Kage Baker was a determined walker for most of her life.
That’s unusual for a native Angelena. Some parts of every stereotype are true, and the unwillingness of Angelenos in general to walk anywhere is a true part of ours. This vastly predates the internal combustion engine, too – the original colonizing Spaniards went everywhere by horseback or carriage. They, too, counted distance by time rather than miles; though it was only after the introduction of the in-dash radio that we began to count it by song length.
But Kage grew up in the Hollywood Hills, and the family usually only had 1 car. There were at least 5 kids at any time who needed rides to or from somewhere; there were art shows for Mamma’s paintings, and shopping to be done for groceries, canvas and frames. And all the streets being at acute angles, and our parents not feeling bikes were safe on such mountain-goat territory … one stayed at home or walked. And since everyone else at home was in the same straits, it was much easier just to ramble on.
In Kage’s case (and mine) we walked all over those Hills, often from dawn to dusk in the summers. The house was more or less at the peak of the Cahuenga Pass; our territory was everything down hill in all directions. We ranged from Laurel Canyon to Hollywood Boulevard, North to South; from Beachwood to Outpost Drive, East to West. The East to West route was slightly problematical, as it went through terrace after terrace of houses lying athwart the compass-true path through the hills (not to mention Lake Hollywood and the 101 Freeway), but somehow no one ever bothered us.
We were surprised at times by rattlesnakes, tarantulas, a puma, coyotes, and herds of deer – but no human ever offered us so much as a funny look. Some Goddess who remembered being 16 and dumb as a box of rocks kept us safe.
When I learned how to drive and we began exploration by wheeled transport – well, our initial several cars were pieces of junk. We still walked a lot, sometimes pushing the cars.And then we joined the Renaissance Faire, which frequently combined walking all over the Faire site with pushing dead cars on empty roads: so we never lost the habit. We could still strike out for the nearest border, with all we needed on our backs. Well into our 50’s, both of us could still walk for miles for pleasure or necessity; through the oak groves of Marin, or the coastal hillsides North of Ragged Point, or along the ballroom floor sands of Pismo Beach …
When Kage was 56, she suddenly began to find it hard to keep up with herself. Walking was getting harder to maintain; stairs began to require serious pre-planning. When she reached 57, we found out why, but she stayed on her feet as long as she could – which was until the Autumn after she turned 58. With the short, dark days that year, all walking stopped – she travelled by wheelchair, and I carried her up the worst stairs. The worst problem there was that we were both subject to fits of helpless laughter – because Kage steered the wheelchair like a maniac, and when I carried her … well, tough little pony though I am, she was 4 inches taller than I am. It must have been a sight to freeze the blood.
All that is behind me now (with the proper melodramatic drape of the wrist over dimming eyes …). Carrying and pushing Kage round the place her final year or so was a major contributing factor to my heart going on strike later in 2010. Still, I try to walk wherever I can, on the theory that some exercise is good for the damned thing. Cedars-Sinai, where my cardiologist lairs, is a big, sprawling campus, so I always have a ways to go. But I have an elegant stag horn-handled cane and it’s fun to stalk about like Lobelia Sackville-Baggins.
Kimberly, bless her, accompanies me and watches closely to see I don’t overdue it. We were creeping about in the heat at Cedars today, between ultrasound scans and blood tests, just to check on the current status of all my eccentric systems. I shall be very surprised if any of them show miraculous recoveries, but I guess it is nice to ascertain that they aren’t destabilizing any faster than expected. Spare me the comedian phlebotomists, though. I don’t favour kittenish behaviour from someone sticking a hollow needle in my basilic vein.
But I managed the walk. And we came home to air conditioned comfort, from which I submitted a story to Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It’s amazing how final and portentous it felt, to hit that intangible button on the screen that read SUBMIT …
But, hey. It’s just another step forward on the road, you know? And I’m still following Kage’s red braid like a flag through the mythic yellow hills.