Phases of fog
I know very little about fog.
The two times I had considered fog with any seriousness was first hearing Layne speak on chasing fog at the Association of Social Anthropology of Oceania meeting in 2019 and the second was again hearing Layne speak on chasing fog at the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand conference also in 2019. It’s safe to say that Layne is my fog gateway.
Thinking back to those two times, there was one foggy thought that settled in my mind – it seemed fun.
There’s something about being armed with a few basic instructions – wait for fog, walk in it, document it – that made it feel easy. This was of course until I tried to catch fog myself. Then I realised like many things Layne does, veiled with a big smile and wicked sense of humour, it seems simple but it’s really not at all.
There was something about lockdown that seemed easy too. Stay in your house and don’t leave except for essential services. The instructions were clear and well-articulated. They were even told to us directly by the smiling yet stern Prime Minister and Director General of Health beaming into our televisions or whatever device we watched livestreams on. Staying home saves lives they told us. Okay. I thought, that seems simple enough.
The cooling of the air
Fog happens with the cooling of the air. When the air is cooled to a certain temperature the water vapor condenses so the molecules of water vapour combine and make tiny liquid droplets which hang in the air. This liquid in the air is fog, making what is essentially a cloud on the ground.
In the fortnight before lockdown, images of Italy and New York streamed into my consciousness. Then we saw our own supermarket lines becoming excessive and shelves starting to empty out. It was hard to tell the difference between what was happening here and what was happening there. But slowly even our clean green pure New Zealand air was cooling to the realities of the worldwide pandemic.
I remember my daughter had a cough, one which the doctors had nothing to prescribe for except time. I knew she was fine, but the messaging made me keep her home for a couple days. She returned to school and I returned to my PhD studio thinking I needed to enjoy being here while I could. That day there was a fake text which went around forewarning people of a nation-wide lockdown, my partner rang, I heard the air cool in his voice. What made it seem real was that someone else in the PhD studio? also told on their own accord of the same text. That evening the Prime Minister told us it was fake and that there was nothing to worry about, but it was too late the temperature had dropped.
A week later lockdown was announced.
Being in fog
When the fog is formed, it doesn’t last forever. It becomes physical and yet untouchable, it’s visible and yet un-catchable. It’s kind of magic yet mundane. Fog can also be incredibly disruptive. It can ground planes when it’s strong enough (which in my work experience has resulted in disrupted work schedules) and there’s really nothing anyone can do about its unpredictable force. Being in a fog is also a way of talking about brain fog. Which you can also describe as being in a haze. Preoccupied, not paying attention; also, at a loss, confused.
Being in a fog = being in lockdown.
The “burning off”
When the fog leaves, or is burnt off, there’s no knowing when it will be back again. While people say that fog dissipating is it “burning off”, meteorologists are quick to correct this as there is no actual fire involved. Rather, as the sun rises, the air and ground warm up, this rises the air temperature and the water droplets simply evaporate. The warmer temperature in and of itself, and hopefully some additional sun, is like a comforting reward for having outlasted the fog. The fog is swapped for clear skies, clarity.
Now that lockdown is somewhat burning off and were coming out of our homes into cafes, bars and workplaces again, I’m left holding onto memories of the fog and what being in it showed me. I remember it showed me the inequalities of our lived experiences, it showed me how much we unnecessarily value productivity and it showed me how few of us are actually essential on the scale of a worldwide pandemic. Yet the virus has burnt off (for now) and we seem to be going pretty quickly to a business as usual modus operandi.
Being in fog, I put out my hand and struggle to grasp the droplets, any droplets which are clearly right in front of me, so I walk, jog then run and can still not grab hold of anything, until it was gone. Then it was just that, gone. As if it had never been there to begin with. Reaching level 1, it’s almost like we were never at level 4. The imminent threat of Covid seems to have burnt off. But how do we hold onto the droplets of level 4 and not let them dissolve for ever.
Is it possible to stop fog from burning off? To catch it?