Two nights ago the mists rolled in. Fog is a common occurrence here- this one particularly thick and eerie. Leaning out of my window I could not see the sea,which is only a few hundred yards from my house- indeed I could barely see beyond the house next door. But I could hear something instead- the long, low repeated blast from the fog horn located just up the coast.
This sombre sound always reminds me of a short story, titled simply The Fog Horn, written by Ray Bradbury in 1951. In the story (SPOILER ALERT) the sound of a fog horn, mounted on a remote lighthouse, attracts a giant sea monster, who responds to the horn with similar mournful cries of its own. We learn that the creature, something like a plesiosaur, swims to the lighthouse once a year, apparently in a doomed attempt to communicate with the fog horn, before vanishing back into the deep for another twelve months. The lighthouse operator speculates that it is the last of its kind, desperately lonely, and that the sound of the fog horn represents its final forlorn hope of companionship with another like it.
Like our old friend the sabre-tooth cat, this story evokes Bion’s nameless dread, the primal terror that accompanies abandonment. Solitude is a regular feature in descriptions of quests for self-transformation: the hermit in his cave, the monk in his cell, meditating on their gods with no human contact to distract them. But here is the most extreme example of loneliness- the dark side of solitude: a state of being completely alone in the world, perhaps for eons. The sea monster’s predicament speaks to deep fears of our own. How fitting that it should be depicted as a msyterious ancient creature, that spends most of its life hidden in fathomless depths.
Fog or mist itself is, according to Chevalier and Gheerbrant’s Penguin Dictionary of Symbols (a treasure trove of a book), symbolic of
a phase in development when shapes have yet to be defined or when old shapes are vanishing and have yet to be replaced by definite new shapes.
It is thus a
symbol of the indeterminate.
Much like the Shoreline itself, then, or like the surface of the water as it is breached by the creatures of the deep.