Thursday, October 18, 2012

MIST

Louisiana Mist

This morning I woke up and looked out the window at a landscape veiled in mist, a familiar scene during the fall and winter here on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee. It seems that I move between mists and mists. In the summer and fall, I live at Sewanee, a place where, as one of my poems reveals, “the mist stores itself/ between the dark tree trunks/obscures the valley, /the air dense and wordless.” In the winter I live in New Iberia, Louisiana where similar mists prevail. They were once captured in the paintings of Alexander Drysdale of New Orleans, Louisiana (1870-1934) who thinned his oils with kerosene to produce the shadowy landscapes that made him famous. In later years, photographer Debbie Fleming Caffery of south Louisiana was attracted to what she called “shades of mystery and shadow” and gained national recognition for the photography of sugar cane fields shrouded in Louisiana mists.
Writers and artists have always been intrigued by mist, the condensation of water vapor that dims and obscures landscapes, often hiding such brilliance as the flaming leaves now turning orange, yellow and red on The Mountain here. Tolstoy, Faulkner, Yeats, Dickens, to name a few writers, wrote about mists hiding the changes taking place in nature or obscuring human figures so that they weren't recognizable at a few yards. The famous novelist Stephen King wrote a novella entitled The Mist, a story about people experiencing terror in a small town in Maine when it was engulfed by mist, and otherworld creatures appeared.
Here on The Mountain, we get socked in by mists and delay going down to the valley for provisions of any kind until it burns off. Those socked-in days become ones involving indoor pursuits. I know that when I return to Louisiana, there’ll also be mornings when mist will hang over the slow-moving, brown waters of the bayou, and I’ll feel a certain malaise and sense of isolation provoked by the gray landscape.
The only places I've lived where mists didn't hover over the landscape are Ahwaz, Iran and Electra, Texas. In Iran, the sky seemed to always be like a blank sheet of blue copy paper – cloudless, mist-less, and filled with merciless desert heat. However, a calendar with a painting of a misty sky hung beside my old tin desk in the front room of my home in Melli Rah and made me nostalgic for the landscapes I’m now complaining about!
Mists have actually inspired my Muse to write poetry and full-length mysteries containing numerous mentions of “mist” which I used to portray the atmosphere of south Louisiana and Mississippi; e.g., (from Chant of Death), “Insects whirred monotonously and Malachi thought how like the monk’s chants their incessant steady singing was, only the insects never seemed to sleep…As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see vague swirls of mist hanging over the lake…” Or from Goat Man Murder: “When Donald Majors returned to Pecan Grove as the sun pierced the morning mist, he discovered his sister Penelope already at breakfast…the long kitchen that faced a back gallery harbored a cheerful spirit not found elsewhere in the mansion…” (The latter mystery is presently being transposed into a script for a play by Rose Anne Raphael of New Iberia). Then there’s a scene from The Kajun Kween, my young adult book set in south Louisiana, in which Petite Marie Melancon goes into the swamp and encounters a loup garou (werewolf): “Out of the wispy mist ahead, something glowing yellow-white leaped up and floated toward the pirogue…”
There are many more allusions to mist in my writings, as well as in the works of more famous writers, and on such a misty day, I could probably spend the entire morning searching for such allusions. However, it’s 10 a.m; the bright fall leaves on the trees in my backyard are beginning to poke through the oppressive gray blanket, and I have packing to do to prepare for mists to come in bayou country.
Painting by my brother Paul Marquart
P.S. Coming Soon! A review of Dr. Victoria I. Sullivan’s and Susan Elliott’s newest book, Why Water Plants Don’t Drown, published by Pinyon Publishing, an excellent marsh plants guide with beautiful drawings and illustrations. 
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