Kage Baker observed the classic calendrical markers for the seasons, because after all – there they are, they must be good for something. It helps you keep track. And there’s no denying the lengths of the days and nights: solstices and equinoxes, they aren’t susceptible to opinion. It’s either the longest day or it’s not.
But Kage also maintained, from years of common sense observation, that California has her own seasons. You can lay the weather of the rest of the country over the state like one of those transparent cutaway illustrations in the encyclopedia, but Lady California is only doing you a courtesy by going along with the gag. And she forgets frequently.
The calendar says that today, mid-February, is still the heart of winter. East of the Rockies it certainly is – and in fact seems to be aiming for Ragnarok and Fimbulwinter, at that. But here, in our narrow 300 or so miles between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, spring has been sneaking round the back stairs for a fortnight or so. In four days it will be Valentine’s Day – which Master Shakespeare informs us is the day the birds begin to mate – but in the wintergreen trees outside my bedroom, a mocking bird has been singing his amourous heart out for a month.
Kage said, we don’t so much have a set season for Spring here, as we have a wet season. She observed that our early fecundity arrives like a riot, disregarding the calendar or the month. The rains come – December through March, some part or all of that stretch, it rains here like the birth of the world. Between the storms, the hills go green as England and all the flowers of the earth begin to bloom. It’s not very organized, but we natives know it for Spring.
There are poppies blooming now- not the careful, formal, tame Iceland poppies planted in the courtyards of banks and hotels, although those are lovely and in much evidence. No, the feral California poppy, with its crazy leaves like mutant carrots and its four blazing petals, is coming up in every barren empty lot, between all the cracks in all the sidewalks. They burn your retinas as you pause for the turns onto the freeway ramps, colour as loud as trumpets.
Crane’s bill geranium is blooming, too – tiny purple flowers studding its ragged stems, sending up a scent like new-turned earth. Some sort of tropical trumpet vine grows unattended on the thousand miles of bent chain link fence downtown, scarlet and pink, clearly gone insane in the brief winter abundance of rain. It’s doing its best to bury the broken walls and ruins of cottages and auto shops down there, the remains of strip malls and lost driveways that stud the hills – but it’s doomed to failure, a late entry in the race that the blue morning glories won a generation ago.
Morning glories will even eat ivy, and they rule the empty lots of downtown Los Angeles. This is their season to thrive and spread: blue as ink, blue as shadows on white stone, bluer than even the warm sea lapping the coast. Someday, Kage always said, Los Angeles will be only glass towers gleaming through a cloak of cobalt blue – this time of year previews that age to come, before the heat of summer beats the morning glories back. But they’ll win someday.
That’s one of the worlds that lived in Kage’s head: a world where Spring in some broken stone city by the sea rises from a tide of blue flowers and stained glass. There’s a tower in the hills, where a girl watches a narrow glimpse of the distant ocean between green slopes, over a waving sea of oak trees and wild oats. And one day a man comes walking along the road …
It happens in the Spring, the early California Spring, that comes when the rest of the continent is still asleep under the snow. He comes, and they walk away between the burning poppies and the morning glories and the new silver-green grain; in some land where Spring comes at the end of January.
And wonders ensue.