Kage Baker loved the halcyon days. I don’t mean peaceful, warm weather – I mean the classical halcyon days, of Greek legend.
Traditionally, these are a fortnight or so of calm seas and warmth around the time of the Winter Solstice. They were gifted to Alcyone, a daughter of Aeolus, the Lord of the Winds and a son of Poseidon, as comfort after the death of her mortal husband – Alcyone threw herself into the sea in grief, but (being a granddaughter of Poseidon) did not drown but was transformed into a kingfisher. So was her resurrected love. They are said to brood and hatch their eggs in a floating nest on the surface of the sea, calmed by these magical warm midwinter days …
California is of a similar latitude to Greece, and so are the terrain and (sometimes) the weather. Certainly, here in Los Angeles, there is usually a warm spell around or after Christmas – the winds are soft, the air is warm, the hills turn green and luxuriant. All the local birds begin to court, and some will nest weeks before the others. Some years it happens at the Solstice, some years later. This year, it is now.
After devastating storms and snow in the streets of Burbank, yestreday was in the 70’s. Right now it is 80 degrees outside; I have the side door open, and a scent of new grass and warm stone is blowing into my room. The hyacinths and roses, the daffodils and crocus are all putting out new shoots – even while the Christmas cactus is covered with huge ruby winter blossoms, and the mulberry tree is as naked as any ecdysiast.
It won’t last, this interlude, but it is glorious while it is here. Kage loved this time, and would open all the windows and let the breath of the garden fill the house. She always misjudged the heat of the day – which doesn’t last, not even in halcyon weather – and by sunset would be shivering and running from window to window, slamming things shut. But until then she would stretch in the sun like the hyacinths she loved, visibly shooting up in the sudden heat and light.
This time last year, the halcyon days came in late January, too. The weather, after a harsh and horrid winter, was suddenly fine for a week or two. During that time, I opened up the windows in our hotel room and let the sea air in; Kage sat up and gloried in the light, and dictated Nell Gwynn II to me with renewed strength and determination. We watched the tourists come and go, and were vastly entertained by the parade of plastic buckets and boogie boards and wetsuits; little kids and dogs, covered with sand and thrilled to be running around on the beach in Midwinter. The smell of barbecues.
An interlude of peace, given by the gods to those they love.
A mole, made by the craft of man, adjoins
the sea and breaks the shoreward rush of waves.
To this she leaped—it seemed impossible—
and then, while beating the light air with wings
that instant formed upon her, she flew on,
a mourning bird, and skimmed above the waves.
And while she lightly flew across the sea
her clacking mouth with its long slender bill,
full of complaining, uttered moaning sounds:
but when she touched the still and pallied form,
embracing his dear limbs with her new wings,
she gave cold kisses with her hardened bill.
All those who saw it doubted whether Ceyx
could feel her kisses; and it seemed to them
the moving waves had raised his countenance.
But he was truly conscious of her grief;
and through the pity of the gods above,
at last they both were changed to flying birds,
together in their fate. Their love lived on,
nor in these birds were marriage bonds dissolved,
and they soon coupled and were parent birds.
Each winter during seven full days of calm
Alcyone broods on her floating nest—
her nest that sails upon a halcyon sea:
the passage of the deep is free from storms,
throughout those seven full days; and Aeolus
restraining harmful winds, within their cave,
for his descendants’ sake gives halcyon seas.
Ovid, Metamorphoses, XI