Fog on Mt. Tamalpais

The first time I drove in the fog in San Francisco, I became completely disoriented.  I was visiting one of my college roommates, whose mother lived in a hilly neighborhood in the city – the same neighborhood, in fact, in which I now live.  On Mt. Davidson, the streets curve around the mountain but not over the top. They unexpectedly converge on one another, but not always in a logical fashion.  In short, it is easy to get lost in this neighborhood, especially on a foggy day.

That particular day, after driving aimlessly around trying to find my way out of the neighborhood, I ended up near the Cow Palace, a landmark exhibition hall just past the southernmost border of the city, far from my intended destination.  By the time I finally found my way back to the Bay Bridge, my borrowed Volkswagen bug, an older model without a gas gauge, stopped without warning, mid-span in the middle of the bridge, out of gas.   

Visitors to San Francisco are often fooled by the weather.  A day that starts out sunny can quickly turn chilly from wind and fog.  Sometimes the fog blankets the city in the morning, creeping in from the ocean, and slowly dissipates as the day goes by.  The closer one is to the ocean, the more likely it is that one will encounter fog.  This can be disappointing for those anticipating a trip to the beach, or perhaps a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.  The smart way to dress is in layers that can be peeled off when necessary.

Even as a long-time Bay Area resident, attending university in Berkeley, not far from my home town of Lafayette, I learned the lesson of fog in San Francisco.  One unusually hot day, a group of us planned a trip to Ocean Beach in San Francisco.  Shivering in our shorts and blouses and sandals, we were totally unprepared to find ourselves surrounded by a cold, grey mist. 

It is not always foggy in San Francisco.  There can be long spells of sunny weather.  With the acceleration of climate change, San Francisco can even turn uncomfortably warm.  Drive further inland, away from the ocean, and temperatures can rise into the low 100s.  But while the rest of the country may be sweltering in the summer, it can be temperate and mild in San Francisco.

Fog is not without its fans.  Following a summer week in a warm, humid climate, I find myself looking forward to being back in the fog. One anonymous individual, Karl the Fog, has adopted the persona of San Francisco’s iconic mist on Twitter, and some of his bon mots were recently published in book form by Chronicle Books.  “I haven’t always been the fog of San Francisco,” he writes, “but when it came time to serve as the city’s air conditioner, I knew what I was born to dew.”

Karl the Fog, published by Chronicle Books, 2019

Karl also notes the “I highly recommend climbing Mount Tam.  It’s one of the only times you can look down on me.”  

Fallen trees, Mt. Tamalpais

A recent hike on Mt. Tamalpais with friends was just such a magical day.  The air was misty, a belt of fog just below us as we climbed the mountain.  Mount Tam lies just to the north of San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Insect webs in the mist, Mt. Tamalpais

The hiking trails on Mt. Tamalpais and throughout the Marin Headlands are filled with grasses, wildflowers, mountain springs and waterfalls.  Giant redwoods and other evergreen trees grow on the mountain, in addition to deciduous trees.  Shade is generally never far away, though sometimes the climber has to work to find it.

It wasn’t always so, but I have come to love living in the fog.  It is exhilarating and invigorating.  In the words of Karl, “everything’s better with fog.”

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