Kage Baker loved the rain. Not being out in it, mind you, except under extraordinary circumstances; she preferred the experience, as she preferred most experiences, at one remove.
She used to love watching the rain fill up the canyons of the Hollywood Hills, from the tall windows in Momma’s mirrored living room. The mist would rise up from the 101 Freeway that ran through the bottom of the Cahuenga Pass, in glittering grey billows; the rock doves that lived wild in the trees would sweep through in lens-shaped flocks, the sharp edges of the massed wings carving channels through the clouds. Kage’s vision went a millions miles, looking out over the Pass.
She liked the rain through windows, drumming on roofs, beating the surface of the sea into a vast silver plate. She enjoyed driving through it, watching the landscape shape-shift and mutate beyond the passenger side windows. I think it was the streaming prisms of the wind-driven rain that intrigued her the most about car windows; even when I discovered that if you drive fast enough, speed alone make window wipers unnecessary … and usually, she hated it when I tried crazy tricks like that.
One of the few times she enjoyed being out in the rain was a winter storm on Catalina Island. We were there for an overnight vacation, and ended up spending most of a week instead, when the nor’easters set in and the Channel became impassable. The only way to go anywhere was walking in the rain, so we did: 2 wet miles up Avalon Canyon to the Wrigley Gardens, where the manzanita trees postured in the mists like naked dancers, and the City crews were desperately filling in the ruts where streams were breaking through. They helped us over the chasms as we went up past them, though they clearly thought we were nuts; and they helped us back over them when we came back down, pretty much proving that we were, indeed, crazy … that was an amazing walk. Wild piglets and fox cubs were playing under the almond trees, and the sky was thick with the ravens that lived in the tower of Wrigley’s empty tomb.
Once we moved to Pismo Beach, Kage developed a fondness for walking on the beach. And in Pismo, if you want to walk on the beach in the winter, you need to tolerate being rained on. You can see the squalls coming off the sea, blue as bruises and lapis lazuli, but you can never get off the wide, damp beach before they come down like huge metallic stage curtains. We got rubber boots and coats with hoods, and learned why wool is such a great fabric – it can be drenched and still keep you warm. Pocket flasks were absolutely required; many strange stories were invented under the dubious shelter of the cypress and eucalypti, washed down with blood-warm whiskey.
After a couple of winters in Northern California, Kage never really worried about rain again. She had her boots, she had her coats, and she enjoyed the fashion accents that could be managed with umbrellas. She had a standard black Mary Poppins brolly. She had one of ancient oiled green silk, its filigreed handle set with enormous faux emeralds. She had another painted like banana leaves, with a carved bamboo handle.
Me, I prefer hoods to umbrellas. I tend to stump around with the rain dripping off the point of my hood, pretending to be a dwarf walking through Eregion.
It’s finally raining in Los Angeles, now. El Nino has found us at last. It’s been raining all day, with various disasters happening on freeways that got too wet too fast; mudslides are galloping uncontrolled down the hills that burned over the last several winters. There are 4 or 5 storms in a row expected. The Sepulveda Basin was flooded and closed by noon.. The Los Angeles River – usually the anemic blue line on a map that so befuddled Edward in Mendoza In Hollywood – is expected to come very near to cresting by the end of the week.
The very idea of the L.A. River cresting at all would have had Kage in hysterics. It hasn’t done it in my lifetime, even in prior El Nino years. It gets wider, you see, as it runs through the flats and out to Long Beach – from narrow cement canals in the Valley to the broader, natural, mud-bottomed river bed here near Griffith Park – then on and further and wider, until you could run chariots eight abreast down the concrete river bed beyond Downtown, where giant ants were reputed to nest in drainage tunnels 8 feet high …
The rest of the country – hell, the rest of California – laughs at hot, dusty Los Angeles and its make-believe River. But every few winters, the dreams of bigger rivers drift down and infect the shallow pools full of cat fish and willows trees: that’s how dreams work in California, filling heads and passes and panting rivers until the waters come from everywhere to claim their road again. Then it rains forever, and the flood runs unconfined through the City to the sea. And nothing, nothing stands in its way.
Which, really, was what Kage liked best about the rain …