Kage Baker used to complain about the lack of humidity in California. She liked fog, she loved the smell of the sea, she liked her garden green. Living in the Los Angeles Basin, we grew up in what is technically (I think) sub-desert – Kage always mourned that, asking why we couldn’t have “sub-tropical” instead?
Then we started going to conventions in other parts of the United States.
The first shock was Austin in August. It’s Texas; it’s supposed to be dry, sage-brushy, prairie – right? Wrong. So wrong. And so much for believing the movies and guide books. Stepping out of the airport felt like having a boiling, wet wool blanket attack one. Walking a block was very nearly fatal, and not from the heat – 103 degrees is nothing to an L.A. girl. No, we were in danger of drowning.
Our genial and splendid hosts took us to the County Line Barbecue, and I must say: Texas barbecue is every bit as good as legends say. It was barbecue of the gods. But it was also in a river valley, and when we walked under the cotton wood trees, we thought gills would pop out on our necks; and that we’d surely die it they didn’t.
Let me say here: Austin is a lovely, lovely city. It’s got beautiful old buildings, and so many pecan and cotton wood trees it’s like being in an orchard. But despite all those trees, there is just not enough oxygen. We who live on the west side of the Rockies have lost some essential ability to breathe water …
We went to New Orleans the year before Katrina hit that wonderful city. The first thing we noticed, walking through the airport, was that it smelled like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. That totally enchanted us. Then we got outside, and found ourselves gasping like frantic hamsters in a puddle. The air was wet! No, the air was water. We had a wonderful time there, but everytime we went outdoors there was that shock of walking into an alien atmosphere. Somehow, intrepid space-women that we were, we managed our excursions out into the Swamp Planet – but it was a near thing. And all those wonderful, courteous, people around us, asking worriedly in their beautiful Nawlins accents, were we alright? Because we surely were short of breath … did we need a drink of water?
“I need an oxygen mask,” croaked Kage in our room at night. We closed the windows and turned the air conditioning to Dessicate.
Missouri was the same. So was Kansas. So was Ohio. Wisconsin was dry, but that was because we went in the spring and it was still covered in snow – we could tell that if we came back when the thousand lakes we saw from the air had thawed, we’d once again be trying to see where the natives hid their gills.
“I am never, never, never going to Florida,” swore Kage. Nor did she, but I did – to accept her post mortum Nebula. Cocoa Beach was not bad at all, being as it is on the edge of the Atlantic – but the drive through the lowlands and swampy bits between Orlando and Cocoa Beach was astonishing. I clearly had never known what real humidity was.
I’m not made for humidity. My lungs have evolved for an entirely different planet that what exists east of the mountains; my alveoli can’t suck enough air out of the air out there.
Today, through some evil trick of meteorology, the humidity in L.A. is currently 43%. I know, Mid Westerners and East Coasters are laughing at me now, but you just don’t understand! That’s not possible! That can’t sustain human life! I swear, I can feel my sinuses and lungs developing mildew; the cats and the Corgi are lying around like sad little fur tippets, flat as throw rugs. Only the parrot – evil evolved dinosaur that he is – is frisky and alert in this Triassic miasma. He’s singing and laughing on his perch, mocking my self-deluded mammalian superiority.
You know … Eons ago, there were inland seas covering the middle of the United States. Things like Lake Agassiz throve there, vaster than the current Great Lakes; the Gulf of Mexico once curved inland thousands of miles, claiming the land where the mighty Mississippi is now the last thin remnant of its power.
The ghosts of those enormous seas still roll there, and all the inhabitants of this continent’s center live under a spiritual weight of water a mile deep. They have soul-gills. It’s the only explanation.