Autumn Mist

A Tribute to Dr. Raymond F. Betts (1925-2007), Historian and Founding Director of the Gaines Center for the Humanities at UK (1983-1998).  Transcribed from Kentucky Humanities (October 2007), p. 3.

Autumn Mist: Mist is the translucent stuff of memory and reflection

Ray Betts

Dr. Raymond F. Betts

by Raymond F. Betts

Along with falling leaves, early October in Kentucky brings rising morning mist. The sight is appealing – if the viewer is not behind the steering wheel of a car heading in the direction of this atmospheric condition.

Mist, unlike fog, its opaque cousin, causes graceful and appealing metaphors to rise. The mist of time, misty eyes, the mist of perfume – or W.H. Auden’s sad world “mantled in mist.” Fog befuddles and disorients; it disturbs and disrupts. Fog is the vaporous setting of crime and mystery. Fog may be dense or thick, heavy or impenetrable, widespread and rather enduring.

Mist is none of these. It is the translucent stuff of memory and reflection. It is so because it is light and low, quickly evaporated or dissipated as the day gathers itself together and casts off the deep cold of early morning.

The brevity of mist accounts for much of its appeal; the rest comes from its location. There, in hollow and bottomland, along river edge or around forest cover, mist, like the halo of the saint, defines the unspoiled, and briefly separates the natural from the contrived and manufactured.

The morning mist reminds us that there is more to life and thought than the clarity of reason. Mist suggests ambiguity, the ill-defined, therefore rather shapeless, space that separates dark and light, the depth of night from the brightness of day.

I can think of no better place to enjoy an early morning Kentucky mist than along Route 68 as the road twists downward to the Kentucky River and then pauses before it rises toward Shakertown. The sight is one that allows the viewer to grasp, in appealing and proper proportions, the artistic notion of “The Sublime,” the awe-inspiring presence of nature before the introspective individual.

Mist disappears quickly. Its momentary hold on our sight, our imagination, our spirit is as it should be. The appeal is in the long reflection inspired by the short phenomenon.

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