It Really Is The Humidity

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.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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11 Responses to It Really Is The Humidity

  1. Michael Young says:

    I once went to Orlando FL in Aug. I said to Sara ” How bad could it be, it can’t be as bad as you make it out to be” Never again. Feb maybe Mar. Never after June if I could help it.
    Thought I knew what Thunder Storms were. I was 0-2. At least i know better now.
    You are right the must have gills somewhere.


  2. Widdershins says:

    Soul-gills! Wow!


  3. Jane says:

    I’m wiping tears of laughter from my face as I sit in front of my air conditioner in Los Angeles: “dessicate” indeed! I love your imagery, yes, the soul gills arebe the only explanation. I was born in dry eastern Montana, and haven’t been comfortable with high humidity since I was oh – 30. I like my humidity in a hot shower where it belongs, thank you very much. Thanks for this one, Kate! I’ll be chuckling in my air conditioned sleep!


  4. Kate says:

    Ah, Dear Readers, laugh all you like – but the humidity here at the edge of Griffith Park is 72% right now. At 10 PM! And it’s not raining! Thank God for the overhead fan in my bedroom … I swear, I was sweating IN the shower tonight. It’s just not natural, I tell you.


  5. Margaret says:

    Definitely! Southern New Mexico is usually nice and dry except for a brief midsummer rainy season that our misguided weatherdudes have decided to call the “monsoon” – ha! Well, it’s come late this year, and those of us who have devolved from the gill-bearers we probably were in outr natal states are moaning fiercely at humidity way over the usual 10% – one morning the weather feed said it was 62%, and that’s with no rain in sight at that time. Global warming, I didn’t think I’d have too much trouble with. Global tropics – Ugh! Bah! I’d contrive an anti-humidity dance – it’s like a rain dance only in the opposite direction, no? – except the effort would probably knock me over .


  6. Medrith says:

    Poor babies! We lived in North Carolina from 1976 to 2003, and are moving back as soon as we can. It should have been last week but our buyers are apparently far less well qualified than they represented themselves as being…in Zebulon, where we will be living, the humidity was 94% yesterday. This is normal for NC.


  7. I’m in Austin and I don’t think we’ve gone a day without hitting 100 since May! I grew up in Connecticut and although I’ve spent almost half my life here now the summers just seem too hot to be real. I saw a squirrel with heatstroke once, sprawled in the shade on its belly and panting.


  8. PJ says:

    I love this post! The great inland sea…yes, that explains it.

    I once spent a week in New Jersey over two humid summer days and it was enough to convince me I’d never be able to hack that east coast humidity. I don’t even want to contemplate the south…


  9. So very true. I was in DC for the 4th of July one year with my family and I thought I would die. I’m born and raised a CA girl. I can never fathom of living anywhere else. Especially if I have to breathe through soup.


  10. Jan Foley says:

    You’re right about different humidity planets.

    I’m from the other one. I’m originally from Michigan, and now live in Scotland where it has literally rained constantly for the past two months. Depressing, but survivable, for those of us who own gills.

    I do remember taking a cross-country Greyhound trip across the western USA in my youthful middle age, and stopping off in Cheyenne, Wyoming for lunch. It was August, the outside temperature was 114, the sky was royal-blue and cloudless.

    I remember noticing that — beneath their wide-brimmed hats and above their scuffled grey boots — the inhabitants of Cheyenne, whom I’d observed from the bus window as we came into town, resembled slow-moving strips of chicken tikka. I realised why, the second I stepped off the bus. My nostrils glued themselves together, my lungs sucked themselves inside-out, my skin crackled, my lips peeled back and the mucus inside my mouth shrank to nothing, like a slug covered in salt. In panic, I galloped towards the door of the restaurant, in an (ultimately successful) attempt to prevent my eyeballs from turning into prunes before I got there.

    Safely inside, I crouched at my table, breathing gulps of life-giving ice-water through a straw, plotting my exit strategy, and wondering HOW IN HECK did any human being ever manage to settle the plains of Wyoming before the days of air conditioning? What planet did they come from? Anyway?


    • Kate says:

      I dunno, Jan – maybe Mars. I think the humidity on Mars would suit me just fine. I had your experience with the air conditioned vehicle and the air conditioned restaurant, and playing “Frogger” across the parking lot – only at the other extreme. I thought I was going to drown in the outside air in Austin, Texas.

      However, since I didn’t drown and you didn’t dessicate – I think this speaks well for our eventual adaptability to alien planets! We ought to get along across a broad spectrum of atmospheric conditions.



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