Those of a certain age may remember the English folk singer Roger Whittaker, a distinctive voice with distinctive lyrics. One summer, as the end of the holidays approached, he annoyed my teenage self.
I could never ever feel as sanguine about cooler and shorter days as he did when he sang the song, The Last Farewell. His lyrics seemed to suggest autumn was something to be welcomed:
I shall watch the English mist roll in the dale
How could anyone enjoy watching mist roll through a valley?
On autumn mornings in our corner of Somerset, the mist is a blanket of greyness that lies across the low lying moorland. It spreads dampness over every surface it touches. It penetrates and chills and shows a reluctance to go elsewhere. If the temperature drops below zero, the mist might become freezing fog, making progress difficult and dangerous.
Perhaps Whittaker envisaged something gentler. Leaves of ochre, red and gold, the scent of bonfire smoke on crisp mornings, walks through lanes and smoke from cottage chimneys, seemed more the stuff of romantic notions of misty valleys. Damp November mornings in Somerset would hardly have inspired a song lyric.
Had Whittaker sung about mist in the summertime though, the song would have had an altogether different mood. If there had been mist rolling early in an early morning, it would have been the harbinger of a bright day with blue skies. Late summer mist along our Somerset lanes might be cool and damp but it will often fade to reveal lush green meadows or white fields of grain. Going through the mist, there might be glimpses of rabbits and pheasants running for cover from the oncoming car.
Mist can make familiar roads mysterious. Shapes change; houses passed every day have a different air about them. Concentrating on the way ahead, attention can be drawn to things that had been previously slipped by unnoticed. It seems odd that something that obscures things can sharpen awareness of their existence. Mist demands a sharpened concentration, an early morning drive on the M5 motorway can be filled with spectral shapes appearing from behind only to hurry ahead without thought for safety. Pale red lights can mark dark shadows ahead that take on the form of vehicles as you get near.
There is a paradox in the summer weather: mist is a shrouding, but also a foreshadowing of a glorious day. Autumn is just a foreshadowing of winter.