Pondering by Bill Pike


As I have stated many times, I am no Biblical scholar.

But, I do wonder about the stories in the Bible.

Maybe you do too.

One story that I wonder about quite a bit is the Christmas story.

Perhaps you recall that in the book of Luke,  God sends the angel Gabriel to have a conversation with a young lady named Mary. Mary resides in the town of Nazareth, and she is engaged to Joseph.

Gabriel really knows how to start a conversation with a young lady as he states: “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

Mary is pretty sharp.

We are told this is what she is thinking:  “But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”

Gabriel continues to share God’s plan with Mary, and he begins with these words: “Do not be afraid, Mary.”

Clearly, these are words of great comfort. 

But, to her credit, Mary sticks around.

She lets Gabriel finish this life altering news story.

I don’t know how she did it, but Mary gives Gabriel the answer I’m sure he was hoping for:  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  

Mary is one trusting soul.

I’ll be honest with you, I’m not so sure my old soul really, really, really, really trusts God sometimes.

I wrestle with him. Silently, I call him out. Especially when hearts are broken. God, where were you?

Sometimes, I need God to show me that he is at work. 

I need to know that the pulse of my trust can be revived, renewed.

And sometimes, he shows me.

On August 10, 2016, baby Charlotte came into this world. Three days later she was gone.

Charlotte died from a rare birth defect— heterotaxy syndrome. The defect impacts the heart and other organs. It causes these key internal organs to be located in abnormal places in the chest and abdomen. (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia)

On Saturday, August 20, a memorial service, a celebration of Charlotte’s life took place at Trinity United Methodist Church. In my role as director of operations at our church, I’ve attended a lot of funerals over the years, but not one like this.

Charlotte’s life was celebrated. It was clear that in her short life, Charlotte was loved by her parents, her siblings, and grandparents.

Somehow, Charlotte’s parents regrouped from this setback.

As I parent, I’m not sure my faith would have carried me forward. 

How could the tragic loss of one child possibly bring about the life of another?

But in this case, for these young parents their faith and trust in God did.

On August 23, 2018, these trusting and faithful parents welcomed into this world Nora Elsie.

Right now, I’m pretty sure God is looking down upon me. He is thinking— how about that story for reviving your pulse, Bill? 

Does that help you to believe that I still report to work? 

Has the faithful trust of this young family taught you anything?

This fall like Mary pondered her interaction with the angel, Gabriel, I have been pondering the arrival of Nora Elsie.

Nora Elsie’s story is worth pondering.

Her story is remarkable. 

It is an affirmation of this line of scripture from Luke 1:37:

“For nothing will be impossible with God.”

There are days when the world looks impossible to me.

Days when things go well beyond wrong.

And I guess on those days that’s when I need the Christmas story the most.

I need its hope.


California Day 12: A Quiet Day Fishing The Owens River by Bill Pike

IMG_1711Fishing was the first piece of business on the docket for Friday, August 17. Art and I were heading to the Owens River this morning.

The drive out to the Owens is pretty simple. The tricky part is picking an access point from the numerous dirt roads that will put you on the banks of the river.

Once Art found us a good stopping place, we had a nice posted notice from the state of California. 

The Owens had tested positive for the invasive species, the New Zealand Mud snail. Fortunately, the posting date had expired, but anglers were given careful instructions about how to clean waders and other fishing gear to slow the spread of the New Zealand Mud snail. One option was to freeze your waders for six to eight hours. I’m sure many wives were startled when they opened their freezers to take out dinner only to find frozen waders.

As Art prepared the fly rods, I took in the scenery. The first time we fished the Owens, we had a guide with us from a local company. Doug, the guide, had the patience of Job with me. He refreshed me on very basic casting techniques and advised as I practiced. 

But for me, the most amazing skill that Doug possessed was reading the water. He could tell be where to cast, and after several casts to that spot, a trout would usually hit. I’m sure the ability to read the water came from working with his fellow guides, but also from all of the experiences of working with challenging anglers like me.

I am so thankful for the teachers who taught me how to read. That important life skill allows me to read the newspaper or become lost in a book. However, I think I overlook how we are exposed to other types of reading in our daily lives.

With the rods ready, we start walking toward the Owens. Art is looking for spots were casting is easy from the banks without too many obstacles along the river’s edge. Often, I am much more skilled at catching the limb of a shrub than a trout.

The first spot, we had good access, and the focus here was to get the line out into the current, and let the current take the fly downstream. This also meant figuring out good points for casting so the fly could slip through areas shadowed from the sun. Sometime still sleepy trout gather in these out of sunlight pockets.

For a pretty good period of time, we fished this section, but we had no luck.

Moving to the next spot wasn’t difficult. I always look down as some of the land around the Owens is used for cattle grazing and the last thing I want to do is slip on a fresh cow pie.

Art sets me up in an ideal spot. We step off the bank on to a point of sand where the water runs through at a good pace and depth. I can cast a short distance upstream to my right, and my fly will float by me into a deeper pool. 

Art decides to work further down stream from me. But, before he leaves, I cast out. My fly is taken by the current and scuttles downstream. As I’m reeling the line back in, I feel a slight tug. It disappears, then appears again. I reel some more, and I see my hook grazed the side of a small trout. I pick him up off the rocky bottom and return him to his freedom.

Sadly, that was the only action for the time we spent on the Owens. Still, it is one of my favorite places to fish. I feel like I’m nestled in my on little world for a while. It is quiet. The water barely makes a sound as it carries my fly downstream. The real world seems far, far away.

We walked back to the car. Slid off the waders and our boots, and drove back to the condo. Abby and Betsy were taking it easy, a recovery day from the Sherwin Lake hike.

Later in the afternoon, we took a walk into town for chips and margaritas at Gomez’s. We also checked out some of the shops before catching the trolley back to the condo.

A Ladder, A Lift, Lights, and Wisdom by Bill Pike


On Monday, December 3, Joe Andrews, Bill Burch, and Joe Toler arrived at our church around 9:00 a.m. For almost three years, this group of volunteers with an occasional sprinkle of others have been showing up to do chores for the church.

Bill Burch is the leader. Two Mondays per month, minus the summer, these talented, dedicated gentlemen come to their church, and work on a list of assignments that we need completed. Over the years, they have had some challenging chores. They have never backed away from anything. But on December 3, I think I pushed them.

This list for Monday read as follows:  Sanctuary lights, Welcome Center lights, and Chrismon tree.

To gain access to all of the lights, we were going to use an extension ladder and an antique electric lift. 

Although made of aluminum, the extension ladder is commercial grade. It is heavy, cumbersome to carry, and challenging to stage.

The old lift runs off a battery charge. It is like a tank in terms of construction. Minus the wood platform in the crow’s nest, the lift is all heavy duty metal framing. Moving it around sometimes requires two people. With a bit of coaxing, the lift can be fit on to an elevator, but it reminds me of trying to lead a stubborn horse into a singular stall.

First, we staged the ladder in the chancel area of the Sanctuary. Bill, Joe Toler, and I gathered up the ladder from the outside cooling tower. We walked it through the parking lot, across sidewalks, and up sets of steps. 

Once in the Sanctuary, we made one interesting turn so we could walk it down the main aisle up to the Chancel. At that point, the brains of Mr. Toler and Mr. Burch took over for figuring out how the ladder would be staged. Really what they were focused on was how we would position and raise the ladder without killing ourselves and damaging the church.

The real key was this simple measure—we slowed down. No step, no maneuver, no tilt, no lifting was done without each of us being in sync, and we moved liked turtles. Because of this, we reached a reasonable access point without a challenge.

With the ladder safely positioned, I climbed up to take a look at the light tube needs. Immediately, I saw a number of non-burning tubes.  My stock was limited as these tubes are old and difficult to find from electrical supply houses.

From that first look, we devised a way to use our new tubes to eliminate the visible dark spots. Joe and Bill traded off handing me tubes on the ladder. We fixed one area, and then we had to re-position the ladder. Once again, we moved like turtles, but we transitioned to the next spot without damage or a casualty.

While working at this next spot, Bill Burch and Joe Andrews peeled off to start bringing the lift to the Sanctuary. In a couple of spots where we needed to be, the lift was our only option.

IMG_1848I know it took some coaxing, but soon they returned with the lift. We worked to position the lift, and Joe Andrews took the ride up to assess. In both spots, we were able to make lighting improvements without harm to the building or us.

In the Welcome Center, a smaller extension ladder was used. On one wall is a large stained glass piece that was once in place as a window.  Now this former window is mounted on a wall with masterful wood trim work framing it, and the beautiful stained glass is back lit. 

IMG_1852Somewhere behind the stained glass, lighting had failed. The stained glass was not fully illuminated.

Bill Burch figured out how to open the two access panels on both sides. Once he removed those, Bill saw four tube lights. Two had failed. 

I took one of the failed tubes and drove to our neighborhood hardware store looking for a replacement. Of course, they had similar tubes, but not the exact size. Then I drove to the closest electrical supply company. Struck out there too. Turns out this was a unique tube that could only be special ordered.

While I was away, the two Joes assembled the Chrismon tree in the Sanctuary.  According to the United Methodist Church website here is a brief history of the origin of the Chrismon:

Ornaments made from Christian symbols (or Chrismons, a contraction for ‘Christ monograms’) were first developed by Frances Spencer and the women of the Ascension Lutheran Church in Danville, Virginia. Many churches display a Chrismon tree during the Advent and Christmas season decorated with handmade ornaments.

Thanks to the Joes,  the sometime cantankerous tree was now ready to be decorated on Wednesday afternoon.

Gradually, we worked to return the ladders and lift to their storage areas. Noon had arrived quickly. Time for our crew to head home.

I often lose perspective on the things that take place behind the scenes for the good of the cause. The pace of life today is so fast, I wonder if our congregation knows all the details it takes to put the pieces of the Advent season together.

I learned so much from Joe, Bill, and Joe today. I hope some of their wisdom rubs off on me.

Little things like flipping a light tube to stop it from flickering. Slowing down my steps to safely position a ladder, and the value of teamwork.

Somehow, there is even teamwork in the Christmas story. 

Mary and Joseph managed to find trust in each other and God. They were a team.

While the detail appears to have been small, someone provided a bit of shelter for Mary, Joseph, and their new son. This person was on the team.

After shaking off being significantly startled  by an angel in the dark of night way out in an isolated pasture, those shepherds became a part of the team.

Although I have been an imperfect teammate, in my 65 years of living, the Christmas story has always been a part of my life.

Why is that?

Well, there are lots of potential answers.

But, I think all through my life, I’ve been surrounded by quiet angels like Joe, Bill, and Joe. 

These angels were always working behind the scenes to mold, shape, and nudge me no matter how resistant I might have been.

Maybe this Christmas, you can take a few minutes to reflect on the angels in your life who molded, shaped, and nudged you. 

Ladders, lifts, and lights aren’t managed without them.

California Day 11: A Busy Day–Crowley Lake, June Lake, Sherwin Lakes Trail, and a Hot Tub by Bill Pike


Thursday, August 16, started with oatmeal. 

Art made a pot of Coach’s Oats. This brand of oats came from a California based family who in 1992 used a breakfast gathering with friends as a starting point for creating their oatmeal. On this cool Mammoth Lakes morning, the warm oatmeal and all of the extras we added really hit the spot.

As usual, Art had us organized with all of the items we would need for this trout fishing expedition. 

My first fishing memories with Art go back to Mashnee on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Our in-laws used to make an annual trip there. Abby and Betsy’s father always towed his boat, and weather permitting, just before the sun rose each morning, we were out on the boat in Buzzard’s Bay fishing for bluefish.

That was many years ago, and Art’s love of pursuing fish has grown. He has experienced fishing from Cuba to Christmas Island, and many domestic points in between. At some point in all of this fishing, Art mastered using a fly rod. Today, no matter salt or freshwater, the fly rod is his trusted friend.

The ride down to Crowley Lake was uneventful. According to Wikipedia, Crowley Lake was created in 1941. This reservoir is fed by the Owens River and features the Long Valley Dam. Crowley is known for the quality of the trout that anglers pursue whenever they have the opportunity.

Art has become a regular here. He knows the attendant at the gatehouse, a number of the fishing guides, and this morning a key person, the dock attendant. Once we had the boat loaded, Art maneuvered us over to the fueling dock. This attendant could have been a stand up comedian. His experiences managing this section of the complex had given him many opportunities to interact with fishermen. His subtle one-liners made us chuckle.

Loaded with fuel, we were now ready to leave the marina. We quietly cruised through the “no wake” zone. Art had a location in mind. It didn’t take long for our speed to increase as we clipped along toward that spot.

Crowley’s shoreline is like reading a book. Every portion is a different chapter. No matter where my eyes scan, I could quickly fill the disc on my camera with photographs.

Flat grazing land meets the water’s edge with narrow ribbons of sandy beaches with the Sierras cast as a backdrop. At some points, the shoreline pushes up out of the water forming craggy rock formations, and occasionally these cliffs are sprinkled with the green of singular trees who somehow caught a toe hold and sprung to life.  Along less craggy areas, some banks reveal the hues of their creation seasoned by the whims of the California climate. 

Gulls, American white pelicans, and a quirky water bird, the Western Grebe are easy to spot. The Western Grebe when startled out of the water seems to like racing the boats of the fishermen as they rush to their favorite fishing spots.

With the boat properly positioned to Art’s liking, he takes the time to rig up the fly rods. Art knows that I’m exceptionally rusty when it comes to re-introducing me to the details of fly rod casting. But, Art is also a  patient teacher. He gives me a crash course, complete with demonstrations, and then turns me loose in the bow of the boat.

Pretty soon, Art is getting some gentle bumps, and those bumps quickly become a trout on the line. Art lets the trout have its play time. Using barbless hooks, trout caught at Crowley are catch and release. With experience on his side, Art grabs the net and gently lands the trout. The sunlight highlights the colorful skin markings of both brown or rainbow trout. l

For a long span of time, Art is consistently catching fish, and I’m being shut out. My line indicator is dead in the water, not even a bump. So, I need to create some excitement for myself, and there is no better way than to land my hook in the anchor rope. If I can’t catch fish, I can catch an anchor. Art helps me work through this little mishap.

Another span of time passes, and I continue to elude trout. I keep working on my cast, and of course I manage to get my line tangled. For a long, long time, I work to get this line back to normal. By now, I’m certain fishermen in boats close by are feeling bad for Art. They must be thinking, Art Babcock is a saint. Clearly, he has the patience of Job to have that guy in the boat with him today. He has been a complete disaster.

My luck doesn’t change, but in a long lull, Art receives a text from Abby. She and Betsy are driving down to Crowley for a boat ride. So, after a few more casts with no luck, we pull up the anchors and head back to the marina.

Once we have picked up our passengers, Art takes us on a ride that allows us to appreciate the coves and expanse of the lake.

When the tour is over, we regroup at the marina. We agree to meet back at the condo and make plans to drive over to June Lake for a brewery stop and lunch.

California Day 11 June Lake

IMG_1690It didn’t take long for us to ready ourselves for the drive over to June Lake. Nestled off of 395, June Lake is pretty little town grounded in a beautiful lake that quickly catches your attention.

Today, we are making a stop at June Lake Brewing, and we will have lunch from a convenient food truck—Ohanas 395. The food truck sits in a space directly across from the brewery. It is only a few giant steps to the brewery, and here is the best part—order your lunch, walk over to the brewery grab a beer, and the staff from Ohanas 395 will bring your lunch to you.

June Lake Brewing is the real deal, it is an energetic, funky little brewery with inside and outside space. The names of their beers captures it all for example—Sasquatchito XPA. We found a table outside, and within a few minutes our food arrived. I woofed down every delicious bite a combination of pork, chicken, rice, and maybe the best macaroni salad I’ve ever eaten.

While we were eating, four fighters from Pennsylvania found a table and soon their lunch arrived too. Their presence only served as a reminder about the predominately dry, parched land that is all around us, and that firefighters from across the USA come to help in battling wildfires.  

Sherwin Lakes Trail

IMG_1702After lunch and a bit of quiet time in Mammoth Lakes, we decided to drive over to the entrance to the Sherwin Lakes Trail and to take this hike.

Hats, water, and sunscreen were a part of our prep. I’ve read different reports about the length of this hike from 3.0 to 4.3, but I can confirm that the trail is a really good workout. 

Art led the way, and he was kind to us. He found good stopping points along the trail. True to every trail I have ever been on out here, the views and the scenery from broad vistas to a small wildflower, my eyes have never been disappointed.

We keep pushing along. Occasionally, we get a good glimpse of a helicopter dragging a bucket of supplies to firefighters embedded in remote access areas. With their rotor blades slapping the air, the quietness of the landscape is briefly interrupted.

The higher we go, the better the views are as we look back over the ground we have covered. We are making good progress, and at some point we discover a teaser. A small lake comes into view nestled off the trail. This is a disappointment for our legs and feet, but Art keeps leading us forward.

Like a kid on a road trip, I’m silently wondering inside when are we going to get there? 

Finally,  a subtle change in the landscape begins to take shape, and out in front of us is this lake basin, and instantly my mind is glad we made this hike. The lake and all of its trimmings are really pretty. My eyes are intrigued no matter where they scan.

The lake water is clear and cool. The shoreline is a combination of sand and rocky crags. The Mammoth Lakes trail system guide notes there are still remnants from an August 2008 fire, and I see the graying frames of trees that are still standing from that intense encounter. But true, to its unwritten promise, Mother Nature is slowly restoring the scarred land.

After a good rest taking in the beauty, we started making the way back down the trail. I always enjoy the hike up as I think my footing is more stable. But, mentally, I dread the walk down as I am more sensitive to a misguided step that could lead to a slide and a fall. So, I take a  turtle’s pace as gravity pulls me down the mountain. Art and Abby are out ahead of Betsy and me, but we eventually make our way back to the parking lot.

I’ve never been disappointed with any walk or hike in Mammoth Lakes. The hike this afternoon was perfect for working off that June Lake lunch.

Pretty soon we were back at the condo. Again, we quickly regrouped and walked over to the pool where a couple of hot tubs were also located.

I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think a hot tub ever felt better.

 My old body enjoyed the frothy soak. 

California Day Ten: Horseshoe Lake and Twin Falls 8/15/18 by Bill Pike


This was our third trip to Mammoth Lakes, but the first time I had brought my running shoes along with me.

I had resolved on Tuesday evening that I would go for a run on Wednesday morning. It seemed reasonable to follow the same path out to Sherwin’s Vista. 

The sun had been up for several minutes as I finally made my way out of the condo. Very pleasant, cool morning air awaited me. This was a sharp contrast to the warm, humid air I normally find on August mornings when I go for a run in Richmond.

For several months, somewhere in the area of my left hamstring, a muscle had not been happy with me. There was a fairly consistent tweak of pain. This nuisance prevented me from enjoying an early morning run. Not sure why, but gradually over the last couple of weeks the muscle had started to feel a tad better.

I can tell you I broke no speed limits on this run. Any creature could have run circles around me, but that’s ok. Often, runs for me are about taking in the scenery, and at Mammoth Lakes I wasn’t disappointed. 

The morning light slowly cast a broad brush stroke on its waking canvas. I made my way out to the end point, looped back around, and started taking in the sights again.

Not many people were stirring yet, the solitude was good for my always wandering mind. As my old body returned me to my stopping point, I decided to hustle into the condo and grab my camera. Abby had alerted me how the sunlight playfully panned across treetops and the creek bed with the Sierras as a backdrop. 

She was right, as I took several photos of the morning light into the backdrop Abby had described.

Back in the condo, their was a quietness, but gradually Betsy and Abby greeted the morning, and chatter started about plans for the day.

First goal was to revisit Horseshoe Lake, and we did. There was still some dampness along the trail from Tuesday’s midmorning rain storm. The rain in this section had momentarily interrupted the parched, dusty landscape. 

IMG_1660.jpgAll along the trail we found picture taking moments. In one clearing was a singular standing stone fire place. It appeared like a small fortress with no indication that time nor intense Sierra weather conditions could intrude upon its mortar and stone construction.

A bit further along, Betsy’s keen eyes caught in the cover of the tree shade a perfectly tanned deer who was intently studying our every move.

IMG_1662.jpgBut, it was the depleted shoreline of the lake that caught our attention as well. This lack of water revealed the normally hidden slope of the land now bleached into hues of tan, gray, and chalk.

IMG_1673.jpgFrom Horseshoe Lake, we made our way to the Twin Falls overlook, and eventually drove over to Twin Lakes. We did quite a bit of exploring around the picturesque Twin Lakes before deciding to have lunch at the Tamarack Lodge.

IMG_1680.jpgAfter lunch, we drove back the condo for some quiet time.

Eventually, we made our way to The Troutfitter where I purchased my out of state residence fishing license. Next, we headed to Vons a California based chain of grocery stores. Currently, the only grocery store in town, this place was hopping even on a Wednesday afternoon.

Outside the entrance at Vons was a wooden framed easel that displayed the latest wildfire updates from all of the agencies working to control and contain these fires. 

The updates contained a narrative explaining location and scope of the work, maps pinpointing the fire, and a few photographs. One photograph caught our attention as it showed burros loaded with supplies to be carried into remote locations for the firefighters.

Back at the condo, Art had arrived. He brought with him some grilled tri-tip from Agua Dulce. We caught Art up on our activities, and Art and I made plans for an early Thursday morning trout fishing excursion at Crowley Lake.