Fog across a highway makes it hard to see the road, but eventually, if a person is patient and a little cautious, things become a bit clearer.
I ran into an extended stretch of fog recently on a drive to Pierre for an early morning appointment. I should have checked the road reports or paid closer attention to the weather updates, but it was a “bright (bright) bright (bright) sun-shiny day,’’ as that Johnny Nash song from the early 1970s says. I left the driveway and headed up the north hill out of Chamberlain humming the tune.
I topped the hill and drove into a gray wall. Instead of kicking the accelerator down and speeding up to 65 mph, I had to let off the pedal and drop to about 30 mph. I drove through the ground-level cloud for several white-knuckle minutes. If you know that road north from Chamberlain at all, you know the big hill that curves as it drops from the top of the river bluff to the bottom of the breaks.
As I started cautiously down that hill, some amazing quirk of nature made it so I drove out of the fog bank and had the clouds hanging just above the top of the pickup for a mile or so. I absolutely can’t explain what happened, but one minute I was inching along in the middle of a fog, and the next minute it was all gathered above my head.
When I had crossed the valley and started to climb the next hill, I ran back into the fog. After I topped that hill, I came out of the cloud, almost. Wisps of gray clouds settled just above the ground, their tops level with the headlights of the truck. I could see ahead, but the guy who approached me in the low-slung compact car was still in the thick of things. Another odd trick of nature, I guess — like a ground blizzard in winter.
The ground-hugging cloud created some lovely images. From the hilltop, the Crow Creek itself was invisible, but the tops of trees along its shores poked through the cloud. It looked as if someone had planted shrubs over a smoky landscape. I considered pulling over to snap a picture, but I was pretty sure I wouldn’t come close to capturing what I was seeing. Instead, I admired the scene as I drove along.
As I neared the Stephan corner, the ground-hugging cloud parted suddenly, and the whole of the Crow Creek School became visible in the blink of an eye. I thought of that old musical, “Brigadoon,’’ the one in which a small town somewhere in the highlands of Scotland becomes visible just one day every century. I was tempted to roll down the window to see if I could hear any music, but the realist in me remained in control. I thought briefly about the young Brigadoon lovers — Tommy, the big-city guy lost in the highlands, and Fiona, the villager — and then I turned west toward Pierre.
Life can be like that foggy morning drive. A bright, sun-shiny day filled with the promise of a pleasant trip along a care-free highway can turn cloudy and foreboding with little or no warning. A familiar, comfortable path (I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve taken Highway 50 north from my hometown) can become as strange and ominous as a foggy London back alley in a horror film. Fellow travelers emerge from the mist or scoot along under the clouds as menacing and unreachable as the person in that low-slung car I met. Suddenly, though, the whole of the Crow Creek School campus emerges from the fog like a serene Scottish village.
In my life, I sometimes search impatiently for answers that only show up when I accept that I’m in a bit of a fog. A little music to signal the breakthrough would help, the way it did in “Brigadoon,’’ but life is seldom that obvious. Instead, it’s a journey we all take half blindly, with some trust that we’ll avoid hidden obstacles along the way and safely reach our destination.