Kage Baker loved spring in California.
She was aware that it was popularly supposed not to exist. She knew all the jokes about the faux seasons of California. She regarded them as some of the many ignorances (which ought to be a word, if it is not) and calumnies spread by an East Coast that was still basing its image of the West Coast on lurid tabloid cowboy stories.
The cattle industry in California predated the Yankee immigrants to the state, anyway; it was the gracious ranching culture of the rancheros that dominated California. You can still see the remnants of it in rodeos and civic festivals all over California – Old Mission Days, Vaquero Fiestas. You can even still get glimpses in the cows – in Central California there are heritage herds of beautiful old lyre-horned cattle, dew-lapped and hunch-backed and coloured like the wild bulls on French cave walls.
California spring is likewise esoteric. It can start as soon as New Year’s and run until May Day, or it can go up in cold flames over the course of three weeks. It’s sudden and glorious and not attached to a human calendar; it’s a wet season, a rainy season, a madly determined green season. The hills go emerald and wildflowers blossom everywhere – in silty roof gutters, on freeway verges, between the carefully selected tame plants in office lobbies. Downtown is first covered by the green lace of vines – copa de oro, convolvulus, wild rose and the very queen of flowering vines, morning glory. And then every old wall and abandoned warehouse is covered with gold, vermillion, pink, white, and that deep, oceanic, heart-stopping blue …
Our spring hits its stride in February and March. By the time the Vernal Equinox spins into view, the wild oats are already in their silvered beards. By May Day the hills are a golden sea. And if you’re not used to it, you can mistake it for some tropical oddity of winter. You may not notice it at all, especially if you’re sheltering under an umbrella while our entire annual share of rain falls in a month.
Those proto-Euro cows can be seen in the spring, hock deep in flooded meadows. The fields here turn green and break out in lupin and poppies, and paleolithic cattle wade breast-high through them like boulders in a glacier. Kage loved to drive North this time of year. The blossoming orchards, the flowers on every bank and hollow, filled her like wine. She would roll down the window and let the cold new winds fill the car with perfume. Also rain, the only time she’d consent to get wet in the rain. The water would bead in her hair like pearls and crystal, and under it her hair would darken to improbable shades of burgundy and scarlet. She’d put De Falla’s El Amor Brujo on the CD player and shout the Spanish lyrics into the storm. Oh, it was wild!
This year – well, it’s been a dry couple of years here in the Eye of the Sun. In January, we had a heat wave, temperatures running over 80; I hid in the house and became a crepuscular organism. February was cooler, but it was conspicuously not damp. But in the North the rains began; the green tide began creeping South to us here in the Los Angeles Basin, and finally – it rained. Yestreday. Last night, too. Even more importantly, though less carnally delightful for us, it snowed in the mountains. And since that is where our summer water sleeps the winter out, every inch of that snow is literally a godsend.
We need all the rain we can get. In all likelihood, we’ll get more – not enough, but “not enough rain” is the default setting here. In fact, the only other setting is “far, far too much”. But I don’t think the hills are likely to walk this year, nor Highway 1 fall off the edge of the continent (as it often does). The rain will be sparse and soft. The gasping earth will soak it up instead of drowning. The wildflowers have started, the hills are going green. In the Northern coastal meadows, calves and foals and lambs are beginning to skitter.
As Kage was wont to say, casting her eyes skyward: “Whichever one of You is responsible – Thank You!”