The character of autumn you experience will depend a lot on where you live. An autumn in New England is sharper, brighter, frostier and more resplendent with tree colours than the UK. In my corner of the world, damp, grey, misty conditions are common – although we do get other weather too. We may get frost, or a lot of rain, warm balmy days, or high winds, or combinations of any and all of these things.

Yesterday I walked over the hills, and found that the flood plain of the River Severn was full of mist. A great torrent of cloud had washed up the river valley, looking like a river in full spate, breaking against the hills in distinctive waves, ocean-like at times. Whole settlements vanished from sight beneath it, the hills across the river were entirely gone. The effect was uncanny, as though everything had been washed away. I do not have any images, and an image alone would not convey the effect, because without knowing what was hidden, the scene would lose much of its power.

I grew up in Dursley, a town surrounded by hills, and in the autumn the mist would wash in regularly. Hilltops became islands, and nothing seemed to be itself. Mist has a knack for changing perspectives, disappearing some features, causing others to loom strangely, especially when you’re moving through it. The familiar becomes unfamiliar, and the denser the fog, the greater that unfamiliarity becomes. In extreme conditions, getting lost becomes a genuine issue. In addition, the thicker the fog, the more thoroughly it mutes any sounds made into it, adding to the eeriness and the uncertainty, and also to the more literal risks.

In ritual we may talk about spirits seen and unseen – the tangible living things, and the unknown. In the mist, almost everything is unseen, uncertain, and may be other than itself. Mist is a powerful reminder not to take anything for granted, not to assume that what we think we know will always hold true. Even in the most familiar places, a heavy fog can help us lose our way, lose our voices and sense of direction, lose our sense of relationship with the physical world. It is good to be reminded of these things now and then.

 

(Accompanying art is Tom Brown’s ‘Foggy Night’ from Hopeless Maine, referencing Van Gogh’s starry night but also catching something of the eeriness and possibility of fog.)