Kage Baker used to pray for rainy weather on New Year’s.
Not that the weather mattered much to us – it was the foreigners she worried about. All those non-Californians watching the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, seeing our crystalline air and abundant sunshine and total lack of snow, who then tended to pack up the family and move out to what they thought was paradise.
That was what bothered Kage. She felt our state was Paradise, too, and frankly didn’t want to share it with more people. But our eccentric weather patterns and whatever pact the Pasadena Rose Parade Association has made with the local gods usually kept the day dry and gorgeous. Kage’s prayers were in vain.
We weren’t real partiers, she and I – our New Year’s observances were quiet. We tended to an early dinner and then immersion in the Twilight Zone marathon until it was time to watch the ball drop in Times Square. Then we’d open our champagne, drink our toasts on the front porch while the neighbors shot off guns, firecrackers, signalling cannons and mortars, and eventually take the first ceremonial walk of the year …
When we still lived in Los Angeles, the walk was up and down the narrow, weird streets of the Hollywood Hills. We’d ghost along the sidewalks, spying in through lighted windows at the jollity displayed. We had our favourite neighbors – the families whose children we watched grow up, the house where we never saw anything alive but cats, the living room graced with a stuffed rampant polar bear … we’d walk up to the crest of the hill we lived on, where the rolling land dropped away to the west and the scent of the sea came in across 10 miles of the twinkling, improbable city. We would breathe in the salt air and resolve to survive.
We took our walks in Pismo, too. The barrage was especially loud there: for a city with only 8,000 permanent inhabitants, we had a lot of firearm enthusiasts. And every holiday tourist seemed to arrive with guns, fireworks and turkey deep fryers that they didn’t know how to use and tended to launch into the air on trails of flaming oil. It was pretty exciting. But when we walked out, it was a mere block or so to the sea itself, where the dark sands and luminous Pacific were a perfect well of peace.
Kage used to kick off her shoes and hand me her coat, and wade out into the surf. No matter how cold the night, no matter if it was raining in Pismo, she’d sprint into the waves. She’d bathe her face in the icy sea-water and vow to write; she’d promise her soul to her muse if only he would continue to inspire her. Then we would go sit on the sea wall until her feet dried enough to brush off the sand and get her shoes back on, watching the waves roll in reflecting the Christmas lights on the Pier.
We would trade my pocket flask back and forth, warming ourselves on single malt, and make our one constant resolution: to survive. And then we’d walk home, with Kage cursing the fine weather and the locust tourists all the way, and go to bed.
The weather forecast for the New Year is clear, sunny and 77 degrees. I don’t know if I’ll be walking out this year – especially if I’m post-surgical – but I will most certainly be swearing at the lovely weather. It’s traditional.
You’d think the million people crowded like lemmings along Colorado Boulevard would discourage people watching on television; but those shots of the snow-capped mountains above the orchards always turn up and there we are. The whole damned place looks like a fairy tale, or an orange crate label then: Kage would groan, and claim she could hear thousands of pupils dilating in the depths of the frozen country East of the Rockies …
So we pray for rain. It doesn’t work, but you never know. This year it might. Whatever it does – I’ll survive.