The scene was quite beautiful. Freezing fog cloaked the park which in turn was surrounded by the yellow stone buildings of the ancient town which were, in places, highlighted by the sodium flare of the streetlights. The trees were black outlines in the grey. I was walking with a friend, enjoying the muffled stillness invoked by the dense fog, that thrill of being in a new place and the darkness. As we walked under the lime trees a classroom memory was very suddenly stirred as an icy droplet found its way into the small gap between collar and neck. The stillness was shattered. My shout, partly triumphant, part surprised was – almost – involuntary.
The friend, in all ways a calm and meditative soul, looked at me in alarm as up until this point we had been walking in relative silence. Seeing his confusion I quickly followed up with a clear and concise explanation of why I had just shouted these two words:
This, bizarrely, did not satisfy his curiosity and I had to explain that whilst being taught the many types of precipitation by the irrascible Mr Hoyle in a chalky sixth form classroom he had expounded on the principle of Fog Drip, proclaiming that many people denied it’s existence as a form of precipitation. In short, fog condenses onto the branches of trees and then drips off. Many people might deny it but here it was in all its freezing glory. Here was nature, making itself felt, daring me to deny it. I wasn’t observing it or noticing it or photographing it or writing about it. Nature was pushing an icy stream down my spine.
I like that idea very much, that nature happens to us. It’s a fine line though. For much of the time we are the observer. We can see nature happening but it’s almost always in the past tense, over as quickly as it began. But sometimes, there is the sudden engagement of an unexpected sense and the line is crossed: the stinging bite of an ant, the streaming of the eyes when the spade bites into a buried horse radish or the involuntary shrinking of the skin and quickening of pulse that comes with the sudden knowledge that a predator or something you do not care to brush against is very, uncomfortably close. This is nature happening to us. We are acted upon as another living thing instead of carefully controlling our choice of natural experience. It is quick, it is inclusive, it is nature at its most honest.