Kage Baker had an undying fascination with the weather. It arose gradually through her adulthood, and had everything to do with performing at Renaissance Faires. When your seasonal activities are performed outdoors in a low-tech environment, you become as sensitive to weather as any Dustbowl farmer.
Kage hung a barometer beside her desk, and checked it frequently. She had me install weather programs on the computer, so she could follow approaching storms by satellite, doppler and animation; when weather cams began to appear, she found the ones in areas in which she had an interest, and checked those in real time. And she listened very carefully to her arthritic hands, her sinuses, and the rib she broke falling out of a tree when she was a kid – because they all sang loudly when a weather front was approaching.
Not that we who do historical recreations are afraid of getting wet! No way; we’re tough. But we do live in fear of the audience sensibly staying home because burlap is not much a rain screen. We live in fear of getting stuck in an unpaved parking lot that has turned to wet adobe. And it’s not near as much fun as you might think to be wandering around soaked to the skin in three layers of wool; children and small people can become immobilized by the weight of a costume that exceeds their own.
I don’t have to worry about this much anymore, as I am on hiatus from open-air fairs these days. But the habits of a lifetime so far do not leave easily; I am finding that I’m still very aware of the changes in air pressure, the slow spread of thin clouds over the sky, and the faint ghostly thunderheads now appearing from the North. Weatherbug (my adorable weather program) is showing me the front creeping down from Alaska, coloured on my monitor in shades of blue and green.
Now, while I am semi-retired, hundreds of my friends are not. The Southern California Renaissance Faire is in the middle of its rehearsals and construction right now, out in a park in Irwindale. And I know all too well what is going through their minds as they, too, watch the sky …
It’s going to rain. Probably all weekend. All those pickup trucks laden with lumber and pieces of buildings and sometimes entire buildings; all those props and tents, all those yards and yards of canvas and silk and tapestry meant to provide a gentle swaying screen against the Spring sun – are going to get soaked. By next weekend, when building resumes, they’ll be harbouring species of mold hitherto unknown to Mankind.
So everyone is considering how much stuff really has to come out this weekend, and how to keep it dry if it does. The rehearsals and classes, ordinarily held outdoors in the classic Greek tradition, will adjourn to nearby living rooms or be abandoned altogether. But the construction crews – the unseen heroes of the Faire, thse sturdy souls who actually put the set together – will be preparing to work on through storm, wind, hail, snow, and just about anything short of actual lightning. It’s not really cool to be 20 feet in the air on a metal ladder with a belt full of nails when lightning is stalking the hills …
So I worry about my friends.
On the other hand, as a native of Southern California, I know in my bones how badly we need this rain. Kage would say, The storm doors are finally open! and dance the Rain Dance of Glee. The only thing that keeps the annual drought in check is the snow laid down in the mountains in Spring – and it’s sparse to nonexistent this year. What’s bearing down on us now is a full-fledged Alaskan storm, its wings full of ice to lay on our grateful, thirsty hills.
In the end, though, the weather will do what it will and be damned to us little people scurrying around down here on the ground. It may arbitrarily swerve east and blast the Rockies and the long-suffering plains again, as all our other storms have this year. Or it may come straight on down the coast, and sit on us for a week – 4 inches of rain, 4 feet of snow; morning and evening mudslides, and intermittent flash floods in the parking lots of the San Fernando Valley.
But the storm is out there. I feel it in my own bones, in the urge to make sure we have tarps ready against the leaking roof I no longer have to sleep under. I feel it in the back of my mind, where I’m totting up available dry bed places, and deciding who to put where. I can hear Kage reminding herself to pack an extra coverlet, and a plastic sheet to go over us.
Rain is coming.