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A sailboat anchored in the still lagoon barely moved, its slight rocking likely due to the movements of those stirring aboard rather than wave action. In the still dawn, a gossamer wisp of fog hung like a veil around the hull and mast.
A puff of wind, a breath disturbing the calm, crossed the water and raised nearly imperceptible waves – capillary waves – on the lagoon's surface. Unlike waves formed under stronger, persisting winds, capillary waves result from light winds pushing undulations in the springy water surface.
Carl Sandburg wrote in his poem Fog: "The fog comes / on little cat feet."
If the fog veil that hung over the slumbering boat was a descendent of Sandburg's fog, then its little cat feet marked the lagoon surface with cat's paws. These are visible as small dark patches that litter the aquatic surface under the breeze's gentle touch, coming and going at the whim of a capricious wind.
Cat's paws darken the water surface before us because the reflected light from sun or moon on portions of the cat's paws wave are directed away from our eyes rather than toward us as it is from the surrounding waters.
The winds that form cat's paws on a water surface are also often known as cat's paws in America. Landlocked cat's paws winds may form subtle markers that reveal their presence as they surf the land, often leaving tell-tale testaments upon the surface of tall grass communities such as wheat fields.
In the light and variable wind regime characterizing this early morning, their impact on the lagoon's surface is fleeting and fairly random. Once its force is removed from a patch of water, surface tension almost instantly again pulls the surface taut and flat, and the water becomes a near-perfect mirror.
The brush of the cat's paws ripples the reflected images in the lagoon's waters, an ever-moving mosaic that captures the eye across my field of vision. With the cessation of the gentle wind, the cat's paws disappear, like the Cheshire, leaving only a grin on my face.
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