Kage Baker loved the pearly advent of summer in California. Warm grey days were among her favourites – the directionless cool light, the air like a perfect bath, the nacreous ceiling of the world resting softly on the hill tops … whether it was the haze rising from the L.A. Basin or the coastal fog in Pismo Beach or San Francisco, she loved it.
June is grey in California; increasingly, as climate change has brought us wetter winters and warmer summers, so is May. The whole place fills up with steam, I think – the hills begin to sweat as the season warms, and soft grey mists rise into the air to meet the morning fog rolling in from the coast. Somwehere in the night, the sky vanishes – by morning, the sky is like polished granite, a faint dark pattern running west to east where the sea air comes into meet the rising fog from the Valley.
It’s not unusual for us to see no sun from Mother’s Day to Fourth of July – it always clears up by the Fourth, gets hot and clear as molten glass. Sometimes the fog comes in again afterwards – there’ve been a few years lately where the only clear weekend all summer was the Fourth of July, and we continued in the grey warmth until September. By autumn it always clears away, and the loveliest sunny days of the year come in then.
Come to Pismo Beach! the banners in front of the Chamber of Commerce always read. In Fall, the Coast is clear!
And so it was. But until then, it’s grey in the mornings from San Francisco to San Diego.
This is how I best remember it from childhood; even more from adolescence. Those grey mornings that always seemed to start with finding a rummage sale – we’d scamper off in triumph, clutching old comic books or faded paperbacks of Edgar Rice Burroughs or Pogo books whose owners didn’t appreciate them. We’d hole up somewhere and read greedily until the day wore away and the grey sky began to dissolve – not lift, it didn’t work like that. It slowly thinned and faded and was inhaled back into the earth, until the afternoon sun shone down like a magic trick, from a miraculously un-occluded West.
Those days lasted, oh, 40 hours each in my memory – just from getting up to dinner time. Especially on Saturdays. A grey Saturday could last two or three days, as I recall.
I have books, today, the perfect bounty for a grey Saturday. One of them is one of Kage’s absolute favourites – C.S. Lewis, Until We Have Faces. Not Narnia, no, not even remotely – but I recommend it as heroic myth, and a woman’s story, and a model of the world and of God. If you are interested, Dear Readers, it was a model that influenced Kage’s feelings very strongly. I don’t see much if it in her writing – a conscientous workwoman, she built her own style – but it was in her life and living; and in the stories she told me when we were both girls.
On a day like this one, when we were young, Kage would have retreated to the branches of the live oak outside Mamma’s studio; or up to the flat roof outside her own Tower window. She’d have a bag of plums and a favourite book. Later, if I joined her with my own fruit and book, she’d put them all down and we’d discuss her stories, her worlds.
I have pluots, garnet-coloured with golden flesh and a taste like honey and spring water. I have this book Kage loved. I’m going to go sit where I can look into the branches of the mulberry tree, where a squirrel with white feet is eating ripe berries. And I’m gonna eat and read myself into a stupor, in the long, slow, warm, grey afternoon.