Kage Baker was not keen on wild animals. She wasn’t keen on domestic ones, either, but Fate arranged it such that she was more constantly exposed to feral beasties. Either way, she didn’t have that World of Disney fondness for our four-footed neighbors – though she respected animals that behaved with dignity and were useful. Rather the same way she felt about people …
We grew up in the Hollywood Hills and edges of Griffith Park. If you don’t know Los Angeles, the Hollywood Hills are a fairly… uncitied … place. While people have flattened some of the hilltops into places that will harbour huge expensive houses, a lot more of the Hills are narrow, twisty roads running between nearly vertical lots – one side uphill, one side downhill. The houses cling like moss to a boulder; between them are numerous empty little lots full of haunted copses of trees and tangles of dead branches and abandoned Model A’s.
The Hills are also full of coyotes, bobcats, deer, pumas, skunks, opossums, squirrels both arboreal and ground, raccoons, snakes and unnecessarily large bugs. They all use the barely paved streets as game trails; the hillsides come right down to the tarmac, often in little landslides full of strange tracks and chunks of golden granite. No curbs. Sidewalks are for sissies.
Griffith Park is very slightly separated from the rest of the Santa Monica Mountains by a gorge full of freeway, and Lake Hollywood. It’s the 11th largest urban park in the United States. It is maintained in a lovely patchwork of tiny bits of human space: picnic areas, softball fields, a magnificent carousel. In between these mown and lighted areas is just – the Hills. You can drive a few places, but mostly the hillsides are thick with wild oats, bunch grass, spurge laurel, live oaks, eucalyptus … plants that will grow wild and huge, and can get by on no water for nine months out of twelve. You can clamber around all day and never see a human being or a paved path. Animals, though, you will encounter.
I remember one afternoon, hiking around aimlessly with a Great Dane named Thora. She was meant as security. Halfway up a hillside, the dog flung herself into the tall grass, whining. I was holding the leash and perforce went flat in the grass, too. And then deer began to, apparently, rain down out of the sky … they came leaping over the crest of the hill above us, in beautiful arcs and arabesques, maybe planting one delicate hoof between me and Kage and then bounding away downhill.
There must have been 2 or 3 dozen of them. Not one hit us. Near the end of the rain of deer, Thesta realized they weren’t much bigger than she was, and wanted to follow them: it took both Kage and I to convince her to stay. She was baying in frustration as the last of the deer leaped away into the live oaks. And there we sat, covered in wild oats and dust, holding a howling Great Dane between us, victims of a drive-by deering.
As Kage would have Lord Ermenwyr exclaim many years later, her only comment was: “I! Hate! Nature!”
On the way home, we encountered a tarantula out for a walk along Woodrow Wilson Drive. Kage was not thrilled.
Why has this long-ago scene of antic weirdness been haunting me lately? I have no idea. It was such a long time ago, when two high schoolers could wander the Hills safely, with nothing but a dog to keep them safe. Mind you, Thora was as large as a mule deer, but that doesn’t explain how we never encountered anything more dangerous than a perambulating tarantula or puma tracks in the soft golden dust of a landslide.
Bookish little idiots that we were, I’ll never know why were not snapped up and eaten by some predator. Maybe we were protected, as the deer were, by wandering in uninhabited areas and running very fast. Or maybe whatever god had lit the wild fire in Kage’s brain kept her safe until she could start writing all that down. In the meantime, he let her wander in strange places and see strange things.
I assume I came along as a job lot. And someone has always been needed to hold the dog, drive the car, nudge the tarantula out of the way …
And remember stuff. Even if I haven’t figured out why, yet.