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10 Jul 2014 2:08am

carved in air

‘The outer suburbs have almost a moorland fascination when fog lies thick and orange-coloured over their huge flat wastes of grass ... but does not quite conceal the stark outlines of a traction engine, some procumbent timber, a bonfire and frantic figures darting around it, and aerial scaffolding far away. Other fields, yet unravished but menaced, the fog restores to a primaeval state. And what a wild noise the wind makes in the telegraph wires as in wintry heather and gorse ... If a breeze arises it makes that sound of the dry curled leaves chafing along the pavement; at night they seem spies in the unguarded by-ways. But there are also days -  and spring and summer days too - when a quiet horror thicks and stills the air outside London.

The ridge of trees high in the mist are very grim. The isolated trees stand cloaked in conspiracies here and there about the fields. The houses, even whole villages, are translated into terms of unreality as if they were carved in air and could not be touched; they are empty and mournful as skulls or churches. There is no life visible - for the ploughmen and the cattle are figures of light dream. All is soft and grey. The land has drunken the opiate mist and is passing slowly and reluctantly into perpetual sleep.’

-Edward Thomas, The South Country, 1909, p.96-97

Comments (Alasdair) 3 October 2014, 3:19 pm
The book the quote comes from (The South Country) is about the 'chalk counties' - Sussex, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, the nearest of which is probably 50 miles away from London. However he does jump about a lot and lose geographical focus so it could easily be about the London suburbs too - which in those days would only have been miles away from the centre. It would probably help if I could remember the context of the quote! (dennis) 3 October 2014, 3:13 pm
I just re-read this passage more carefully and I think he is describing smog, which is brown or orange. I've read that the London smog was horrific around 1900 times, all the nitrogen oxides emitted from coal fires. Maybe these suburbs were close enough, if they had wires they probably were. In his stories Dickens describes walking to London through suburbs that are long since part of the cityscape. (dennis) 26 August 2014, 2:13 pm
Overland fog is an under-appreciated delicate thing dependent on dewpoints and microclimates. We have preserved an upland meadow from development, it sits in a saddle point and supports fog creation. Besides the viewing it seems that midges and unusual insects thrive there. Perhaps the most spectacular fog-evolved ecosystem is the coastal sea-fog that waters the sequoia and redwoods, allowing them to tower beyond the theoretical limits of root-based water delivery. (Thomas Hothem) 30 July 2014, 6:08 am
Lovely passage from an author i've yet to discover. The mention of fog on the London landscape put me in mind of some paragraphs on Britain's haziness, mist, and fog in William Gilpin's _Observations on the Lakes_ (,+and+vapoury%22&source=bl&ots=HPX8JftFZ_&sig=GgQH8RCwLX1r2UCGWIdlRYTptQc&hl=en&sa=X&ei=WYnYU5JBxoeiBICmgPAP&ved=0CC8Q6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=%22the%20moisture%2C%20and%20vapoury%22&f=false). But it's to be expected, for my part, i guess, as i've dedicated some scholarly pastime to charting the before and after of Romantic literary landscape—which, in some latter day form or other, does animate your wonderful music. That said, this is as good a place as any to thank you and the band for making the trip across the pond all the way to San Francisco, where i was very fortunate to be among the audience. You guys' work has been an unparalleled pleasure across the board in the decade or so since i chanced upon _The Violet Hour_. Keep it up, in whatever form. All best, Tom Hothem, Merced, California

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