A peculiar delight of my childhood summers in northern Michigan involved the dueling foghorns of the Coast Guard stations in Frankfort and at Point Betsie. The old fog signals were automatically activated when sensors detected fog.
All through a foggy night, the two lighthouses would sing their duet, the throaty bass booooommm from Frankfort followed 30 seconds later by a nasal middle F note from the Point.
Big ships, obscured in the mist, would echo back with their own howls accompanied by their thrumming propellers. Whenever the horns were bleating at dawn, my brother and I could lazily roll over, cozy in the cottage blankets, sleepily glad because there would be no 9:30 a.m. swimming lessons today.
Just such a day occurred last week, when I had a dozen things on my to-do list, but awoke to the musical thrill of the foghorns. I rolled onto one side to enjoy the concert, secretly glad that I would not waste a “good beach” day on so many errands. As I rolled, however, I could feel the sun on my face. What in the world? Why would the fog signals be singing out if the sun was out? Sure enough, it was a clear morning with just a hint of mist on the far horizon.
The foghorns lied.
It turns out that, over the last decade, the US Coast Guard turned its automatic coastal warning system into one that is, instead, an on demand system for mariners. It means that any sailor, or fisherman, or tugboat captain can activate the coastal foghorns from the cockpit of their boat.
Now, I find it disorienting to know that it can be densely foggy and the signals won’t sing. Or bright and clear yet the horns are bleating. It robs one of the assurance that things are as they should be. We can no longer rely on the signals to tell us the weather. Talk about getting your signals crossed!
It brings to mind a scary crossing in thick, disorienting fog that we undertook on a sailboat across Lake Ontario when we were newly married. The captain had paid us to help him crew his new boat from the Toronto shipyards, across Lake Ontario, and through the locks of the Welland Canal. He needed to get his boat into Lake Erie, and we needed the money. But, we should not have been out in that fog. It was my job to stand at the bow with a tight grip on the fore-stay (I am unsure, had I fallen over, if they would have been able to find me in that fog), and blow the air horn- one prolonged blast at two-minute intervals to indicate we were underway by engine. Perhaps it would have been less nerve-wracking had we had the ability to summon the coastal signals at will.
Today’s onboard navigation systems make being fogbound a less daunting circumstance. Even so, I take great comfort in hearing a foghorn trill on a truly foggy day.
It is a lot like life; we can rarely see what’s ahead, and we often feel we are just barely muddling through, but we can have confidence that God will see us safely into port. He may even be calling to us on a sunny day.
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