Kage Baker was born in the Hollywood Hills. Well, actually, she was born in the old Queen of Angels Hospital near downtown, but that was in clear sight of the Hills. It was to the Hills she was brought home, and up the slope of the home Hill that Momma carried her – up the 50-odd red steps in 6 levels that rose up between the roses and fruit trees; into the long sea-green and ivory living room, lined with mirrors like a sorcerer’s cave.
There was a polar bear rug there when we were very little. Kage liked to sit on his head and kick her little sandalled heels (she had a juvenile thing about sandals). Momma used to whittle spare teeth for the poor bear out of wooden clothespins.
The house – a Green & Green knockoff, very like the C.P. Daly House in Ventura (http://www.usc.edu/dept/architecture/greeneandgreene/139.html), white stucco walls and red roof tiles – stood on the very crest of a ridge. The front yard ran down in many steep terraces on either side of that long red staircase, every terrace carpeted with manicured lawns, flowers and fruit trees. The back yard ran down in one long slope with a barrier of eucalyptus trees along the western edge to prevent small children from rolling down into the canyon.
Every level place was home to forts and playhouses and wading pools; the pool was set up in the same place so many summers that the area was rubbed bald down to the golden granitic bedrock – we called it the Druid Circle. Sometimes we found weird square-headed nails – John Fremont’s US Army headquarters were literally right up the hill – or pierced shells buried by the Tongva in their time. Or other kids’ old toys, mouldering tin cars and zombie baseballs.
Kage was always finding caches of coloured glass marbles: blue and green and lavender, buried in the earth like the seeds of a tropical ocean. Some of them were still in her jewelry boxes when I packed out the house last year. She attributed great and mysterious powers to them, what she called the seaglass stones, when she was small … and probably when she was grown, come to think of it.
The movie image of the Hollywood Hills is of sparkling pools and glassed-in patios and immaculate grounds keeping. But those are for public display, in places where people have not lived for very long. The older inhabited places are different. Our house was beautiful, but not like that – it was rather more feral, and went through rises and falls in fortune and tidiness. Most of the time, the garden was neat and purposeful close to the house, and gradually got weirder and wilder as you wandered away to the edges. When I read Tolkien’s description of Ithilien, the Garden of Gondor, as a ” .. dishevelled dryad loveliness …” I saw Momma’s gardens in my head. I always will.
Kage explored the gardens as a child, and just naturally wandered off into the Hills at every edge. Usually, it was the Hollywood Hills; but she insisted that sometimes she found her way into the Hollow kind instead, and things got … different. She may have been right; I certainly roamed those slopes and ridges with no clear idea of where we ever were, relying on the compass in Kage’s head to guide us home. We may have gone through any number of fey lands while she was following some deer-trail, or some line of mysterious stone wall between the oaks. There was nothing so intriguing to Kage as the suggestion of ruins; she followed old walls and driveways and foundations all over. And I followed her.
There are houses up there that we only ever glimpsed as walls between the oaks, at an afternoon-lit distance. Driveways and access roads were barricaded, when we could even find them. Some of those walls had arcades and windows that changed shape and number every time one saw them – I remember. There were lots that were empty by day and showed lights by night; places where the moon appeared to settle in the trees and glow at ground level in the summer darknesses.
There were doorways everywhere in the Hills. Kage found them all. Or built them, or dug them out of the golden grass and golden stone of the cliffs – who knows? I only know that she learned the world was porous so early, so young, and so successfully that she never, ever learned differently. Maybe that’s the easiest way to learn to walk between worlds.
Because what we learn as children, we never forget.