Life in a fog isn’t such a bad state of mind

The sunrise is showing itself off as a gauzy, scarlet sash today. It weaves around the bend in the shoreline, stretches behind the CN Tower and the high-rises of the city skyline, then dips into the hazy blue water of Lake Ontario.

I sip my coffee, appreciating the view from my balcony window, even though I realize the intensity of the colours are likely caused by smog. I live in a big city now and am growing accustomed to the congestion of cars and the thrum of industry.

Lake Ontario sunrise.

I have not yet grown accustomed the ever-changing weather patterns that inhabit the environs of Lake Ontario. Even though it is the smallest of the Great Lakes, it is big enough to satisfy this Maritimer.

At 16,000 square kilometres, Lake Ontario stretches further than my eye can see, giving me a glorious horizon on which to set my sights. On a clear day, I can see the plume of Niagara Falls to the west. On a foggy day, I can’t even see water’s edge.

Lake Ontario fought back Spring’s unseasonable warmth this week by delivering a dense fog to all her shoreline inhabitants. It was if the lake was sending out her own warning system against global warming, pulling a blind down against the heat of the sun, obscuring its bare beauty from our eyes.

Wisps of mist among the high rises.

Fog, wrote the poet W.H. Auden, is “smog’s unsullied sister,” a sentiment I could only agree with as I stared out into a dense fog bank one evening this week.  This is not to say fog is not beautiful, for it is, but in a way that is entirely different than the morning sunrise I am witnessing today; a sunrise I know has been partly painted from a pot of smog.

As captivating as that sunrise is, it’s not what has been mostly occupying my mind this week. Rather, I have been pondering the wonder of fog, engaging with ironic clarity a dense weather system that is usually a metaphor for muddled thinking.

Not so for me this week. I embraced the fog that Lake Ontario delivered with enthusiasm. It was so dense, so completely encompassing that one could not ignore it.

I went to bed on Saturday night with a grey, smothering fog encircling the 25-storey building I now call home. I live in a corner unit with floor-to-ceiling windows that usually offer me a view of the city, lake and other high-rises in my neighbourhood.

I woke up on Sunday morning with the shroud still draped over everything that normally would be in view. My first thoughts were poetic, for who, when witnessing a truly delightful fog, does not think of those delicate lines penned by Carl Sandburg:

“The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits, looking over harbor and city, and then moves on.”


Sunday did eventually shake off the fog, only to embrace it once again as it descended through the early evening hours.  On Monday morning, another poetic line surfaced it my head, this one from a childish folksong written by Harry Miller a century ago.

“The cat came back, the very next day,” was the thought going round and round my head as I looked out at the grey mist trailing by my windows. The fog was so thick it looked like I could reach out and squeeze moisture directly from the air itself.

I do love fog. That’s not unexpected, coming from a Newfoundlander, who can claim as a birthright the foggiest place on earth.

Early morning mist on a Newfoundland lake.

Apparently, the Grand Banks, where the cold Labrador Current intersects with the warm Gulf Stream, is foggier than anywhere else in the world. Fishermen, if they live through the fog, have marvelous stories to tell.

I do love fog, even when it scares me. I’ve driven from Bangor, Me., to Moncton in a pea soup fog, keeping my white knuckles in line with the white line on the highway’s edge, the only thing visible on a densely dark night.

I do love fog, even when it disappoints me. On the first day of spring this week, when everyone across Canada was rejoicing in temperatures that felt like the first day of summer, I left work eager to spend the evening walking along the sunny shores of Lake Ontario.

It was not to be. As I drove south toward the lake, I crossed an invisible line. My car window was down and I suddenly I could feel cold air creeping up my spine. The road in front of me grew darker, until I realized the sunshine was completely gone. Fog had dropped a blanket over my evening.

By the time I reached home, I was once again enveloped in a dense, dark fog. Walking along the water’s edge was no longer enticing.

Walking through the fog.

Cold water, the current reality of Lake Ontario, and warm air, the current reality of Toronto, creates fog. As the lake warms up, I suspect there will be fewer foggy days, at least in a literal sense.

I do fully expect I’ll wake up in another sort of fog on many mornings, but I can’t blame Mother Nature for that.

Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. Her column appears each Friday in the Moncton Times & Transcript. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon

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