A Random Love Note to Fog

One day in 2013, when I was still living in Tennessee, I drove up to Clingman’s Dome. I don’t recall what the weather was like in town that day, but the mountaintop was socked in with fog. When I got to the observation deck it was surrounded by a solid wall of gray, only broken up by the pine trees within 50 yards or so of the tower. It was amazing. It was so beautiful up there, nothing to look at but those few layers of trees, no sound but a few birds calling, not a soul in the world knew where I was at that moment. I had nowhere to be and nothing to do. It was an incredibly meditative experience.

I absolutely love fog.  It simplifies and softens a bright, loud, overwhelming world, makes everything into calm shades of gray.  Not everyone gets that.  So many people don’t know what to do with themselves in the dim and quiet realm of fog.  While I was up there at Clingman’s Dome other people kept coming up, just one family at a time, when one left another would arrive.  And they kept complaining about there being nothing to see.  I maintain that they just didn’t know how to look.

Prints of these three photos as well as others of fog can now be purchased here.

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Your Language Shapes Your Concept of Space

I wanted to share something interesting I found out today in an essay called You Are What You Speak by linguist Guy Deutscher that I read for my anthropology class.  He has some very interesting things to say about language and how it shapes the way we think about gender, time, and our feelings about inanimate objects, but the thing that caught my attention was in the concept of spatial relationships.  It never really occurred to me that there could be a different orientation system than the one we use, but it turns out that there is.  When we think of small-scale directions, we orient ourselves in terms of right, left, forward, & backward.  This is called egocentric – our directional axis is based around our bodies and rotates with us; we are literally the center of everything.  Some cultures use a geographic orientation system – their languages refer to EVERYTHING in terms of cardinal directions, and actually contain no concept of left or right.  ‘Walk three blocks east, turn north, then it will be the first house to the west,’ isn’t really that crazy.  It gets crazy when someone says ‘I left my keys on the north end of the dresser on the west side of the room,’ or ‘Scooch a little to the south,’ or ‘There’s a bee to the east of your head.’  THAT’S WHAT THEY DO.  Not only do they talk this way, they REMEMBER things this way.  Deutscher writes about a native speaker of such a language telling a story about his boat being capsized in the midst of some sharks and swimming back to shore:

“Apart from the dramatic content, the remarkable thing about the story was that it was remembered throughout in cardinal directions: the speaker jumped into the water on the western side of the boat, his companion to the east of the boat, they saw a giant shark swimming north and so on.”

People whose native languages are geographic-based have INSANE senses of direction.  Put them inside, outside, in a cave, spin them around, they can still tell which way is which.  They just KNOW, because their languages force them to know, at all times.  Just the way that we know left from right (most of us, I still struggle with this one….).