Extinction

Kage Baker was very personally bothered by extinction – the idea of it, the realization that it occurred. To begin with, she just didn’t like the idea that things end, though she realized it had to happen. The cycles of life matter, and if no one ever goes away the world runs out of room.

It was both the dreadful loss of extant species, and their stubborn insistence on occasionally being “rediscovered”, that led to Dr. Zeus taking shape. Kage liked plants  more than fuzzy critters, so Mendoza was a botanist. Kage branched out into classic literature and music readily enough, but I (a fanatic zoophilist) had to nag her into saving endangered cattle and the like. (Someday, I’ll get “The Teddy Bear Squad” published, though, and all those fuzzy creature castles in the air will be opened at last to the public.)

Though Kage did feel that there were entirely too many of some things. Kissing bugs. Alligators. Fungi. Republicans. I could never get her to admit the total obliteration of nearly anything in the biome would be throwing a gigantic spanner in the works. She felt that, as she personally had no chance at all of rendering anything completely extinct, she wasn’t morally required to pretend she loved everything and wanted it all to live. She could safely despise disease-carrying bugs and crocodilians, because their odds of being wiped from existence by her malice was effectively nil. She could cheer when one of them was killed.

So the death of individuals didn’t upset her, not as much as the obliteration of species. Kage was not uncomfortable with the passing away of a lemur, a sea cow, a snow leopard: Nature, given half a chance, could make more. It was once the template got scratched or the mold broken that problems came in, and that was what bothered her.

You might be able to deliberately back breed for an extinct species, but the results so far have been mixed. Wild tarpans (a vanished equid, not an ancient and prized game fish) are coming along, but slowly – horses, it appears, have a delicate genome. Aurochs, the enormous wild native cattle of Europe, have been rather more successfully back bred: but humans have been messing with the breeding of cattle for millennia, and we probably bred into the aurochs gene pool in the first place, so presumably the information is still there.

That business with cloning hasn’t worked at all well so far. Forget the mosquitos; the little buggers will not be redeeming themselves for malaria by helping us bring back dinosaurs. In fact, we can’t even get a respectable start on rendering the damned mosquitos extinct, though we seem able to kill everything else …  People have been promising mastodons fresh-baked in elephants for years, but have yet to produce a viable zygote; and for every beloved pet or prize bull cloned, there are reports of twice as many failures and hoaxes. Even Dolly the sheep, an undoubted success, nonetheless died of early senescence. And no one knows why.

No, the best way to keep a flickering species’ light going is to help it breed like crazy before it’s down to two bachelor males in a zoo. Before it’s down to six breeding pairs on a tiny island, and a zoologist with a hungry pet cat moves in …. the fastest extinction on formal record, that, as Tibbles (the cat in question) brought her master a dead bird every day for a couple of weeks and thus wiped out a species. 

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Well. I have just spent half an hour attempting to put a link in this blog – an action I have done dozens of times – and I cannot make it work. I’ve deleted part or all of the blog a dozen times, and it was only my OCD addiction to saving that has enabled me to get back into it at all. I am ready to scream.

Instead, as I am a card-carrying adult (thank you, Social Security) I shall simply close for the night, Before I send the rest of this into the Uttermost West.

My only real point tonight anyway was the suitably vague observation that we shouldn’t destroy what we cannot replace. All life matters. Nothing is disposable. All you need is love – and a good conservation program, I guess.

You know, Dear Readers, Kage believed (on some level) that what she wrote up as Saved, was actually saved somewhere, some when. Somewhere Eohippus gambols with its fabulous extinct descendant, the Unicorn – alongside the Javan rhinosaurus. Somewhere crocodiles with six-foot long legs race about, being stomped into submission by the immense Demon Ducks from Hell. Somewhere the last several iterations of the human race sit around toasting one another’s health, while enormous clear-eyed wolves loll about enjoying the early fruits of domestication.

Somewhere, Kage has the blueprints for everything.*

 

*There should have been an amusing illustration here, but I can’t make that work, either. Sigh.

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All Souls

Kage Baker loved the day after Halloween: traditionally, in the Catholic Church, all Saints day. All Souls Day comes on November 2nd.

Nowadays, especially in California and most especially in Southern California, the day is most obviously celebrated as Día de los Muertos: the Day of the Dead. Kage loved it; her family had a tradition themselves of visiting their loved dead at home: in the cemetery, what with her mother being from North Carolina. Also, Kage loved all the multicultural traditions of Los Angeles, and with its marigolds and incense and sugar skulls and lovingly constructed family altars, it is hard to beat the panoply of the Day of the Dead.

I loved it, too, but a child – Alas, most shallowly! – I loved it because we didn’t have to go to school on November 1st. We were raised Roman Catholic and All Saints Day was a holy day of obligation – thus, Mass was compulsory, and school was dismissed because we were supposed to spent the day in prayer and contemplation, (and, in the days before John XXIII and Vatican Two, fasting.) What actually happened, in the warm days of the early 60’s, was that we went to early morning Mass, went home to hot cocoa and doughnuts, and then spent the day lolling around eating candy and occasionally going by the public school to taunt the non-Catholic kids still in durance vile behind their fences. This did nothing for Christian tolerance, and often led to fights. However, being able to run while our enemies were trapped on the playground. we usually got away.

And then, that night, Momma made macaroni and cheese for dinner, so we could abstain from meat. Her mac and cheese was marvelous, and it was particularly no hardship because we still had all that candy …

I repent my childhood self-absorption. Of course, before age 10, I didn’t even know anybody who was dead. For reasons obvious and sad, I’ve come to collect a whole separate address book just for my dead, and over the long years have grown more attentive to their memories. So I hope I have made up for being captive to the mounds of loot I gathered on the dark streets under the camphor trees, which made the whole neighborhood smell like incense; and I hope the dead enjoyed our childish delight, dancing in the dark in our insane festive courage. I think they did – it wasn’t ever just the candy, but the way we came by it. The running through the dark, the masks and disguises and open flames, the shrieking down the darkest streets to the white sanctuary of a street lamp. It was all good, all innocent, all joy.

It would be years before we discovered what was chasing up through the October nights; years and miles and faces we had come to love watching us in the darkness. And not a friendly street lamp to be found. I miss the guaranteed comfort of sweets and glee and a warm dinner, but the mature love and memories of those I have lost is a more than adequate exchange,

When you get older, you need the memories more than the candy or even the mac and cheese. And remembered love outshines even the best street light.

As Kage always sang: Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine et lux perpetua luceat eis.

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By The Light of Burning Theobromos

Kage Baker disliked boundaries – by which I mean those set up by other people, borders that she was not supposed to cross. I think she mostly never even noticed them, until we were leaping down the wrong side of a fence, hearing a baying hound getting closer and closer … we seemed to spend half our adolescence doing that, because she just had to get closer to some ruin in the Hollywood Hills. When we were young enough, we could get away with carrying a leash and inquiring mournfully if the outraged householder had seen our dog? … but Kage got tall, and we both got curvy, and then it was harder to sneak around in jolly trespassery.

Kage still hated other people’s boundaries, though.

Ritual boundaries were different. She observed all the holidays she personally liked, the more so if they were a part of her own cultural heritage. Halloween was primary of those, the remains of the Celtic Samhain, with the costumes and carved lanterns so happily augmented by all the candy you could get your hands on. Yes, Halloween is the old Celtic New Year, and she duly observed that – but her main joy was honouring our beloved dead, and all – that – candy.

Mind you, we did always set an extra place at the table for anyone who cared to wander in (the offering tenderly disposed of in a secret place the next day, often when I was not even home). We toasted all the ones we had lost, and told stories of them to one another while we ate our holiday meal of roast pork, grain and ale. Then we waited for the few trick-or-treaters we got in the Hills or in Pismo, and ate the unused candy by candle light. We usually ended up on the dark beach late at night; where, due to the autumnal vagaries of the Pacific, the waves often burned green and blue with algae blooms and Kage kept watch for spectral pirates.

Tonight – well, we will be sitting close together here by Griffith Park, The traditional holiday meal at Kimberly’s house is pizza, which is a jolly good meal on a cold October night. And it is chilly here, at last; foggy, too, though the moon will not rise until late and only as a waning crescent then. A good night for running around in the dark yelling for candy! We are not handing out goodies tonight, as Kimberly is still wary of crowds; her teaching years have impressed her with the ecological role small children play as plague ratties. I am still at risk – not from COVID, as I am thoroughly vaccinated, but from all other kinds of respiratory diseases. But we can listen to the tide of little monsters and fairies and cartoons and superheroes running in and out on the block.

There is an owl hooting outside, most wonderfully. The air smells of wood smoke and crinkly brown leaves and burning pumpkin (I love that smell!) The local bats are flittering through the dimming air – we are a full-service neighborhood and have all sorts of beasties here. Later, we will hear the coyotes singing together, and hear them running down the midnight streets like primeval dogs chasing little Cro-magnons back to the family fire … there may be huge cat prints on the cars tomorrow, which we will tell one another are bobcats and pumas; and who knows what may crawl damply up from the LA River a mere 6 blocks away?

And there are always the local legends to ponder, too. Various Sepulvedas and Felizes, mostly female, are supposed to mourn or murder unlucky lovers on these nights, and white ladies prowl Los Feliz Boulevard. Then there are local Bigfoots – tall and lanky, reputed to be furred in purple and green, for whom there has never been a good explanation and who are reputed to go running through people’s backyards. My own father claimed to have seen one once, but my dear old dad had a very frangible connection to reality. Great story, though.

Memories. The treasured dead. Lights and voices in the trees, tiny unseen footsteps rushing to and fro, creatures materializing out of the shadows in a torrent of flying leaves and glitter. And all the candy in the Western Hemisphere. Oh, good and holy times!

For your delectation, Dear Readers, I include a couple of interesting seasonal links. Someone has invented edible candles! And they are made of chocolate. They also have edible wicks, so you can light up your cake, make a wish, blow out the candles – and then horrify your old granny by eating the candles. No end of fun!

tinyurl.com/4sa93spa

And, in case you are intrigued with the storied history of carving lanterns out of vegetables, here is an amusing link to the oldest sort of veggie lantern I know: the noble turnip! They are difficult to carve, being of the consistency of marble when raw, and in these modern times it is very difficult to find one left in the fields long enough to have grown to the size of a volleyball. It was the old stony ones that were customarily used before the larger, softer, pumpkin was drafted. You can get a good nasty little face on a turnip, though,

https://tinyurl.com/smvfsszk

Finally, Happy Halloween, Dear Readers! Now, I am off to eat candy and watch monster movies until midnight; when I shall begin working on this year’s NaNoWriMo.

And so good night unto you all …

My favourite bat wishes you Happy Halloween!
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Whoops

Kage Baker tried earnestly to write constantly. She managed it an amazing amount of the time, to a quite inhuman degree. I have tried to emulate her sterling example, but I have run into some problems she never encountered.

Granted, she died during this noble effort, which eventually put a stop to her output: as soon as I had run through the easier of the notes she had left me. That took about a year, during which time I also managed to start and establish this blog. I also attained a steady, if slower, production of other stories, made up out of more of the errant static in my own mind. That was going along pretty well, until (from my viewpoint) I also died.

It was a bummer, Dear Readers. The year of 2020, which I largely spent in a nursing facility, was as a season in hell. For many months, I despaired of ever escaping, either. But I did – and have spent most of 2021 returning to a semblance of humanity. I am a piss-poor imitation of my former self, but I am alive and no longer in hell.

However, I still have bad days. I seem to have caught a little cold. Since I have all the respiratory stamina of a corn dolly, I’ve spent the last few days sneezing (which hurts everywhere between my sinuses and my waist), dripping, aching in every joint, and more or less drowning in my own skull. And, alas, every hitch in my breathing brings on a panic attack; they can be overcome, but try to imagine how hard it is to calm down when you cannot take a deep breath.

Anyway. Not to be a whiny crybaby, but I have really not had a great weekend. I have a real blog partly written, but it will not be ready until tomorrow. I have to find where I put some necessary notes. No place safe, I hope – I’ll never see them again, if I did …

Anyway, here is a little visual impression of my last several days. Consider her a spirit animal making a guest appearance.

And tomorrow, Dear Readers, will be better.

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Candy Season

Kage Baker loved candy. This is hardly unusual, nor portentous – but Kage took great pride in never, ever forgetting a sweet she had once loved. Even if it no longer appealed to her adult taste, though this was vanishingly rare for Kage, she recalled in exquisite detail whatever had enthralled her at age 4 or 11 or 19.

She could talk about it for hours. And she did. We both did. It was an especially entertaining version of “Do you remember?”, especially after Kage discovered the internet in general, and eBay in particular. You can get anything there. And you know what? Absolutely no incarnation of circus peanuts – marshmallow apparently made out of frog scum, and coloured in Day-Glo orange and yellow – Has. Ever. Been. Edible.

However. there are lots of other venerable sweeties that are still delicious. At least, there are lots that be lovingly recalled, and sometimes still re-discovered. In today’s market, chocolate is King. And Queen. And the Crown Prince, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Taoiseach, depending on your loyalties. Nor did Kage ever neglect her appreciation of theobromos. But, despite the delights of solid chocolate – See’s, Cadbury’s, Ghiardelli, Lindt or Toberlone; and not to neglect the homegrown joys of Hershey and Russell Stover – Kage actually did have some sweeties she liked almost as much as chocolate. Especially during this last season of the year.

Holiday candy, most particularly for Halloween and Christmas, is the best. And frequently, the weirdest.There were and are treats you only found in your Trick or Treat bags: Chick O Sticks and Abba Zabba were among my favourites – the former being a peanut nougat in a hard candy shell, and the latter being a crumbly peanut butter jam in a coating of white toffee. Kage welcomed them for their rarity, but didn’t like eating them. She did like Charms Pops and Safety Pops, and a kind whose name I do not remember – but they were large suckers, and one side was patterned like tuck and roll upholstery. Kage loved them, especially since the odd one came with a token for a free sucker – if you could locate somewhere they were still sold. And who doesn’t like Tootsie Pops? Very satisfying for breaking teeth and/or extracting fillings.

There were Smarties and Sweet Tarts and Sour Worms. Chuckles. Tootsie Roll Fudge (which did not taste like a Tootsie Roll OR fudge). Bit O’Honey, Black Cow, and Look bars. Now and Laters – which, except at Halloween, could only be found in grape (good) and banana (deadly); at Halloween, you could get cherry or raspberry or apple. Nowadays, they come in what are apparently GMO versions – two or three unlikely flavours at once, which are frankly horrifying. And Starbursts just do not compare …

Full-sized brand name chocolate bars were always rare, and so much the better to get in your bag. What you mostly got, and still get, were either Hershey’s Miniatures (with an abnormal weighting toward the loathly Mr. Good Bars); and the outright lies called “Fun Versions” of good stuff like 3 Musketeers and Mars Bars. Who the hell ever thought a chocolate nubbin the size of a 6-year old’s thumb was fun? Mind you, we ate all we could keep out of our parents’ hands, but most of the fun was in complaining how teeny weeny and not fun they really were … that, and seeing how many you could get in your mouth at one time without throwing up.

I liked raisins and apples; Kage felt they were cheating. During the last days of our Trick or Treating, when I was still getting candy because I was shorter than Kage’s youngest sister Jenny, Kage was often offered a cocktail or a glass of wine by hosts who reasonably figured she was the adult. I protested; Kage was smug. She ate my candy, though.

Kage’s absolute favourite Halloween treat was wax shapes filled with coloured sugar syrup. These days, about all you can find – except in huge, specialty candy stores like Chocolate Heaven* on Pier 39 in San Francisco – are Nickle Nips, 5 little wax bottles in a pack and assorted colours. But when we were young! … You could get skulls, and arm and leg bones, and witches, and broomsticks and pumpkins and cats. They were expensive – the big ones were as much as a quarter apiece, which was outrageous! But they were great, and with a little cleverness and care could be drained and still left amazingly intact. One year, Kimberly had an entire necklace made of skulls to go with her ghoul costume.

Those things were the best, for Kage. She got them in season in Morro Bay and Pea Soup Anderson’s and Pier 39. But every year they got harder to find, and she spent more time balefully sucking the juice out of Nickle Nips and lamenting the fallen glories of our youth …

My mother had made fantastic divinity, caramel apples, and popcorn balls – but in these benighted days, no parent in their right mind would let their kids eat homemade treats. Come to think of it, my own mother put the kibosh on those somewhere in my teens. I never knew anyone personally who was poisoned on Halloween, or got a razor blade or broken glass in their loot; but it certainly would have been a bummer if I had.

Of course, our parents always went through the bags before we could eat any – but we always figured that was just to score the good candy bars. God He knows, Kage and I and our grown sisters always checked the little ones’ bags first – and not just to make sure we got some Hershey bars and Smarties.

Today, Kimberly and Michael stopped at a local See’s store on their afternoon errands. We have Halloween candy to last through All Soul’s Day, now. They got Sour Stars for me, chocolate marshmallow jack o’lanterns for all, solid chocolate ghosties, teeny foil-wrapped chocolate pumpkins: and also the ultimate non plus ultra of See’s Halloween treats: orange fondant wafers drizzled with milk chocolate. Those are THE BEST. You cannot find them every year – last year, we never scored, and the three shops closest to us claimed they never got them in at all. Kage and I ate them one at a time, with many eldritch toasts and commemoratives, and cherished every crispy-soft nibble of them. And so will Kimberly and Michael and I.

Each and all of you, Dear Readers, must have your own favourites. Maybe you have a secret letch for Violet Crumbles or licorice bats or – quelle horreur! – Boston Beans. (What are those things, anyway? Boiled peanuts? Mummified nougat? Rat bones?) It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you remember it with love, and go out of your way to find it in this season of remembrance.

The honoured dead must include loved books, loved songs and – maybe most of all – loved and peculiar candies in this dark end of the year.

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Blow, Wind, And Crack Thy Cheeks

Kage Baker loved Shakespeare. She also loved Autumn, and the particular weather phenomena that accompany it in California: wind. Fog. Clear skies once (and if) the fog blows off. Sudden apocalyptic drops (or rises) in temperature.

So, the wind began blowing last night; hence the Shakespeare quote. It blew most of the windows in the house open, which terrified the cats and made Harry laugh and lose his mind. The black cat, Edward, is not quite 8 months old, and was both startled and then intrigued by the uproar in the air. It provoked him into zooming around the house and leaping at windows, apparently in the conviction he could catch the wind.

He was wrong, but not for lack of trying. He is still barely out of kittenhood, but he is enormous – nearly 3 feet long, excessively floofy, with extravagantly tasseled ears and huge, soft, floppy feet. So, when he descends into what is quite normal kittenish insanity, it’s rather like having a furry cannonball tearing around the house, giving little mad chirps and trills like a weaponized tribble … Kage wouldn’t have liked that; but if she could avoid being run over by 14 pounds of velvet dementia, she would have found it pretty amusing. Especially when he runs into something and falls over on the floor, panting.

It also got really cold last night. While it got up to about 80 today – for about 10 minutes, at noon, behind a windbreak and in the full sun – it never really got very warm at all. All our animals were therefore exhausted and cuddly, attempting to sneak into people’s shirts and hibernate. Luckily, they are all very soft and warm, so that was fine with me. Especially since I have become dreadfully sensitive to cold myself, and spent all day curled up under blankets and cats and a bird, a pile of survivalists in my recliner … symbiosis can be very comfortable. At least if you’re the head symbiont.

Anyway, I never got much done today. Slept a lot, shivered a lot, watched Halloween cooking shows. But I vowed I would get a teeny blog in tonight, and now my fingers are as thawed as they’re going to get for the next several months, I suspect ….

Time to break into the Halloween candy, I think. It’s Tootsie Roll weather for sure.

Stay warm, Dear Readers!

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Now Is Come October

Kage Baker loved summer. It was her favourite season. But second in her heart came – not a season – but the month of October. She wasn’t that crazy about Fall; except in special places, far North of where we usually lived, California doesn’t have much seasonal colour, and Kage fervently hated being cold.

But October is special. It is the gateway to the three-month festival of the end of the year, which was a merry-go-round of holidays dear to Kage. It’s when coloured lights and special candy begin; roasted meats and harvest vegetables, hot rum and brandy potables … And most of all, it is the season of Halloween.

This is the season of reminiscence and ghost stories; weird history and ancient rituals, and all the peculiar family history that could combine the two. At least it did in our families, and Kage loved telling scary stories by candle and fire light. We had Halloween parties where no electric light was permitted in the house, and everyone had to tell a spooky tale – except for the unbearably sensitive, who usually ended up in the kitchen huddled together over a candle, bogarting the candy bowl and singing loudly to drown out the grisly story of Old Green Eyes still haunting the cemetery at the Chattanooga National Military Park …

Stags would pace down our street in the Hollywood Hills, antlers silvered by moonlight; coyotes raced and howled. People in masks would peer into our flickering windows. At least, we hoped they were masks. Everyone screamed anyway.

Mind you, October is just the perfect holiday party start. Here in California, it rarely rains – and never stopped us when it did – and the weather can either be wood smoke-crisp or haunted bayou hot. If we’re gonna get thunder and lightning, this is when we get them, with wind storms that howl in the eaves and strip the trees of leaves – and sometimes, leave the trees in the streets in a creaking maze, which was a total gas whether we had to climb through them on our way to school, or to trick-or-treat. Sometimes we had to go blocks out of our ways to make sure we found blocked streets to climb through.

Due to Kage having tons of younger siblings, and then nieces and nephews about as soon as possible, we did Halloween chaperone duty until I was 30 years old. By that time, I was shorter than the tall kids, who had all outstripped me in the height department; with a modicum of black gauze and skull makeup, I got to collect candy without question. Kage paced along solemnly with a lit pumpkin in her arms like a severed head. It was great.

Later in life, the Northern Renaissance Faire often ran late, well into October. On the last weekend, we would carve pumpkins on the front table, which let us acquaint the customers with the ancient customs of Samhain and All Hallows. The historically determined would carve turnips, instead – those were the vegetable lanterns of choice before pumpkins were imported from the New World. They are also incredibly hard and difficult to carve, so all kudos to Stacy and Rebecca, who actually succeeded in producing wicked little faces on them! The last weekend nights of Faire, we’d put light sticks in them and set them out on the fence line, and scare the security guards who were always wary of lit candles.

And there was always the joy of giving out candy, once we were all too old to take to the streets. The parade of little kids in costumes is endlessly wonderful; even the awkward teenagers still hopefully extending their pillow cases are fun. I have never said to anyone: Aren’t you too old for this? That’s a sure way to incur supernatural wrath.

So, here we are in October once again. This year, I am still pretty much a revenent – no excursions for me, be the weather ever so mild. Kimberly doesn’t even want me to answer the door, if we do get any trick-or-treaters; because my health is mostly expressed in negative values. But I am getting better, albeit frustratingly slowly. I can walk for at least 30 feet before I start gasping; I can talk and rarely have to cough. I can sing a little. But I am horribly sensitive to both cold and heat. And I do have this ghastly divot in my throat – it’s healed as much as it is going to heal, but it leaves me with a lurid purple hole I can fit two fingers into. I wear scarves when I go to the doctors’ offices. I avoid mirrors.

However, it is time for me to get off my butt – symbolically speaking – and resume communicating with the world and with you, Dear Readers. My long lapse is no one’s doing but my own – Kimberly has urged me constantly to get my act together and shout once more into the void. Now, tonight – with the temperature falling, and the wind howling in the trees, and leaves being driven in head-high waves past the windows – now is a good time to prove I’m still here. I may be a revenent, but I’m not dead. It doesn’t seem likely that I will be any time soon, either. I have officially survived.

Today, my dear old friend Rebecca called to ask Kimberly if I was, indeed, still among the living. Kimberly swore I would resume my bloggery. It’s the least I can do for Kimberly, who has nursed me though so much; and for Rebecca, who has fronted the inquiries from so many of my concerned friends. She seems to be person of choice to poke me with a stick.

It’s the season to talk to the dead, and tell old tales. Since I am, amazingly, not among the dead, I have things to say and remember and invoke. There is candy to eat, pumpkins to carve, lights to be lit against the echoing dark. I’m really here.

And I still have things to say.

This is my favourite bat. And it’s real!
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On Cats

Kage Baker professed to loathe cats. More than she professed to loathe most other animals, that is. But tonight, I want to talk about the cats I live with – because, though Kage would probably have disliked them, I love them dearly.

I know that, despite firm avowals of undying hatred, Kage had good social relationships with at least a few cats. Mitz was an extremely beautiful black cat from Kage’s early childhood. He had a perfect profile and only 1 front leg, giving him a high-shouldered hunchbacked look. Kage always lamented she had met him in her pre-Shakespeare days, as otherwise she would have named him Richard III. He was dignified and kingly; also short-haired, which may have been why she liked him.

She also was fond of my cat Thesta, a little grey and white lady who was an excellent mouser. Kage appreciated a cat that was good at a traditional cattish vocation. Thesta, too, was short-haired. On the other hand, Kage truly did dislike my favourite cat, T’Pring, who was enormous, insanely long-haired, and had huge tufted paws and ears – I now suspect she was a Maine Coon mix. Kage only put up with her immensity and fuzziness as a concession to me.

But now, living with Kimberly, I have returned to living with cats. Although my heart belongs to Harry the parrot, I do love cats – as long as they can learn that Harry is not prey; so far, they all seem willing to be parrot-minions instead of mighty hunters. And it is here that my family and I have discovered the wonderful world of Maine Coon cats. We now have two – our lovely lady Ashby, who is orange; and Edward – who is still a baby (technically) and black.

Ashby is a rescue – the Pasadena ASPCA had her down as a 4-month old kitten, rescued with her mother and brother from a dreadful infancy on the street. (She is still frightened of street sweeping machines, even though she is a 100% an indoor cat.) When we brought her home, we were amazed at how actually tiny and dependent she was: but also at the size and fuzziness of her paws, her coat like a cloud of silk, her huge tufted ears, her extraordinarily long and fluffy tail … what we have determined since is that Ashby is a Maine Coon, but was erroneously described as older than she was because she was so large. For a Maine Coon, she is a dainty lady indeed; but she is twice the size of any of our previous, more ordinary cats. She is a golden sunset cloud, with her magnificent tail following her like a princess’ veil. And she is totally my nephew Michael’s cat, adoring him with a proprietary love that sometimes impedes his ability to breathe – 12 pounds is a lot of cat.

When Kimberly’s little black cat used up her last life, we were bereft. We decided that what we needed was another black kitty – for Halloween purposes, of course – and another Maine Coon, because of the beauty and sweetness of Ashby. And after a search and a wait of some months on his pregnant mother, we found him!

Edward was, for a Maine Coon, tiny when he came home to us. He is black, black, black – so totally black that when he closes his eyes, his little face vanishes. He is as soft as velvet, and quite the most affectionate cat I’ve ever known – he likes to give kisses, and purrs like a tank. He thinks Kimberly is absolutely Momma and he likes to lie on her breast and stare lovingly into her eyes. He rarely mews, but he meeps and makes tribble noises and chirps in a tiny voice. He chases sticks and ping pong balls and is learning to fetch. He has paws with thumbs and can open cupboards and turn doorknobs; he likes to hug you with them, and he likes to have his tummy rubbed. Most cats are supposed to hate that, but not Maine Coons – both Edward and Ashby just adore it.

Edward is as insatiably curious as the Elephant’s Child, and absolutely must assist with whatever his humans are doing; one of his favourite napping places is on Kimberly’s desk, lying between her computer screen and keyboard. He now eclipses most of the screen when he does that, but he really likes to assist Momma with her games of solitaire … he has no idea he is not transparent.

I have no pictures of him yet – he has spent the day in or under things, of course, just when I wanted to get a current photo. But from his arrival as a (relatively) teenie kitten, he has grown extravagantly. We did measure him this afternoon – from his ebony nose to his really fuzzy behind, Edward is now 22 inches – count in his 14-inch opera cloak tail, and he is 36 inches long. And he is only 6 months old, and due to keep growing until he is least 3 years old.

So. There are my fuzzy roommates. I will get pictures tomorrow, and share with with you, Dear Readers. Those of you who have cats, and especially Maine Coons, will be appreciative. Even those of you who, like Kage, think you loathe them might like them. Because, you see, one thing I have learned since Kage died is – lean as hard as you can into what you love. Hold it tight. Rub its tummy.

It’s a small, soft thing, and in no way permanent.

And here is my favourite cat poem, written by an Irish monk …

*I and Pangur Bán my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.

‘Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Bán, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

translated by Robin Flowers

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The Great Outdoors, Indoors

Kage Baker didn’t really like most people. She had to get to know them individually, which she didn’t do often because she was busy and shy. Those who did get her attention long enough to get to know her – and didn’t scare her – know that she was a good friend, faithful and true, and a right lot of fun once she had a couple of rum and Cokes in her.

Kage also didn’t like Nature much. She gave her civilized preferences to Lord Ermenwyr (“I HATE Nature!”) and much preferred to observe the natural, wet, fuzzy, sticky, smelly, hot, cold world through a thick pane of glass. Gardens were her preferred outdoors environment, the more clipped and securely bedded the better. With easy access to modern plumbing, and a lawn chair with a drink holder.

Even in her books, few Operatives really liked animals – including humans. One of the only exceptions was Raven, an illegally augmented raven (of course) who becomes the partner of a young Operative in Mendoza In Hollywood. And, naturally, the endless and mostly implied passions of Nefer for hoof stock. As chief assistant researcher, I too learned things about bison I have since laboured in vain to forget …

Since I have moved back to Los Angeles, I’ve been re-immersed in the tide of Nature. Living, as I do, close to both Griffith Park and the Los Angeles River, I am rich in the company of furred and winged neighbors. We have a squirrel feeder; a bird feeder on the window as well as a bowl on the porch for the ground feeders; scads of nectar-rich flowers for the butterflies and hummingbirds. After dark, raccoons, skunks and possums waddle up to eat the spilled seeds and nuts. During the day, young ravens and hawks come by to see if any other smaller visitants are catchable ; it’s especially charming when the fledglings are accompanied by their mamas, teaching them patiently how to nail a squirrel or a pigeon.

At night, bobcats and mountain lions come and sit on our cars. We never see them; but cat prints as large and larger than my hands make it plain they have been out there. They seem to like sliding down the windshield. All cats are the same, in odd ways.

Recently, our next-door human neighbor sadly deceased; her house has been steadily worked on for months, being renovated by a team of house-flippers. In the course of their landscaping efforts, they trimmed or cut down several trees – which unfortunately, were condos for roof rats. And now, there are roof rats all over the place. Roof rats are an introduced species, Rattus rattus, smaller and more gracile than the Rattus norwegicus which you find all over downtown Los Angeles. I happen to like rats, when encountered on a social basis; but the current wave of rodentine refugees are not especially fun.

They don’t get into the house often – we have two cats now, and I think the smell of them upsets any rat adventurers. However, accidents do happen … over the weekend, one of the tree rats managed to fall down the chimney and put on a desperate show in the fireplace. This was kind of funny during the day; but in this heat Kim and I sleep in the living room, for the air conditioning. And a rat in the fireplace is just not conducive to rest.

Our fireplace is kept closed with both a metal net curtain, and glass doors; we have an artificial log in place, so in the summer there is no actual fire – although the very splendid fake fire is complete with wonderful waxing and waning lights, that are beautifully soothing. The rat, however, must have thought he’d gone to ratty Hell, because he ran up, down and all around behind the doors, frantically seeking an egress. Or maybe it was the avid attention of our younger cat, who seemed to think the rat-under-glass was a special television show just for him.

Our elder cat is a large but delicate and ladylike red Maine Coon cat, yclept Ashby, who simply watched the rat from the top of my desk. Our younger cat, though, went nearly as crazy as the poor rat. Edward is a jet black Maine Coon – just 6 months old -who is already bigger than Ashby, and we spent a horrendous night with Edward the Black periodically throwing himself at the fireplace doors (BOINNNNG!), and sending the rat into loud insane scrabbling all over the place. Between futile attacks, Edward cried piteously (Maine Coons have tiny, sweet little voices) for someone to give him the rat.

I did not sleep. Kimberly, Edward and the damned rat finally all fell asleep around 4; and sometime during the next day, the rat managed his escape. Or maybe he died of stress from having an enormous black lunatic banging on the fireplace doors. Whatever, he has not been since. Edward, though, still checks the doors every day just to make sure there is no-one lurking in there – but Edward, despite being enormous, is still just an innocent little baby who expects miracles to come down the chimney.

During the long, noisy night, I amused myself by imagining what Kage would have had to say if she had been cooped up with a crying, 14-pound baby cat and a demented tree rat. I’d probably have had to administer several ounces of rum and chocolate, and hoped she’d fall asleep as well … but, you know? At least I was home with my loved ones.

Nearly anything is bearable under those circumstances.

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A Small Report From The Edges of Reality

Kage Baker wasn’t fond at all of consensus reality. Considering, as she did, that reality was what you make it, she had a low opinion of the reality on offer – the group view, the mass of humanity view, the purblind, self-obsessed tunnel vision that does constitute the consensus of the majority of human kind.

So she largely used her own. A lot of people who do this have slipped over the edges of recognizing any reality, and forged far over the border of being able to live in anyone else’s. But Kage was imminently sane, and practical besides. She was on excellent terms with the input from her own senses; she just didn’t care to rely on what other people told her that was.

Kage was never any good at doing what she was told to do. Her usual technique was to listen quietly, make no response, and then ignore the orders she did not like. No loud defiance, no obstreperous argument; she just held still until no one was looking, and then proceeded to do what she wanted to do. And it worked pretty well; if anyone ever noticed again, they tended to forget what it was they’d told her to do in the first place. And Kage sailed on, defining herself just the way she wanted.

One of the reasons she refused the consensus reality was that she felt it missed too much. Details matter, and reality cannot be accurately determined unless you look for and integrate those details. Can you know everything about everything? Probably not, although Kage wasn’t ever willing to bet on that. She was deeply aware that things are always stranger than what we are told. She wanted all the information she could get.

I always felt the same way; we spent years collecting weird facts from all over. not only for Kage’s stories but for our own amusement. For years now, friends have sent me articles about the kinds of glorious weirdness we liked; they still continue to do so, which is a source of endless delight to me. I can’t find everything that floods through the aether, after all. Just today, my old friend Mark Shanks (a genuine scholar) send me a fascinating article on a mummified moa claw. (https://tinyurl.com/prnpnzdh). This came from a bird that was 10 feet tall, mind you. One look at this, and you can understand why the Maori hunted them to extinction. It is always an impoverishment when a species goes extinct, but in this case it was pretty clearly either the moas or the Maori.

Here are a few more mentions of interesting weirdness from the last few months.

A Senor Elfrain Cab, who is pretty much a Mayan still living in the original Mayan lands, has dedicated his life to saving the rare, stingless Mayan honeybee. They produced (and still produce) a potent honey that was once a staple of the Mayan diet. It’s still sought-for, and still just as good. The bees were almost exterminated by the Spaniards – as were the Maya – but both groups still survive, and mean to remain. Find them here: https://tinyurl.com/2ppsk7yz , and maybe buy some Mayan honey.

For the first time in years, new baby ravens have been born at the Tower of London. This is nice news for the Raven Master of the Tower, who is fond of his enormous charges; also nice news for the monarchy, whose continued existence is said to depend on the ravens being maintained at the Tower of London. https://tinyurl.com/268pwwz3 And in my opinion, you can never have too many ravens, anyway.

The genome of the platypus has finally been pretty thoroughly mapped! See here, with an adorable photograph: https://tinyurl.com/czwh58un . I thought it would have been done before now, too, but there is so very much to be studied in Australia! Most of which would also love to kill you, which must make life extremely interesting for Australian researchers … but, anyway, it appears the platypus really is a missing link, between reptiles and birds. This is especially fascinating because actually finding a real missing link in very rare – in my scholarly days, in fact, we were taught never to expect to lay our greedy hands on anything so obvious and distinct. But, you know, Australia …

I had more to share, but the WordPress program has evidently slipped over some edge of reality itself – I can barely get it to respond to the most ordinary of commands, and it has in fact devoured – devoured, I say! – a few hundred pearls of wisdom in the last hour. The more I try to save, the more it loses.

I am going to quit, post and publish now, before I disappear up my own paragraph block.

Until tomorrow, Dear Readers.

This would be holding YOUR drumstick …
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