The Fog of Familiarity
I went out early this morning, about 6:30 a.m., to watch day break. I decided to drive south along the Hudson, trawl the roads along the river, same as I've done dozens and dozens of times before. You'd think maybe I'd be sick of it by now. Well, I'm not. For me, there is a thrill in finding something new in the familiar. I like being surprised by what I thought I knew. All it takes is a shift in temperature, a change in the direction of the wind or tide, an unexpected ray of sun breaking through clouds, and the entire landscape changes; the river comes alive or settles, the trees light up or cast shadows, long-distance views shorten or deepen, a flock of geese becomes visible or indistinguishable.
This morning, although Albany was completely clear, the river offered up the gift of fog. (!!) The haze of humidity and the cool morning air mixed into a husky silver-grey that settled over land and water. It took two hours to burn off, which meant - though I didn't know it in the moment - that I had two hours of slowly shifting landscape to work inside.
Fog, as we know, is composed of droplets of water that reflect light, making it both beautiful and dangerous. Its cloud-like swirls create attractive visual effects but -- for the navigator or pilot - reduce visibility.
Like fog, familiarity carries an effect of reduced visibility. Prone to routines, focused on time and destination, it's easy to slip into repetitive traps. Landscape quickly becomes reduced to a blurred background, something we speed through or past, a 4-lane highway, a bridge, a traffic jam. A place registers as "likeable" if we can pass through it frictionlessly, quickly, without impediment. Understandable in a future-facing economy.
"To know even fully one field or one land is a lifetime's experience." - Patrick Kavanaugh, Irish poet (1904-67)
But, if you step off and step out of routine just a little, maybe challenge yourself once a week to gaze for 20 seconds at a tree, at the outline of a mountain in the distance, notice if the river has rowers or anglers. When the familiar is seen with fresh eyes, then the fog of familiarity will lift and something beautiful, something that's been hiding in plain sight for decades, centuries, or even millenia, will reveal itself to you.