Kage Baker was a professional observer. Writers, by and large, are – good ones, anyway. They observe both reality and fantasy with objectivity, and write about what they see. She taught me to pay super-secret-close attention to what was around me, because there was no better show than what you dismiss from the corner of your eye.
Kage loved to people-watch, sitting somewhere and studying crowds, noticing and speculating on what people do when they feel unobserved – and for some reason, people in crowds do feel unobserved, despite being surrounded by lots of other people. Maybe the idea of herd anonymity has something to do with that; although I suspect the universal black-and-white camouflage that hides a zebra from a lion just screams out its identity to other zebras. In the case of humans, it only hides you from all the other zebras – the lioness in the shade sees you clearly.
The lioness will eat you. Kage would just stick you in a story. She used to say: “Never offend a writer – you’ll end up in a story.” For that matter, don’t catch their attention at all, or you will join the secret stash of Things That Can Be Used Someday.
Her observations kept me amused on our many long roads for 40 years. Her lessons in watching continue to provide me with entertainment. They also help me avoid trucks and cars evidently driven by blind people – you know, the ones that attempt to change lanes into the patch of road you are currently inhabiting. This never fails to be of aid … and even while driving alone, I am never bored.
There were indeed sun dogs and rainbows all along I-5 on my recent trip: I have never figured out what atmospheric anomaly provides the feast of refraction that always exists along that road, but I love it. I saw all manner of strange road kill – autumn is approaching, when (according to Kage’s theory) the wild beasties beside the road draw lots and send out sacrifices to die strangely and be mummified on the verge. Exploded tires were out in force, too, imitating dead iguanas and giant tarantulas beside the truck stops. I think they were tires …
The hordes of pale butterflies that accompany the Lords of the Upper Air in summer were still sweeping through Kern County. I don’t what they are – they might be Sulfer Yellows. Or Southern Dogfaces. Or even California Marbles. I only get close looks at them when I clean their little wings out of my filters, when the white and gold and purple of them is a little smeared. So whether my grille was full of Perplexing Hairstreaks or San Emidio Blues, I have no idea.
Last winter’s motif of fans is still continuing. Hey, Steve and Carol Skold – remember how you told me Thursday that you had seen the blades of giant wind turbines, lying on the ground and also passing you on the backs of huge trucks? Well, on Friday, so did I! One turbine had apparently blown its wings off in the Altamont Pass – cows were grazing unconcernedly under the enormous blades – and another one passed me on three separate trucks, each bearing a 20-foot long white scimitar. What are the odds, huh? They were just as strange-looking as you told me.
The cotton is beginning to pop, and there are snowy drifts around Mendota and the turn-off for Pumpkin Center. Corns fields were ripening everywhere – except around Highway 58, where what appeared to actually be sorghum had gone wild and tangled for several miles. (Motorists are advised to watch out for herds of feral sorghum …) There are lagoons (which have never been there before) near Lost Hills, sporting herons and egrets and reeds and water lilies and a million ducks, all arranged at random just beyond the dried tumbleweeds and Russian thistles beside the highway. Sudden wetlands – where do they come from? It’s a mystery.
It makes for a wonderful drive, watching for all these oddities. They never fail, and if one goes away some other lovely weirdness takes its place. I cannot imagine how people fall victim to highway hypnosis, unless they turn their brains off then they turn their engines on.
Really whets my appetite for winter. Who knows what will come slinking down out of the hills by then, to posture alluringly by the road?
Only Kage, I suspect.