June Gloom

Joe Chafkin

PHOTOS: Max Houtzager

LOCATION: California

June Gloom makes every day a microcosm of seasonal change.

Settling into June and its promise of warmer weather and longer days, the Full Strawberry Moon signals that summer has officially arrived. Here in Santa Barbara, we’ve begun our annual period of June Gloom, a curious meteorological phenomenon where high pressure systems over the Pacific meet thermal lows further inland, forming a pressure gradient that pushes a thick layer of fog — what we call the “marine layer” — over the coast. This is not unique to Santa Barbara, happening all over coastal California, but here it manifests in a particularly remarkable manner. The low-hanging cloud renders the horizon murky and unintelligible — the shadowy cousin of a once-familiar landscape.

Everything seems different, like an early-morning homage to the winter. Virtually no wind. Silence, as dense precipitation muffles the outside world, bringing about a contradictory inner sentiment of connection amid isolation. Sheltered from our environment, we grow reflective, appreciative, nostalgic for the inaccessible flora: it’s still there, lying dormant beneath a sheet of misty white — opaque and solid, yet temporary — burning off as the day grows late. Around 2pm, the cold, glassy morning gives way to clear skies and warm breezes as the landscape comes alive, exploding with vibrant greens, oranges, pinks. June Gloom makes every day a microcosm of seasonal change.

Morning fog masks the familiar, and forces the observer to update, reconsider and revitalize a fixed perspective. In the evolution of distinct seasonal headspaces, we come to notice things once taken for granted by grappling with their apparent absence. A different way of looking at things had always existed within, but required that external activation: the activation of absence.

Words can be barriers because we all impose unique experiences onto a given set of characters — it’s impossible to directly communicate the subjective convalescence of context and sensory input that produces a moment. But, at the same time, I believe a feeling of oneness with the earth that raised us is the single most relatable aspect of the human experience. I find it in the ocean, observing the change of conditions in response to a greater system of which I am a part. I feel one with this energy while riding a wave, recognizing that it, like I, found a home on this beautiful ball of cosmic dirt, that its energy will never fade away but will instead change forms, as I hope to do someday in my final deathly embrace of the environment which created me. I suppose the word “integration” comes close: we finally belong. It is a belonging more profound than patriotism, an identity that supersedes the ego which cuts us off from one another, from the flora and fauna, from the earth itself.

The revery of tired, salty ecstasy — watching with half-closed eyes the swaying palms tinted coral by a sun which readies to retire for the day and start the process over — convinces me to keep paddling out, just as the sun rises and sets. We grow attuned to those natural cycles in which we participate. Drunk off of the purity of these moments, you feel yourself fade into something much greater of which you are no mere cog, but a unique and thriving component. Everyone experiences this connection to their environment independently, locating it along different avenues and activities, and yet the sentiment manifested, a heady rush of gratefulness and recognition, strikes me as more or less universal: I have seen it settle upon the faces of perfect strangers on the street and in the lineup, in the eyes of close friends and family members alike. These individual experiences — personal connections to the earth that cannot be articulated in their full complexity — unite us in difference. We are the outbursting of potential, we are embodiments of the new, shared roots and all. We are singular expressions of the same indomitable life force that sunned the tree and scattered its seeds. We are all part of a single entity in a state of perpetual flux.