Kage Baker, as I have mentioned before, loved the Halcyon Days.
That’s not a generalization, though in these less-than-golden times the phrase has come to mean simply “calm weather. The OED refers to “a period of peace and happiness; an idyllic time; also, a period of calm weather during the winter solstice”. It refers to a period of warm, quiet weather that appears outside its ordinary range – the fortnight around the Winter Solstice is the traditional time to expect the Halcyon Days. St. Martin’s summer, or Indian summer, refers to another such idyllic period, that arrives just about when you expect the autumn storms to start.
California, not being what any of the European emigres considered a normal sort of country, has weather patterns unique to itself. But it also keeps the classic Greek calendar marks to a large – and unexpected – extent. If you consult global maps, you find that Los Angeles and Athens have very similar latitude and longitude readings; the greater areas of California and Greece, even more so. You’ll find resemblances in photos, too – the rocky gold and white cliffs, the hills thinly clothed with oats and barley and wild grasses; olive trees, grape vines, pomegranate groves.
So California keeps the Halcyon Days. Especially it does so here in the South, where the cities and gardens all lean on the hot smooth shoulders of the desert and get their water from the cloudy North. It happens up there in the North, as well, though not as often nor as warm – but usually, around Solstice and Christmas and the New Year, the skies will clear and the air will warm and for a few days you can run about barefoot on the winter-whitened lawns where the frost was lying the week before.
Kage loved that. Not that she went barefoot! She was probably more likely to appear in her underwear than barefooted; she had a weird modesty concerning her feet. But those mid-winter days when the roses went mad and put out buds, when the orange trees turned into demented clouds of blossom and perfume: Kage would go a little crazy, too, and wander outside in her sandals, without a coat or a shawl, to work bare-armed as a nymph in the delusional garden.
Within a few days, of course, the span of sweet weather would pass – somewhere, according to the old myths, Lord Kingfisher and his lady Alcyone would have hatched their brood in their floating nest, and led the fledglings to safety over the Agean Sea. The temperature would plummet, we’d get frost-ferns on the windows, and if it was a year with rain, the storms would resume. Even in dry years, the coldest month of the year is usually January: the dark heart of winter, once the Halcyon Days have passed.
We’re two days past the Solstice today, and two days yet to go to reach Christmas; and we’re smack in the middle of as classic a halcyon period as I have ever seen. It got up to 83 degrees here today, and even now is still at 75. The air is as soft and mild as powder, though it looks like a crowd of insane fireflies have descended on us – all the trees and porches on the street are alive with coloured lights, a brighter display than any summer night ever shows. There are children outside as if it was August, chasing one another through the illuminated deer and snowmen and creches, screaming with laughter.
Kage loved it. It was the briefest of seasons, and her utter favourite. She always said, though, that we oughtn’t broadcast the Rose Parade and show the rest of the country what our lovely false spring looked like – they all saw it in Montana and Maine, and headed West expecting Paradise …
But the warmth won’t last. The air may be seduced by the sun, but the earth knows very well what season it really is. Cold waits in the quiet earth and strikes up through the grass and the sleeping flower beds like blades of ice. The concrete is as cold as death; the asphalt holds no heat now that the sun is set. Winter in the earth is a lot harder to shift than in the fickle air.
The stars burn with all their winter strength, no illusion of warm lights there. There are no Halcyon nights, after all – by Christmas Day, the heat will rise up as all heat does, and vanish somewhere between the hilltops and the moon. By the New Year, winter will rule again and everything but a few crazed roses will go back to sleep. The hyacinths and crocus will have to sprout before the gardens wake up again.
Tomorrow, though, I’ll be racing around in a t-shirt to do my last minute shopping. I’ll roll down the car windows and let the warm wind in, while I sing along with the Hallelujah Chorus on the radio:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever.
Not forever, no: sorry, Mr. Handel. It lasts barely more than a day or two. But it does happen. And the Halcyon Days are most surely the kingdom of a god.