Dashing Through the Fog

Does a foggy Christmas count as a white Christmas in New Orleans?

Editor’s Note: Errol Laborde is out this week, but please enjoy the following post, originally published Dec. 12, 2011.

Fog at Christmastime, when the earth’s warmth mingles with the cool crispness of the air, is such a seasonal factor in the United States that it even provided the premise of a song. It was a foggy Christmas Eve that made the glowing properties of an outcast reindeer’s nose useful to his employer’s delivery service. Because of the fog, the reindeer went from being laughed at, called names and denied participation in reindeer games to going down in history.

Other than having made the career of one reindeer, there is not much good to say about fog, except in New Orleans, where it accounts for the closest we usually come to a white Christmas.  At its most picturesque, the puffy haze from the river, as it runs alongside the French Quarter, creeps across the levee onto Decatur Street where it adds mood to the smell of freshly brewed cafe au lait and fried beignets and the clopping of mule-drawn carriages. A chime from the cathedral clock tilts the entire scene into sensory overload.

Fog is a bit less charming when experienced from the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. Those who routinely drive the bridge are used to the blur that covers the lake during that time of the year, but for me, having once hurried to the northern side for a Christmastime meeting, this was something new. The police had laid out a series of traffic cones to keep us in one lane, and we followed in a convoy led by a police car miles ahead.

Billowy clouds are very much a part of the Louisiana Christmas season. Along River Road, patches of smoke drift across the highway. But there is a sweet fragrance to this cloud, the product of the ancient ritual of setting fires in the cane field to remove the roughage from the stalks in preparation for the harvest. Sometimes the river fog and the cane smoke mix, bringing both mood and fragrance to the air.

By the time my meeting in Mandeville was over, so too was the fog. It had lifted to reveal a hazy but crisp day. A crew picked up the cones on the Causeway for another day; there was no convoy. The south shore's skyline was quickly visible.

Had the day been even clearer, the faint puffs of smoke from River Road in the distance to the east might have been more visible. There the fires burned throughout the day as the harvesters raced the early sunsets and the possibility of a blast of cold air. The occasional crackle from the charring cane and the molasses-scented air with the darkening sky as the backdrop give poetry to the Louisiana winter.

Christmas in New Orleans is celebrated pretty much as it is anywhere else in the country. But where traditions provide the sameness, nature creates the subtle differences, the mists in our midst produced by the merger of a river, lakes and shifting temperatures.

Other places are less blessed. This raises the question: If there’s no ground heat because its always cold and icy at the North Pole, the domain of the aforementioned reindeer, than how is it possible for it to have been foggy there?

Some questions remain better unasked. We’ll just assume that the driver had the foresight to perceive a potential fog problem once his craft crossed into more moderate climates. When destiny calls, its light shines – even through the fog.

Categories: The Editor’s Room

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