Kage Baker – like just about every other English-speaking person in the world – liked to quote Mark Twain from time to time.
She greatly regretted learning that he did not actually say that thing about the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco; partly because it’s such an accurate description of summer in that City. (Much as she loved it, Kage always thought that Eric Burden must have gotten into the mushrooms when he sang about a warm San Francisco night.) But it was apt and clever, so she would quote it and then conscientiously add, “Of course, Clemens never said that.”
But Clemens did say that everyone talked about the weather and no one did anything about it. Kage also liked and quoted that, then always added. “That one is witty but it’s wrong. People do all sorts of things about the weather. It’s just that none of them work the way people want.”
Which is pretty much true. People have all sorts rites and rituals for doing something about the weather – usually either starting or stopping the rain – and whether it’s the ceremonial slaughter of a frog or firing metallic salts into the clouds with cannons, they all depend pretty much on faith. And that faith’s main use is as a distraction, Kage said, until the weather changes of its own accord.
Frog sacrifices don’t work. Neither do beer, fireworks or virgin sacrifices – and those besides are less than profitable because they also use up otherwise perfectly fine distractions: at least, according to the Kage Theory of Propitiatory Meteorology. Even cloud seeding has had doubt cast upon it in recent years, as the storm patterns are altered from their familiar routes and seasons – and seeding won’t work anyway unless you have some clouds to start. Desperate farmers and preachers’ daughters wait in vain for the mountebank with his scatter gun and Messianic prayers to arrive and make it rain.
California is the very Queen of particulate atmospheric matter. We’ve got every kind of dust and crud you can imagine, from barley chaff and cow shit to rare metals shavings exuded from the strange furnaces at JPL. And yet – we don’t have much rain. In Southern California, we don’t even have many clouds, and humidity in the summer is usually less than 15%. We’re our own seeding project, and it still doesn’t work.
Right now, it’s 8:45 PM, 80 degrees, 51% humidity. Half the world scoffs at our sweaty complaints here in Los Angeles – especially the poor folk in literally blazing Oklahoma – but, you know … weather grief is real, if what is happening is out of synch with what you expect and need. The weather in which your body knows automatically how to regulate temperature and breathe. So people try odd things to try and change the weather; wash your car. Wash your windows. Open an umbrella in the house. Hang a load of laundry out of doors. Find and sacrifice a frog. Draw a hopscotch grid in red chalk, and hop it using a chunk of green grass for a lagger, chanting, “One, two, three, four, five, six seven – let the rain fall down from heaven!”
It won’t work. None of them will. It’ll rain when the conditions are right. If it happens soon enough after the juju, people will hail the power of the frog bones bleaching on the lawn.
But people have found one sure way to do something about it. Unfortunately, the only way humans have found that really, really works is to burn things for 10,000 years. Forests. Prairies. Oil, natural gas, peat, coal. That’ll do it, all right. But it does take quite a while for the effect to show (at least until you work up to the petroleum products. Those work a treat!). Then, by the time everyone notices and decides they don’t like it, it’s gone too far to stop.
Kage observed, as the climate change evidence began to mount: “Man, folks are gonna wish no one had done anything about the weather!” She also did some arcane calculations and decided that the ocean wouldn’t rise far enough in what remained of our lives to do more than give us beach front property. I’ve done her one better and moved 20 miles inland.
Meteorologists tell us that when the climate changes do get more severe, we’ll start getting monsoons. The sea will rise, and a ribbon of expensive houses and free beaches a thousand miles long on the coast will follow the fate of Atlantis. Then we’ll be sorry, they say, feckless Californians that we are. But I can guarantee that we won’t. If we lose the coast, we’ll sell off the new one for exorbitant prices. If we get monsoons, we’ll grow more rice and bananas. Tropical ambiance spreading through the state can only prove profitable, many Californians will feel.
I’ve still got the barometer, the brass telescope, the good beach chairs. I could handle it.
If only the monsoons get here soon.