Early Summer

June eleventh, a sunny Tuesday morning on Ziggurat Farm, two miles inland from the town of Mercy on the far north coast of California.

Henri, a fast-growing lad of twelve, his black hair recently cut short for the summer, and Joseph, a large man of seventy-one with longish gray hair, sit a few feet apart on folding aluminum lawn chairs on the western shore of a recently revived natural pond, the granite basin some fifty-feet-long and thirty-feet-wide and quite deep at the south end where the water overflows and carries on as a sparkling brook.

They are sketching the scene before them, the glassy surface of the pond beyond which arises a densely forested slope of young redwoods, firs, and hemlocks—the stream burbling westward through oaks and madrone.

Joseph is a British landscape painter and portraitist of some renown in England, his paintings reminiscent of the work of Singer Sargent, though Joseph most frequently compares himself to Pissarro. Henri has lived on Ziggurat Farm his entire life and has been drawing ever since he was four, Joseph giving him occasional instruction and constant encouragement.

“Do enlighten me as to why you chose not to audition for the play, Henri?” asks Joseph, his accent born in Devon. “You would be magnificent as Bottom and surely would have won the role.”

“Actually,” says Henri, who has a British accent, too, whenever he’s with Joseph or Constance, Joseph’s wife, “I couldn’t be in the play because one has to be at least thirteen to be in the Mercy Players Junior Company and I won’t be thirteen until August. Arturo just turned fourteen and he’s nearly the youngest person in the cast.”

Henri frowns at an errant stroke and carries on, having learned from Joseph that sketching isn’t about getting the picture just so, but about practicing sketching.

Had you been thirteen,” Joseph persists, “would you have auditioned?”

Henri muses for a moment. “Doubtful. There were extenuating circumstances.”

“Do tell,” says Joseph, bored with this view. “Shall we shift around and face west? I’m finding this scene rather prosaic. The pond will one day be a glory, but for now is but a rustic swimming pool.”

They turn their chairs around and contemplate the view to the west, a meadow of tall grasses between towering redwoods to the north, oaks and madrone to the south, the sky vast and cloud-dotted above a forest descending to the not-quite-visible ocean.

“You attended the audition with us,” says Henri, smiling at Joseph, “so you know save for Arturo and the divine Dolores Ramirez, the players were dreadful and not likely to improve much in seven weeks.”

“Seven weeks of good coaching can work wonders,” says Joseph, returning Henri’s smile. “But your point is well-taken. What else?”

“I’d much rather study drawing and painting with you and have twoextra music lessons with Delilah every week for my summer Main Study than spend six hours a day for seven weeks playing Drama games and mounting a ghastly teenaged production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Henri finds the new view more to his liking and sketches swiftly and confidently. “Also just between you and me, I needed a break from Arturo. We are so much together, our little band of friends, we needed time away from each other before school starts again in September.”

“What is your schoolmate Larry doing for the summer?” asks Joseph, sketching happily now. “Delightful fellow. Beautiful baritone. Loved the ‘I’d Do Anything’ duet he sang with Irenia at the end-of-school concert. Bravura.”

“Larry and his parents are spending three weeks in Manhattan with Larry’s mother’s parents,” says Henri, pleased with his sketch, “after which they’ll go to an island off the coast of British Columbia for a month to stay with Larry’s father’s parents. Larry didn’t want to go. He loves it here and wanted to do a Main Study in Math and Physics with Delilah, but his parents insisted he go with them, so…”

“Why didn’t Irenia audition for the play?” asks Joseph, arching a quizzical eyebrow. “She’s so talented. And I don’t just mean for one so young. I mean she is a fully realized actor and singer, not to mention being blindingly beautiful.”

A blush appears on Henri’s cheeks. “Well… she was keen to study cooking with either Raul or Philip for her Main Study, and when both of them said they’d be willing to mentor her, the play became an irrelevancy.” He stops sketching, his artistry derailed by thoughts of Irenia. “And just between you and me again, she desperately needed a break from Arturo. He’s obsessed with her. Follows her everywhere. She tolerates it, but I know she’s greatly relieved he’s otherwise engaged for the next several weeks.”

“Can’t blame him, can you?” says Joseph, shaking his head. “I’m sure I would have done the same thing at his age. She’s spectacular.” He pauses meaningfully. “Don’t you think?”

Henri clears his throat.  “I won’t disagree she’s lovely.” He takes a deep breath. “But one doesn’t want to smother one, does one?”

“No,” says Joseph, suppressing a giggle. “But one wouldn’t mind kissing her if one could and she was amenable, and one was roughly her age. Yes?”

“I suppose so,” says Henri, squinting suspiciously at Joseph. “Do you know something you’re not telling me?”

Joseph glances around as if to make sure they are not overheard. “Connie and I were coming down the trail to the pond a few afternoons ago to see how the algae was progressing, and at a crook in the trail…” He gestures behind him up the hill in the direction of their house that’s being built. “…Connie stayed me with a touch and whispered, ‘Methinks we’ve come upon young Romeo and Juliet.’ And though we quickly retraced our steps, we were fairly certain Romeo was you and Juliet was Irenia, though we could be wrong, of course, dusk being such a trickster.”

“Joseph,” says Henri, gazing earnestly at his mentor and friend. “May I ask an enormous favor of you and Connie? That you tell no one what you saw a few afternoons ago? I fear it would devastate Arturo if he knew.”

“Ah,” says Joseph, nodding in understanding. “Connie and I shall never mention it to anyone, though I’m sure we will mention it to each other on many occasions when we wish to remember that supremely sweet moment. You lucky guy, you.”


Meanwhile, Joseph’s wife Constance, two years Joseph’s junior, a plump pretty fantastically successful murder mystery writer, is serving tea to Daisy, forty-one, a darling yet-to-be-published writer of fiction.

They are sitting at the small dining table in the little house Joseph and Constance are renting in Mercy while they await completion of their spectacular modern home being built on land adjacent to the northeast side of Ziggurat farm.

Daisy and her husband Michael and their fifteen-month-old baby girl Jenna live in a house on three acres adjacent to the south side of the farm. Michael is an ornithologist recently relieved of his academic duties by Daisy inheriting a fortune from her mother, and Daisy is a writer recently freed from her job as a secretary by that same inheritance, Jenna their first and probably only child.

Michael is taking care of Jenna for the morning while Daisy visits Constance to learn what Constance thinks of Daisy’s novella Women Farm, which Daisy gave to Constance a week ago.

“I absolutely love watching Vivienne and Irenia lug your adorable daughter around on their soon-to-be-women’s hips,” says Constance, pouring very black tea from a large white teapot into dainty white teacups. “Makes the little darling so happy, and me, too.” She sighs in her dramatic way. “I suppose if I’d had a real live baby to play with when I was their age, I might have had children, but such was not the case.”

“I didn’t want children until just a few years ago,” says Daisy, tasting a cookie. “These are so yummy, Connie. Did you make them?”

“No, no, I commissioned Celia to make them for me. She and Nathan and Delilah are giving us breakfast every day until we move into our new house, and often supper, too, when we’re not dining at the farmhouse or at Ocelot. We are hopelessly addicted to Raul’s restaurant. Imagine him agreeing to mentor Irenia for the summer. How could he possibly have time? We were shocked when we heard.”

“Imagine having the chutzpah to ask him,” says Daisy, who finds all the Ziggurat Farm kids amazing. “She’s only fourteen.”

“Where did she get such confidence?” exclaims Constance. “Her parents are self-effacing to the point of saintliness.”

“Does Joseph cook?” asks Daisy, finding the tea incredibly strong.

“He can,” says Constance, making a dismissive face, “but prefers not to unless he absolutely has to. And I never cook, unless you consider making tea and boiling eggs cooking.” She nibbles a cookie. “What decided you to have a child?”

“An unconscious decision,” says Daisy, feeling she might cry talking about this. “When my mother died not quite three years ago I just… stopped taking precautions, though I didn’t decide to stop and wasn’t aware I had until one night after we made love I thought, ‘I think I’m ovulating’ and I hadn’t put my diaphragm in.” She smiles through her tears. “Maybe I wanted to replace my mother. I don’t know.” She shrugs. “Why didn’t you want children?”

“Well,” says Constance, who hasn’t talked about this since she was in therapy in her forties, “I made a very conscious choice not to have children when I was twenty-five, a year after I was jilted by a man I’d given my body and soul to for three years. I was sure we would marry, though unbeknownst to me he was philandering from day one, and for the entire year after his cruel betrayal I was bedridden and couldn’t even begin to recover until one day I proclaimed to my distraught mother that I would never have children. And my mother, who’d had four, said, ‘That’s fine, dear. Just so you get well.’ And then I did.” She pours more tea into Daisy’s cup. “I’ve never regretted my decision, and truth be told I never had much to do with children until we moved here and became entangled with young Delilah and then the farm kids, all of whom we adore, and I do hope you will bring Jenna to visit me frequently and sometimes leave her with me so I may pamper and spoil her without you seeing me make a googly ass of myself. Please?”

“Is tomorrow too soon?” asks Daisy, nodding hopefully.

They laugh uproariously and Constance touches Daisy’s hand and says, “Now let us speak of your novella.”

“Oh that,” says Daisy, and off they go laughing again.

“I will preface my remarks,” says Constance, gazing wide-eyed at Daisy, “by saying we are so glad, Joseph and I, that we like your book because we will soon be your neighbors and it would have been so awkward to see you all the time and have to pretend we liked your book if we didn’t. But we do.”

“Oh good,” says Daisy, blushing.

Constance gets up from the table and goes to fetch the manuscript from the coffee table in the living room, and Daisy holds her breath until Constance returns.

“To properly set the scene for my experience of reading your novella,” says Constance, settling into her chair and placing the manuscript on the table, “I will detail our morning schedule, which begins with Nathan and Celia giving us breakfast at nine, after which we visit our pups Alec and Merula who are staying with their mother next door to Nathan’s until we move into our new house. After the puppy visit, we walk to and from and along the beach at the mouth of the Mercy. Are you with me?”

“I’m with you,” says Daisy, relieved to know they like her book.

“So the day after you gave me Women Farm,” says Constance, recalling the moment vividly, “we came home after pup visiting, and with some trepidation, knowing you were destined to be our neighbor and frequently dining with us at the farmhouse etcetera, I sat down with the manuscript thinking I’d get through a few pages before we left for the beach.” She pauses momentously. “But the beach, despite the glorious day, had to wait until I finished reading your masterwork.”

Daisy gasps and her eyes fill with tears.

“Joseph came twice to get me for our walk,” says Constance, on the verge of tears herself, “and seeing I was so completely gone to your story he left me alone until I finished. Then I changed into my beach togs and we walked through town and down the stairs to the beach, and after I’d waded in the water to regain my senses, he asked, ‘Are you ever going to speak again?’ and I replied, ‘Either I’ve lost my mind or I’ve just read a work of surpassing genius.’ And that’s what I think of your novella.”

Daisy tries to speak, but words won’t come.

“When we got home from the beach,” says Constance, continuing, “Joseph sat down in the big armchair in the living room and without once getting up for drink or food or to pee, he read Women Farm from start to finish, took off his reading glasses, looked at me—I was on the sofa with my feet up waiting for him to finish so I could read it again—and said, ‘If Delilah will do some pen and ink drawings to illustrate this riveting tale, Arnold Winfield will go mad to publish it.’ And I agree, Arnold will. He only does a few books a year, but each one is a literary event. In England. A hundred and thirty-three pages of manuscript will only make a hundred pages of print, and it’s a book you’d never in a million years get published in America unless it’s a huge success elsewhere, but Arnold will want it, we’re sure.” She beams at Daisy. “Did you have an editor, dear? The word flow is breathtaking.”

“Nathan,” says Daisy, nodding.

“He’s marvelous,” says Constance, smiling brightly. “Doesn’t care for my books, but then I’m not original and he is so original.”

“I think you’re original,” says Daisy, who recently gobbled three of Constance’s murder mysteries. “I loved Lisa Has Three Suitors. Seemed highly original to me, and your dialogue is fantastic. No wonder they all get made into movies.”

“I’m clever, dear,” says Constance, enjoying the praise but not taking it seriously. “And I copy others prodigiously as all mystery writers do. And dear Joseph grooms my dialogue until it sparkles, else it would sound ridiculous. I could never write anything so grand as Women Farm. Some magnificent spirit spoke through you, didn’t she?”

“Seems so,” says Daisy, humbled by such praise.

“I assure you no spirits speak through me,” says Constance, looking out on the sunny day. “Shall we walk around town? I’d love to give you lunch at the Happy Day Café & Bakery. Won’t hold a candle to what Philip and Raul are concocting for supper at the farmhouse, but it will sustain us until then.”


That afternoon in the farmhouse kitchen, Philip, slender handsome husband of Lisa and father of Arturo and Vivienne, and Raul, ruggedly handsome chef of exceeding fame, both in chef’s whites, stand in the farmhouse kitchen watching Irenia, also in chef’s whites, swiftly dicing garlic.

Raul and Philip are awaiting Irenia’s assessment of the sauce they’ve concocted for a dish they are calling Prawns Raul Philip, both very pleased with their concoction.

“Of course,” says Irenia, who is Russian, tall and gorgeous and though only fourteen could easily pass for eighteen, “you are both culinary savants and know everything about cooking, yet I am certain this sauce lacks garlic, though not raw garlic, but garlic sautéed ever so briefly in olive oil, if one of you would prepare a small frying pan for me.”

Raul and Philip exchange arched eyebrows and Raul says to Philip in French, “It is her lack of pretense I find most disarming.”

“She’s fearless,” says Philip, nodding in agreement. “Frequently wrong, but unafraid to try and fail.”

“The garlic will ruin the sauce,” says Raul, grimacing. “And it’s so good now. Your touch of turmeric was a master stroke.”

“As was your dill,” says Philip, nodding.

“But I suppose we must let her try,” says Raul, wistfully.

“How else will she learn?” asks Philip, laughing. “We know telling her won’t convince her.”

“No other way,” says Raul, laughing, too. “And we have time to make it again.”

“What are you saying about me?” asks Irenia, a blush in her cheeks.

“We are saying you will learn by doing,” says Raul, setting a small frying pan on a flame and pouring in the olive oil.


At the end of the fabulous supper made by Philip and Raul and Irenia for twenty happy diners, Prawns Philip Raul sans garlic the star of the show, Nathan, who recently turned eighty-seven, addresses the assembly.

“I wanted to share something Celia and I discovered about your creek,” he says, extracting a stack of rolled up maps from a cardboard tube. “I’m chagrined to say I didn’t remember this six weeks ago when the excavation of the pond began, but I didn’t.”

“By the way, Nathan,” says Alma, who just turned thirteen and is studying Botany and Ecology with Caroline and Michael for her summer Main Study, “three days ago we calculated the creek has a flow rate of fifty-seven gallons per minute.”

“A very good flow, indeed,” says Nathan, smiling at Alma, “especially considering we’re in the third year of a severe drought. All of which suggests the creek was here for a very long time before it was stoppered.”

“So what did you remember?” asks Henri, who thinks of Nathan as his grandfather.

“Well,” says Nathan, nodding his thanks to Henri for keeping him on track, “a week ago Celia was making breakfast and said to me, ‘When we used to go to the farm fifty-five years ago to pick apples, didn’t we drive across a little wooden bridge on the farm drive?’ And then it all came back to me. The bridge was about twenty-feet-long and just wide enough for a truck.”

“So the creek didn’t turn south and follow the path to our house and beyond,” says Michael, excitedly. “It continued directly west.”

“That’s right,” says Nathan, unfurling ten copies of a two-foot-square map. “These are facsimiles of the map on the wall of our town museum.” He hands nine of the copies to Henri to distribute around the dining table. “They show the Mercy watershed as rendered by a surveying crew in 1856. If you look dead center on this map you’ll see your stream followed a southwesterly course from here and entered the Mercy River about a mile inland from the mouth. You see the name there where it meets the river? Mammoth Creek. Merle Redstone, the docent at the museum, said it wasn’t called Mammoth because the creek was big, but for the enormous redwoods that grew along the creek before they got cut down. He also said the first half-mile of the creek coming this way from the river was a renowned steelhead and salmon spawning area. And you can see two other creeks joined your creek along the way from here, one of them Bella’s Creek, which I know still has a little water in it most of the year and skirts Susan Oldfield’s place a half-mile down the road from you.”

“So if we were to redirect the creek across the farm drive where it originally flowed,” says Philip, sharing a copy of the map with Lisa and Vivienne, “the creek would resume its old course down to the Mercy?”

“I don’t see why not,” says Nathan, smiling at the thought of that. “Pretty much all the land from here to there is protected now and will never be logged again. Part of Egret Estuary State Park.”

“It will cost a pretty penny to dig out the creek bed across the drive and beyond, and build a sturdy new bridge,” says Joseph, sharing a map with Constance. “We’d be happy to contribute to the cause.”

“The state might fund part of it,” says Michael, avidly studying the map with his sister Caroline. “Restoration of precious wildlife habitat.”

“Another job for Gabriel,” says Henri’s father Marcel, speaking of the local backhoe magician.

“As soon as he finishes digging the hole for our septic tank and trenching the septic field,” says Constance, looking up from the map. “Did you see there’s a waterfall along our little Mammoth Creek? Indigo Falls. Why indigo we wonder? Won’t it be fun to find out?”


Hey Baby


Nathan and Del Part One

Nathan Grayson, his once brown hair mostly white now, is seventy-three, sturdy and healthy and still pruning fruit trees, Japanese maples, roses, and lemon trees fifteen hours a week from February through November.

A poet of some renown when he was in his late twenties, Nathan’s third volume of poems Fickle Muse, was considered by many to be a frontrunner to win the Pulitzer that year when out of the blue two influential writers accused Nathan of plagiarism, after which Nathan’s publisher took Fickle Muse and his previous volumes Impossible Rose and Indigo Blues out-of-print, recalled all copies yet to be sold, and thereafter no publisher or literary magazine, even tiny ones, would ever again publish Nathan’s poems, though the supposed plagiarism was never proven, nor did any of Nathan’s poems even remotely resemble the works of his accusers, save they were written in English.

Astonished by these accusations, Nathan was certain the hideous nonsense would soon blow over and he would publish again, but that was not to be. So he moved from San Francisco to the little town of Mercy on the north coast of California and became a pruner of fruit trees, a skill he’d acquired growing up on a fruit farm in southern Oregon.

After two years of pruning fruit trees in Mercy, his services much in demand, Nathan hired the admirable Juan Gomez as his assistant, and a few years later Nathan married Juan’s sister Celia to whom he has been married for thirty-five years. They have a thirty-two-year-old daughter named Calypso who, like her mother, is a nurse.


Despite his fall from literary grace, Nathan never stopped writing because writing is second nature to him, nearly first, and he writes for a couple hours every day, mostly poems and the occasional humorous story.

What does he do with his poems and stories when, even now, no publisher or magazine will consider his work? He posts them on the blog Calypso made for him and receives emails and letters from people around the world who enjoy his writing.


On a cold February evening, Nathan is standing beside Celia in the kitchen of their cozy redwood house, watching Celia make their favorite supper—chicken enchiladas, tomato rice, refried beans, guacamole, and a big green salad. Their little floppy-eared mutt Tennyson is at their feet hoping for what Nathan calls droppage, while their calico cat Grace snoozes on the sofa by the fire in the living room.

A few weeks ago Nathan posted a poem about Celia cooking this very meal entitled her fingers are geniuses for which he garnered several lovely responses from readers and a request from a restaurant in Sonoma to use the poem as the frontispiece of their permanent menu, for which they paid Nathan a hundred dollars and free meals whenever Nathan and Celia come to Sonoma, which is never.

“That’s the first money I’ve made from my writing in forty-five years,” says Nathan, tickled to think of people sitting down to dine in a snazzy restaurant and reading his poem about Celia.

her fingers are geniuses just look at them go making

guacamole and salsa and refried beans and tomato

rice and juicy chicken enchiladas you can’t tell me

her digits aren’t possessed of formidable brains

and unique personalities as she simultaneously

talks to her daughter and flirts with me saying,

“Put another log on the fire, marido,” just

look at those fingers go with such fearless grace

wielding knives and spoons amidst the blazing

casserole and red hot pans and steaming pots and

I the lucky recipient of their divine ministrations.

“I’m glad you didn’t keep being famous when you were young,” says Celia, who had no idea Nathan was a poet until he started sending her love poems as prelude to asking her to marry him. “If you had stayed famous you never would have moved here and met me and we never would have had Calypso and she wouldn’t have had Carlos who you love more than you love me.”

“Not true,” says Nathan, putting his arm around her. “I love Carlito as an extension of you.” 

“You would have married some other famous person and lived in New York,” says Celia, pouting adorably, “and spent your winters in a mansion in the south of France.”

“Mansions are a pain in the ass,” says Nathan, tasting the guacamole and smiling sublimely. “I prefer small houses. Much easier to heat and keep clean.”

“I know you,” she says, nodding. “You’re lucky not to be famous. All those women would have drained the life out of you.”

“But what a way to go,” he says, kissing her. “And now I can be famous, yeah? Now that we’re together and Calypso is incarnate, my poems can be in menus and I’ll get money in the mail.”

“Just don’t be too famous, okay? I love our life, don’t you?”

“Por su puesto,” he says, kissing her again before he and Tennyson go to answer the door expecting Calypso and her husband Paul and their darling three-year-old Carlos.

Opening the door Nathan startles to see a strikingly beautiful woman he knows from somewhere—fortyish, dark blonde hair falling to broad shoulders, kiss-me lips and glorious cheeks—but where?—and her teenaged son, his long brown hair covering most of his face. Or is this her daughter?

“Good evening,” says Nathan, turning on the porch light to clarify the scene. “What can we do for you?”

The daughter or son squats down to pet Tennyson, and her face becomes dreamy beautiful and Nathan decides she’s female.

“Mr. Grayson?” says the woman, her voice overwhelmingly familiar to Nathan, though he can’t think where he’s heard her voice before. “I hope we’re not interrupting your dinner.”

“Not yet,” says Nathan, smiling down at the child gently stroking the happy mutt.

“My name is Sharon Duval,” she says, her voice deep and sonorous. “We just bought the Caldwell place and our realtor Ward McKenzie said I should speak to you for advice about…” She laughs a sparkling laugh. “Country living, I guess. Ward didn’t have your phone number and you’re not listed, and since we’re so close…”

“Yeah, no problem,” says Nathan, fishing his wallet out of his work pants hanging on a hook by the door. “I’ll give you my card. Call me tomorrow.”

“Perfect,” says Sharon, smiling at the approach of Celia. “Hello. I’m Sharon Duval. Your new neighbor.”

“Celia,” says Celia, shaking Sharon’s hand. “And who is this?”

“This is Del,” says Sharon, touching the top of Del’s head as she continues to squat and pet Tennyson.

“Hello Del,” says Nathan, handing Sharon his card. “You gonna go to Peach Tree Elementary or are you in high school? Forgive me. I’m terrible at guessing ages, including my own.”

Del stands with notable grace and tosses her head to fling the hair out of her eyes. “Home school. I… I… I love your dog.”

“His name is Tennyson,” says Nathan, meeting Del’s eyes and sensing her confusion and sorrow.

“I… I love him,” she repeats. “He’s magnificent.”

“Takes one to know one,” says Nathan, winking at her.

Now Calypso and Paul and Carlos arrive in their lemon-yellow Volkswagen van and Sharon says, “We should go. I’ll call you tomorrow, Mr. Grayson.”

“Nathan, Nate, or Nat will do,” says Nathan, smiling at Del. “See you round the hood.”

After a fleeting hello to Calypso and Paul, Sharon and Del depart in a gold Mercedes.


When everyone is seated at the dining table, Carlos enthroned on Nathan’s lap, Calypso says, “That woman looked exactly like Margot Cunningham. Don’t you think?”

“I think she is Margot Cunningham,” says Celia, speaking of the movie star. “She said her name was Sharon Duval, but she must be Margot Cunningham. Who else could she be?”

“Margot Cunningham,” says Nathan, nodding in agreement. “Of course. My brain couldn’t compass the possibility of her living here, so I couldn’t imagine how I knew her. But why here? Why not some palatial estate in the south of France?” He bounces his eyebrows at Celia. “Isn’t that where all the famous people go?”

Calypso and Paul both get out their phones and hunt for news of Margot Cunningham.

“She’s forty-four now and has a thirteen-year-old daughter Delilah,” says Calypso, studying her screen. “That fits. From her brief marriage to Larry Bernstein. She’s currently rumored to be dating the actor Ivan Brubeck and/or the director Jerry Fields. And she’s soon to start filming the next two Planet Babylon Reborn movies for which they are paying her a paltry seventy million dollars.”

“Well-deserved, I’m sure,” says Nathan, feigning seriousness. “Though I prefer her in those movies where she’s an impossibly beautiful regular person, a housewife or secretary or waitress or high school teacher.” He shakes his head. “Can you imagine being in high school and having Margot Cunningham for your teacher? The mind boggles.”

“Sci-fi franchises are where the big money is today,” says Paul, who knows everything about contemporary popular culture. “She was big before Crusaders of Galaxy Nine and Planet Babylon Reborn, but now she’s arguably the biggest star in the world.”

“Anything more about Delilah?” asks Celia, who can’t stand super hero movies.

“Delilah goes by Del now and is trans,” says Paul, reading from his screen. “That’s not for sure, but possibly. We take all internet gossip with large grains of salt.”

“What does that mean exactly?” says Nathan, frowning. “Trans?”

“Transgender,” says Calypso, gazing at her screen. “She’s biologically female but feels she’s male. Yeah. According to Screen Gospel the trans thing is not for sure, but likely. And she/he is also a Music or Math prodigy.”

“Star Struck says both,” says Paul, putting his phone away because he knows cell phones bug Nathan. “How about that. Margot Cunningham living in Mercy.”

“They want you to prune for them, Papa?” asks Calypso, putting her phone away, too.

“Hope so,” says Nathan, sipping his lemonade. “I love those Caldwell apples. Especially the Fuji.”


The woman claiming to be named Sharon who sounds exactly like Margot Cunningham calls the next morning and Nathan agrees to come by her place on his way to prune a few apple trees.

He loads his tools into the back of his old white pickup and opens the passenger door for Tennyson who comes running from the vegetable garden where he was sticking his nose down a gopher hole and now has a muddy muzzle.

“Please leave those gophers to Grace,” says Nathan, wiping Tennyson’s snout with a towel before starting the engine. “She actually catches them whereas you just dig up the garden and do more damage than the gophers.”

A two-minute drive brings them to the house formerly owned by Archie and Clare Caldwell, a lovely old place built of river rock and redwood on ten acres of meadowland ringed by forest. Nathan has pruned the Caldwell fruit trees for thirty years and hopes to prune them for another ten. Archie and Clare were good friends with Celia and Nathan despite the political chasm between them, and Nathan was sad to see them go.

He leaves Tennyson in the truck, which Tennyson does not appreciate, climbs the seven stairs to the front porch, and knocks on the door. He waits a minute, knocks again, the door opens a crack, and a woman, not Sharon or Del, peers out and says, “Mr. Grayson?”

“I am he,” says Nathan, smiling. “Nathan or Nate or Nat will do.”

“Just a minute,” says the woman, closing the door.

Nathan studies the sky and guesses it will rain in the early afternoon and possibly hail, which doesn’t bode well for plum trees in bloom.

Now the door opens and here is Sharon looking spectacular in a red Pendleton shirt and blue jeans, her glossy blonde hair in a ponytail. Standing beside Sharon is a shorter woman with graying brown hair wearing a blue sweater over a white dress shirt and brown corduroy trousers.

“Hello Nathan,” says Sharon, shaking his hand, her grip formidable. “This is my housekeeper Wanda.”

“Hello Wanda,” says Nathan, shaking Wanda’s hand. “So… besides pruning your fruit trees, which I did for the Caldwells, what can I do for you?”

The women step outside and close the door behind them.

“We are new to country living,” says Sharon, walking shoulder-to-shoulder with Nathan down the stairs, Wanda following, “and we would like to hire you to help us learn the ropes.”

“How to start a fire, for one thing,” says Wanda, her manner gruff, her accent New Jersey. “We have no idea.”

“Mind if I let my dog out?” asks Nathan, marveling at the exigencies of fate. “He’s a sweetie and loves to tag along.”

“Yes, fine,” says Sharon, laughing gaily. “I imagine we might eventually get a dog.”

“If we stay,” says Wanda, sounding doubtful.

Now the front door opens and Del comes out onto the front porch wearing a puffy black jacket, black ski pants, blue rain boots, and a black beret, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, her face reminiscent of her mother’s, though her eyes are brown not blue.

“I thought you weren’t coming with us,” says Sharon, obviously taken aback.

“I changed my mind,” says Del, coming down the stairs. “Did… did… did you bring Tennyson?”

“I did,” says Nathan, beaming at Del. “I was just about to let the beast out.”

 “Can… can I let him out?” asks Del, looking at the truck where Tennyson is gazing forlornly out the window.

“Be my guest,” says Nathan, gesturing gallantly.

Del runs to the truck and opens the door and Tennyson leaps out and races around her twice before going up on his hind legs and offering his front paws to her, which she takes in her hands and dances with him, laughing.


They proceed to explore the place, Tennyson in the lead, Del close behind, Nathan and Sharon and Wanda following.

Nathan shows them the large chicken coop that recently housed a dozen hens, the small greenhouse good for cacti and starting vegetables from seed, and the fourteen fruit trees in the deer-fenced orchard—ten apples, two plums, two pears. He opens the door to the pump house and tells them about their well and water storage tanks, and the need to have the water filter cleaned every few months. Then he shows them their big propane tank and explains that their house is heated with propane and their stove runs on propane, too, and the propane has to be delivered by a propane truck.

“So after you choose a company,” says Nathan, slapping the tank to gauge how full it is, “they’ll come out whenever you’re running low.”

Wanda frowns. “We’re not hooked up to the whatchamacallit?”

“Energy grid?” says Sharon, nodding hopefully.

“For electricity, you are,” says Nathan, feeling himself being inexorably drawn into the lives of these three. “For gas, no. And you’ll probably want your septic tank pumped out. Been at least ten years if I’m remembering correctly, and you don’t want your sewage backing up.”

“We’re not hooked up to the city sewer?” says Wanda, aghast.

“What city?” says Nathan, laughing. “No, save for electric you’re entirely self-sufficient. There’s not much to do. You’ll see. And you’ve got a backup generator that kicks on when we have power outages, which we do a few times every winter. Your generator runs on propane, too.”

In the woodshed, the big room low on firewood, Nathan finds an old axe and expertly chops a pile of kindling.

Del watches Nathan create the kindling and asks politely, “May I try? I’d like to learn.”

“I will bring my sharper axe and hatchet tomorrow and give you a lesson,” says Nathan, leaning the axe against the wall of the shed. “I don’t have time today, Del. But here’s the thing. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can cut yourself really badly doing this, so you’ll need a lesson.”

“When tomorrow?” asks Del, thrilled to know Nathan is planning to return. “In the morning?”

“Say ten?” says Nathan, looking at Sharon.

“Fine,” says Sharon, eagerly. “We should… could you buy us an axe and hatchet? We wouldn’t know which to get. I’ll reimburse you, of course, and pay you for your time. And if you’ll recommend someone for firewood, we’ll call them today.”

“Sure,” says Nathan, gathering the kindling. “Now if you’ll each burden yourselves with a log or two, I’ll start a fire for you before I go.”

In the spacious living room of the beautiful old house, Nathan and Del kneel together on the hearth and he shows her how to build a lattice of kindling over a pile of crumpled paper.

“I love this,” she whispers. “Can I light it?”

“Sure,” he says, handing her a big wooden match. “That’s a strike-anywhere match. You can see the scrapes here on the brick Archie always used.”

The match ignites on Del’s third try and she coos with delight as she touches flame to paper and the fire crackles to life.

“Now when you’re sure the kindling has caught,” says Nathan, handing Del a piece of wood slightly larger than the kindling, “you lay progressively larger pieces on, but not too fast or you’ll put the fire out. Fire needs oxygen. Get it?”

“Got it,” says Del, carefully placing the larger piece atop the pyre.

“Good,” says Nathan, getting to his feet. “And now I must prune some apple trees before the rain comes.”

“When is that?” asks Wanda, anxiously. “The rain?”

“This afternoon, I’m guessing,” says Nathan, smiling at Wanda. “Might hail, too. A pleasure meeting you. I’ll see you all tomorrow at ten.”

“I’ll walk you to your truck,” says Sharon, following Nathan to the door.

“Will you bring Tennyson tomorrow?” asks Del, adding another piece of wood to the fire.

“Oh yeah,” says Nathan, smiling at the sight of her taking such care with the fire. “He goes everywhere with me.”


At the truck, Sharon stands close to Nathan and says, “I would very much like to hire you to come every day to help us with all the things we need help with. What is your hourly fee?”

“I get forty an hour for pruning,” he says, feeling a little dizzy being so close to her.

“Shall we say fifty,” she says, looking into his eyes. “I’m amazed by Del’s response to you. Really likes you.”

“So…” he says, wanting to ask which pronoun to use for Del, but deciding not to. “Tomorrow at ten.”

“Yes,” she says, frowning. “I suppose you know who I am.”

“I think I do,” he says, opening the door of his truck and waiting for Tennyson to jump in, “but if you’d rather be Sharon, I’m fine with that.”

“I guess it doesn’t really matter here, does it?” she says, her eyes filling with tears.

“No, you won’t get mobbed,” he says, resisting his impulse to hug her, “though people will gawk until they get used to you being here. You planning to live here year round?”

“I won’t be here all the time,” she says, shaking her head. “But Del and Wanda will. For a few years anyway.”

“Okay then,” he says, climbing into his truck and rolling down his window before closing the door. “See you tomorrow at ten. I can take Del axe shopping with me, if that’s okay with you.”

“Oh Del won’t go anywhere without me or Wanda,” says Sharon, shaking her head. “She… no.”

“Well then maybe we can all go,” he says, pulling away. “I think she’ll dig the hardware store.”


And so begins Nathan’s career as the helper of Wanda and Del and the movie star Margot Cunningham.

Hey Baby


Dream of You


Hello dear readers, I’m pleased to announce the birth of my new album Dream of You, featuring nine of my original songs for guitar, piano, and voice. One of these tunes was written forty-eight years ago, and two were written in the last year. The primary guitar tracks and vocals were recorded simultaneously to give the songs a live feeling, with Marcia’s gorgeous cello and Gwyneth Moreland’s splendid vocal harmonies adding magic to the mix.

You can buy copies of Dream of You from my web site for 5 dollars each, plus a flat rate shipping fee of 6 dollars no matter how much stuff you buy from my web site, or you can download the whole album for 6 dollars from CD Baby, or download individual songs from CD Baby for just 69 cents per song. Such a deal!

The album is also available for downloading and streaming from iTunes and Amazon and Spotify and Apple Music. Or you can listen to the songs on YouTube. If you do take a listen and enjoy what you hear, I hope you’ll share this article and links with your music-loving friends.

I’m now at work on a new batch of songs inspired by the satisfying creative experience of working with Marcia and Gwyneth and Peter Temple in his Albion studio.

Here are some brief notes about the songs on Dream of You.

Wake Up Thinking About You

Written thirty years ago as a slow smoky blues, I never got around to recording this tune until now. When I was learning the song again for this album, I sped up the tempo, added some swing, some piano, some Gwyneth harmony, and I love the joyous feel.

Strange Confusion

This song is twenty years old. I’ve long imagined harmony parts and was thrilled when we got them all in place. I sang two additional vocal tracks, Gwyneth sang two, too, and I love how groovy the song feels now.

Dream of You

This is the newest tune on the album, composed a few months before we recorded the initial guitar and vocal track. After a ten-year break from playing the guitar to focus on my piano playing, this recounting of a lucid dream was the first new song to come to me as I was regaining my guitar chops.

Alone and Lonely

I wrote this song almost fifty years ago. A vagabond in those days, I spent hundreds of hours standing by the sides of roads hitchhiking. This tune was born in those long hours of playing guitar while waiting for a ride and hoping for happier times.

Nothing Anybody Says

This is my newest piano tune, written within the last year. I imagined singing this love song with a fine female vocalist, and Gwyneth surpassed my imaginings.

Whole Lotta Kissing

I wrote this tune in Berkeley, circa 2000, following a painful dismissal by a woman who clearly (erroneously) thought she was too good for the likes of me.

Hey Baby

I was broke and lonely and pining for an old love when I wrote this song in Seattle in 1977. I imagined Bonnie Raitt singing this song, and over the ensuing twenty years I tried to get it to her without success. This song also forms the basis for my novel Night Train.

Agnes June

I wrote the words for this song in 1970 in New York City. A young German composer asked me to write lyrics for operatic lieder, and this was my favorite of the several poems I created for him, none of which he used. I found the lyrics in my guitar case some years later and put them to music. Gwyneth’s beautiful harmonies thrill me every time I listen to this song.

One Last Time

I wrote this song in Sacramento in 1989 and first performed it in an art gallery as part of a two-man show with the fine poet and artist D.R. Wagner. A song of resurrection and the healing power of love.



Hey Baby


Petit point for Night Train cover by D.R. Wagner

“Listen to the wind as it blows through the trees, listen to her and listen to me, listen to your heart and listen to your brain, listen to the sweet song of the rain. Oh my darling, I know this is hard for you to hear, but you are the one everybody wants to be with tonight.” from Todd’s song You Are the One.

My recent article about singing to the seals at Big River Beach and remembering my first paying gigs as a musician elicited several fascinating comments, so I thought I’d write a little more about my music. By the way, we’ve disarmed the Comments feature on my blog, so if you’d like to communicate with me about my articles, please send me an email.

So…having supported myself in minimal style for a couple years as a singer/songwriter in my early twenties in Santa Cruz circa 1973, I moved to Menlo Park and got a job as a janitor and teacher’s aid at a day care center in Palo Alto for children of single working mothers. My girlfriend G and I had broken up in Santa Cruz, but G rejoined me in Menlo Park, and after a year of saving our pennies, we moved to Eugene, Oregon where we lived in a converted garage while G attended the university as a music major studying piano and composition. Shortly after we arrived in Eugene, I sold my first short story for what was a fortune to me in those days, nine hundred dollars, and that allowed me to focus entirely for some months on writing short stories and a novel.

My relationship with my girlfriend was not mutually supportive. Which is to say, until I had some effective psychotherapy when I was forty, I routinely partnered with women who disapproved of me and my life choices, yet depended on me to encourage and support them. Why did I do this? To summarize volumes of emotional history, I was programmed by my disapproving and punitive parents to partner with disapproving others, and I didn’t know how else to go about life.

Lest you think I exaggerate my malady, check this out. For the entirety of our three-year relationship, G was adamant, and frequently shouted adamantly at me, that I was using my singing and songwriting and the adulation they brought me as emotional crutches to feel okay about myself and if I really wanted to face the truth about who I was, I would get rid of my guitar. So after we’d been in Eugene a month, I sold my guitar.

Now as it happened, we also had a piano in that garage because G was studying music theory and composition and wanted a piano handy for theorizing and composing. Because I make music as reflexively as ducks swim, I frequently played her piano. I don’t read music, but I had been improvising on pianos since I was sixteen, so in the absence of a guitar, I played her piano several times a day. This drove G bonkers because she struggled to compose anything she liked, while I reeled off hours of groovy-sounding music with no conscious knowledge of music theory.

Nine months into our Eugene sojourn, G and I broke up for good and I moved to Medford, Oregon where I worked as a landscaper for two years. While living in Medford, I was contacted by my old high school chum Dan Nadaner who was a fan of my guitar playing and singing. He had written some rhyming verses for the soundtrack to a little film he made called Stripes and asked me to sing his verses in the manner of a country tune while accompanying myself on guitar. (Watch Stripes on my web site.)

To make that recording for Dan, I borrowed a small steel-string guitar and a little cassette recorder from my friend David Adee. Dan was pleased with how I sang his verses, and after making the recording I bought that guitar from David. Having gone two years without a guitar, songs began pouring out of me and I wrote several new tunes in the next few months. A year later, in 1977, I moved from Medford to Seattle, and while living a lonely life there, I wrote a nostalgic bluesy love song called Hey Baby.

In 1980, having had a large success with my first novel Inside Moves, I was attending a party in Sacramento, songs were being shared, and when the guitar came to me, I sang Hey Baby. When I finished the song there was much hooting and applause and a woman asked, “Who wrote that? Wasn’t that in a movie?”

I said, “No. It’s one of my songs.”

“Sounds famous,” she went on. “That’s like a song you hear in grocery stores, you know, the instrumental version of a classic.”

As of this writing, Hey Baby is not famous, but I never forgot what that woman said about the song, and her praise emboldened me to play Hey Baby when I gave readings at bookstores and cafés, and the song eventually became a mainstay of the one-man shows I performed for some years.

Fast forward to the first year of my first marriage, 1984. My wife introduced me to Rickie Lee Jones’s first album, which I enjoyed, but there was one song on that album I absolutely with every cell in my corpus loved—Night Train (not the blues standard, but Rickie’s song with that title.) After listening to her Night Train countless times, I wrote a novel entitled Night Train that sprang from dreams inspired by Rickie’s song.

In the novel, the down-and-nearly-out narrator Charlie is haunted by the one success he ever had, a hit song he wrote called Hey Baby upon which hinges everything that happens in that wild crazy chase love story.

I eventually published Night Train with Mercury House, a San Francisco publisher, and they took the book out-of-print shortly after publication. Thus few people ever heard of my Night Train, though the following review by Tom Nolan ran in the LA Times in 1986.

“In his fourth novel, Todd Walton, author of the critically praised Inside Moves and Louie & Women, delivers an unusual and gripping tale that begins like a hard-boiled crime story and becomes something resembling science fiction. Walton evokes a paranoid romanticism reminiscent of Craig Nova, Don DeLillo or Thomas Pynchon as he tracks the fate of Lily and Charlie, two down-and-out musicians on the run from an army of ‘very well-connected’ thugs out not just for blood but for spirit. Fleeing by car, foot, air, bicycle, train, covered wagon and dirigible, the two make their way with Lily’s baby from Sunset Boulevard to a mountain retreat in Oregon. Eluding all manner of physical and mental danger, Lily and Charlie take their final stand with a commune of utopian artists.

“Their odyssey is seedily realistic, wildly surrealistic, often erotic and only occasionally a bit precious. What seemed like a simple pursuit story has become an engaging parable of the responsibilities of creativity, the nature of self-worth, the redemptive power of love—perhaps the Meaning of Life itself. And the message, as Charlie reads it? ‘No matter how far down you get, you got to get up.’”

And now, thirty-three years gone by since Night Train was briefly available in a handful of bookstores, I love recalling the myriad threads that came together to make that book—Hey Baby a tune I wrote for my favorite singer in those days: Bonnie Raitt. And though I never got the tune to Bonnie, in my imaginings, her version of Hey Baby makes the song an instant classic, thereby fulfilling the long-ago prophecy of Hey Baby becoming a soundtrack for grocery shopping.

Night Train is available as a Kindle and iBook, and used copies of the hardback abound online.