The temperature rarely drops below freezing in Davis, California, but winter settles in through rain and Tule fog.
Nearly as transformative as the first fallen snow in parts north, Tule fog makes new landscapes out of everyday commute terrain. Like a frosted glass wall at the edge of every farm field, the thick ground fog distorts as well as limits visibility. It turns wind-curled brush into coyotes and hides even the best lit oncoming cars.
Tule fog gets its name from a tall grass indigenous to the river delta that commingles waters of the Sacramento and the San Joaquin. Tules grow in the wetlands throughout California’s Central Valley, and on calm clear winter nights, the humid air just above the ground cools quickly, condensing water vapor to take the form of a cloud. On fogged-in mornings, dawn breaks to a white cloak so thick that in some pockets it’s tough to see across the street.
On these mornings, I leave the house to find that I have moved overnight. Or rather, I find that the town has moved around me. Trees stand taller, trains blast their horns from farther away, drivers take longer to get where they are going. The sidewalks and bike paths carry me to the same campus and office, but even the top floors of the admittedly small buildings perch a little more removed from the streets. By shrinking my field of vision, the tule’s white veil enlarges the town.
Each day of fog lasts only a few hours before the sun burns off the thin white blanket, setting right the familiar landscapes.