Kage Baker loved Northern California. We travelled there for years, working Renaissance Faires and doing research for Kage’s writing. We snatched days and weekends to explore fascinating unexplained names on old maps; we went hunting movie sites, trying to match the landscapes in front of us with the glamourized versions of the silver screen. And when we fled Los Angeles, after the Rodney King riots and Mamma’s death, it was to the North we fled.
She called it the Summer Country, for the smooth golden hills that framed it, for the oaks that shadowed every crest and valley. She yearned to drive just a little farther into the those hills, to see what lived in the heart of the distance. We got a little ways into them, too, over the many years; until her longing for the sea took over, and we made our last move, to Pismo Beach.
Kage never went South again. She said her heart faltered when she passed Point Concepcion. If the weather was inclement when we visited our sisters down there, she’d insist on heading home. When we did conventions, she never left the artificial life support of the hotel. And if it was too hot, she insisted on hiding out in movie theatres – air conditioning, you know, and unlimited supplies of iced Coca Cola. I saw a lot of odd movies I would otherwise have missed, doing that … Dune. The Shadow. The Triplets of Belleville,
While I’m happy being back in Los Angeles, the summers have changed down here, and the heat is killing me. Maybe literally …
Our elder kitty, Cat Madam, claimed me for her own human when I moved down – she and I have been sharing the descent into senescence the last 3 years. I am now 60 – she was 17, which is 84 in cat years, so she was definitely the older of us two. She had arthritis, delicate digestion, congestive heart failure and the temperament of a failing empress. We had similar problems; swelling feet, upset stomachs, general crankiness; all exacerbated by the heat. I must say, she carried the whole thing off with more elegance than I. Kept her figure. Still had a dulcet miaow.
But earlier this week, Cat Madam died. Her heart, though proud and fierce, was worn out. The very next day, with still more hot days growing over the horizon like malignantly enchanted thorns, I fled North. Kimberly helped me pack, found my sunhat, filled my water bottle and all but pushed me out the front door.
I think she was afraid I’d go like Cat Madam.
It was like leaving a war zone, driving out of L.A. The enemy was the heat. The temperature was reaching for 100 when I got on the I-5 near Glendale; when I passed Magic Mountain, it was 104. But by the time I was cresting the Grapevine, it was obvious I had driven out from under the Umbrella of Death by Poaching: the temperature was down to 84, and continued to fall. Several hours later, I drove into Santa Rosa on a lovely 69-degree evening.
My host and hostess, the saintly Skolds, gracefully accepted the red-eyed refugee I was. Thank you, Steve and Carol! Their daughter, my good friend Neassa, invited me to meet her for lunch today – Neassa works at the Luther Burbank House and Garden, the historic home of that good gardener and as close to an enchanted garden as I have ever seen. We walked – Walked! Without even a sun hat! – a block or so down to a charming little restaurant, and had a delightfully eccentric and delicious lunch: a bunless hamburger: not a beef patty, a bunless burger with everything, mounded all around it. Turkey chili with avocados in it. Grilled cheese sarnies with stealth tomatoes hidden in the center.
While we were eating, chatting with Carol and another lovely lady from Burbank’s Magic Garden, I became aware of a strange motion in my peripheral vision. It took me a moment to find it – what looked like a tiny maelstrom, whirling in a spoon. After a few seconds, I realized I was seeing the blades of the fan above our table – slightly blurred, a little distorted, appearing to shiver as their reflection spun in the bowl of my spoon.
I wish I could tell Kage about it. I wish I could tell her how the long rides up and down the I-5 reconnect me to her voice, how the solitude in the speeding car restores me. I wish I could tell her the things, the amazing things I see everywhere. I wish I could say, I know what lies beyond the Summer Country, Kage.
Infinity. Eternity. Or maybe just the eye of a god with a migraine. But it’s real; it dances and it turns and it spins, weightless, in the bowl of my spoon.