Driving To Winter

Kage Baker felt that seasons were not only arranged chronologically, but geographically.This is easier to demonstrate in chimerical California than in most places; our seasons are subtle and given to makeup and costumes.

A certain characteristic winter light, for instance, can always be found in the Northern skies, though the air through which it falls may be sweltering hot. Spring happens in the sea hills when they turn silver-green with wild oats and sweet herbs: never mind if the calendar says December. Summer shows up for 24 hours at a time at all random points of the year – usually at night, when warms winds freighted with the perfumes of orange blossom and hot stone will blow mysteriously down from the canyons: I’ve danced in the moonlight and that wind as often in January as in July.

In Kage’s personal calendar, Halloween marked the end of Autumn anyway. That was the more so this year, when the day after All Hallows found my driving North for the first Dickens Fair rehearsals – we open the last week of November this year, and so rehearsal began only two days past Halloween.  And, Dickens being Extreme Christmas, we drove straight into Winter.

My co-pilot this year is my nephew Michael. Mike is 22 now, tall and broad and neatly bearded – though he began his pilgrimages up and down I-5 in his cradle and swaddling clothes, cooing and laughing at the truck lights at night … he’s a Faire Brat, though now he is a large and competent one, and is playing a young solicitor at Dickens Fair. He also keeps track of the maps, hands me coffee and water bottles, and handles the CD player. His grasp of technology is light-years further on than his Aunt Kage’s was: he was burning CDs off his laptop while we roared along singing our lungs out to  Battlefield Band …

Kage would approve. She was one of the grownups singing “Go Down, Ye Blood Red Roses” and other nursery favourites (for Faire kids, anyway) to Michael when he rode in a car seat. His fondness for the road and technology has informed the characters of a few boys in her stories, too …

We clearly drove from Autumn to Winter on Friday. The San Fernando Valley was full of pumpkins and corn shocks (decorations, mostly, but hey – they were there) but we came down into fields full of haycocks and cotton bales on the far side of the Grapevine. The vineyards are limp and lank, the fields of peppers and herbs and cauliflower are all flattened, gleaned remnants; yellow and white dunes of sulfur and bone meal stand outside the apricot orchards to be spread among the trees. The stockyards are full of fattening cattle, but the corn fields are down to rattling bones of sheaves. Harvest is everywhere.

We saw no Redcaps on the road near Kettleman City this time, but we did pass a white dog with red ears. He was lying by the side of the highway, nose on paws. It was too sad to think he might be a family pet lost to the traffic, so I told myself firmly he was one of the Hounds of the Wild Hunt.  It was the day after Halloween, after all. He was just going home, and fell asleep on the way after a hard night. It could happen.

As we drove further Winter-wards, the numbers of road kill grew larger and odder. It’s always that way this time of year, a mark of the seasons changing. Summer on I-5 is marked with unlucky and suicidal birds: ravens, hawks, owls, scattered like feather bouquets on the verge. Winter runs to coyotes – though old Coyote is faking when you think he’s dead and approachable: ladies beware! You find more cats and dogs then, too, and occasionally an escaped and flattened cow. Deer appear as you near Winter lands.

Badgers also show up around now. (Yes, there are badgers in California.) We saw four of them terminally reclined by the side of the road this weekend – either that, or the raccoons are mutating into something closer to bears. These sure looked badger-y, though. Those claws are unmistakeable, and their masks are not in the least comic. I should have stopped and collected one – I have a dear friend who has long coveted a badger skull – but he was busy moving this weekend, and I don’t think a dead badger is really a good housewarming gift. Also, with badgers as with coyotes, one is never quite sure they are actually dead …

By the time we made it into Marin, the roadside casualties were ducks and Starbucks cups. And we were firmly within the boundaries of Winter: the vineyards there are heraldic gold and burgundy, there is the smell of frost in the mornings and wood smoke at sunset. Fog reigns on the coast. The transformation happens as you cross the Bay; all the bridges traverse dimensions and worlds up there.It was my deep delight to re-introduce Micheal to the magic act of passing from one season to another – just as his Aunt Kage loved it, just as I do.

Good thing the kid grew up to like wool coats. Winter is here, and so are we.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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5 Responses to Driving To Winter

  1. Brad Campbell says:

    Off topic, as always. Few more pages to read of Hollywood Ikons (read Carpet Bed of Sutro Park first, ’cause it’s one of my favorites of all time, then skipped to the end of the book). Wonderful, wonderful. Joseph, Lewis…Love them together (AND apart), even though I’m Mendoza’s # 1 fan…

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  2. Kate says:

    Allow me a moment of childishness, Brad: you really liked it? It reads as it ought? I worry so … there, Now I’m better.
    And yes, indeed – “Carpet Beds” is one of my favourites, too. Kage came up with most of that story sitting in the car in the rain in a parking space just below Cliff House. We’d fled the rain in Sutro Park, got milk and jam rolls at the hidden Safeway just off The Great Highway and watched the ocean while she came up with that story.

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    • Brad Campbell says:

      Finished it now. As I said, wonderful. Kage’s voice to perfection (& I’ve read & enjoyed them ALL). ‘Love potion # 9 right there in my sink…’ ‘Army of Darkness’. The ‘inside’ jokes & humor made me smile widely. Since the first story always makes me tear-over, that’s a nice bookend to the book end.
      Thank you so very much.
      -Brad

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  3. Shannon says:

    I love your road trip entries; now I find myself looking (within the bounds of safety!) out the window at the roadside whenever I have to drive, trying to appreciate the view instead of grouse about the driving. I also got my copy of Company of Thieves in the mail today! I haven’t had a chance to read any of the stories yet, but there’s something terribly exciting about just knowing it’s on the shelf…

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  4. Kate says:

    Always be safe! But the landscapes you drive through usually have a lot more to offer than clean bathrooms and a Jack In The Box. It’s wonderful to find out what there is. More on that tomorrow … and do enjoy Company of Thieves!

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