Frost clung thick to the blades of grass and the drying weeds that stood in the shade of tall trees or in the shadow of steeply sloping hills, but the sun shone brightly from a clear sky as I followed the highway out of Indiana, west along the ridge toward Kittanning. Cold and clear and bright, this morning was. My breath hung on the air; exhaust made thick clouds behind idling cars; and the frost on the windshield sparkled in the sunlight.
Looking out over the valleys, mist rolled thick like ocean waves, island hilltops covered in trees poking out here and there. I wanted to stop for pictures, but didn’t have time. I wondered what it was like down in those valleys, where the mist lay heavy. Did the sunshine penetrate at all? Or was it gray and wet and chill?
The highway veered right, following the ridge, but my road took me down into Kittanning, along the Allegheny river.
And as I crested the hill and started down, I passed some invisible barrier into a bank of fog. I couldn’t see the river below, or even just 20 yards away after I’d turned to run parallel to it; just thick whiteness. Car lights appeared suddenly before me, then passed.
Fog is eerie always. But leaving a sunlit world above and plunging into whiteness adds another element altogether. I saw tree tops disappearing above, and tried to believe that the sun was still there, still shining brightly like I’d seen just minutes before.
But its light wasn’t reaching the valley. I turned right up the main street, passed old, well-worn shop fronts and flags hanging limp, wet and motionless. The castle-turrets on the old courthouse looked grim. Green arches of the bridge spanning the river floated ghostlike through the fog.
I was glad when I stepped through the courthouse doors, dropped my purse on the scanner’s conveyor belt, asked directions of the deputy behind the desk: glad to be inside, away from the cold, clammy air.
It was a quick hearing, starting late and ending early, and a little less than an hour later I was hurrying back down the wide stone steps. And now the fog was starting to lift. The air, still white, was lighter. I could see the river, and see the mist swirling over its surface.
The sun shone hazy through it, making it glow. And driving back up the hill, back out of the valley and onto the ridge, I saw its rays cutting through the mist until, near the top, I popped out again into the glorious sunlight of an October morning.
I saw the mist-seas again in the valleys, but I didn’t stop for pictures. I know what’s there, down in the valleys.
I think I’d rather the sunlight.