Round Robins. Also Sparrows, Finches, Ravens …

Kage Baker liked to see nature.  She appreciated the opportunity to watch it, to admire its joys and terrors and inhuman beauties – especially birds and plants, which I suspect she considered related in some peculiar Kage-esque clade system.

She didn’t actually like to participate in nature too directly. She disliked extremes of temperature  (to her, anything below 65 was Arctic) and she loathed being wet. She liked to watch the results of wind and lightning, as long as they didn’t blow her hair in her face or strike her. For all I know, she would have enjoyed being struck by lightning … I am sure she figured she could survive it; she considered fireworks a natural environment.

But nothing that could drool on her, or leave distressing deposits for her to step or sit in, or stain her clothes, was very dear to her. Unless it was a baby. Baby anythings got a free pass from Kage, who was the most susceptible person I have ever met to the charms of neoteny. Plants, of course, do not exhibit big eyes or large heads or other infantile icons; but she forgave them that lack in return for their total disinclination to pee on her.

Her fondness for birds was based on the discovery, with our first parrot, that psitticines at least can be house-broken. The bottom lines for Kage, regarding Nature, were always how tidy and how beautifully coloured it could manage too be. She made Lord Ermenwyr much less tolerant than she herself was – but the heart of his avid preference for well-controlled artificiality was drawn directly from her own opinions.

Right now, all around the windows of my house, Nature is demonstrating one of its most winsome characteristics: courting birds.  We have robins, which are not robins at all, but thrushes who reminded homesick Englishmen of their native birds. Sparrows of diverse sorts are everywhere, including the charming English Sparrows, which are invading aliens but are at least actually sparrows. California also has at least a dozen native “sparrows”, which aren’t even related to English sparrows.. Most of them are finches, which are called buntings in Europe; except for the actual finches that also run all over the place … birds are all  basically cryptids, really. It’s the other reason Kage liked them, I think.

We also have ring-necked and mourning doves, whose voices sound like asthmatic choristers, but whose wings sound like wooden whistles; and mockingbirds, which sing more sweetly than nightingales. Hummingbirds are everywhere – all Anna’s hummingbirds right now, although as the season wears on we will get some Allen’s, Rufous and Black-Chinned hummers, too. They squeak and spar all around the house, ferocious little flying jewels. We have occasional crows and a thriving colony of ravens, who like to fly down the streets at head level, making noises like thumb pianos and scaring the local cats into hysterics. And twice a day a mixed flock of escaped parrots barrels through, as noisy as a flock of car alarms, to flash weird tropical colours through the leaves of the camphor and jacaranda trees.

It’s bird season. It’s not quite Spring, but the birds are ready for it. Kimberly has added seeds to the squirrel feeder – all winter long it has specialized in peanuts, to keep the fox squirrels going; but now she’s encouraging the birds, too. So, yeah, at our house, the birds are raiding the squirrel feeder.

The daily Squirrel Show is now in full spate, too; recently disenfranchised juveniles have been kicked out of the winter nests, as the grown-ups get ready to make more … so lots of tiny, confused squirrellykins are using our front porch as the local malt shop, hanging out in the mulberry, on the roof and under the cars in the driveway, anxiously watching for that nice human lady who comes out with nuts and chirps at them. Kimberly has squirrels now who will come up to wait for her; and one or two furry thugs who sit on the railing and yell at her when the peanuts run out.

Kage liked squirrels – at one early stage in her life, she planned to grow up to be one – so she’d approve. However, the raccoons would distress her. The idiot raccoons have begun their nightly clog-dances on the roof now, and the darkness is full of scrabbling, thumps, squeals and dopplering screams of panic  as they fall off the roof. They occasionally check out the squirrel feeder, too, so we have to clear the nuts out at sunset or we get hot and cold running raccoons coming up to scratch hopefully at the screen door and leer at the cats … but soon, the skunks will be back, which will discourage the raccoons slightly.

Of course, then we have skunks. And nothing discourages them. Luckily, they are not bad neighbors, really, and make almost no noise. It’s a relief, what with raccoons galloping on and plummeting off the roof, and squirrels and birds hollering for food. The coyotes are scarce at the moment – a lot of their dens in the nearby LA River were flooded last month – but the local wildcats have just begun to leave their huge pug-marks on the hoods of the cars. All the wandering mammals are just beginning their annual move from Griffith Park into our back yards.

Pets do not spend the nights outdoors in my neighborhood.

Will this be the year we get a puma in the garden? Or a bear down from the nearby Foothills? We already have Canadian geese  wintering here, and herons and egrets and  cormorants in the River; eagles drift over from the Park, owls live in the palm trees, and peregrine falcons cruise by from Downtown to pick off incautious pigeons. The bigger and fiercer birds are doing fine here; this may be the year the apex mammalian predators move a little closer, too.

I like it. The realization that some of the light glimpsed outside my darkened window is eye shine; the glimpses of exotic tails and  noses just outside the porch light; the cat-shadow that leaves paw-marks the size of my hand … even Kage grudgingly liked the odd reminders that Nature was still out there, somewhere. She really did like the ever-turning gyre, the seasonal wheel, the round robin of annual life.

It’s not very tidy. But it makes stories so much easier to harvest from the dark …



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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