This is the time of the year when I expect to see fog. Some mornings when I get up, my whole neighborhood is obscured completely by curtains of fog. It’s called radiation fog and usually occurs over a clear night when the earth’s surface cools moist air directly above the ground. If there is a very light breeze, the chilled air gets stirred into a deeper layer. Some recent mornings, the cold air left a layer of frost on the grass that almost looked like snow.
Other mornings, the fog has just settled into the valley in front of our house providing a perfect scenery picture. Valley fog is created in the same way, but it happens when the cold, dense air drains down among the local hillsides and settles there. As solar energy heats the ground near the fog’s edge; little water droplets begin to evaporate, beginning near its edge and working toward the thicker center of the fog.
Sometimes fog can be really thick. There is a well-known tale about a fellow in coastal New England who got up early in the morning to put a new roof on his little cottage. He climbed to the roof with a bundle of shingles on his shoulder and nails in his apron. He began with a first row of shingles and proceeded to work for several hours.
Eventually he came down the ladder and asked his wife, “Just how wide is this house?” Then they discovered that the morning fog was so dense that he had shingled right out into space off the real edge of the roof. I’ve never seen fog that thick, but I have made many late-evening trip home from Brookville when I could barely see the road. White lines along the edge of the pavement have made travel easier, as well as built-in fog lights on many of today’s modern vehicles.
Some fogs may be enhanced by chemical particles introduced into the air through smoke from some sort of factory. The most famous example of this occurred at the south-western mill town of Donora back in the fall of 1948 when a thick and toxic fog covered the steel mill center and infected the residents of the community. A book “The Fog” was written by author Berton Roueche about this tragic event.
My most memorable event with fog happened during the first couple of weeks of college at the DuBois Campus of Penn State. I was going to any early morning class as a passenger in the front seat of my high school and college classmate Jerry Truesdale. One of those industrial fogs had formed across the DuBois Road at the bridge between today’s Christmas Shop and the Honda Shop. When our car went into that streak of fog, we were suddenly met with another car head-on.
The Truesdale car was totaled! With no seat belts or air bags, I was thrust into the windshield, thrown back to split the seat wide open, and dumped out the open door into the ditch wearing my brand new school clothes. Through the blood from my forehead, I looked around and saw others seemed to have survived. I was offered help by a total stranger on his way to work at the glass plant, so I said, “Take me to the doctor!” And he did, right to Dr. Al Devlin’s driveway and then, as directed to the doctor’s office in the current True Value building.
Dr. Devlin met me there and, when the blood was wiped off, was surprised to find that I was somebody he knew. He stitched me up and I called my parents to come for me. When my dad saw me, he got so shaky that I had to drive home. When I rested a bit, I called the Truesdale’s house to check in. They were extremely relieved because they thought I had wandered off in a daze and they had search parties out in the nearby hills and woods.
Years later when I was teaching in Brockway, some fall mornings were interesting. Smoke from the Clay Plant was probably the culprit and sometimes visibility was almost zero. One story told how one driver followed the lights of another car right into the first car’s garage. Kids were treated for bruises and black eyes caused by walking into almost-invisible street light poles on their way down the foggy sidewalks..
Several decades ago, my wife and I booked ourselves into a bus tour of the “Big Sky Country” out of Salt Lake City. One of the features of the trip was a scenic float ride on the Snake River in one of those big rafts something like a backyard swimming pool. We were told that we would see magnificent sights of the Grand Tetons. But as we started down river, all we could really see was the morning fog. So we just enjoyed our river ride. And then, out of the clouds we saw one mountain peak, then another and more, and then there they were – the magnificent Grand Tetons emerging from the fog.
It turned out that the Tetons weren’t the only sights that came out of the fog. A little further down the river, we came upon a party of vacationers having a picnic lunch on a sand bar surrounded by a team of mean-looking guards – it was Retired President Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy. They waved and we waved back as we floated on by.
As we get older, it becomes easier to find ourselves in a “fog” without any help from Mother Nature and our environment. That kind might be called more of a “built-in fog” caused by dimming eyesight and fuzzy minds.