obscurity

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While you might instinctually think otherwise, a cloud covered, fog-smothered, drizzly day is the opportune moment for a day hike. Yes – some of the more distant views may be obscured, yes you might be damp around the collar, but you have a better chance of getting solitude on the trail, and you might learn more of your heart along the way too.

Saturday was such a foggy, drizzly day. Fog and coming rain are my personal version of “sunshine” so I was eager to be out-of-doors.

There was, as I’d hoped, no one on the trail at 0745 on a rainy Saturday morning. Just the fog, the sound of drops on my rain jacket, the smell of damp soil, and the whisper of the wind.

The trying thing about getting to a high point on a hike on a thickly fogged day is that you immediately feel let down – “great, all that work and nothing to see here.”

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Normally at such a vantage point you can see distant mountain peaks beyond or a pristine mountain valley below, a sinuous river, or some lake reflecting the sunlight. It is the climax, it is what you hiked for, the whole point, actually. However, foggy skies permit no such views.

As much as I love gloomy weather, I felt this disappointment on Saturday. After walking miles and gaining elevation, I was disappointed (and a little angry) that there was “nothing to see here.”

While I paused (pouting), I was reminded of how much I love fog – the gloomy voice of it, the dreary nature it proclaims, the mood it inspires in me, the mystery it exudes, the enveloping character it possesses. So, I tried to smooth out my thoughts, to question what God might be trying to show me here about my heart.

I feel very often in my life that I have this same sort of disappointed feeling. I work hard and long for some goal. I know it will hurt and require some laborious efforts to reach this “high”, vantage point on my “life trail”, but when I get there I’ll be able to see what lies beyond the ridge, what beauties lie in the valley below. I just have to get to the high point and then the rest of my questions will have answers. My life will make sense once I get there. I will make sense.

But then I get there, and all is enveloped in fog. Despair devours me in a breath and I feel that all that work and all that waiting was for nothing – “nothing to see here.”

However, I think part of the gift of fog is that it obscures (or completely hides) distance. I am personally so fixated on (perhaps even addicted to) what is coming, on the future, and on planning for it. So fixated that I often gloss over the present. I am elsewhere while the here-and-now carries on becoming past before I noticed it was my present.

Fog forces me to be present – a gift to someone like me who has a hard time being so by any other means (apparently). When there is “nothing to see” in the distance, my eyes have no choice but to look back to the here-and-now.

When hiking, there are a lot of beautiful details to notice in the here-and-now along the way. A lot that might otherwise be missed if all I was looking for was the distant future – the trail end, the ridgeline on the horizon. But, when you are starved of distant sight, the present sights multiply in abundance. And, you take time to stop and notice them more often than not.

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I think my non-trail life has the same quality. When my life seems surrounded in fog, I am made aware of many beautiful details in my present ready for me to take part in, to notice, to be thankful for. More to the point, there is much in the present that can provide partial answers to my many questions about my life and about myself, even if it is just something that will temporarily keep me afloat.

There is a freedom in fog – both the literal and figurative kind. You can’t see that far ahead so you have to somewhat give up control, lay down anticipation. There is a freedom in that. When hiking, this means you walk on into obscurity, become a participant in a natural mystery. You become part of the impression of an uncertain journey leading to an uncertain destination – environmental intrigue, hazy outlines, windswept steps. Hiking in this way has revealed to me the freedom of figurative fog. There is a freedom in it. Uncertainty in life terrifies me, but if I harness it, embrace it, even I can see there is a freedom of it. I can look back to my present, hungrily grasp on to the beauty of the details of the here-and-now, and join in the mystery that is my life journey, an ever (albeit slow-moving) trajectory into hazy outlines of horizons via windswept steps into the unknown impression of…I know not what.

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And here is the other thing. I found myself thinking at the high point on this hike “nothing to see here,” but a few moments later the wind picked up a bit, blowing the fog delicately through the dense branches of fir trees and gave me a peak of a lake 2 miles below. It was a just an instant of ill-defined clarity. Then it was gone.

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But it was enough.

I carried on through the fog, in the obscured vision of the future, delightfully absorbed by what the present trail held, knowing something lay beyond on this trail. I only had an impression of an idea what that “something” was – but it was enough to keep moving.

It was enough.

But now, Lord, what do I look for?  My hope is in You. (Psalm 39:7)

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