Kage Baker was mildly obsessed with rain. We both were; and had to be.
Dedicated urbanite though Kage was, rain was extremely important to her. For one thing, the urb in which she lived most of her life was Los Angeles – a city that loses its mind when the rains come, even the ordinary wimpy ones that accompany a normal winter. Most of the drivers on the roads immediately forget how to drive at all in wet weather; accidents multiply everywhere, as the oil on the highway surfaces goes liquid and makes slicks, and the drivers regress to grade-school bumper car level.
Also, in many parts of Los Angeles, the streets flood. The drainage system – in those areas that have drainage systems – tend to get blocked with months of soda cans, dead foliage, discarded clothing, expired rats and pigeons … the first reaction to a good rain is that all the drains on city streets back up and create ponds, all afloat with unsavoury relics. Of course, where there are no drains, the rain simply seeks the lowest point in the streets and begins to form a lake. Intersections, in particular, become maelstroms. You can – and hundreds do – drive in and immediately flood your engine and your interior.
When Angelinos are not stampeding into frothing rivers like maddened cattle, they are usually in the grip of a drought. They have no idea what to do when it therefore, eventually, finally rains. All over the city, you can see automatic sprinklers gushing away in the rain. No native ever carries an umbrella, so people run around with whatever they can grab on their heads, blind. Rain here can be so infrequent that kids can be in grammar school before they see some – then kindergarten and 1st and 2nd grade teachers get playgrounds full of astonished little people licking the miraculous water off the swings, and eating worms.
Besides being subject to all these rigours of a semi-desert climate, Kage spent the 1st 40 years of her life in the Hollywood Hills. All the problems of ordinary streets are multiplied up there; the streets are goat trails to start with, often undrained, sometimes unpaved, and lined with flat-roofed stucco houses built out of re-used sets … leaks are a way of life. In El Nino winters, we kept our wellies by the front door, like Yorkshire farm wives: because there was no way to even get to the car except by wading through a waterfall or a young river.
Also, the hobby of Renaissance Faires makes one insanely sensitive to the weather. The relationship that outdoor performers have with weather is deep, complicated and essentially psychotic. Not everyone sleeping on Faire site will be in shelter; and if it rains too long, the parking lots and lanes turn to mud and Faire gets cancelled. To this day, if rain begins at night, I wake in terror and cannot sleep until I have checked the entire house to make sure no portion of the roof is leaking, all, vehicles are off-site, and all members of the household are indoors and have a bed …
Right now, of course, in Los Angeles, we’re beginning to explore the idea of sacrificing City Council members in attempt to placate the rain gods. It would be the best work some of them have done in decades. However, the same climate changes that are super-charging our summer heat are also disrupting the Pacific currents – the great storms out of the deep Pacific Ocean have begun to reach us. “Monsoonal moisture” is no longer a euphemism for summer fog.
I expect the actual hurricanes to reach us in my lifetime. As it is, the last two have brushed us firmly enough to raise the waves to unheard-of heights – 15 and 20 foots combers, on fat, flat, placid beaches like Will Rogers and Zuma and Malibu! In Summer! Rain in the high desert, thunderstorms in the mountains, floods in Riverside and Orange counties! Tropical downpours! Water spouts and rainbows and lightning strikes!
Man, we’re getting real weather around here. It’s not weather anyone is used to, but it is the most vehement we’ve seen in years. And in the meantime, we’re still in the claws of a major drought … because 4 inches of rain in 2 hours may nicely flood the lowlands of Irvine, but it does nothing for the dying fields in the Coachella and San Joaquin valleys. Most of the rain is falling to the east and south of the L.A. Basin anyway, and does no good to us here under the tinder-dry yellow hills.
Still, early this morning – it rained. Here by the River, where the stones show in the shallows and the roots of the cotton woods are bare and thirsty; at dawn, it rained. Not much, not heavily, but for a while. The air was the breath of Paradise: wet stone, grass, roses, camphor trees. Eucalyptus, orange blossoms, the muskiness of sycamores and oaks. It rained enough to get me wet as I stood out in the driveway like a loon, face up to the water-colour grey clouds. And while it’s nearly 90 degrees now, it was cool until nearly noon in the rain’s aftermath – the sweetest day all summer.
Let the rains come! We’ll put up with the flooded streets, the clumsy drivers, the kindergarteners eating worms; I don’t mind getting up and checking the house for the ghosts of old leaking roofs. I’ll get a new pair of wellies.
Oh, let the rains come!