The Calm Before

Kage Baker regarded February as the last month of peace in any new year. It was usually the last stretch of time we had to sleep late and wander around,  before our annual activities would rev up.

That’s because for, oh, 35 or 40 years, we worked Renaissance Faires. Preparations began in March – digging things out of garages, finding all one’s props, clothes, weapons, cooking implements, and pieces of seasonal domicile – and segued directly into rehearsals and construction on site. Where, due to the season, we had to deal with rain, mud, sleet, hail, snow; bogged-down cars, missing pieces of buildings, sudden droughts of screws and nails and paint, outrageous thefts of lumber and burlap and canvas, and learning all the cues and stops for a stage that travelled on wheels and had to be hauled through dirt streets …

Then we’d eventually open, and do weeks of performance in triple digit heat, living on bread, beer, and (for Kage) Coca Cola concealed in pewter  pint mugs. At some point, it would end and we’d break down the set, and finally catch up briefly on the laundry.

For most of that gloriously insane time, the Season began in March for the Spring Faire. Then we did it all over again, 400 miles way in Marin County for the Harvest Faire. And that continued in the heat and perfumed dust until  we were usually halfway into October and could expect to be back to freezing rain for Breakdown.

And in really crazy years, we then started Rehearsals for Dickens Fair in November. and performed until about 4 days before Christmas. Technically, at least, we were indoors: though in venues where the winter San Francisco rain leaked through the roof, and flooded in under the doors, and whistled through the broken windows in the Victoria and Albert Hall …and eventually, London too had to be packed away.

And this is why the 2-month period of January and February was Kage’s Island of Peace in an average year.

As time went on, we stopped doing the Spring Faire – it changed hands, in so odious a manner that Kage used the basic scenario as the inspiration for Empress of Mars. The Harvest Faire mutated more peacefully, but we still declined to follow it . By the time Kage retired to write full-time, though, the pattern was engraved in our DNA.

And besides, we still did Dickens Fair. Believe me, that makes for a madly busy Year End/Year Beginning! We welcomed winter quiet and solitude with paeans of gratitude.

Nowadays, I do only Dickens Fair. There are still Spring and Summer Renaissance Faires (the Spring Faire is starting its build-up right about now, I think: you can check at, Dear Readers, if you are interested ), but they are no longer run by my friends and patrons the Pattersons, and so I don’t participate. I missed Dickens last year while evicting my kidney and breaking my ankle, but I will be back – Next Year In London! I have months to get ready for that, though.

Nonetheless, the old seasonal madness is still stirring in my blood. I have the urge to go out and start building something on the new-greening earth; I find myself salivating at fabric sales, and eyeing loads of new lumber with rising lust. I have a great longing to sit somewhere in a cold green place, on a cold lawn chair, drinking a beer that is cold only because my fingers are turning blue, as I direct the raising of the Taproom walls.

Naturally, when this fit began to creep over me, Los Angeles developed a fever and went into a ridiculous hot spell. I did what I could, sitting out on the porch in a lawn chair (for which I had to wrestle the little black cat most severely) and watching the nice young men who converted our front lawn into a xeriscaped garden. But it wasn’t quite the same …

Today, though, the clouds came in with the dawn. The temperature has dropped 30 degrees, from 91 to 61; and it’s been raining for hours! Cold rain! We had to run out front to save the garbage bins, which had all been left by the robot truck with their lids open, naturally. The redwood mulch that now surrounds the roses and rosemary and sage and lemonade berry plants is wet – and it smells like the Faire. It smells like the years and years of wood chips that went down around every Ale Stand and filled the air with the scent of incense, art and riot every day.

So I had rain sliding down the naked nape of my neck today, as I pulled heavy things through the scented mist rising off the wood chips and mulch. Man, it could have been 30 years melted away for a moment there, instead of 30 degrees of temperature.

I haven’t felt so sure of Spring in years.

We may not be able to step into the same river twice. But we can surely keep wading in over our heads somewhere.


About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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16 Responses to The Calm Before

  1. Neassa says:

    Oh, huzzah! Sweet rain and sweet memories!


    • Kate says:

      The smells of Faire were so distinctive, and so wonderful … when I recognized that wonderful scent coming off the new mulch, I almost cried. Kimberly, too. Someone was roasting meat somewhere nearby, too, and there was a smell of camphor and bay leaves and roses: and it all smelled like the Center of the Universe just before Opening, when things were just firing up and the water trucks had just gone by …


  2. Allison Hansen says:

    We’ve only just moved back to California after 18 years in Texas. Being able to (finally) attend Dickens is something I am so looking forward to! Being able to see you there, and maybe say hi and thanks for your words and stories will be a great gift.


  3. Jane says:

    Oh my, you make me homesick for Faire. Thanks for the smells, feel, taste of the fresh Faire in Spring or Fall.


  4. maggiros says:

    You can take a girl out of Faire, but you can’t take Faire out of the girl.


    • Kate says:

      Epigenetics even suggest strongly that our genes do carry the results of strong and/or repeated environmental changes – not Lamarkism, wherein the changes are passed to the progeny, but changes to the living phenotype of an individual organism.Sort of whole body Toxoplasmosis.


      • maggiros says:

        That wouldn’t surprise me at all. I’ve now been out of faire about as many years as I worked it (years, not seasons) and the longing, the memory of scents and sounds never changes. I know perfectly well that what I miss is the the best parts of the best days of the best seasons – and not every moment was the best – but that doesn’t change the tug at my sternum at the scent of rain in the dust and the leaf litter of oak and bay.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Lynn says:

    I know the feeling, Kathleen; I left work yesterday just before it started to rain in Oakland, Northern California, and the about-to-rain smell and the pavement still warm from yesterday’s record-breaking heat combined to make That Smell. I was 16 again and couldn’t stop smiling.

    Your words, as always, make memory live. The rain on the hay field that was our RPNF parking lot, the bay leaves and mulch with meat cooking as a backdrop smell. Oh, my. We lived – and worked and sweated – in Heaven. And such memories… You, Kage, Luisa, Maggie. That Faire girl is still in each of us forever. Like malaria, we’ll never lose it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lynn says:

    So, Kathleen, I forwarded your blog to Terry, my daughter who was 10 months old the first day of her first RPFN and this is her message:

    Great now I’m crying in Peet’s. I miss the smell. I miss the people. Hell-I miss the weather! The chorus of
    “Where the hell is the-”
    “I can’t find my-”
    “Rose, rose, rose red-”
    “Pass me my tankard-”
    “Have you eaten-”
    I hear it in my dreams. I wake up and the smell of eucalyptus and wet dirt and straw are still in my head.
    I miss it all.

    It made me realize it’s not only epigenetic as you said but genetic too. And the odd think is that she was only about 8-9 when we left Blackpoint so it imprinted quickly. (I also love that she remembers “Have you eaten.” We were always checking on each other in that heat.

    Love to my chosen family,


    • Kate says:

      Yep, I cry in coffee shops a lot. Also the produce sections of supermarkets at night, which is when I was usually re-stocking supplies for the Inn on Saturday nights … the Faire literally lives in us. I am sure of it. Second generation folks like your daughters are the living proof.


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