Kage Baker intensely disliked cold weather – despite which, she spent half her life in Central and Northern California, where frost is common and snow is not unknown. The light, she said, was better – and one can always add layers of clothing to ward off the Ice Age. Which, to Kage, was anything below 70 degrees.
The real problem, though, (according to Kage) was not how far North or South one was in the long coastal ribbon that is California. It’s the fact that the place is a mosaic of micro climates. Most of them are fairly small; some are absurdly so, and have given rise to the insane variety of vegetables, herd beasts and cottage industries we’ve always boasted.
For instance, the Sunset Strip, between Doheny and Crescent Heights, runs along the base of the Hollywood Hills in a completely separate climactic zone from everything up hill and down. Its first use was as a field greens farm and a camel and goat ranch. A half mile in any direction, and none of those would have thriven. The teetotalers in new-born Hollywood would have had to get their lettuce somewhere else, and Greek George would have had to sell something else to the Camel Corps.
The divisions can be sharp and ferocious, too; you can literally drive over a given river or hill, and find yourself in a different world from the one you just left. When we lived in Pismo Beach, the boundaries for our climate were Avila Creek to the North and Pismo Creek to the South – rain stopped and started as if on the edge of a roofed patio; fog banks would form on one or the other side of the creeks, and just stay in place. They looked like the implacable faces of glaciers, and one drove into and out of them like special effects on some Disney Weather World ride.
I now live in an area of Los Angeles called Atwater Village. It used to be just plain Atwater, but some preppy promoter got hold of the name in the 1970’s and elevated it to a faux village. It has resolutely resisted upscaling, however, and one of the reasons is that it’s in a funny microclimate. It’s wedged up against the Hollywood Hills where they become Griffith Park, separated from both Glendale and downtown Los Angeles by more hills. The Los Angeles River – in one of its rare, natural state stretches – runs through it. All this makes it the home of ferocious fogs, high winds, and frosts unseen in most Los Angeles areas.
Among other things, that makes sidewalk cafes uncomfortable around Atwater. Since pretty much the same climate persisted in the Hollywood Hills, where I also lived, I don’t mind it in the least. But the folks with free-range cotton caftans and hairless little dogs wearing quilted silk coats tend to vanish when the wind begins to blow …
Our halcyon days ended yestreday afternoon. The wind began to blow hard. Continuously. And amazingly coldly. The wind chimes in the lemon tree sound like Quazimodo is jamming out there, and the frost lights in the mulberry tree are rising and falling and flailing like the Antarctic waves in the Roaring Forties. The temperature last night hit freezing, and today has reached a fine tropical high of 57 – from which it is rapidly falling. We’d have had frost if the wind hadn’t blown it straight off the grass and the windows – and if the wind drops tonight, we’ll see glittering lawns tomorrow.
It’s gorgeous, though. The eastern mountains look close enough to be marching West, probably hauling glaciers to roll right right over us. The front yard is paved with golden silk, like Lothlorien. Young ravens are flying upside down and backwards between the denuded camphor trees, and their cawing sounds like children laughing. I love this … Kage would have been wrapped in a blanket, indoors by the fire and cuddling the indignant parrot, but I love this.
People who dismiss California as having no weather don’t know what they’re talking about. Or what they’re missing. We’ve just gone from spring to winter – backwards, to boot – in 24 hours! From Italy to England! And there are still flood warnings and squids out at the coast.
Man, it’s just one big special effects festival around here. And people wondered where Kage got her ideas …
Out our bedroom window, here in Pasadena, it appears as if I could cut myself on the summit of Mount Wilson. Oh I hate the cold, but now at 3:45 in the afternoon, the oblique light is glorious. I might just bring myself to take out the trash and have a better view.
When I worked Northern Faire, in Novato, the moment I waited for all day was crossing the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, South,, homeward bound. Since shortly after sunup, everyone in the car had been walking the rocky streets of The Shire, dressed in thirty pounds of what we fondly believed to be Tudor-era clothing, usually crushed by near-hundred degree heat, while pretending to be living in the little ice age. We were not quite sober and utterly drained. BUT, at the bridge came relief, in the form of the blessed, blessed and (I’ll say it again) Blessed, San Francisco Bay marine layer! Between San Rafael and Richmond, the temperature would drop somewhere between twenty and thirty degrees, as we drove into the cool, grey, moist atmosphere, and everyone in the car would give a weak, little cheer. The overcast would stay with us, all the way to our door, so that we would sometimes actually be a little chilly, unloading the car. No one complained. I am still so grateful for the protective overcast that keeps the temp, here in the Berkeley/Oakland area, so cool and livable, all Summer long. Just on the other side of the hills, to the East, where the Mad People live, the temperatures are thirty degrees higher. They stroll their shopping malls (or whatever it is they do) in shorts and halter tops, while over here, we dress sensibly, in light jackets and jeans. I’ve always believed that there was some kind of natural selection at work, in this regard- but that’s another subject, entirely.
Ah, that beautiful grey glass air over Berkeley – I remember it well. So many years of setting out for home after Northern Faire, that was the first relief from the day’s heat. You could see the rampart of fog stretching clear cross the Bay as you approached through San Rafael, and over the Bay Bridge. Kage used to say it was the Bay Bridge for faeries and the dead, all the eldritch commuters that also crossed back and forth every day.
Later on, when home was Pismo Beach instead of L.A., Kage and I would drive down Highway 1, over the Golden Gate Bridge and out of the City to the Great Highway, where we’d follow it through the Fog Zone to the 280, on the way to the 101. We went that way so we could drive through the fog. Kage would hang her head out the window like an Irish setter and let the fog blow her hair back like a copper waterfall … I can’t imagine why I never whacked her head off against a light post as we zoomed through the fog. You know those places along near Pacifica, where the fog blows up from the sea and crest like a wave over the road? Kage always said it was legions of ghosts surfing inland. Wild, cool times.
Our own little corner of the microclimates was a bracing 51 high with 40 mph winds and a low of 26, which required us to cover the newly planted lettuce starts with bags, as though we lived in Nebraska. Still and all, a little excitement now and then is good – although it does make me wish we didn’t have open-beam ceilings and a back wall of quake-rattled windows.