When it’s foggy and windy, it feels like you’re in the ocean. You can smell the sea water, and you can feel the churning of the waves. You know that even after the fog goes away, there will probably be a storm, and it's exciting. You long to hear the wind howl, and those very howls bring you back to a time when you didn’t exist, when there were wooden ships and storms constantly meeting as they fought to cross the sea. You’re a sailor, or a pirate, or even just another passenger, trying to sooth your crying baby as everything, including you, is tossed around by the wind and waves. Or you’re a lighthouse keeper, squinting out at the viciousness of the saltwater with the help of the lighthouse’s slight glow. You wonder who it will grab this time.
Sometimes when I think of fog, I think of pirate ships, lost forever in the middle of the blurry whiteness of the churning.
I thought I saw a pirate ship when I was six. I was at the beach-- Cold Storage, I think, in Dennis-- and it was nighttime. It was clear and the sky was starry and dark. And far out, where the night sky met the water, there was a ship. It was big, but didn’t look like a ferry or anything like that. It didn’t look modern. I was sure that it must be the old and wooden kind pirates always captained. Squinting, I was sure that I could make out the knobby, freshly swabbed rails and steering wheel. I didn’t see a flag with a skull and cross bones, but I could explain that. I figured that pirates were probably simply less likely to fly it at night, when everything’s so much harder to see. No; they would fly it when everyone could see it, and wonder at it and be afraid. Either that, or it’s just the sort of thing the pirates don’t want you to see until it’s all too late.
I wondered if it was a ghost ship or the kind where everyone’s still alive. Both seemed pretty likely.
I squinted out to the sea, trying to see if I could make out any moving shapes or shadows. It seemed like a good way to see if the ships’ crew was living or not. Basically, my theory went that if the figures were sort of see-through and had long, floaty tails, then they were probably ghosts. If they were solid, without long, floaty tails, and really looked like people, then chances were that they were probably still alive. Both ideas were equally exciting.
The waves were tiny, but they still crashed against the shore with little white bubbles of surf. I imagined that they were much bigger the farther you get out to sea, and they jostled and threw the pirate ship around. The entire crew would have to be on deck, swabbing it and steering and climbing the tall yellowing ropes that blew in the wind. They would shout things about the, “starboard side!” and, “Iceberg at four o’clock!” even though this was Cape Cod in the summertime, so ice was an impossibility. And, of course, throughout it all there would be plenty of, “arrrs,” and, “ahoy maties,” mixed in, and they all would sing, “yo ho, yo ho; it’s a pirate’s life for me,” in the perfect pirate fashion. I decided that all pirates must love being pirates, because otherwise they wouldn’t sing that song.
I also decided that the fact that it was a clear night must have been an anomaly for the pirates. Pirates are supposed to love cloudy, foggy nights, because it makes it easier for them to sneak up on other ships and take their treasure.
Fog's different for everyone else. It mystifies the world. It makes everything new and makes you helpless. It’s beautifully thrilling, but to anyone who isn’t a pirate or playing hide-and-go-seek, the fog is not so much an ally. When the fog is so thick that you have only the slightest guess as to what’s in front of you, you have to rely on your deepest instincts to get you home*. You have to rely on your deepest instincts to get you anywhere at all.
It’s easy to imagine the fog as a giant body of spirits or ghosts. Fog is aimless and almost seems sad. It almost seems alive, too, as it flows on and blocks everything, but still not quite. It just goes through the motions, not really caring about the outcome. When fog comes, it doesn’t mean to hide everything. It doesn’t mean to create fun and laughter, either. Just as a ghost ship is forced to wonder forever, no matter what, the fog doesn’t stop. It just goes.
*Of course, when you have my sense of direction, it really doesn't make that much of a difference.