Kage Baker went to Immaculate Heart High School, at the intersection of Western and Franklin Avenues in Hollywood. The dear old pile – which bore a strong resemblance to Ghormanghast when Kage and I (and a couple other of our sisters as well) went there – stands just on the curve where Western segues into Los Feliz Boulevard. If you walked up Western there, past what once was Immaculate Heart College and is now the American Film Institute, and past the inexplicable bronze bust of Lief Erickson, you came within a quarter of a mile or so to Ferndell Drive: the westernmost entrance to Griffith Park.
A quick left and you were in under the Scotch pines and invisible from the street or either campus. You were at large in the Park then. You had successfully ditched school and escaped into the Wood Outside Athens.
This was something seniors, privileged to leave campus, often did. The rest of the student body did it, too, but with greater caution. Only the seniors could safely sunbathe on the lawns fronting Los Feliz (doubtless causing numerous car accidents), because if someone from the college saw you out there, you’d get turned in. Most girls therefore lurked up under the trees. But Kage and I used to climb up to the Observatory.
There’s a little cafe up there (where we sometimes could afford Cokes) and the Nature Museum. That Nature Museum had the weirdest dioramas ever. Truly strange. Little dinosaurs wagged their paper-clipped-on heads, little cavemen shook their toothpick spears, and a little volcano belched cotton wool lava, lit from below by a clearly visible red Christmas bulb … Kage loved those things. Even in high school, when we’d ditched afternoon classes to escape up there, she’d stand in front of them and press the buttons over and over, laughing harder each time.
“It’s all true,” she chortle, watching the sullen red cotton clouds lighting up over a miniature Ferndell. “This is the real world. It’s all a big crafts project by 4th graders!”
When she could be dragged away from existential hilarity, we’d head further up the canyon. If you turned right at the Ferndell Picnic Grounds and headed straight to the back, you’d come to where the creek that ran through the park originated; and behind the muddy far edge, a trail went up the hillside to the East.
I don’t even remember how long the walk took. The last time I took it, I was 17 – lithe and young and as dumb as the squirrels in the oak trees, doubtless risking my academic standing and my life by hiking alone in the hills. But I was young and dumb and thus was preserved by Fate to look back on the antics of 1971 and shake my head in wonder.
Most of the time I was in company, anyway, and at the first strange sound we would abandon the trail and run up the hillside like startled does. Once between the trees you were essentially invisible, and could just keep on going to the next loop of the trail. You could cut off a lot of slogging, and also avoid the serial killers and Park Rangers we were sure were on our track.
We never actually saw anything. We used to hear a flute playing sometimes; but we never saw who was playing it, or if he had shaggy legs and goat horns …
Ultimately, one came to the Observatory grounds and could collapse on the cool green lawns, in the shade of the astronomers’ monolithic statues. There’s a snack stand up there, too; but if we had no money – and we usually didn’t – there were water fountains inside the marble haven of the Main Hall. And the steps and terraces had endless shady angles, places to sprawl on cool stone and discuss all the worlds inside Kage’s head. Also whether or not calling a parent would get us picked up at the Observatory (with some excuse about a field trip, maybe?) or if we’d better hike back down before the mountain lions and dire wolves came out.
I am old and fat now, and most certainly no longer part of that cloud of brainless nymphs who ran up the hillsides 40 years ago. But now I have a car! So I am going to drive up to Ferndell. I can afford a soda now, and I’ll see if the dioramas have improved.
Then I’ll drive on up to the Observatory, and lean over the edge of that long hot trail, and listen for the flute …
Tomorrow: fire season, in LA and Kage’s head