Saturday, April 28, 2007
But I awoke to fog this morning, something I've always loved. Fog has a way of editing the world, restricting how far you can see, and organizing everything you can see into layers.
I fell in love with fog when I was a boy. My French grandmother and Italian grandfather had built a lovely house for themselves, their family and friends on the banks of Jordan Cove between Niantic and New London, Connecticut. By the time I was born, my grandfather had died and she'd given up the school she had founded in New York City (an early appearance of a Montessori-style school in the U.S., combined with early morning and late afternoon meals and activities for the children of French immigrant working families). She summered on the cove and my parents sent me there for the months of July and August every year. During the business week, there were just three of us there, the third being a cousin three years older than I. My parents would join us on weekends, along with my cousin's mother (my father's sister) and her older son.
Those weekends were always filled with activity, the house open to anyone and everyone. But the weeks were different. My cousin and I both came from families that were in trouble. His parents divorced when I was very young, and my parents really should have but stayed together "for the sake of the child," a common practice in those days. During the week we played together, went on hikes, took out in the rowboat, that sort of thing. But we were both hurting in different ways and spent a lot of our time alone, away from anyone and everyone. I had long periods of time in my own little world, learning how to deal with loneliness and developing a keen sense of curiosity and observation about everything around me. I have to this day an ability to listen intensively to the sounds around me, even extremely quiet sounds from a long distance away.
As we were right on the Connecticut coast, we had frequent fogs roll in from Long Island Sound. The first time I saw a cloud of fog advancing up the cove I was stunned. I had always thought of fog as a kind of borderless, infinite state. Here it was three dimensional, defined. Sculptural. As it came toward me I ran out to the end of our dock and let it envelop me. I watched the house and property disappear slowly like a TV or movie fade-out, the row boat tied to its buoy becoming a ghost ship. Minute individual water droplets settled on my cheeks and hands. I began to rethink fog as a magic state, a transformative medium that turned the sun from hot gold to cool silver before swallowing it entirely. I was in a familiar state--alone--in the silence that comes from the fog’s muffling effect, but before the heavy oaken moan of the fog horns began along the coast. It was an unworldly feeling, literally, as I felt completely removed from the world I knew and as if floating in some ideal state washed clean of all sorrow and pain.
Years after my grandmother died and the house was sold I went back to Jordan cove and showed my daughters where I had grown up summers. One of my grandmother's siblings, her youngest brother, was still alive at the time and living with his family down the road from her old house. He was Enrico, his wife Anna. We entered the house to the scent of tomato sauce simmering, and veal in shallots, mushrooms and white wine coming to the point of serving. They loved the girls and when we left, loaded them up with fruit and biscotti for the trip back to Boston. We talked of the gradual loss of all the family, the horrific sudden death of their middle child Janet, my exact contemporary, a young mother and a classic Italian beauty. Then we all walked the short distance from their house to the rocks overlooking the mouth of the cove, the same rocks from which the fisherman is casting his line in the picture.
The scene on the opposite bank was unrecognizable. The old, abandoned granite quarry I could see from my upstairs bedroom window in clear dawn light with the old red-painted shed and the mooring platforms for the schooners to load cut stone blocks was gone. The solid stone knoll had been sheared off flat and the Millstone Point Nuclear power plant occupied a great scar slashed into the coastal landscape. We commented sadly on the change, on the loss of beauty and history that nothing, not even the nearly free electricity given to all those whose houses were within the danger zone around the plant could replace.
I looked at the water around the point of land on which the plant stands, water that was to be fouled often by seepage of lightly contaminated cooling system water from the plant. There was steam on the water; condensation steam rising into the crisp autumn air from excess heat generated by the plant that was warming the mass of granite on and in which it stood. It was a kind of fog, but it softened nothing, transformed nothing. It held nobody in a magical embrace. It was a dead thing.
Interesting how the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant now dominates the skyline near Hampton and Salisbury beaches, where I went to the ocean as a kid.