Mists of the Bieszczdy Mountains

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I’ve been in the fog before, of course. I’ve stood at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge consumed in fog. I’ve walked through forests blanketed in murky mists. It wasn’t the mere existence of the fog in the Bieszczady Mountains that was so compelling. No, what sent it spiraling into the crevices of my imagination was just how seminal it felt.

Up to this point, I’d only encountered mist as a circumstance of weather. Certainly, the feeling of the surroundings are impacted a bit when swathed in white. But, only on the surface. Like a youth donning a rented tuxedo, nothing fundamental is changed by the haze. The mists in the Bieszczady were different. They were not mere meteorological event. In those mountains the fog felt significant, generative somehow.

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Before heading to these mountains I spent some time researching, of course. The first thing always mentioned were the połoniny—subalpine meadows at the tops of these mountains. The shifting national borders and the inevitable upheaval this caused in the population also surfaced. But no particular mention was made of the mists. So, when we first discovered them blanketing the mountains, we naively believed they were simply a weather phenomenon. We thought it was merely happenchance that we’d summited the mountain into mists.

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A few more days on the mountains began to disabuse me of my assumptions. These spectral tendrils began to take root, clutching at the strings of my fancy. Surely there was something to this fog. Even during the hours when the fog lifted and our vistas cleared, the mountains remained tinged with fog, as though unwilling to relinquish the haze. Then, a Polish friend finally made sense of it for me. After I posted a picture of the mists she mentioned that the fog is why people go to the Bieszcady. Songs, poems and stories are written about those mists. My heart immediately understood.

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Of course artists are drawn to the spectacle of ephemeral mists rising from the loamy soil. For days we’d been succumbing to the the same lure. Walking through those valleys, it was simply prima facie that all the clouds in the world have their genesis in those very crevices. It was to witness primal creation to see those vapors spiraling into the ether in little tufts of being.

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But even recognizing their fecundity is too severe a reduction. Certainly, the impulse to be in those mists is not only documentary in nature. It is more personal than that. The draw of the mists is the inevitability of succumbing to them. It is the graze of opacity on my face, coiling through my hair. It is the totality of being swallowed by the unknowable. It is being subject to a vapor that reveals and conceals according to its own caprice. Existing at its mercy is both unsettling and emancipating. In this fog I am obliterated and cocooned. Consumed and sheltered.

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Perhaps that’s why, when the fog lifts, I’m not met with a simple relief. The obfuscation of the mists aren’t unequivocally oppressive. There is shelter in their obscurity. There is a palpable assurance that an epiphany is just beyond the haze. Maybe that’s why, having left the mountains, I can’t leave the mists behind.

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