The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
(Carl Sandberg, 1878- 1967)
Sailing the Great Lakes this summer, our boating plans often shift on account of reports of early morning fog. The fog renders reality unclear. It is a shape shifter. It can play host to an ethereal harbor escape in which we sailors can’t be sure if what we think we are seeing is real. We can’t be sure we even see all that is truly out there, but moves undetected. We can’t know that we will be seen by freighters into whose paths we sometimes cross.
One time while crossing from Los Angeles to Catalina Island in heavy fog, we heard a soft whoosh sound, but couldn’t figure out what it was. Incredibly, a giant freighter passed off our stern, detectable only after some seconds of intense silence and atmospheric scrutiny by all of the crew. That vessel passed within five feet of us! We could have become fish food as the freighter crew heard nothing and continued drinking their morning coffee.
Out here on Lake Michigan, we have become wise enough to check the charts for freighter routes and we dangle a large metal, multi-faceted radar ball (that looks like a holiday ornament) up on one of the halyards. This device bounces radar signals and makes us look (on radar) much larger than we really are. Even big boats should fear us. We check our radar signals frequently to see what boats are around and in what direction they are moving. Some smaller boats do not appear on radar and because some are imperceptible, there is a constant need for vigilance when moving in fog. Fog, we have learned must be respected. Mostly we avoid navigating in fog when we have a choice.
As Carl Sandburg said, at some point, it raises its dusty haunches and then moves on…
Carl Sandburg evidently wrote this poem, which he dubbed “an American haiku” while awaiting a meeting and looking out over Grant Park in Chicago. He carried with him a book about haiku and upon noticing the fog, penned this poem. All Carl Sandburg wanted out of life he said, was “to be out of jail,… to eat regular,… to get what I write printed,… a little love at home and a little nice affection hither and yon over the American landscape,… [and] to sing every day.”
Even this sailor can’t disagree with that!