Kage Baker loved astronomical phenomena. Eclipses, comets, near object passages – they all fascinated and intrigued her. She loved anything odd in the sky, as a matter of fact, and was always thrilled to see the blimps slowly traversing the skies of Los Angeles and San Francisco (Which they do. Really. We have, on a global average, what can only be called lots of them in the California heavens.) Airplane banners totally zooed her, the more so since one can almost never make out what they say and so can make up messages from God and space aliens.
I got a nice little telescope in freshman year, and we used that thing for all sorts of observations until well into our twenties. We made nocturnal expeditions into dark and empty places to catch sight of comets; sometimes just up into the less-populated areas of the Hollywood Hills with small nieces and nephews, to give the kids their first glimpse into the spangled heart of the universe.
I don’t how many of them peered into the eyepiece and politely – and spuriously -assured us they did indeed see whatever celestial bauble we were showing off. But sometimes they really did realize that glowing patch of blurry fog was a comet or another world. The wonder in the little voices was unmistakable. And the night rides into strange places, the sleeping bags and thermoses of cocoa in the back of our pickup were fun, too.
I remember … turning the telescope around backwards, centering the image clumsily through the eye piece so it safely projected a solar eclipse on to a sheet of white paper. I was a senior in high school, I think; it was on the front porch, and Kage had culled this method from some library book. We watched the tiny image wane and then wax, as the air grew strange and full of orange shadows and we speculated hopefully on whether or not the tiny projected sun would set the paper on fire.
I remember … in the 1990’s coming home to Pismo Beach late night after night, from a Renaissance Fair in San Bernardino. We’d pull up in the driveway beside our microscopic cottage a block from the sea, and stand there a moment just breathing in the ocean air. Kage would point up and say, “Look, it’s still there!” And so it was, Hale-Bopp, I think; a cloudy jewel we watched all summer long, arcing low over the western ocean.
I remember … a bloody full moon rising from a brand-new ghostly mountain range of smoke as the L.A. Basin filled up from yet another fire. Ashes rained down for days. The red-yellow-green traffic lights turned black-orange-blue in the altered light. And the moon was as red as a giant highlight in a glass of wine, a glassy red bubble in the sky.
Tonight is the Winter Solstice, and a full moon, and a lunar eclipse. I’ve been anticipating it for the last month, since the viewing is supposed to be especially good here in Los Angeles: the Griffith Park Observatory is even opening late, to allow public viewing from its great bronze domes. However …
Other celestial phenomena have seized center stage here. Los Angeles in currently in the dripping maw of an enormous storm, with more on the (literal) horizon. We’ve already gotten close to half of our yearly average rainfall – it’s been raining for 5 days and is supposed to rain for at least 3 days more. What isn’t sliding down a hillside is flooding or burning – things always burn in L.A. during the winter rains, because the streets flood so the fire trucks can’t get through … in the Hollywood Hills, street are burning, flooding and sliding all at once: the trifecta win is to have a mudslide carry a burning tree into your living room and set your house on fire.
Above all this interesting soggy chaos, the moon is rising toward her rendezvous with a lover in a cloak of shadow. She will faint into his arms in a few hours, reclining in discreet darkness for the duration of their tryst – then shine forth renewed and glorious, spinning in her full glory on the very cusp of the solar year, where the sun begins his long fall back into the light.
And I will not see a thing. The clouds are so low I can’t see the hills, let alone the sky. But as the streets flood and the rain drums and the lightning flashes and the thunder rolls around the dark sky – at least I’ll know why. Nothing random this time, by God and Goddess! The Holy Marriage will be celebrated in the skies tonight, in a long slow dance of fulfillment and renewal …
And I’ll drink a toast to Kage while it is.