Tales of the Fog

Kage Baker liked fog. Some of that may have been her maritime inclination – staying as close to the ocean as she could get all her life, she encountered a lot of fog.  But there is fog, and then there is Fog, and then there is Foooo …ooooog

In Los Angeles, where we grew up, fog clusters in odd spots and specific seasons. Spring and Summer are prone to grey mornings, when the marine layer comes and crouches on the hilltops – then it drips down the sides of those hills, filling up the famous canyons and finally spilling out in low, slow waves across the flats of the city. Living as we did in the fringes of the hills, we were well acquainted with that cycle; we walked to school many a June morning through rifts and walls of fog, cresting just over our heads.

Closer to the sea, the Pacific fog can roll in any time of year (though it’s more common in the spring); its habits are different, too. Living for the last 20 years in Northern and Central California, we got used to a more intimate and lively sort of fog. It gallops through the streets rather than creeps. It comes in from the sea like another kind of tsunami, cresting roof-high to roll inexorably inland until the hilltops are the last refuge of the sunlight. In Marin County, North of San Francisco, it settles in all the low places and covers the land 10 feet deep – you walk through an infinity of white wool, hoping those stories of tule bears (Small. White. Blue-eyed. Ferocious.) were just the natives making fun of you.

That same tule fog is a killer in the inland valleys, though; the winter scourge of I-5, the sort of fog that produces 100-car pileups in the middle of nowhere. It is improbably thick and glaring, blinding white; it clings to the ground like a foam rubber mattress two stories thick, and blinds even the tall freight trucks. Mere bears in that crap would be good news – instead, you drive for miles following someone else’s vague tail-lights, hoping that whatever is ahead in the murk is not a wall of steel 8 feet high and sideways across the highway.

Kage wouldn’t drive through it. She’d make us pull off and wait it out. And after a few close misses where I had to choose between driving under a tomato truck or into an irrigation ditch, I didn’t argue.

In Pismo in the early summer, by lovely contrast, the fog often comes in thinned and strangely warm. It’s like being in a flood of bubbles – pastel refractions float in the air, obscuring edges and making everything look like a nursery wall-paper: soft, dim, fuzzy, ringed with rainbows. Kage loved those warm, coloured bubble fogs.

When the fog dissolves, especially on the coast, it’s like a magic trick. You can’t really see the gradations of the growing light, but it’s happening all around you. It’s exactly like a lens turning, focusing, bringing the world closer and closer – and then, Alakazam! The sky is blue and the sun is out, and the fog is slate blue cliff a mile off across the dancing Pacific. Kage watched for that moment of revelation, and cheered every time.

This morning, I checked all my palantiri in careful sequence, from the North on down. In San Francisco all was shrouded in chilly grey: summer fog is appalling in San Francisco. By Big Sur, it was still thick but softer – Nepenthe Restaurant was floating in a sea of it, with long slow billows coming in from the invisible coves and beaches below. Pismo Beach was in the middle of a bubble-fog, gleaming like a drug dream around the early surfers and the empty, sleeping, mid-week streets.

It was back to wet wool in Santa Monica, but that faded out slowly as the cameras looked further and further inland. The air is warm; the sky crossed the line between grey and blue a couple of hours ago, and is just getting deeper in hue as the day goes on. There’s a silver undercoat to the colour – that’s what’s left of the fog – but it’s undeniably blue now. There’s just a faint metallic opacity that will soften enough to make you think it’s clear, just before the sun goes down. But it isn’t, not really, and the fog will come creeping back up Wilshire Boulevard and along the L.A. River before the first star is quite out.

Kage loved it all. At least, until the sun went down, he he he, shiver shiver.Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about something she invented in early adolescence:  Tales of the Fog King …

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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3 Responses to Tales of the Fog

  1. Even worse, today in The City, as I exited BART at Montgomery Station at 6:40 in the AM, heading towards SoMo and work – I hiked up in the hill in a dreary grey drizzle. Not really rain, more like damp, soggy fog that passed out in the basin and can’t get up. Even now at 3:30pm, the sun is trying valiantly to break through but is only making the upper grey clouds glare. It’s also chilly. But at least I have my Kindle to read on BART!


  2. Kate says:

    Another reason to love Kindles – public transport! I am also looking forward to going to conventions without having to dedicate one suitcase just to books.


  3. catharooatharine says:

    What a lovely Post! As a former So-Cal coaster, now a semi-landlocked Nor-Californian, your descriptions of the behaviour fog rang very true and sentimental. I used to swear I would NEVER live outside the fog zone. Well, never say never. Thank you!


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