Beginning In the Middle

Kage Baker always felt rather cheated by the implications of Midsummer’s Day. It very much is NOT in the middle of summer; in fact, it’s technically the first day of the season. It’s the summer solstice, which is wonderful – but it’s been spring up until that point, and summer itself therefore appears to begin in its own middle.

Of course, that’s a rather appealing vision in its own right: the summer beginning in the center of its own burning gyre, a kaleidoscope of hot coloured glass opening out like a rose. Kage liked the picture – but she was still annoyed with a season that began with false advertising as to its own metaphysical duration.

She settled her discomfiture with it all by just deciding to treat as if it were always in the middle. It was an eternal perfect golden day, no beginning acknowledged and no ending to fear. She was a lot happier with that idea anyway; she hated containing things within the strictures of time or space. A season that not only wouldn’t stay in one time but didn’t even admit to having one – that was fine with Kage.

But I don’t mind the progress of summer. I rather like the way it runs from cherries, through peaches and plums  and nectarines, to watermelons, grapes and early apples: it’s all a calendar of fruit, for me, and I am a happy fructivore for 4 months or so. Barbecue is nice but is only a side dish for a good icy wedge of watermelon. For Kage, the soul of summer was fireworks and Italian ices – which occupied sort of mirror images of sensations in her mind. For me, it was living in a literal cornucopia.

Midsummer’s Day itself, this year, was a festival of classic food, entertainment, and peculiarities. I meant to write about it, but was constantly interrupted by things I did not expect; or, having expected, had not planned for adequately.Sorry, Dear Readers, but Midsummer’s brought me all sorts of alarums and excursions.

Aside from the blackberries in the back yard (which are admittedly divine), I was very short of fruit – had to have it, too, so I ventured out into the streets of Berkeley to find some. I love Berkeley, but have never gotten on well with the points of the compass within its boundaries. I promptly got lost, and was actually lucky to find my way back to my guesting cottage.

There I settled down to eat plums and rewrite a story Linn didn’t like before she moved back to upper New York State last week. While engrossed in that, I was unexpectedly visited by some old friends of both my hosts and me, who were wandering about the place and sought out the comforts of a friend’s house (Tea. Garden. Bathroom.) before resuming their trip … I managed to yank my head out of the scene where my heroine was dealing with an alien proponent of religious paternalism, and make an effort towards their comfort for a few hours. But the writing was delayed.

Then I had to find and secure the cat, locate my shoes (the cat hid them) and get changed into something respectable before heading North to another friend’s barbecue and choral recital. The barbecue was delicious and the recital was beautiful – Song of Sonoma, a chorus 70 ladies strong with a gorgeous sound, and a perfect past-time for a Midsummer afternoon and evening. I started home just as the fading light let the first stars come burning through in a western sky the colours of orchids …

It was a beautiful drive home. Along the way I stopped in Novato – because I love Novato at Midsummer, where for 40-odd years the Renaissance Faire was the summer home of the faerie Courts both Seelie and Unseelie … there’s a grocery store there, a mundane-looking Safeway; but also the place where Kage and I shopped at night after Faire days, because it was a veritable Goblin’s Market.

Bread, fruit, cheese and beer: classic viands we got there, of unearthly quality, staggering in hilarious fatigue and partial costumes down the clean, shining aisles. The staff never turned a hair – partly because half of them worked Faire, too, and partly because at 9 PM on a summer’s night, most of the customers were at least as odd as Kage and I. I used to cry from exhaustion in the Produce Section, and Kage would entice me to the checkout with fresh cherries …

Anyway, I pulled into the lot once more last night, looking for cream and black plums. And when I got out of the car … I could smell the Faire.

Hot earth, wild oats baked in the summer sun until they gave off a scent of spiced bread. Damp dust, damp wood chips, damp hay – a hint of forges, smelling like foreworks; a memory of horses. Dusty velvet, wine and beer and mead; a thousand dancers in a ring, frying their brains under the noon sun, kicking up the dust that smelled of peat and incense. I breathed it all in through one long astonished breath. Then I burst into tears in the parking lot.

So I was sniffling and red-eyed when I made my way through that Produce section, where I have cried over the strawberries a thousand times just because I was too tired to think straight. But I wasn’t sad! I wasn’t missing Kage, I didn’t feel the vacuum where she and so many others of my loved ones once walked and do so no more.

There were black plums waiting for me. And milk and bread and cheese. And who could be sad, anyway, on Midsummer’s Night when it comes back to the very middle of your own bliss on Earth, when the breath of your own personal Paradise can  rise up in a hot dark parking lot, and carry you back 30 years to your youth? Who could be sad when ghosts come out to dance with you between the cold ale and the punts of cherries ripe, ripe ripe?

What else is Midsummer Night for, if not for that?


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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4 Responses to Beginning In the Middle

  1. Luisa Puig says:

    Indeed Kathleen, I agree: scents and sences mingle all over Marin County at Midsummer’s.
    And for us, especially at that Safeway Market and parking lot.
    I caught the aroma, too, from your text.
    Thank you for your tears.
    I add them to mine;
    and lo, I am happy, too.


    • Kate says:

      If I couldn’t be made happy by *that* … well, it would be time to drop me in a hole and shovel it in. Not many people get to look back on such a strange and magnificent life as mine has been to date!


  2. Mark says:

    Your magic words invoked the smells…and led to the loss of half an hour while I flashed on the smells of my own living history… Yes, Faire of course, and the subtle difference between the peaty hint of salt in North and the dusty mustard of the South. But also the cold salt funk of Dickens on the pier, and the sweaty wool and cinnamon of the Cow Palace. The magic Simeon and I created with tarred hemp, crab boil, nasty cigars and cheap gin for Old San Francisco. Or the oak and steam and mold of actor’s camp showers.

    And add a number of years in history sites across the nation. Beans baking in a wood stove in a snug New England kitchen. Fresh cut sawdust and wood shavings, leather and gear oil in a historic carpenter shop in Iowa. Fresh cut hay in a farm field. Sarsaparilla and roasting peanuts from a historic saloon. Dozens of barns, each with their own particular mix of animal, hay, grain dust, and machinery smells. The smell of a close kitchen canning produce.

    I may not remember all the names and the faces… But the smells come back from my hindbrain and grab me by the throat and say: “remember.”


  3. Kate says:

    Thank you, Mark.


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