Tule Fog in the Delta

At anchor, Little Potato Slough.

The fog comes on little cat feet.  It sits looking over the harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on. –Carl Sandburg

It’s quiet. Ethereal. Otherworldly. Ghostly, even. As the winter season wears on, the California Delta’s tule fog can be depressing and dangerous. But it can also inspire a person to unbag his camera. Below are a few fog-inspired photographs from past seasons.

Suddenly penetrating the thick wall of fog, this west-bound freight train shakes the ground as it speeds through Holt, west of Stockton.

We got a pretty good rain a few days ago. Overnight the temperature dropped, winds diminished, and on my early morning walkabout to retrieve the newspaper the air was dense and dripping-wet with fog. The message was received loud and clear; it’s winter and fog’s going to show up on occasion. Does this sound depressing? Well, it certainly can be. Call me strange, though. I actually like the mood and the photographs that can be made in the diaphanous mist of the Delta in winter.

Cormorants on pilings, Empire Cut.

After the first significant rain in late fall and lasting through early spring there is a phenomenon in California’s Great Central Valley known as Tule Fog. Named for the tule grass wetlands of the Valley, it extends from Bakersfield in the south to Red Bluff in the north and can drift as far west as San Francisco Bay, resulting in low visibility, often down to 500 feet or less. The Delta finds itself right smack in the cross hairs of this often dangerous condition. This dense fog has been known to last for several days, sometimes even weeks, before weather conditions change significantly enough to disturb it.

Daybreak at Honker Cut and Eight Mile Road.

Along with the obvious danger of living and traveling in this dense fog, long spells of no sunshine can have an adverse effect on people known as Seasonal Adjustment Disorder, or SAD. It’s more than just a case of the winter blahs. This is a type of depression that can set in, sapping folks’ energy and causing otherwise unexplained moodiness. In extended periods of seemingly immovable tule fog Joanna and I have been known to take drives into the mountains to enjoy the bright sunshine for an afternoon. It’s like a tonic, it really does help.

Buckley Cove.

But it’s also fun to go out into the Delta with a camera in search of beauty that lies hidden in the dense cover of the thick, wet air. It’s there; you just have to look for it. 

Parting thought.  Fog can be truly inspiring for writers, artists and photographers. Fred Lyon’s photographs of San Francisco in the 1940’s and 1950’s come to mind as well as the last scene in Casablanca when Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains walk together into the foggy night discussing the beginning of a beautiful friendship. There are many more examples too numerous to list here. But make no mistake. Accident rates soar when visibility becomes limited. Stay safe out there. It can be deadly if you’re not paying attention.

A lone seagull passes by while cormorants wait for the fog to lift near Bull Frog Landing.

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