Two Days To Winter

Kage Baker found California’s peculiar weather jarring for any climatic traditionalist.

She was raised reading English stories – from Five Children and It to the Volland Edition of Mother Goose; the Matter of Britain from Geoffrey of Monmouth to T.H. White. All the Castles, Islands and Valleys of Adventure by Enid Blyton. The Wind in the Willows and Puck of Pook’s Hill. All, glorious all of Shakespeare.

Quite aside from the literary and spiritual advantages of spending your childhood with these immortal tales, it leaves one with a view of the physical world that is precise, detailed – and not California. Especially not the Los Angeles Basin, where Kage grew up running around in oak savannah and dry riverbeds edged with spurge laurel and sycamores. Our native trees don’t turn in the autumn, nor mostly strip for the winter; spring produces new green among the old, and summer is much more khaki than emerald. And there is little rain, and absolutely no snow.

Nonetheless, the appointed quarter days still happen; the precession of the equinoxes still obtains. Kage was acutely aware of them, and knew when the seasons were supposed to switch partners in their annual dance. But they don’t, not here in the Valley of Smokes – the light changes, the days lengthen and shorten, but the vagaries of heat and cold and wet and dry happen whenever they damned well feel like it.

We can freeze well into March, or have summer begin in January. There have been years (in my own lifetime) when it began to rain on Halloween and did not stop until May Day. I’ve trick-or-treated in 101 degree heat, and in freezing sideways rain. A couple of years, I recall, we had no sign of Summer at all – no sunlight between March and October. And of course, we have notorious droughts  (the current one is 7 years and counting) when Spring and Autumn are both burned alive through 9 months of Summer.

Technically, it’s still Autumn today; has been since September 21st. During that span, we’ve had triple digit heat, 3 or 4 unseasonable rain showers, and a desiccating wind storm. We had frost on the grass here 2 nights ago, but today it got up to 70 and rained for 2 hours. And it won’t even be Winter here until Monday, December 21, 2015 at 8:49 PM.

But, as Kage finally came to believe, California invents its own takes on the seasons. We do have wet and dry times: sometimes they last for years … but it makes our winter a greener, warmer season than in the old stories of Britain. By the time formal Spring shows up here, the bearded barley on the hillsides is already silvering, and the oats are golden. The grass is winter-dun-grey by October, and then it springs up in tender young verdant flames just as Christmas lights go up. We natives can tell, of course – we know it’s likely to be cold enough to kill you if you sleep out on the sidewalk for the Rose Parade on January 1st. But there’s also a chance you’ll keel over from heatstroke instead.

Kage learned to take the seasons on faith and appearance. No matter what costume the Earth is wearing, she’s still spinning on her toes in the established patterns. Day and night are not bothered by the temperatures, and never miss the count or the beat. In two days time, I’ll watch the shortest day go down to death in scarlet tinsel over the most Western of the Southern hills – then I’ll sit up to watch the longest night pass by until it burns into the South-East dawn.

The mechanism is perfect, whatever name you give the season. That’s enough for me.