There was a morning, last week, when the world outside turned to pea soup; the first fog of the year where we live. Setting off for my early morning dog walk, I chose the country estate near my village that is more familiar than anywhere else that I walk and without roads or other obstacles bar one; these fields, which border the intersection of two rivers, had recently experienced severe flooding and not all the flood water had drained away. Frequent cul-de-sacs were reached where water made our usual route impassable yet, due to thick fog, this was impossible to predict until we were almost standing looking down into the water and, for all my dog would have been more than happy to splash his way straight on through, I was wearing lace-up boots!
What manifested was a walking metaphor on so many levels.
The photographic opportunity struck me as soon as I entered the park, muted colours and outlined trees inviting me in. The very first photo I paused to take was of the opposite river bank emerging like a brush-stroke of soft green across a pure white canvas bordered by gently overhanging branches and, just as I pressed the button on my phone (yes, I’d even set off without camera thinking there was nothing to see…), and before I had time to take another, a cormorant took to the sky from the bank and cut a perfect silhouette against this backdrop as though, painstakingly cut from black paper to display contoured wings and feet stretched back, its beak dart-like against the skyline, it had just been dropped into position with tweezers at the very last moment to finish the composition. I watched this moment, in silent awe, with my eyes whilst taking in that, as photographer, I had completely missed it. There was only one appropriate response and that was to laugh long and hard, knowing that just as the real gift had been the experiencing of the moment (not the taking of its picture), there are no missed opportunities in life…not really; every outcome has its rightful place and all things happen as they are supposed to, once you open to a different possibility to the one that you pre-invested in.
So we continued on our walk, adapting it to all the most unexpected meanderings of standing flood water which, rather than pocketing close to the river bank, tended to surprise us in areas of higher ground and so there was no logic to be applied, no forecasting to be benefitted from; this walk was honed down to the necessity of taking each moment as it came, going with the flow, living in the moment…and this felt so refreshing that the precious reminder at the heart of it sang out loud and clear.
As we looped back in the direction of the start point, the sun ‘tried’ to come out and I found myself smiling at this favourite phrase of my mother’s for, of course, there is no trying involved where it comes to the sun; its always there, whether we see it or not. Perhaps this is why mist serves so very well to convey the mechanics of ‘perspective’; as life’s most blatant display of ‘what seems to be’ simply not being the case, it serves as nature’s parody of what is happening all around us, all of the time, in our perspective-skewed world. Like the very sun that was still ‘trying’ to come out and which, like headlights on a car, gave the effect of bouncing off the mist and shining, torch-like, back down at itself, I saw how the fog had served to reflect my own reality right back at me on this most thoughtful of walks.
I realised, all at once, that a muddle that I’d been in for a few days (for I had been) was just my own skewed perspective, an inability to see my own light except through the reflected light of others, looking outward for evidence of what I need only seek for within. The sun needs not to see herself bounce off the mist to know she is shining…and the same goes for all of us, yet we forget that (all too often) from the perspective of our physicality, within which it’s so easy to succumb to viewpoints that are misted over and distorted, not to mention short-sighted in the extreme, accepting them as ‘real’.
Then it occurred to me that, when I first found my paints seven or eight years ago (and set off on a tentative journey of self-discovery during times of great challenge and self-doubt), fog was one of my favourite subjects, depicted in some of the first work I ever displayed on a professional gallery wall…until a longing for more light took me off in search of other subjects in exploration of myself. Here, as the eerie golden disk asserted her place in the sky and appeared all the more radiant for being dressed up in her gauzy white robes, I realised I was enjoying the best of both worlds….quite literally…both the unlimited, radiant perspective of a sun that (you know) always shines within a landscape where the veils of physicality (transient and harmless as vapour) come and go, constantly adding new interest and perspective to our journey, even when we think we are walking the most familiar turf.
By the time I had reached the car, the sun was fully out and the more familiar landscape had started to rematerialise out of the mist. The sheer transience of the experience struck me more profoundly than, I think, on any other fog-walk and I smiled in gratitude at the many-layered metaphor it had projected back at me as my familiar and expansive outer world had been made, briefly, so much more intimate, more simplistic, so much more obviously ‘inside-turned-outside’ than normal. Perhaps that was why my journey of self-discovery had started right there, (on the outside) painting thickest fog and (inside) in densest confusion – because that was exactly the place to start out from; somewhere I could start to see my own light reflecting back at myself like a soft halo of amber glow around the foggy sun, visible only faintly at first but there nonetheless and growing more distinct by the moment. The chance to revisit that place, even for an hour, felt like such a gift out of the mist.
Photos: Helen White, taken 21 January 2014
Beautiful words intertwining with equally beautiful mystic images.
Helen, those photos really are amazing, I envy your misty journey, as it must have been really magical – and quite mystical as Karin says. I do love fog and as I was reading, I was wondering if this journey had inspired you to paint any of those moments – you answered my question by mentioning your earlier fog paintings.
Thank youso much Andrea, its funny that those photos have had such a positive reaction here, on my photography site and on Facebook and yet I was kicking myself for not having a ‘proper’ camera with me that day and having to take them all on my phone – perfect demonstration that every outcome is always perfect, even if we don’t see that straightaway. Yes, I used to love painting fog in the early years of painting but started on a mist painting at the end of last year and couldnt seem to get anywhere with it…it began to feel like the message in that was that I had moved on beyond the fog and that full-blown light is where my painting flow is…