Kage Baker simply adored sightseeing. She was a born tourist: always drawn irresistibly to new horizons; and being a sharp-eyed observer she saw the details, and they all enthralled her.
That was the charm of driving places, for her. Mind you, we were compelled to drive a lot of places – doing historical recreations is a hobby that tends to take you out to where the grass is wild and buildings are few. And since Kage preferred to avoid flying whenever possible, we tended to go to conventions within driving distance – which was defined as how far we could get before my eyes crossed and shut. But it all made for an endless and close-up panorama for Kage to watch.
I must admit, I like it myself. I can’t rubberneck as much as a passenger could (unless I want to end up in a ditch) but even what passes before a driver’s more static viewpoint is fascinating. If you pay attention, you can be constantly entertained and never, ever risk highway hypnosis.
Wednesday’s trip North was first of all blessed with delightful weather. I’m accustomed to racing along I-5 just ahead of dehydration or heat stroke: but due to the weirdness of the weather this summer, it was hottest in LA and the temperature dropped steadily as I drove. I could feel myself ceasing to wrinkle and concentrate my sugars, and slowly draw back from the edge of raisinhood.
And the Central Valley is beautiful as the harvest season approaches! There are already fields where corn and sorghum and sugar cane have been cut, leaving shards as sharp as broken glass in the ground – but most of them are still fields of green waves, 8 feet tall. Every vineyard beside the road has towers of boxes ready to fill, and red, amber and green grapes shine in the sun. The almond and apricot groves have bright little fruits thick on every branch. The cotton is only just now blooming, but it will explode into drifts of snowy white any day now. The pomegranate trees are studded with dusty garnets, the pistachios with tourmalines and rose quartz.
And the fields given over to stock feed run a spectrum of colour, from emerald through olive to gold. The first walls of finished bales are going up, as bright as brass in the sun. They stack them long and wide at the bases, then taper up to what looks like a sloped roof – from the distance, approaching at speed, they look like gold-roofed buildings. Every field of forage boasts a magnificent mead-hall, another Heorot, gilded eaves and all; though I saw neither monster nor monster-slayer …
But near Firebaugh, I did pass a field newly-harvested of its cantaloupes. Only the culls remained: twisted vines, groping roots, discarded melons like denuded skulls. It looked like the aftermath of a battle, all bones and shattered heads. A little ways further on, someone’s luggage or cargo had leaped off their vehicle and gone feral in the center island. After several quick glances at 70-mumble miles per hour, I was able to determine that what was scattered all over the dry grass was shirts. Large, white, dress shirts. With button cuffs.
I was wondering, as it all fell behind, if the shirts would creep slowly toward the cantaloupes. Not fast,but steadily through the darkening days of September and October. And as the end of October approached, maybe some dark night they’d reach that field of battered melons, and every long-armed shirt could take and set a dried white skull between its collar points …and then, I guess, it would be party time along the dark road to Firebaugh. Though maybe not so much fun for benighted travellers …
That’s how Kage would tell it. That’s what she’d have made of a field of left-over cantaloups and a bale of white shirts lost on the median. Until my nerve broke and I screamed, “Oh, screw you!” and we raced as fast as ever we could to some place where the lights were still lit and we could remind ourselves we were grownups.
Ah, sight-seeing. Never better than through Kage’s eyes.