Eaten by the Nothing

Fog outside our window in Glasgow, Scotland. January 2013Some time in the night the clouds rolled in over Glasgow and settled down onto the land. They wrapped the city up in a blanket of grey. As early morning led on to later morning and then on to afternoon, the grey did not burn off or blow away. The city just sat there with the fog as its cover, snuggled in against the January cold.

When I was young I lived within walking distance the Golden Gate where the Pacific Ocean comes in to San Francisco Bay. I would often go out on my own or with a friend or two to the edge of Lincoln Park to a place we simply called “The Ledge” to watch the weather and the ships at this border space between North America and the vast sea. On sunny days the view would go on forever, but on foggy days visibility could drop to just a few feet. As I’d stand their looking out at the Pacific and the clouds rolling in, I imagined that this was the Nothing from the NeverEnding Story. Unlike the movie, however, in this place there was no way to escape the Nothing. You could only wait for it to come and eat you.

This past week, as I woke up on Thursday and walked into the living room, I was surprised to see that the Nothing had eaten Glasgow. It’s not that I hadn’t expected fog in this city by the Clyde on a cold Winter morning. It’s just that I’d never seen it so foggy that the only thing you could see outside was grey. Every other fog I’d seen here was the sort of soft fog you get where you can still see across the street. But this was more like the fog of a Richmond District, San Francisco morning: thick as pea soup and just as unnavigable.

My friends laughed at my surprise. “Welcome to Glasgow!” At last, now that I’m about to leave, I see some real weather. But of course, I’ll leave before the snow comes. The weatherman suggested they might get some of that later this week. I’ll be in Seattle by then. A few days there, and then onwards to my next destination.

One of the advantages of a non-nomad is the chance to get to know a place deeply. I arrive, get acquainted, and then I’m on the road or in a plane again. Some places I come back to again and again, so I get to know the patterns a bit. A bit, but not the way that you do over decades in one place. Looking up historical weather data is not the same. Only when you are in the place can you know what the weather feels like, how the people react, how the sounds of the place change with shifting of sun and rain and fog and snow.

As I sat on the couch by the window on Thursday, I thought about how the fog would change the sounds of the world in Lincoln Park. I thought of how even the birds seemed to muffle their calls in the mist. The white noise of far away cars didn’t even sound like noise any more. Just the susurrations of The Nothing.

Glasgow sat in the same blanket of quiet I’d known from my childhood, but this fog didn’t feel the same. My heart didn’t feel the tug of sadness in the grey. This was a different kind of quiet. There seemed to be a sort of stiff upper lip in this fog. Carry on! Be quiet, by all means, but don’t stop doing what must be done!

The Nothing in the NeverEnding Story devoured nearly all of Fantasy Land, and could only be pushed back by the dreams and fantasies of the hero of the tale. The good news about the Nothing in our story is that it’s not permanent and we need no brave young adventurer to stop it for us. Eventually the clouds will get bored of hugging the city, and they will fly up to get a better view of the countryside.

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