This is the last column of 2023. This time of the turning of the year is often a reflective one — the year in photos, the year’s best and worst, the year’s celebrations and regrets. This recounting of last year along with concerns about the coming one, in combination with the flurry that surrounds the lead-up to holidays, school vacation, travel and family gatherings, often makes the year end frenetic and complicated. This week’s fog, however, served as an antidote for the flurry of activity. The stillness, moisture and muting of the sky all put a kind of softness over the world over the last several days. This was especially true along the coast where the otherwise complex geology and swashing seas were all made more simple.

The effect that it had upon me was a little bit like looking at a black-and-white photo of something familiar like a tree and noticing the light within it that is usually overshadowed by the variety of colors in its leaves. In this case, the fog over the water made the surrounding landscape so plain that there was hardly anything to see at all — except under the water. It was a reversal of roles from the literal obscurity of the water as compared to the clarity of the sky, to the exact opposite.

Fog is nature’s mandated stillness. Over the coast, the air turns into a foggy layer over the sea because it is actually warmer — hence a blanket of fog. The warm air meets the cold water and condenses into little water droplets that make it very hard to see. The result is that fog makes us all slow down in an effort to see just enough of the world right in front of us to move about it safely. On the coast, it has necessitated the building of lighthouses; on the water, the existence of fog horns and bell buoys and, on boats, the sophisticated technology to guide mariners. Fog throws a wrench into the plans of anyone trying to get anything done near or on the water. But it provides a clear window into what’s happening underneath the water that is rare, particularly in the winter months when seas tend to be stormier or covered in ice.

Coastal winter weather is rarely so calm. We saw this just last week with the storm, which led to record-breaking water levels that caused bridge closures and rushing river conditions that mimicked whitewater rapids. The weather is predictable only in its unpredictability. But more often than not, it is not calm, making the water underneath the surface even less visible than the landscape in the fog. This clarity means you can see things like hermit crabs scuttling around by the shore and shellfish just under the surface, all hanging on through the winter in the chilly water. They may seem like symbols of summer, but here they are, sticking it out as the temperatures drop. Even the air above them is warmer than these creatures are under the water.

As 2023 comes to a close, I am grateful for the fog for the enforced stillness and slowness as well as the simplification of the coastal scene to reveal not the familiar features but those quietly persisting underneath the crystalline calm water.

Susan Olcott is the director of operations at Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.

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