Shawn Westhope didn’t like what he saw but at the same time wasn’t quite sure what he was seeing. The Sierras around Mammoth Lakes had received record snowfall, a true blessing considering the severe drought conditions facing the State of California prior to this winter. But was this too much water, too quickly?
Repeated atmospheric rivers had dumped over 28 inches of rain on the state since October 1st, the beginning of the state’s water year. That amounted to over 78 trillion gallons and 148% of their average annual rainfall. The majority of the state’s reservoirs now held levels that were at or above historic averages. However, with this record rainfall, major flooding had become a problem. Tens of thousands of homes and nearly 90,000 people had been evacuated in recent weeks, and fast-water rescues had taken place in several places in the state. Levy breaks in northern and central California had destroyed crops or threatened farmlands responsible for nearly three-quarters of the country’s produce.
Plus, the combination of record rains and wildfire-damaged terrain also caused massive mudslides. Dozens of homes had been damaged or destroyed by mudflows, and hundreds were under evacuation orders as the hillsides they perched upon had fallen away below them.
Snowfall in the mountains had reached levels few in those mountains had ever seen. Over 58 feet of snow had fallen around Mammoth over the winter. As of today, the ski resort reported a base of nearly 30 feet, and blizzard conditions made skiing there treacherous for all but the foolhardiest skiers. For this time of year, the snowpack sat at over 250% normal. Over two feet of additional wet snow had fallen just a few days earlier, and yet another bomb cyclone had been forecast to arrive over the state this very day, starting in the northern end of the state and moving south. The last one hit San Francisco with 80 mph winds and took out power for over a quarter of a million homes and businesses.
Shawn stood atop the earthen Long Valley Dam at Crowley Lake along the Owens River, just 15 miles south of Mammoth Lakes. The lake’s unique tall columns in the chalk cliffs along the eastern shore remained out of view behind Lifeguard Point and under water with the lake full. At this level, the lake was 12 miles long, five miles wide at its widest point, and held over 183,000 acre-feet of water. The snowcapped Sierra Nevada range provided a beautiful winter backdrop for the lake that belied the potential danger covering those mountains.
Shawn was an engineer and inspector with the state’s Division of Safety of Dams. The division was responsible for the integrity of over 1,200 dams within the state, both privately and government-owned. His Region 6 responsibilities included part of the South Lahontan Hydrologic Region in which the Crowley Lake watershed sat, but the dam was fully within his area that included Mono County.
He worked closely with the inspectors in the Division of Flood Safety. One of their men, Mick Mulholland—only a distant relationship to the Mulhollands of Los Angeles—had called him.
“What do you make of it?” asked Mick.
Shawn shrugged. “Not sure from first look. Has it changed since you first saw it?”
The man shook his head. “Don’t think so. As I told you, a photographer friend of mine was out here taking pictures of the lake and mountains. He stumbled upon it and sent me that photo I sent you. Unfortunately, the photo held nothing to reference the size. I saw it firsthand yesterday, and it’s no different today.”
“Okay, but we’ve also been precipitation-free for two days.”
The dam was 126 feet high with an overflow spillway along its northern end. It had been built in 1941 for flood control, regulation that was essential for the Owens River that supplied Los Angeles with 48% of its drinking water through the Los Angeles Aqueducts. Numerous hydroelectric facilities also sat downstream—the Upper and Middle Gorge plants being first in line.
Shawn thought about the age of the dam. It hadn’t shown any signs of trouble, but then, the season’s rainfall and snowfall had been extraordinary. He walked along the steep hillside formed by the dam, taking care not to slip in the slushy and muddier areas. To lose his footing would result in a long, bruising tumble to the bottom. After traversing about halfway across the dam, he dropped about 20 feet down and returned to his colleague waiting by the scar. He spotted nothing of concern along the way.
“Mick, I don’t see any other areas, but I didn’t go all the way across either. Looking back from the middle out there, this scar was obvious. So, I figure if there’s anything else like it over there, I should have seen it.”
The scar he mentioned, and the reason he’d been called, was a roughly oval area about eight feet wide and 15 feet long. It sat about ten feet below the top of the dam and 50 feet from the northern end. The defect measured from six to eight inches deep, enough to remove the surface vegetation helping to prevent hillside erosion.
“I don’t see any obvious seepage issues and the spillway’s working as expected, so I wouldn’t expect any overtopping. I’ll get hold of LADWP and get them to reinforce this area with rock. Hopefully, they can do that before the next atmospheric river hits.”
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power owned the dam. The city also owned the power plants along the way, as well as the aqueducts.
Mick nodded. “I’ll talk to my contacts there, too. Maybe double-teaming them will get a faster response. That next deluge could hit here in two days.”
“Sounds good. In the meantime, I’ll put this on our list of concerns and check back at the first of the week. I’ll also ask the guys in Bishop to check it daily for changes. Definitely needs another look if we get more rain.”
The pair walked back to their trucks, discussing anything besides rain, dams, or floods. Those topics were always on their minds, as well as the lead stories for every news channel in the state. They relished any conversation that could take their minds off work.
“Whatja think about San Diego State? Who would have guessed they’d make it to the Final Four?”
Shawn was more of a baseball fan, but he could get caught up in March Madness like anyone else. And like everyone else, major upsets along the way had destroyed his bracket early on. He doubted anyone’s bracket had made it to this point.
“Great playing. They should take Florida Atlantic.”
“Maybe. I’m not placing any bets on any team this year. Not the way this tournament’s been going.”
Shawn laughed. “I hear you.”
They shook hands and agreed to keep in close touch. Shawn was about to pull out behind Mick but stopped. As he watched the other man pull away, cross the dam, and head onto Owens Gorge Rd, a thought came to him. He turned off the truck and walked to the back. From there, he gathered up half a dozen stakes, a three-pound sledge hammer, and a can of landscaper’s spray paint in fluorescent orange.
Back at the scar, he carefully pounded the stakes along the edge at strategic points. He drove each as deeply into the ground as he could. Then he painted the exposed edges from the soil level on up. He also sprayed the ground where he could—where there was no snow—extending lines from the scar outward as well as along the perimeter.
Sure, it seemed old school, but he now had markers he could use to measure changes in the defect. From the stakes, he could determine any changes in depth, while the painted ground could help him monitor changes in size.
He felt confident that this was just some superficial slippage from all of the water that had been dumped on the area . . . and that the dam was safe. He didn’t want to think of the consequences should he be wrong.
Aric Afton’s semester so far had become a prime example of nothing being constant except change. The previous fall, his award for courage had produced a change in the atmosphere on campus in which the LGBTQ+ crowd seemed to tolerate him. Some even condescended to talk with him. And then there was the “excitement” of being monitored by the FBI in its search for his brother, Adam. Yes, it had been a memorable semester.
But now, both were gone—the FBI and the tolerance of the LGBTQ+ crowd.
The January term—or J-term, as they called it—had sped by. Only a fraction of students attended class that month, and many relished classes that took them overseas to study music, art and architecture, or languages, although those options paled in comparison to the offerings provided in the years before the pandemic.
Now, two months into the spring semester, he found the level of animosity toward the Christians on campus by the LGBTQ+ and BLM groups to exceed those of his first semester when he became known as “the guy” who stood up for free speech. He had been spit on, screamed at, taunted, ridiculed for his beliefs, and physically threatened on more than one occasion. His size was the only thing keeping those bodily threats from materializing.
And what had changed? Nothing he had done had led to the persecution. He continued to show respect for all of his fellow students. He continued to go out of his way to make friends. No, he hadn’t done anything to cause the animosity he felt aimed at him . . . unless accepting Christ and believing in the Bible’s teachings were enough to be the reason.
One of those lessons was that the world would hate him, and all believers, because of the world’s hatred for Christ. Jessica sometimes reminded him of that and said that it could be considered something of a badge of honor, proof that he was on the right track. Sometimes, though, it just felt like that badge’s pin kept sticking him in the chest with every breath.
No, the real trigger was someone else. Sam Goode had returned to campus . . . as Sam and not as Ashley Love. He had become an activist for the other side—speaking out about the depression and physical issues he had encountered trying to live as a transwoman. The LGBTQ+ crowd hated him for it while the local press largely ignored him.
By extension, that hate extended toward Aric, the guy who had saved Sam’s life after Sam, as Ashley, had jumped into the icy waters off the lighthouse pier to commit suicide two previous Januarys ago. As long as Sam remained absent from campus, that crowd seemed to remember Aric as saving the life of one of their own. With Sam back at school, Aric was now guilty of saving the life of someone who opposed their agenda, a traitor to their cause. Aric had been so much as accused of saving Sam’s life just so Sam could come back to haunt them, the LGBTQ+ crowd. By default, Aric had become an extension of Sam’s activism even though they shared no classes, rarely saw each other on campus, and never spoke together about the trans movement. In fact, Aric found himself shying away from speaking about the transgender mania simply because of Sam’s activism.
So, just like the weather, every day brought new changes. However, the specific change on his mind at the moment was quite different. He rushed from his morning class, his only class for the day, and headed toward the admin building where his friend and mentor, Prof. Lynch Cully, had his office. On his way, he saw his girlfriend, Jessica Larson, leaving the library. He made a quick detour.
“Hey, Jess!” he called out after her as she turned the other way. He rushed up to her. “Hey.” He smiled and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. As she returned the smile, her dimples once again caught and amazed him. It was as if he could fall into those dimples. He loved her smile.
“Hi. Didn’t see you. What’s up?”
“I’m heading over to Lynch’s office to meet him for lunch. Wanna come with us?”
“Maybe. You’re done for the day, but I have to be back for my one o’clock class. Plus, where are you going? Not another one of those dives he likes to explore, I hope.”
Aric shrugged. “We were thinking about the Union Park Tavern.”
She nodded. “Okay. I like UPT, and they’re fast.”
Ten minutes later, having joined Lynch and ridden with him into town, they waited for a table at the tavern on the west side of Union Park, a small, one-block-square green space with a playground that had seen better days. For some, the UPT might fit Jess’ definition of a dive, but they had one of the best fish fries in town, including lake perch and walleye choices, and great sandwiches. Once seated, they scrutinized the menu and made small talk until ordering.
“So, Aric, what’s the occasion? You said you wanted my opinion on something,” said Lynch.
Jess chimed in. “He wouldn’t tell me either. Said he’d tell us both together.” She poked Aric’s arm.
Aric pondered just how to address the thing on his mind. “You know how the Bible says that in the latter days old men will dream dreams and young men will have visions?” The other two nodded. “Well, I think I had a vision this morning as I was waking up. It was weird. Not really a dream, but like a dream, except I was actually sitting on the edge of my bed when it happened.”
“Maybe we should have asked my dad to join us at this meeting.” Jess’ father, Thomas Larson, was the pastor of the church that Aric and Jess attended.
“Aric can always consult with him, too. I can’t say that I’ve had much firsthand experience with visions or dreams, but I know that God speaks to each of us through His Spirit. I’ve had an occasional prophetic word for someone, but no dreams or visions. So, tell us what you saw.” Lynch took a sip of his iced tea, which had just been delivered to the table.
Aric took a drink of his Coke before speaking. “Well, it was like I was suspended in space looking down on the United States. The country was all dark except for areas of light scattered within its borders. And despite being dark, I could tell where the bigger cities were supposed to be. Some areas of light were small and faint, some were much larger and brighter, but it wasn’t anything like photos from space showing all of the cities lit up at night.”
“In what way?”
“Well, the east and west coasts were barely lit up and the biggest cities had hardly any light. There was a brighter band of lights scattered along the Mississippi River, but again the big cities, like New Orleans, St. Louis, and Chicago, were not brightly lit. And instead of bright white lights, like on photos from space, there were areas of red light and orange, but mostly yellow.”
“What about the middle of the country, away from the Mississippi?” asked Jess.
“Well, there were scattered small dots of faint light, but the bigger cities, again, didn’t light up. No Denver or Phoenix. And, as I think about it, Kansas City and Atlanta were weird.”
“How?” Lynch had a look of fascination.
“Well, the cities themselves weren’t very bright, but each had a brilliant red light coming from the area. In Atlanta, it seemed to be northeast of the city, but in Kansas City, it was south of the city itself.”
Lynch pulled out his phone and began to search for something on it.
Jess asked, “What about this area?”
Aric nodded. “Yeah, most of southeast Wisconsin seemed to light up yellow, leaving Chicago and Milwaukee dark.”
A moment later, Lynch held up his phone for Aric to see. The screen displayed a map of Kansas City. Lynch pointed to a spot south of the city. “Is this where you saw the light?”
Aric nodded. “Pretty much. I mean the scale is a lot different. I was seeing the entire country, not details of each city. But that’s roughly where the light seemed to come from.”
A few seconds later, Lynch held up his phone again, but with Atlanta displayed. “And is this where the light seemed to be outside of Atlanta?”
Aric nodded. “Sure does. I mean, that seems to be where I sensed it to be. Why?”
Lynch sighed. “I may be barking up the wrong tree, but those dots of red are where the International Houses of Prayer are located in KC and Atlanta. Maybe the lights are areas of prayer with greater prayer or 24/7 prayer centers lighting up more intensely.”
Aric bobbled his head in agreement with that possibility.
“What about an electric grid failure? Could these light areas be places with some kind of backup power systems?” asked Jess. “With all that fuss over the Chinese spy balloon a month or so ago, some people were talking about the potential for a nationwide EMP attack. With the attack on that pharmaceutical company last fall, that really struck home.”
Lynch waggled his head as if saying that, too, was a possibility. “An EMP attack seems unlikely. That would take out all backup systems as well as the main grid. But you could be on target about a grid failure. When all that fuss about the balloon rose up, I did some reading. There are about 30 essential power substations across the country. If a handful or so of them fail, it could trigger a domino effect of outages and lead to a systemic failure of the nationwide power grid. The transformers in those substations cost millions and would take 3 to 5 years to replace. Plus, they’re all made overseas.”
Another thought came to Aric. “And what about solar activity? I was reading about how a strong enough solar magnetic storm could take out earth’s power grids. Something called the Carrington Effect.”
Lynch nodded. “There has been a lot of solar activity lately. You know, all of these are possibilities. Aric, I suggest you make this a focus of prayer and see if the Lord gives you the right insight into it. And when He does, keep us posted.”
Aric agreed. He would indeed search out an answer through prayer. And yet, as he ate, he felt that Lynch’s first impression might be on target. He tried and tried to recall where the brightest areas were located on the “map.” Maybe he could correlate those with other prayer centers.
Thank you for reading the sample of The Trumpets.
For more, please order the book.