Kage Baker was a staunch supporter of California’s seasons. She knew the rest of the country mocks us for their lack, or for their oddity – she did not agree, though, and would explain at length, to the seasonally insensitive, how our seasons worked.
She considered that the need for gaudy colour changes, snowfall and tornadoes indicated a low threshold of attention. The true Californian, she felt, was in sufficient sympathy with the natural rhythm of the land to react to the seasonal changes without enormous neon-glowing signs. After all, the equinoxes and solstices happen here just like anywhere else; you don’t need giant stones or excessive weather patterns to respond to the changing light.
Not that Kage scorned the more common seasonal signs. Did you know, Dear Readers, that there is a native California maple? There is, and in the northern areas of the state entire canyons are flooded with them. Certain crossovers between Highways 1 and 101 (like Carmel Valley Road and its attendant maze of G-labelled County Roads) are a sea of burning colour in the Fall; we used to go drive through them just for the sight and smell, swigging cherry juice and drunk on the sugared oxygen exhaled by the dying leaves.
Conversely, in the Spring, we would drive up to San Francisco; along either Highway 101 or 5, when the orchards were in bloom in miles of pink and ivory blossoms. Once in The City, we’d go through Golden Gate Park to the Dutch Windmill off The Great Highway, which rises out of banks of hundreds of tulips every year. Quintessential spring, those drives. At Easter, we’d go North along Highway 1 until we got to the broad seal rookeries beyond San Simeon; there’s nothing more spring-like than eating chocolate eggs and strawberries while watching baby seals toddle on the beach.
But even without these indulgences in classical vistas, Kage was attuned to the subtle seasonal signs of California. When we lived a block from the beach in Pismo, or amid the oak groves in Marin, it was easy; but growing up in Los Angeles gave her some special sense to fell the round world wheeling under her feet. Maybe she was aware of the electromagnetic field; it would have been just like her.
Still, there are always indicators, both subtle and gross. The rain means Winter – inconstant as it is, it’s still likeliest to fall somewhere between October and March. The hills turn green; then we get floods, and mud slides, and sink holes, and all matter of interesting watery disasters. Even when rain falls every year, most LA drivers forget how to use their vehicles on wet streets; so it gets exciting.
But also … in Spring, the countless transplanted trees, that have stood brazenly naked all Winter, begin to leaf out again. a green mist forms in all the silvered branches everywhere, until suddenly the streets are canopied with silk. Some of them flower in the Spring; other save their blossoms for Autumn, so we get two shows a year. Gardens tend to start flowering in February and just go on until the next January – but if you remember what you planted, you can tell the season by whether it’s poppies or sage or chrysanthemums blooming.
Hot spells can happen anytime. But they’re mostly damp in the Spring and dry in the Summer; Santa Ana winds come in the Fall; frost only happens in the black heart of Winter. The anciently civilized plants – roses, tulips, crocuses, hyacinths, gladiolas – stick to classical times and so play at being calendar markers. Hot country plants – Californian and Australian and Mexican, lots of them – just carry on whenever they feel like it. They’ll tell you the hour or the temperature, but not so much the season.
But you get used to it. If you are an inspired gardener, as Kage was, you have California’s particular pattern in your DNA. If you’re also an inspired storyteller, you can teach it to botanically-challenged nits like me …
So I’m aware of the faceted little emeralds sprouting on the mulberry and the plums and the Chinese pistache: new branches are budding. The plums, as well, are covered in white flowers, delicately embroidered with blackwork patterns – fruit will happen! The rosemary has turned blue with exuberant blossom, and bees are singing everywhere. The hills are green in the sunlight, and slate in the shadows; crickets and frogs are beginning to creak at night.
Oh, and I have sent a novel off to my agents, Dear Readers, and submitted a short story to a magazine. Spring will happen.
I have it on the best of authority.
“I promise you Spring, says The Green Man, I promise you Spring, says he.”
(By the way, it tickled me that you capitalized “The City”. Herb Caen is nodding approvingly, somewhere.)
See, the very best authority. And Mr. Caen informed my earliest ideas of San Francisco.
Mine, too, Kate. It is arguable (or would be, if I wasn’t so tired of contention in this dreadful year) that Herb Caen is responsible (along with Jack Kerouac) for my moving to the Bay Area. In the Lincoln, Nebraska Library, the impressionable young man I was found several published collections of his daily columns, and totally fell in love with the San Francisco he described. The amazing thing is, Kate, that when I got here, in the cold, grey summer of 1960, it was just exactly as he described it! I felt I knew the City, and everyone in it, from the moment I arrived.
That city is long gone, I fear. The Washbag is gone, all his cronies are dead and the cable cars have become a Disneyland ride, but there are still pockets, here and there, that he would recognize.
When he died, I made a promise to him (because he often decried sloppy dressers), to wear a tie, now and then, when I didn’t necessarily need to, just to show a bit of class. I’ve kept that promise, and I think of him, whenever I’m knotting my tie.
It’s nice to think of him, today. Thanks for the reminder. Maybe I’ll wear a tie and see if it spooks my clients.
Love ya, Kate, and miss you, too.
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Yay! you birthed a book! and Short Stories are great! For me the first sign of spring was my mother’s white violets.
My mother grew Devon violets – the most wonderful perfume! But for me, the first sign of Spring has always been the mock orange blossoms. They’re everywhere in Hollywood, and smell like Paradise.
Buff – I was a devotee of Jack Smith, in the LA Times. And *he* was a comrade of Herb Caen’s, and an amiable sort of rival. But Mr. Smith turned me on to Mr. Caen’s columns, and I read them avidly. By the time I made it to San Francisco – middle 1970’s – it was rather different; but exploring with Kage Baker, one always went delving into the past! So we found a lot of the Good Stuff. Miss and love you, too …