I wake to an early morning mist. It’s Melbourne winter, and the mist is within my bedroom, rising from my lungs and dissipating in a cloud across the room. A house that has stood for sixty years lives with its foibles, and these particular foibles are finger-width cracks around the window frames, plywood walls that flap when the wind blows, and a gaping hole where someone leant a little too hard and the plywood cracked and disappeared in chunks into the wall itself. Combine these to find a house that holds no warmth and hides no sound, allowing the outside to permeate the deepest depths of its interior.
We combat the cold with a massive gas-heater, the central point of the house. The house is built around the remnants of an actual wood oven, but this was removed in the 70s and replaced with a gas heater that still blows bright. It takes ten minutes to cough to life and then burns burns burns, turning imperceptible gas into invisible warmth. You lean against the heater at the beginning, a cup of tea grasped in hands to help the heat sink in, but after a couple of minutes you pull a chair a meter out to soak up the heat. Another twenty minutes finds the entire household gathered in the farthest extremities of the room, fighting against the searing warmth. That’s the perks of a gas heater designed with no temperature gauge but only a simple on and off switch. Unfortunately, the cold still subdues the rest of the house and we brave bed only when we’ve exhausted the ability to maintain conversation.
My twenties were a round of cold sharehouses, bundling into three jumpers and a beanie to practice drums in gaping garages. My thirties ease the trend: moving to a centrally heated house, an almost airtight shed that quickly warms with the glow of a space heater that warps the wrap on my vintage drum shell and sizzles moisture against the windows. I step out from an early afternoon practice session to find fingers of mist flaking in the backyard before the house.
I have a love of mist, and today it hits me that this love is hardwired, tied somewhere into my genetic makeup as a remnant from my ancestry. Two generations back was Northern Ireland and I delve into my own wistful remembrances of visiting the Cliffs of Moher (not Northern Ireland, but my closest experience). Scattered groups of tourists clicking their way through the fog, trying to get an iconic photo of sea swept shorelines between the mist and the crowds. Buses crowd the anteroom road that skirts the cliff-face and I stand rosy-faced and raincoat-clad amidst a place I’ve never identified with, but which clearly identifies me in language and skin colour and woolen jumper heritage.
I missed the chance to talk through childhood with my Grandpa but the romantic in me ties history into fantasy and Belfast sticks in my memory as a place to live and love and leave. I follow the fault lines back farther through supposed Celtic history and tribes who scattered through rain soaked hills and eked out a living amidst the peat. All of human history has been pushing for new horizons from the earliest of man, and my particular tribe has done its share of chasing new vistas (interesting how the word ‘tribe’ has re-emerged amongst the 21st century internet zeitgeist). This mist has permeated all of my memories.
I feel an ache when the mists roll in, driving me to walk home from the bar down the road. In summer this walk is languid, slow steps unslurried by a desire to arrive home, for the thirty degree Australian summer turns this sixty-year-old house into a heat-box. Why is it that the one time our homes trap the heat is when we sweat and stir beneath sticky sheets and long for sleep?
But this is winter, and the mist cloaks the street in both directions. We walk briskly, bundled against the cold, clutching each other for warmth and stability. Little did she realise my late night plans included a twenty minute walk, so she wore the cute heels that buoy her body to an almost tenable height but are completely unsuited to carrying her from one place to another.
I’ve stumbled home amidst the mist in countries all across the world.
The mist of Yemen’s highlands, sweeping in across terraced coffee plantations. This is the purest coffee in the world, built from hardy plants that relish the cold mountain air. Farmers who have lived generation by generation in the same little village in the same little tribe for the last two thousand years, have farmed the same coffee plants on the same terraces built by their great great great grandparents. The idea of ‘eking’ out a living in its purest form resides here amongst these people. We set-up camp along one of the larger terraces, a group of scattered white expats in pitied plastic tents while the locals live in stone houses built in Roman times and maintained by hand ever since. Late night downpours emanate from above and we flee the tents to shelter in a stone-circled goat shed among the local livestock.
The mist of Kenya’s Rift Valley where the year’s two seasons (wet and dry) alternate with frightening regularity. Over night the shift comes and you wake to torrential rain: weeks and weeks of torrential rain where the red soil slips and slides and swells into a red river that slowly washes down stream. Everything is caked in the mud of my youth, and we return to the dorm to find nineteen pairs of shoes under the porch overhang. This is the time of year to play rugby (the grass grows better in the wet), and the Junior team traipse out to the bus twice a week, riding to other towns to foe other teams of boys who fight dirty. They arrive home with black eyes and stomach scratches and talk of fields turned into swimming pools, and holes near goal lines where one boy was held under water for almost a minute by members of the rival scrum. When the rains finally stop, the mist settles in and with it comes hordes of flying termites. Tiny ant-sized bodies with four long wings, they flap and flutter their way in through the window my room-mate left open and we arrive home to find several thousand infesting the hallway. A simple solution from a boy born here, he pulls tennis rackets from beneath his bed and we spend a half hour smacking the termites out of the air to ground below. When hit, the wings come dislodged and fall featherlike, while the termite scurries for a shady crack in the wall. The joy continues, as the same boy sweeps handfuls of crawling termites into a dustpan and runs them to the kitchen at the end of the hall. He pours them into a frying pan coated in ghee and they sizzle and snap and taste a little like crispy chunks of bacon.
The mist of Tasmania’s Forth, a town of four hundred people. We leave the pub and wander, mandolin in hand, towards the top of the hill. Ahead is darkest forest, behind are scattered street lights, so we turn and eye off what should be a beautiful view of Tasmania’s old growth, but is instead a sea of white. Walk in step through town looking for some entertainment, and finally stumble head-long into the misty lights of a hotel and realise it’s the same pub we’ve been playing at for the last three hours.
And other mists remembered:
Years spent living in Sunbury’s abandoned Insane Asylum.
Early morning city mist in Yemen where the city sits eerily silent and government workers spray clouds of chemicals into the mist in an effort to defeat an oncoming scourge of mosquitoes.
Glasgow mists and couch-surfing with uni students who take me to the fish and chip shop to sample a deep-fried Mars Bar.
sonder, noun: “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”