Set sail into the fog

There is nothing like the fogs of Maine. Last week was a classic example of how these early-morning autumn fogs change the way one feels about life.

My day started like every other day, getting up before the sun, rolling out of my side of the bed, trying not to wake my sleeping wife, who will catch her best sleep of the night now that I am not snoring my way through the 1812 Overture.

My professional day begins with me kissing my wife goodbye, dragging myself to my truck, opening up the garage door, and driving into the world. Every so often I drive into a wall of clouds that changes everything. The sun may have risen an hour earlier, but it doesn't have the strength yet to burn through a Maine coastal fog.

Everything changes in a fog. My normal routine is swallowed by the fog, and I steel myself to face the unexpected. By the time I've reached the end of my driveway, I can no longer see my house. I think I see a light flickering through the gray shroud that surrounds my truck. For the moment, I fancy myself an intrepid schooner captain trying to steer by the faint light of a distant lighthouse.

I can't see where I'm driving because the edges of the road blend perfectly into the road itself. I probably should worry about clipping a neighbor's mailbox if I stray off path, but I know this road like the back of my hand. Besides, in my fog-filled imagination, mailboxes have become the crests of waves, and the dim lights from the houses on either side have become the lights of piers, guiding me safely out of danger.

The sounds of the road also change in a Maine fog. Everything is muffled and sounds as if it's in an echo chamber. Sometimes I talk to myself, knowing that no one will recognize that it's me because they can't see me and because my voice sounds different in the fog.

My hair and face feel damp as the fog clings to me like a layer of silk. The fog even has its own smell - the dank, salty smell of the sea.

My imagination shifts into high gear, and I start to imitate the sounds of a storm at sea - of waves crashing and a ship's timbers creaking in protest. Every now and then I yell a command to my terrified crew: "Stow the halyards ... belay the mizzen mast ... steady as she goes on the rudder."

There are treacherous reefs out there in the fog, and the life of every man on the ship is in my hands.

Shapes pass me in the fog. One moment there is nothing, the next a dark shape at the side of the road. Then a startled white face explodes out of the gloom and is gone in an instant as I shout: "Strike the mizzen!"

The hulking shapes of other vessels hiss past me in the dark, faces illuminated by their running lights, mouths talking ... or maybe, like me, giving orders to an imaginary ship's crew.

The drive to work seems to last forever, and most of the way I am lost in another dimension. Gradually, as I drive farther inland, the fog starts to thin. Snatches of wet road become visible, and the lights of familiar buildings intrude on my fantasy, dragging me reluctantly back to reality.

I find myself slowing down. I am enjoying the adventure. I don't want my trip to work to end.

But it does end, and soon I am turning into the parking lot at school. The sun has strengthened, the fog is almost all gone, and kids and other teachers are streaming into school to begin another day.

I park my truck in the usual place, get out, and pause for a moment to look east, to where a bank of gray clings to the horizon.

I stand there for a long time, looking at the fog, letting the romance of my imaginary little sea adventure fade into the back of my mind.

Then I shrug it off and hurry across the parking lot to the main entrance. As I step inside, I notice the principal and the clock at the same time - and I realize I am late.

"Fog slow you down?" the principal asks.

"Aye," I say. "Had to watch out for those reefs."

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