Crisis In America: Leaf Ownership

On President’s Day, Monday, February 17, 2020 I did something that I have never done before—I started up and used my lawnmower. 

The day was stunning. 

Bright sunshine, a sky bluer than blue, and once in a while a white wispy cloud scurried by without a care. Temperature in the mid-50s, an occasional friendly breeze, this was one of those mother nature spring tease days.

But, I was dealing with a very serious problem. A problem so serious that I have actually thought about civil disobedience. This very serious problem is leaf ownership.

In our neighborhood, we have these magnificent specimen trees— oaks, poplars, sweet gums, maples, you get the idea. The trees for sure add character to the neighborhood, but come fall when their leaves drop, they cover us up.

If you take a careful look around our humble lot, you will note the large oak in the backyard gone, taken down by disease. I forget which hurricane took down the massive oak in the front yard. And over on the east side of our lot, a silver maple croaked. When we took it down, we also said good bye to an out of place hickory tree.

So, in our yard we have remaining three dogwoods, a thunder cloud plum, and a red bud. All leaf producers, but not like the other giants in the neighborhood.

Now, here is the very, very serious problem. The leaves that blow into our yard from other yards on our west and north sides— these leaves didn’t come from our five remaining trees.

That is what I was doing on President’s Day, cleaning up these wayward leaves who plopped down in our yard for no good reason. Their rightful owners down the street were not using their lawn mowers, leaf blowers, or rakes today.

 No, they were happily thinking—I am so thankful for the westerly and northerly winds that whip our leaves up the street. My, my how clear my yard looks on this spectacular February day. I think I’ll walk up the street and see if old Bill Pike is in his yard. I thought I heard the sound of a grumpy lawnmower in the distance.

 Back to civil disobedience, I think we need a leaf DNA program. It would be pretty simple. 

The neighborhood would be surveyed by some very astute tree scientist. Each tree in a plot would be identified to the proper homeowner.

 Near the end of December during the middle of the night, all of the remaining leaves in the neighborhood would be placed on a giant conveyor belt that would run from Forest Avenue/Stuart Hall Road to Patterson Avenue/Sweetbriar Road. 

The leaves would be scanned based upon their DNA and properly sorted by ownership. Once sorted the leaves would be placed in dump trucks  and dumped back into the front yards of the rightful owners.

Crisis solved, not really.

You see the crisis to be solved is really inside of me. It is the pursuit to have a well maintained yard. 

The experts say that we should just let the leaves fall and naturally decompose. That idea makes sense, but clearly I and lots of other neighbors don’t have the patience for that decomposing to take place. Plus, in a neighborhood like ours, the leaves out number the people. They might find a way to organize, you know civil disobedience, and really take over.

So, I’ll stop my whining. 

I should be thankful that the good Lord gave us trees and leaves. And I guess, I should be thankful that at 66 my old body still can go out there and use a rake, a leaf blower, and a lawn mower.

And I’ll pray that some young genius will take my idea and invent the octopus. 

The octopus is a drone with eight arms. It will have the capacity to hover over a yard, deploy its eight arms, and in a nano second vacuum up every leaf in a yard, even those stubborn ones crammed into shrubs.

The octopus will also shred the leaves, and once the cycle of vacuuming is completed, the octopus will gently create a pile of leaf mulch for you to use in your flower beds.

And like all the wonderful gadgets advertised on the ACC network, the octopus will be available for only $19.99.

My $19.99 is ready. 

No brakes available

Life happens quick.

Just ask the massive pine tree that crashed across Westham Parkway on Friday, February 7, 2020. Or, the large oak on Stuart Hall Road who tumbled from a neighbor’s side yard into the edge of the road.

These crashes were the result of a cantankerous storm system that disrupted lives in many parts of America. This collision of air pressures and temperature changes in the upper atmospheres only reinforced for me the reckless strength of nature.

One of the beauties of our seasoned neighborhood is our trees. I love their spring green canopy, the stunning colors of fall leaves, and the stark bare beauty of their structure in the gray shades of winter. 

But, in a blink, and in most instances with no warning, a tree can take a dive, and when that fall starts—there are no brakes available. Trees in Rollingwood and Westham have destroyed cars, crashed into houses, scarred the landscape, and amazingly, knock on wood, not taken a life.

Life happens quick for human beings too, and so do unpredictable falls.

On Saturday, February 1, my wife, the Commander Supreme, and I were at a neighbor’s home for their annual day before the Super Bowl party. We had just arrived.

I was in the neighbor’s den pouring the Commander a glass of wine. I heard this terrible crash. I took a couple of steps to my left toward the stairwell landing that connected the living room to the den, and there sprawled across the landing was my Commander.

There was a quick scurry to assist her, to get her upright, an ice pack appeared, as she tried to assess her health and what had caused the fall.

The Commander did not see a slightly raised dog gate just above the landing. Her foot failed to clear this obstacle—kaboom!

Injury wise, no wrists, ribs, or shoulders were damaged—it was her forehead. At the top of the forehead near her hairline, some skin about the size of a nickel was missing. But, on her forehead above her right eye a bump the size of an ostrich egg was rapidly forming.

With her wits slowly returning and our neighbors feeling horrible, we made the short walk home.

Appears that the Commander’s forehead took the brunt of the fall when she landed against the doorway trim. The doctored ruled out a concussion, but from Sunday through the end of the week both eyes turned black. 

In 44 years of marriage, we have lived through many ups and downs, but this fall emotionally took a toll on the Commander. I gently reminded her the outcome could have been worse. She agreed. But, her spirits were down.

Life happens quick, no brakes were available, gravity won its pull.

For a number of years, a small group of retired gentlemen show up twice a month on Mondays to do chores around our church building and grounds. This is a talented, team oriented, jovial group. Their work makes a difference.

On Monday, February 10, a team of three showed up. We were starting to clear out an overpacked storage room up on the second floor. Churches are good at hanging on to cherished, but unused items that date back to Methuselah. Just in case you are wondering, Biblical references state he lived to the very ripe old age of 969. Some of this junk in storage was that old.

For this crew, I was sorting out items to be disposed. They were working to get the throw away items down to the church’s pick up truck.  Hand trucks and the church elevator were being used to assist this transition.

Bill and Tom were working to carry a load down the exterior steps on the Stuart Hall Road side of the Sanctuary. For some reason with a full load, Tom missed the last step. Life happens quick, no brakes available, Tom face planted on the unloving brick sidewalk.

The rescue squad transported him to the hospital. Tom and his wife spent the remainder of the afternoon and early evening in the emergency room. After numerous scans there was no concussion. But, he left with a neck collar related to a couple of vertebrae, and 30 stitches to close up the collision with the brick sidewalk.

Life happens quick. No brakes available.

I still feel horrible for Tom and his wife. 

He was there per my request and planning. This was our first significant injury to a volunteer from all of the projects we have done. I would have preferred the injury been to me rather than my friend who always puts his heart into any chore.

The same goes for the Commander. I wish her fall had been mine.

Life does happen quick. When a fall starts, there are no brakes to slam. No magic hands appear to grab or catch.

The magic hands appear after the fall. 

Those hands are full of love, care, and concern. They are driven by compassionate hearts who over time will bring gradual healing and a restoring of confidence. 

Those hands and hearts are the work of prayer.

God can’t catch us in every fall. But, I think God brakes for the recovery. That is why the hands and hearts show up.

Without them, I’m not sure there would be healing.

Thanks be to those hands and hearts sent by God.

Sentimental Pack Rat

My parents and their siblings lived through the great depression. Those were rough times. Thankfully, they survived.

I think those challenging moments left a mark— don’t be wasteful. They held on to things, thinking at some point a use would be found for an item.

Maybe because of my parents or the fact that I worked in schools for 31 years, I tend to hang on to things too. I think I could be labeled a sentimental pack rat.

This past summer, we had significant work done to our basement. My wife, the Commander Supreme, gave me some stringent orders about my so called junk—get rid of it.

So, I have been chipping away at my accumulations. I have made progress, but I know I have room for improvement.

Some items, the decision to toss is easy. Others, I’m 50/50, but I usually end up tossing.

The toughest to toss or not to toss decisions are the personal notes I have received. When life is going wrong, revisiting a heartfelt note from the past can be a reminder that at one time I had some good in this old sack of bones.

Back in October 2019, I noted the name of a person in the obituary section of the Richmond-Times Dispatch. That name sounded familiar. There was also a photograph.

My brain is slowing down, but gradually I recognized his face and  his name meant something to me. I remembered this young man as being a student at Lakeside Elementary School where I served as principal for nine years.

His name was Terrence, and he was a very nice young man, a joy to be around.

The obituary gave no details about his passing. I did a search and found the dismal news account. 

Terrence, then 21, ran off a road, hit a ditch, overturned the car, and was ejected. He was not wearing his seat belt. The state trooper doing the investigation found no evidence of alcohol or drugs contributing to the accident. 

Sad, sad story with the misery of the what if question hanging around—what if Terrence had been wearing his seat belt?

As I have continued my basement clean out, the other day I came across a small framed photograph of Terrence. 

In the photo, he has a wonderful full smile on his face. It was a sincere smile— full of life and happiness. A smile that showed he was loved by his parents, family, and friends.

There was also a pale yellow rectangular shaped sticky note attached. 

In pencil, Terrence had written:

Dear Mr. Pike thank you for beliveing in me. Love Terrence (no spell check here)

I have no recollection of anything I did to deserve this sweet note.

But, I’ll tell you—it is ok to be a sentimental pack rat in moments like this.  That note and photograph will never be tossed.

What do you think, Vince?

On Monday, February 3, 2020, I went for a run in the afternoon. The temperature was 70 degrees in Richmond. I ran in shorts. 

This can’t be right. Something is out of wack. It should not be 70 degrees on the third day of February. But, it was.

That Monday was the day after the playing of Super Bowl game #54.  The San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs gave us a roller coaster of a game. I’m happy for Andy Reid, the coach of the Chiefs. I thought he deserved to win a Super Bowl game.

Deep inside, I was cheering for the Green Bay Packers. I think that can be traced back to my youth. I still recall Bart Starr, Fuzzy Thurston, Jerry Kramer, Elijah Pitts, Max McGhee, Willie Wood, Jim Taylor, and maybe you remember their coach, Vince Lombardi.

A long, long time ago, the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs played in the first Super Bowl game. The Packers won.

That was 53 years ago. Perhaps, you have noticed that the Super Bowl has changed just a tiny bit since that first game was played. 

From my perspective, the focus of the Super Bowl is not the game. It is all the wackiness that is now associated with the game.

Two weeks of media hype, over analyzed analysis from sport commentators and former players who are now commentators, the much anticipated commercials, and the halftime show.

If you have not watched a Super Bowl halftime show recently, let me warn you—marching bands are gone. 

Halftime shows are now a Las Vegas style production. I can only imagine the pennies, the logistics, and coordination it takes to transform the field into a stage. I am no prude, but the attire and gyrations by the two ladies who performed their music this year made Elvis’ gyrations look like a choir boy’s antics.

I enjoyed the short film just prior to the coin toss. The young man who did the acting, the running, and ran the game ball into the stadium was a winner. Whoever put this together did some clever thinking.

Having the four 100 year old Veterans from World War II to be honored as part of the coin tossing ceremony was special. But, how much more special would that moment have been if the players representing both teams at midfield had gone over to these men to shake their hands and thank them for their sacrifice?

From the commercials, I like the one with actor, Bill Murray. His honest wackiness make me laugh. Personally, I don’t think the commercials should be leaked out to the media before the big game. That takes away from watching them in real time.

We are a sports crazed society now. But, how much analysis does a fan need? Does all of this nonstop chatter really amount to a hill of beans? 

Maybe, the NFL should ask the reliable Punxsutawney Phil. He knows a lot about weather forecasting. I’m sure he has some insights about predicting a winner in the Super Bowl.

All of the media hype is essentially about money—generating interest, creating attention. How much of this hyping do we need? After all this game has been played every year since 1967.

So, if NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, asked me how he could improve the Super Bowl, I would offer him this.

Roger, you need a rule change. 

To score a touchdown a player’s complete body must be in the end zone, and the player must be holding, not bobbling the football. Do away with the pylons and the concept of breaking the plane of the goal line. That sounds like geometry to me, not football.

But, Roger, in all seriousness, you need to seek out Vince. I think he is probably rolling around in his grave about the game. You might recall, Coach Lombardi was pretty intense at times. I don’t think you want a midnight encounter with his ghost.

Also, I think you know, Coach Lombardi was pretty wise. 

Think about this quote from him:  “Morally, the life of the organization must be of exemplary nature. This is one phase where the organization must not have criticism.”

Well, Mr. Goodell, that’s what an unusually warm February afternoon will do to an old wacky runner. 

Even with his imperfections, I hope you will take Vince’s wisdom to heart.

Respect The Sun

The appointment was scheduled for Monday, January 27 at 7:15 a.m.

My dermatologist had already taken a whack at the top of my left hand. There was a slight rise of a dry spot between the knuckles for my pointer finger and middle finger. When the report came back from the lab, there was no surprise— it was skin cancer.

Per my dermatologist, an appointment  was set with a dermatologist who specializes in mohs surgery. The mohs process allows the doctor to cut out a section of tissue and have it quickly analyzed by specially trained lab technicians.

As a patient, my hope is that the doctor gets all of the unruly cancer out in that first whack. Then, I can be sown up and sent home.

I arrived on time, handed off the layers of a now dead tree of paperwork, provided my ID, insurance card, paid the co-pay, and waited.

When called, the first nurse played the confirmation game based upon the stack of paperwork I had turned in. She was very patient with me. This was especially true— when she asked for clarification about my medical history and my reason for being present this morning.

Interestingly, during my visit, I was asked a handful of times to verify my birthdate. I’m not sure if they were trying to trip me up. Aha— we have a possible impostor! Or if my appearance befuddled them—this guy looks a lot, I mean a lot older than his birthdate.

Anyway, the doctor came in, asked questions, and talked about the procedure. Based upon the location of this pest, she was concerned about closing the surgical spot back up. Her first instinct was to grab a chunk of skin from another part of my body for a graft.

We had quite a discussion about this possibility, and I basically encouraged her to try and work her magic without going to another part of my old body for some skin.

Before she left, the doctor temporarily became a first grader. She took out a marker, and drew on my left hand the core of her perimeter margins.

I was prepped. A section of my left hand numbed up. She returned, did some gentle pokes to insure the numbness, and the whacking started. 

Soon, I was temporarily patched up, and whisked into a separate waiting room. 

While waiting the results, I attempted to read Barney Hoskyns’ book— Across The Great Divide:  The Band and America. My childhood pal, Joe Vanderford, and I are teaching a class for the Osher Institute at the University of Richmond in April about The Band and their first three albums.

Sadly, one of the members of The Band, Levon Helm, lost his life to cancer.

It is no secret—I dislike cancer. Cancer needs to die. It needs to leave our planet immediately now, scram!

 So, a skirmish with a skin cancer makes me worry. Mentally, I play what if. 

I take a look around the waiting area. I wonder about my fellow patients— are they worried, nervous, and playing what if too?

For some reason, the time seems to pass quickly, and I’m called back. I get settled down into the chair, and the nurse gives me the good news. The doctor carved out the troublesome cancer in the first whack.

The doctor hustled in and reconfirmed the news. Now, she turned her attention to instructions for the nurse to prep me for being sewn up.

Before she started, the doctor had me move my hand in assorted configurations. She wanted to see how my handed responded to her plan for stitching me up. Pulling skin from another spot on my body wasn’t going to happen. Her plan was to use existing skin to form a graft with a bolster.

Soon, her work was complete. I learned quite a bit about the mohs process as she worked. And, I also learned about her compassion in helping her patients.

Indications are this skin cancer had been caused by the sun hitting my left hand while driving. For all the good the sun does, it can also be bad when a person fails to respect its rays. When I was a lot younger, I wasn’t respectful.

Before the nurse dismissed me, he thoroughly discussed the protocols for taking care of my hand. I was ready to reconfirm my birthdate if needed as my pass for escaping. But, I wasn’t asked. I guess they finally agreed this guy isn’t a stunt double.

I had my follow up appointment set. I walked out to the car. I made a call home and shared with my wife the good news.

I needed to stop by Trinity to let them know the doctor told me to spend the rest of the day at home.

In the church office at Trinity, a surprise was waiting for me. 

Two friends from my days at Lakeside Elementary School had dropped off an original copy of the Beach Boys Concert. This live album recording was released in October 1964. I was 11 years old. I am grateful to Amy and Cindi for thinking of me. Cindi knows all about cancer. She has beaten it out of her body once.

I look at the young faces of the Beach Boys on stage.  They looked so happy in their trademark striped shirts. Sadly, my favorite Beach Boy, the youngest Wilson brother, Carl, lost his life to cancer way too early at 51.

So many of the band’s early songs, put people out in the sun. They sold America and the rest of the world on California and all its golden grandeur. 

Little did we know in that youthful exuberance—that someday we might just have a price to pay for the sun and its harmful rays.

I’m thankful my news was good on Monday. I hope the news was good for the other patients in the office that day. I’m thankful for the skills of the nurses and doctor who worked on me. I’m thankful for two friends who remembered my affection for some musicians from Hawthorne, California.

And I hope that as I continue to age that my respect for the sun will never leave me.

And I pray that our children and their children will be wiser than me with the sun.

For we all know:  “The sun rises and the sun goes down,  and hurries to the place where it rises.”Ecclesiastes 1:5


With the help of our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, back in June 2017, we launched the Word Press blog site Might Be Baloney:

At some point in the last couple of weeks, we hit post 100.

I want to thank Eiizabeth for your patience with me. She taught me a lot. I rarely have to bug her now to assist with a post.

But, I want also to thank the loyal readers of the blog on Word Press, Facebook, and Linked In. I apologize for the post that have annoyed you, bored you, and made you scream out loud: “Bill has lost his mind.”

And while I haven’t always responded to your comments, I sincerely appreciate anytime you read a piece. Additionally, I am thankful for the times you share a post with a friend.

It is my sincere hope that the good Lord will allow me to continue to carve out time to tinker with words.

Finally, a recent post, Down By 3, was run as a op-ed piece in two North Carolina newspapers. I appreciate the editors who had the courage to accept my baloney. But, also appreciate the opportunity this gave me to reconnect with the Walter Williams HIgh School Class of 1971. I am certain the faculty and the school board were thankful to see me walk across the stage. I know my parents were!

One more finally, a special thanks to my wife, Betsy, the Commander Supreme, for putting up with me all these years. And to our oldest daughter, Lauren, our son, Andrew, and their families for putting up with me too.

And one more finally, if any of you have any interest in learning more about our three self-published books for children: The Last Pumpkin, Murray and the Mudmumblers, and The Principal’s Pink Tutu Run let me know. A goal in 2020 is to redevelop a web presence for these books.

Be smart, be safe, may God bless, and thanks for reading the baloney, Bill Pike