No one saw it coming. The fly rod slid into the truck door just as Bob was slamming it shut. All we heard was a loud ker-chuck! Then Bob looked behind him and saw what happened: his $800 fly rod, nicely snapped in half like kindling at summer camp. "Randy!" he yelled, "Why didn’t you tell me my rod was in there?" Everyone knew it wasn’t Randy’s fault, but Bob had decided to make Randy his whipping boy for the moment. Randy was the caretaker at the ranch and his job was, of course, to make sure everything was taken-care-of.
I was there, in Colorado, with three other friends from college, all of us had made the trek out west to get a break from the commercial world, and we just stood there. The experience was akin to watching someone spank their kid at Wal-Mart. You know, you just pretend that it isn’t happening. No eye contact. Besides, we were ready for a full day of trout fishing under the graciousness of Bob’s invitation. We didn’t want to botch that up. I don’t think we would have intervened even if Bob had started to shut Randy in the door. You just don’t want to mess up a good fishing trip.
Randy had thin yellow teeth that shot out of his gums like aimless toothpicks. His mustache was sandy brown and slightly transparent. Randy was thin and amiable, and you could tell one thing was certain, even after knowing him for only a few minutes; he admired Bob. He didn’t seem to mind Bob’s misguided indictment at all.
We slid into the truck, two in front and three squeezed in back. Clashing to the black cloth seats, bumbling with every hump, crevasse and dirt mound we crossed, the heavy truck tires pushing down sage beneath us. No one said much at first. And, it seemed like vain conversation didn’t suit Bob. Seeking not to offend we kept our silly thoughts and questions rambling in our heads, jolting with the truck as it buttonholed every bramble hill. Accosted by the beauty of the snow caps peeking over the low clouds and the majestic hills rolling in the distance it seemed right that words should be minimized and conversations shrunk to their core. The extra space provided room for the elements of God’s creation to fill the gaps in our minds. This silence, for some reason, made the moment even more alive.
Bob was a wealthy cowboy and part owner of the ranch. His yellow-straw cowboy hat and the deep lines in his face meshed together so you couldn’t tell where one began and the other ended. For some reason we were drawn to Bob, he seemed to have this towering personality. Eventually Bob started talking to us about trout fishing, tying flies and the unruly Colorado weather. After our short conversation we were more piqued than ever to test the ponds and reel in Rainbows, Browns and Albino with our whirring rods.
When we arrived at the first pond Bob said it was one of his favorite spots. We wasted no time. Focused, the only noise to be heard was the wisp of trout flies and the gentle splashes of water on the pond. We caught fish all morning, mostly Brown. The experience captured us. We were so excited that we kept thanking Bob. At one point Bob said, “I had a pastor come out last year, and that guy wouldn’t get excited about anything.” We couldn’t believe it. He was in paradise, surrounded by the bold strokes of God’s creation, and he was unaffected. But, really, most of our days are like that. It’s easy to walk through life bumping into beauty and rushing by rich experiences that we forget it’s all a gift. God is trying to get our attention but we go on pretending that we’ve got this life down—like we shouldn’t be excited about anything. I like the way Annie Dillard puts it in her book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
“I am no Scientist. I explore the neighborhood. An infant who has just learned to hold up his head has a frank forthright way of gazing about him in bewilderment. He hasn’t the faintest clue where he is, and he aims to learn. In a couple of years, what he’ll have learned instead is how to fake it: he’ll have the cocksure air of a squatter who has come to feel he owns the place. Some unwonted, taught pride diverts us from our original intent, which is to explore the neighborhood, view the landscape, to discover at least where it is that we have been so startlingly set down, if we can’t learn why.”
Bob became energized by our excitement as it intensified with every catch. Bob seemed to transform before our eyes as our shared joy was unleashed on the glistening pond and the iridescent trout underneath the surface. Bob seemed to live in our praise, he came alive. There was nothing syrupy or mawkish about it, it was pure unadulterated gratitude for being there, for being alive, for breathing the crisp air and feeling the small mouths of trout wrapped around miniature hooks. It was a beautiful connection of praise, generosity and thanks. That’s how Bob got paid. That’s what you get someone who has everything. You share their joy, their passion. I really believe it’s like that with God. When our hearts and minds are unabashedly amazed by Him, and we let go in unfettered praise, God gets paid. Too many people spend their time, cocksure, toiling over paying God back with their perfect lives, keeping the list, and in doing so they shut their eyes to the beauty and place and life that God has set us down into.
When we hit a lull at the first pond Bob told us to jump back in the truck. We didn’t want to leave. We fought him on it. But he told us, “There’s more.”