers. And Hooker’s green and quinacridone gold. Fall is the time for contemplating pigments. And drying boots at home.

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