Kage Baker would be so delighted with the weather this year. Our late, wet Spring is slowly maturing into a sweet Summer, as full of mild dawns and dew falls as any story we read as children. The air is clear and smells of cut grass and flowers,with only the faintest hint so far of wild oats burning into incense on the hillsides.
We have a weak El Nino this year. El Nino is not due to climate warming, not here on the Pacific Coast – it’s happened for millennia at irregular intervals. When it happens, California gets hit by aerial rivers, which dump metric shit tons of water on us. (That is a technical term, BTW.) Turns out aerial rivers are the the only way our ghastly droughts ever actually end here in California; a closer perusal of the hydrological history has finally shown us this. It means that as long as Nature turns off the taps at interval, we have to be prepared to store as much as we can when She decides to drown us.
During my drive to and from San Mateo this weekend, I noted happily that the lakes and reservoirs along the way are nearly full. The San Luis Reservoir – being enormous – takes a lot of filling and so still shows a half-dozen water lines yet exposed on its flanking hills. However, it is splendidly better off than it was, and the little local ponds and cattle seeps and occasional streamlets are all in full spate. Between the towns of Grapevine and Buttonwillow on the I-5, the fields that were rice paddies 40 years ago (and have not been since) are once again long sheets of dove-coloured water in the evening light; egrets pace through them, white as dreams of clipper ships, between drowned Russian thistles and baby pistachio trees.
When I drove through the Tejon Pass, which is already going as golden and menacing as a pride of lions, there were still the last wild flowers visible in the bottoms of the canyons. Mustard looks like a cut velvet pattern against the darker green of the latest crop in rain-seduced grass. Lupine and poppies glow exactly like a bed of coals – hot blue flames dancing over a pulsing background of orange-gold.
The heat doesn’t stay much past sunset, because the season is still Spring and still unnaturally damp. Right now, in the dark streets between Griffith Park and the still-flowing L.A. River, the air smells of barbecues, roses, the musk of warm asphalt, the burned reek of an angry skunk. In the last week, suddenly, there is laughter and voices from the porches in the dark, and the screams and giggles of children running maniacally on the new lawns. When I was a child on these streets, we used to play tag between the pools of lamp light that filtered down through the branches of the camphor trees. To judge from the sounds now, the kids are on scooters and skateboards as often as their own feet; but they’re still laughing like loons and running into the trees with fearless delight.
It’s a promise of a better summer than we’ve had in several years. Or at least, so I hope. Since I moved back down here in 2010, we’ve had several summers of unrelenting triple-digit heat – one year, the heat gauge on the roof of City Hall melted. For all I know, it was raining kryptonite or activated uranium that year, or the space aliens were aiming their heat rays at us again. The cottonwoods in the L.A. River dried out so far that year, they burned in the riverbed and baked the sticky black mud into concrete.
But this year, I have real hopes of surviving the summer by a margin thicker than my desiccated fingernails. I mean, it’s still raining on and off down here! The weather forecast says there will be ski-able snow in the mountains on the 4th of July! Even though we are clearly headed for a future of rising seas and full-fledged monsoon seasons, there is still enough variation to give us a ragged memory of the California Paradise from time to time.
It’s nice … it was the loveliest drive up and down through the drowsing Central Valley I have seen in years.
In a final charming memory from BayCon, Dear Readers, I am including here a photograph of what became, in the fullness of time, the Marriott Hotel in San Mateo. It was sent to me by my friend Steve Skold, Neassa’s wonderful father. He’s a serious model train buff, and he and Carol (Neassa’s also wonderful mother) went there in yestreyear for train conventions. It was called the Dunphy then, Steve tells me, and while now it is Mission Classico fantasia – back then, it had half-timbering and battlements. Crenelations, even. I think the mysterious brick crematorium was probably the interior of the round tower you can see rising behind the entrance.
Memory stands out from the present all around us, like old stones and fallen boughs in the Spring tide of wildflowers. And then suddenly, we find we are living in an old castle.