I arrived at the dock early, before sunrise. A cold front had passed during the night. The previous evening's warm humidity had been replaced by a much cooler morning. The lake was still warm and with the cold air on top of it, the water was steaming. The steam was rising gently all over the lake, creating a layer of fog on the lake surface. The steam rose only about 5 feet off the water before it dissipated. Standing on the dock, one looked over the fog, and down into it. In some areas it was thick, a blanket lying on the water. In other areas it was much thinner, mere wisps of barely perceived mist.
In the pre-dawn darkness, the effect was eerie, something out of a horror movie. It closed in, off in the distance some, limiting your vision. Not a sudden end to your vision, but a slow fading away, a blurring into an infinite depth. It also seemed to dampen the sounds too, as things were unnaturally quiet.
Off to our left, a hint of movement appeared. An 8-man crew boat was heading down river. It did not just appear, it faded into view, slowly, without appearing to be moving. Just gaining definition and growing more distinct. It was also silent – a boat gliding across the water, the movement of the crew reduced by the fog. A boat of the dead, the Flying Dutchmen of Townlake.
As it neared, the sound began to build, the clunk of the oars in the oarlocks, the swish of the boat through the water. The movement of the crew became more pronounced, and one could see them straining, the speed of the boat became apparent. Even the normally noisy coxswain was quiet, somehow respecting the dictates of the morning. They passed by us fading back into the fog, their sound swallowed by the mist, the boat becoming more and more indistinct, until you could no longer make out the outlines, but sensed it more than seeing it. I put my boat in the water and left for my row. Once on the water and away from the dock, you lost all sense of perspective. You were in a bubble, a clearing in the mist. This bubble moved with you. There was this surreal feeling that you were somehow all alone, outside of normal space and time. You could look up and see the stars all around, clear and crisp. But looking horizontally, there was just the fog.
The dawn was approaching and the sky was beginning to lighten. The mist took on a different look. Instead of a monolithic blanket, the fog became individual tendrils of mist. Each almost alive, twisting around each other as they lazily rose and then faded away. Almost like the smoke from a fire, but without the energy and intensity.
Sometimes the mist would clear a little, and you could see the shore, briefly, elusively, before the fog closed in again. Occasionally, a tiny breeze would move the tendrils of mist, blowing them across your path. This was the most eerie part, a long twisted rope of mist curling across and around you, gently caressing your exposed skin with a hint of coolness, of dampness. But mostly seeing it touch you, and not really feeling anything of substance.
The sun had now peeked above the horizon. Beams of light reached across the lake as it passed between the buildings of downtown. Where the sunlight struck the mist, it turned it a fiery orange, almost glowing, like liquid fire. It chased away the grayness of the morning in these beams, replacing it with shades of deep reds and oranges. The areas outside the sunlight remained gray and drab.
At one point, a beam of sunlight lit up a band across the lake, silhouetting a bridge with the mist rising under the arches. A lone sculler appeared under the arch for just a moment, blurred around the edges, but also glowing orange. He quickly passed into the shadow again, and I lost him from view.
I returned to the dock. The sunlight and coming day had chased away the mists, returning the lake to an almost normal state. I docked the boat and climbed onto the dock, a huge smile on my face. Another sculler returned shortly after I did and we both looked at each other, and shared the experience we just had. “Wasn't that just incredible?” he asked, with a giant grin. I agreed. Those who had just arrived at the dock looked at us curiously. They had no idea...