The stratosphere descended yesterday.
Heaven had moved closer to us, for awhile.
This morning the sea rose in crystallized wraiths which spun and danced together atop much warmer waves and out to the horizon and beyond.
A more practical account of the weather phenomenon is that fiercely cooling air atop comparatively warm seawater condenses into layered fog. Legions of New England photographers rise from the sleep of the just in their toasty beds, gather their gear, and head out in inky skies to shores and harbors whenever dawn air is predicted to cool to -10 degrees or below (and sometimes, as yesterday measured atop Mt. Washington, a wind chill of more than 100 degrees below zero).
I’ve since then seen places where heaven meets the earth and sea, but it is rare to see them intermingling so freely. Not only did the White Mountains “kiss high heaven” overnight (as Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in “Love’s Philosophy“), but we mere mortals could have accomplished the same physical feat, in the heady space far above the air we breathe.
I first captured sea smoke on New Hampshire’s small slice of seacoast. On a January Sunday I often revisit, the rising sun turned the foggy layers to stunning singular hues. Lemon yellow. Day-Glo purple. Neon orange and pink.
As I marveled at the sight and coaxed my fingers to press the wee metal camera buttons to which I feared they might somehow remain ice-soldered, I did not know that–close to the White Mountains–another much-loved soul was then in the process of slipping from beneath a nubbly sea-blue wool blanket and sailing away to heaven.
There is something magical and rare about sea smoke and the way it transfigures and animates the elements. The accompanying, almost always painful cold, makes us feel something like the opposite of what Emily Dickinson described: we become zero at the skin, rather than at the bone.
And given sea smoke’s extraordinary pull on those who love to capture and preserve its images, I have found it is the one kind of weather in which I will always have companions, and never find myself deaf stone alone.