Kage Baker was an enormous fan of seasonal lights. It started with Christmas lights: when we were little, those were all there were. They were like a hot-climate aurora
borealis, curtains and strings and fountains of lights in winter darkness. At the house, a comet went up every year on the top of the tower where Kage made her bedroom, trailing the lines of its tail down into the roses of the garden.
Disneyland introduced us to the idea that lights could be for all year round. The white lights in the trees: those were the most elegant decorations we had ever seen. Kage always thought they were one of the best parts of the magic kingdom. She loved the faerie lights, those tiny white lights in the manicured trees.
When we grew up and had moved out, we decorated like mad for Christmas: lights everywhere. In colours, and three sizes, and with special effects. No silly tableaux or messages: just the clouds and nets of coloured light that had fascinated Kage from earliest childhood. With a ladder and a rake and Kage to hand me the right end of the cords, I could rig lights on anything. And I did. She had her faerie lights in the trees, all right; I wrapped the walls and garden in them, from the potted roses by the front door to the brass sailing ship weather vane on top of the garage.
Eventually, party lights came into vogue: plain lights in every colour of the rainbow, sets of lights in delightful weird shapes: fruits and vegetables and cows and geckos and palm trees and flitches of bacon. And jack o’lanterns. In fact, Hallmark first came out with Boo! Lights (harmlessly smiling little pumpkins) more than 20 years ago, and we put them up as soon as we found them.
Now you can put up a much wider, wilder, wickeder array of Halloween lights, of course. There are eyeballs and assorted viscera; little glowing brains; the undead in conditions varying from a decently closed string of coffins to rotting zombies to defleshed skeletons. It’s all in good fun, of course, and with the introduction of LEDs the colours are simply grand! Not to mention thunder and lightning machines, fog makers, Jacob’s ladders,and vinyl snowglobes as big as Volkswagons and full of purple bats.
We stuck to the faerie lights, though, me and Kage; orange and purple lights, and a modest string of those little smiley pumpkins. It’s really what she liked the best: coloured lights are their own justification, she said, they don’t need to be tarted up with blood and gore.
I’m living with another sister this year, but she too is an aficiando of lights. Things are a little different; everyone has their own favourite colours and symbols. But it’s pretty much the same … there are now gold and orange and russet lights in the trees and round the windows; a curtain of blinking spiders and their glowing web is going up later. I may indulge in some crystal skulls, for their esoteric alien charm; already, we’ve got a string of fancy glittering jack o’lanterns on the window. (They came in colours and were irresistible.)
Come November, I’ll replace the bats and pumpkins with elegant autumn leaves. You can get glowing turkeys, but so far I’ve managed to resist … and in December, it will be back to the classics, all the colours of jewels and ice.
For now, though, it’s a season of license – time to dance a little in the drifts of dry leaves skittering down the sidewalk, and leap at your own shadow on the lawn. With all the tiny lights burning on the porch and the branches, it looks like a whole troupe of phantom Kates is dancing out there with me – a pavane in transparent gold and orange and red, a processional of pale flames. Every little lamp casts a facet of a shadow, and around me a thousand dancers are wheeling in a ring.