December 27, 2008 Into the Mystic Midwest
Today I was in the middle of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula visiting family during a Christmas trip. This year the traditional white Christmas visited with a vengeance: it has been a snowy December in this part of Michigan, with nearly 40″ of snow falling during the cold and icy month. But weathermen were predicting a letup from the cold–a front of unseasonably warm air was blowing in, creating a certainty of fog. I love photographing foggy landscapes, so the change of weather was just perfect. Less so the roads.
With my wife and mother nervously accompanying me as I drove our rental car on back roads glazed with ice, I set out to capture the essence of fog blanketing the wintry farm fields and maple forests of central Michigan. We did a loop from Stanwood to Big Rapids to Mount Pleasant and back to Stanwood, passing through Amish country and the kinds of Midwestern small towns that politicians love to extol as being the heart of America. Though the temperature reached 54°F as we travelled, the sun was never able to burn through the fog. Just for fun, we decided to follow the GPS unit’s voiced guidance in our rental car. In soothing tones, the female voice told us where to turn. But computer woman had never been on snowy Michigan back roads in the middle of winter, and she led us over hilly roads completely covered with ice that had yet to see a salt or sand truck. When she tried to lead us down a road that was, in reality, an unplowed trail, we drew the line. Fortunately, she didn’t get upset at us and simply recalculated our route. Nice lady computer.
The fog was thick in the open hardwood forests, lending an atmosphere of mystery to a day in which tree trunks marched in ever-lightening shades of gray into the distance. Fog shrouds the landscape with quiet, and I think that feeling comes through in my photographs. This type of fog is known as advection fog, and it forms when warm, moist air flows over a snow-covered landscape. As this warm, saturated air chills near the cold ground, fog forms. My mind has a hard time comprehending the scientific explanation of this phenomenon which involves dewpoints at the interface of cold and warm air, but for those who need to know, there is a good website with a succinct explanation: www.theweatherprediction.com
I stopped the car repeatedly to get out and photograph, finding that the road was a sheet of ice that threatened me with a hard fall. But I remained upright and took numerous pictures all morning, until my wife and mother in unison shouted “No!” when I tried to park the car on an icy hill and get out one last time to take a picture. I relented under the pressure of their good sense and got back in the car. Good boy!
The fog lasted all day, as did we on our adventure. When we drove home through the dark in early evening, a wind had come up and was blowing the fog sideways across the road at a high velocity. I’m used to driving in blowing snow, with the headlights piercing the mesmerizing and dazzling matrix of billions of big flakes. But I had never before driven through dense and blowing fog, in which the fog line kept disappearing and the headlights penetrated the mist barely a car length ahead. We never had to stop entirely, which was good because the snow was hard and crusted high on the road shoulder. We made it home, exhausted after the drive, but I was happy with my mystic Midwestern pictures of the day.
When I got home and looked at the photographs, I enlarged several to a high degree. Only then did I see two White-tailed Deer bedding down in the mist, partially obscured by the trees. When I took the picture I must have been only 40-50′ away from the deer, yet they remained quietly hidden in the forest. It was a day of that kind of magic.
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Click on the photographs below for versions with captions.