Review: Will Dowd takes readers on a non-sappy run through the seasons in “Areas of Fog”
It’s February, a month filled with weather that’s hard to describe because we just don’t have the vocabulary for all of it, according to Will Dowd, author of “Areas of Fog,” a witty, eloquent and cozy collection of essays about weather in New England.
“We still have no name for the first labored swipe of windshield wipers over morning frost. We still have no name for the mist that rises off the shoulders of melting snowmen like their departing souls. We still have no name for the evening snow that falls like Pompeian ash, redly illuminated by the brake lights of infinite traffic on your commute home. And still, still we have no name for a balmy February afternoon, such as the one we had on Thursday, when the sun comes back to you like a lost dog from childhood and lays its golden paw on your chest.”
Observations like these are what make “Areas of Fog” such a good read. Dowd may not have adequate vocabulary at his disposal, but he does have a way with words. And while his prose may be lyrical, he doesn’t romanticize as, month by month, he provides a “running retrospective forecast” about the relevant weather in ways you may never have considered but will surely recognize. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. His writing on weather affords him segues into oftentimes wry and oddball anecdotes about history, literary giants and artists, conversations he overhears at the beach and his neighbors’ Christmas decorations, to name a few of his delightful digressions.
The first week in September, which “brought forth a heat so biblical that we New Englanders wandered around mopping sweat from our eyes and confessing to uncommitted murders,” culminated in a storm that “lit blue matches in the sky. Thunder rumbled like the apneic snores of a sleeping God.” The thunder metaphor he attributes to the Puritans, who, he reminds us, believed in predestination. “To me, it seems predestined that the Puritans should have ended up in New England. Is there a better climate on Earth for worrying about the state of your soul? If you can’t feel God’s grace, just wait five minutes.” And that’s followed by the tale of a spiritually distressed woman in 1637 who tried to drown her two young children.
Spring, he says, pays no mind to calendars. “Spring doesn’t care about any of us. It certainly doesn’t care about human time. It keeps its own clock, and it comes when it comes.” He recalls a former poetry professor who on a day “when the first wave of pollen was sweeping the campus,” wondered to the class, “How many more springs will each of you get?” While exactly “the kind of carpe diem sentiment one is liable to hear in a poetry class,” Dowd says, it failed to inspire him to “seize the day.”
Writing about June’s summer solstice he is reminded of Emily Dickinson, who once wrote a poem about it. He once toured her historic home and tracked mud into it and now ponders why the beloved poet withdrew from society.
This is a book for New Englanders who, on any given frigid winter day, ask themselves the existential questions, “Why is winter happening to me? Why do I live here? Voluntarily? … Which complex web of self-sabotaging life decisions let me to take up residence at 42-degree North?” It’s for those who admire the statuesque sunflowers of summer and think of Van Gogh and for those who know the “insomnia native to mid-August, when the nights are as cold and clear as jellyfish and you feel like the only remaining creature alive—or you would if the neighbor’s dog would stop howling.”
Weather is huge in these parts, and Dowd, with humor and eloquence, takes the constant conversation about it to a new altitude.
Amy Canfield is a writer and editor who enjoys reading in all sorts of New England weather. She lives in South Portland.