Outdoors

Vaporized

A fog-induced transformation

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

We couldn’t have picked a more picture-perfect day to spend tiptoeing through the tidal zone at Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve if it had leaped out from behind the bushes and poked us with a stick. 

As we rattled through the back roads near Ferndale, the steamy, sun-drenched landscape seemed to blaze brighter. Pasture grass gleamed. Standing water glistened. 

“If we can maintain a northwesterly course, we’re bound to run into the trailhead at some point,” my chauffeur announced, struggling mightily to maintain his bearings. “But, until then, we’ll just have to content ourselves with soaking up a little more scenery.”

“That works for me,” I said, peering contentedly through the passenger window at a wintering bevy of Trumpeter swans. “This kind of scenery is easy to soak.”

However, the scenery only succeeded to grow more impedimentary the closer to Point Whitehorn we got.

Turning westbound onto Grandview, we slowed quickly to a halt behind the flashing red lights of a busy railroad crossing. 

Five minutes passed. Then 10 minutes. And still those gleaming black petroleum tubes kept coming.  

Thankfully, just before we decided to turn back, the last tank car came thumping through and we finally got rolling again.

That’s when I noticed the cloud.

It didn’t look like anything momentous at first glance—just a gauzy ribbon of localized sea fog drifting meekly along the coastline about three miles directly ahead. But it soon accumulated into something much bigger. By the time we pulled into the trailhead, that lone cloud had expanded exponentially.

We slipped warily out of the car into a soupy sea of generalized grayness. From the moment we started hiking, the atmosphere kept getting denser.  

Visibility through the vapor blanket deteriorated quickly. With each step, we were forced to follow the trail more closely, clomping gingerly over one dew-slick boardwalk to the next. It came down to dead reckoning in there. To keep track of each other, we started to whistle.

I’m still not exactly clear how we managed to grope our way down the final set of switchbacks and negotiate the long, twisting staircase that carried us to the bluff bank out onto the shingle, but I sure am grateful we made it to the bottom. 

Once on the beach, we were buried beneath a multitude of convergent marine layers that succeeded to meld us even deeper into the primordial miasma of our immediate surroundings. The fog was so thick I couldn’t even see my own body anymore—that’s when my mind really started to float.

The lapping waves echoed. I swore I heard drums. Each time one of my shoes squished into the mud, it sounded like water gushing into my ears. I wasn’t walking anymore, I was swimming.  

Just as we began to emerge into the first pocket of relatively clear air in over an hour, I noticed a small cluster of dark, upright forms milling around some driftwood. Suddenly, I heard the voice of a small child cry out in alarm.

“Look, mom—bears!”

It took me a moment—more than a moment, actually—before I realized those “bears” were us.

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