Better Late Than Never

Kage Baker didn’t really care for winter weather – at least, not if there was any chance she would have to be personally out in it. For her, winter was best as a spectator sport. She was designed to live in some halcyon tropical zone on the edge of a warm sea.

Mind you, she did like to observe its alien ways. Our years in Pismo, we were never more than 3 blocks from the ocean; watching the winter storms was one of her favourite past times. The wind howling round the eaves was thrilling, and she loved being safe and warm indoors while the black winter waves beat on the sea walls. You could feel the pulse of those waves all the way up to our house, shaking the air and the earth.

When she was growing up in Momma’s house, the best views of winter storms were from the cupola on top of the second story. Kage claimed it for her lair in early adolescence, and would watch the storms galloping across the San Fernando Valley with great glee. Often the show would be enlivened by exploding transformers; the Valley flooded regularly (and still does, when we get any rain) and a ghost sea comes into existence. Three stories in the air atop a hilltop in the Hollywood Hills, Kage watched ages of the world rematerialize beneath her gaze.

Her interest in history and time travel was really inevitable, you know?

Of course, California has an infamously dysfunctional relationship with winter. Droughts are common, and more frequent than most inhabitants realize: people here have been building dams, storage ponds, canals, and catchment basins for as long as they’ve lived here. (Hint: looong before the Spanish.) From time to time, the rain – just – stops.

Then we have a drought. Between droughts, we get years where it rains for 5 or 6 months at a time. That happened in the 1860’s, and several small towns washed away. After that it didn’t rain for 3 years, and the statewide cattle industry failed. Several times in our lifetimes, the rains have overstayed their welcomes – rivers rise,  the hills walk, and the earth slides, and all the valleys become lakes. Cemeteries wash out and coffins come drag racing down the broad boulevards into the Valley.

Spielberg didn’t go far from home for the imagery in Poltergeist. The tide of bones has crested along Devonshire and Tujunga three times that I can recall.

Before long, I fear, we’re all gonna be missing the mild inconvenience of the  recreational dead boating in the Valley. The snow level in the mountains is less than 20% of normal, and it hasn’t really rained in months. We’re halfway through our rainy season, and nothing has come. Reservoirs all over the state are showing muddy bottoms. The Governor has already declared us a disaster zone – which, I must admit, is a fair cop for California most of the time, but this time it’s for the drought.

We’re the salad bowl of the United States, and we have no water. Never mind if your lawn is dead; the rice in the North is gasping. The winter wheat is thirsty. Tomatoes and peppers and lettuce and strawberries are not beginning to shoot in the Salinas Valley; there are dead orchards standing skeletal in the great Valley between the Diablos and the Sierra Nevada.

Time to plant the front yard in cedar shavings and gravel. Time to fix leaks and teach the youngsters about Navy showers. Time to plan the spring garden plot in pots, to be watered sparsely by hand.

Kage would not have been surprised. It’s happened before. Mind you, the climbing temperatures are a new variation, but she’d been expecting sea level rises for years; climate change is a whole other ball of mud, and being aware of it or not will make no difference this coming dry year.

Nonetheless … there’s been a hint of normalcy these last few days. January warmth, which has been hitting the 80’s for days and days, has calmed down to the 60’s. The temperature is nearly normal, and clouds have wandered in from the forgetful Pacific. It’s been cool and grey and even moist, suddenly: not actually wet here in Los Angeles – just a sheen on the streets, a faint scente of wet stone under the naked sycamores – but it’s been enough to feel on your cheeks as you go outside.

It’s been enough to make the sidewalks slippery, too, Yestreday I slid in the driveway and went face first into the street. I’ve got a nice case of road rash down my left leg, and I’ve scraped up my knee and elbow as neatly as any afternoon on the playground; but while I was down there on the ground, I noticed that the dust had been laid! There was a thin wet shining making its way hesitantly through the gutter. The asphalt smelled of chrysanthemums and milk: which, if you never fell down on a Los Angeles street, Dear Readers, is the native perfume of beginning rain.

Rain is coming. Virga can be seen in the middle air, getting closer and closer to the ground. There is mist on the wind; glass is beading over ever so slightly.

Better late than not at all, Kage would say. And, as usual, she’d be right.

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 Better Late Than Never

  1. Maggie says:

    Chrysanthemums and milk. That’s what it is!


    • Kathleen says:

      I have no idea what component of partially combusted hydrocarbons brings that smell of milk to our streets, but it’s a weird fact of life in Los Angeles. And I love it.


  2. Miz Kizzle says:

    In California you get your droughts, earthquakes, wildfires, flash floods and mudslides, and you do your falling down on wet sidewalks, while in New Jersey we have summers when it’s as hot as the hob of Hell and winters when we’re clamped in a deep freeze for weeks on end. As a langnappe, we get a horrifying thing called black ice to slip and fall on, and to send ourr cars spinning furiously out of control into the Jersey barrier, a proud invention of the Garden State. Plus, we have Chris Christie, toxic waste and the mafia to add to the pile of evidence that we live in some hellish version of a Merrie Melodies cartoon.
    So yeah, California, despite all its faults, is a paradise on Earth compared to some places.


  3. Kathleen says:

    Oh, there is something ghastly no matter where one lives – and it’s largely incomprehensible to strangers. I, for one, could never relax in tornado country. And snow is something best observed from a distance. You get used to the inconveniences of your own land, I guess. But I must admit, I do think California is paradise. In parts, anyway.


    • Miz Kizzle says:

      Affirmative. Thumbs down to tornado country. And Texas. My God, what a nightmarish place. Snakes, scorpions, fire ants, the death penalty and everywhere you look, there are religious maniacs with guns. Texas may well be the worst state in the union, although Mississippi and Alabama are close runners up.


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