Serendipity is often praised but often not appreciated for itself. “Chance favors the prepared mind” said Louis Pasteur, and usually we fasten on the second part of his quip, the preparation, because there we are in control and deeply invested in what we can make of the happy chance.
Whether in science, art or daily life, we are typically committed to some project, task or goal, and serendipity furthers our end. It’s a lucky break for us. We can’t bring about good luck—after all, it’s luck!—but we can be ready to use it when it happens. So often we are consumed by use as our fundamental attitude toward life. It’s as if we can’t enjoy an experience without seeing how to turn it to our benefit or profit.
But sometimes serendipity can offer us something completely different: an amazing experience to be enjoyed for itself rather than used. Here the attitude is gratefully receptive, not aggrandizing and possessive. (Of course use and enjoyment aren’t necessarily exclusive, but they do tug us in different directions).
Serendipity struck me on the last day of 2021. I awoke to morning fog, and for some reason I decided to go for a photographic hike on Brushy Hills, visible from where I reside and only a few miles over a winding road to the trailhead. I arrived to find this beautiful light, sidling into the forest through a thin mist—ideal for photographic use, yes, but also perfect for pure pleasure, for soul satisfaction. It was a mistical morning (pun intended).
Brushy Hills is a city-owned 560-acre tract of woods that in the 19th century served as the watershed for Lexington’s water supply. The city found alternate sources of water in the 20th century, and the woods lay fallow, aside from occasional logging (last selectively logged in the 1980s). When there was financial incentive to sell the property, concerned citizens convinced the city to retain (most of) the woodlands for public use. They formed the Friends of Brushy Hills, a volunteer group that designed and built the 15-mile trail system, and continues to improve the area while encouraging public use, which is considerable. (I’m indebted to Alexia Smith for this information.)
This morning I walked on four hand-crafted trails: Turtle, Salad Bowl, Ridge, and Salamander, only a couple of miles in total length that engrossed me for well over two hours. I came home euphoric, uplifted during a depressing pandemic.
The mist wasn’t dense, but it was a great diffuser, exquisitely filtering the slanting winter light amidst the mostly leafless trees (some beeches and oaks cling to their dead leaves until spring). The trees were strongly but softly illuminated, encouraging enjoyment of their shapes and patterns. I quickly realized that the backlighting was superb, and I spent most of my time shooting toward the sun, safely shaded by one tree or another.
Near the end of my walk the mist was dissipating, and I took more tree pictures, but they weren’t as compelling as the misty views.
At home processing the images, I found I liked some better in monochrome, showcasing the interesting forms of trees and vines.
There are dozens of images I haven’t included in this post—mushrooms, leaves, bark, ferns and roots, as well as many other trees! But I will include two images of tree stumps and three panoramas. One stump was apparently used as a squirrel dinner table, another was a scratching post for black bears (don’t worry, they steer clear of humans unless we’re between a mother and cubs).
The panoramas seemed appropriate for some imposing trees. They are composites stitched together by my processing program, ON1, from a careful series of handheld shots. A tripod would have improved the result, but at the cost of mobility—and enjoyment.
I continue to delight in the memory of my mistical morning, and I commend to you openness to the moment’s serendipity, wherever you are—not just prepared for use but receptive to glory.
Never miss a post
Like what you are reading? Subscribe below and receive all posts in your inbox as they are published. Join the conversation with thousands of other creative photographers.
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.
Best “just trees” that memory serves me. I am inspired. A goal to aim for. Besides the great feelings invoked, the sharpness is remarkable. Thank you.
Glad to hear you’re inspired, Peter! You’re quite welcome.
Oh dear – all these big words again, and I haven’t room on the screen for a dictionary as well as my web browser. Never mind – I’ll try. (Which I never did during all those awful english classes at school, over half a century ago – french detective stories were always far more interesting!)
Well for starters- “but we can be ready to use it when it happens”. Luck, you mean. Or is it serendipity? I always thought serendipity was a character in a Hollywood musical – or was it an English one, about a lady with an umbrella? Luck won’t get you anyway – you have to have your camera with you – ALWAYS. It’s your badge of honour – your passport to picture making.
Serendipity and Brushy Hills met when the city raised the ire of the locals, and the locals triumphed. Preserving this wonderful place for everyone to enjoy. It reminds me very much of my favourite dog park, here – when economics felled the local strip shopping centre, the [rapacious, rate-raising hell hounds at] the local council decided to sell the park for subdivision. All hell broke loose – fire met fire – the locals won, and it was decided not only to preserve the park, but to turn it into a reservation for use as a dog exercise area. And it is truly wonderful. Not, perhaps, as photogenic as Brushy Hills – but they do seem to have a shared history.
Lad – as always, I love your photos – you seem to have an empathetic connection with trees – I’m not quite sure how that works, mine works mainly with people and animals. Nevertheless, “dissing” your humility entirely, I have to say this is a most impressive selection of images. I am thinking you should produce a photobook of your trees, bark, and associated images. They’re very popular, much easier to make than ever they once were, and it’s a far better “store” to preserve your images than a computer disc.
Mist – sunshine – backlighting – blue sky – deep shadows – all play together, to give your walk through Brushy a very special meaning. B&W comes to the aid as the sun does the opposite to the mist. And finally the squirrels serve you lunch, and the bears give you a scratching post. Heaven on a stick!
I’m not convinced, though, that you weren’t just sneaking around taking more photos of bark. Speaking purely for myself, I am still finding, all these weeks later, that I can no longer walk past a tree, without stopping to admire the bark, and consider the photo opportunities it presents. I’ve even found a eucalypt whose bark mimics the paperbark of the melaleuca I included in the second part of our article. And another gum whose bark is almost sufficiently colourful to give me a chance to fake a picture of a rainbow eucalypt.
Heavens – what am I saying? This is DS – this is a space for landscape! Well as punishment I go under the knife in about 13 hours, and afterwards, if all goes well, I’ll be “cabined, cribbed, confined” for a month or more. So I guess my role is going to be passive [ and silent!] for a while. Enjoy the peace – it might not last!
We’ll be thinking of you Pete. You don’t get to leave DS unattented like that! You haven’t signed the required paperwork and we are still owed 10 comments a week for the next two decades. Cheers 😉
Pete, please know that a lot of people will be thinking about you until you reappear on DS. I can’t believe that you can remain passive and silent for a full month! All the best on your surgery.
Thanks for the good thoughts. Yes, I am enamored by trees–and indeed by all life forms, not to mention geological and metereological phenomena. It’s a beautiful world we live in, including your corner of it, and we are so fortunate to have not only the gift of consciousness to enjoy it but the added grace of cameras to record it at a special moment.
Serendipity is just good luck for the person who has it. Clearly not all luck is good, and nearly all the luck happens to someone else. But it would be nice to learn that Mary Poppins had a pet named serendipity! Or maybe it was a sweetheart at Hogwarts?
I agree with you about English classes in general, and I can well imagine French novels would be much more interesting. But I do confess to a secret delight in diagraming sentences, a delight apparently no one else on the planet shares.
Thanks for the suggestion about a photo book. I did do one a year ago entitled “Covid Ramblings,” but the cost is greater than I want to do again (even on a volume price, we had to sell them to friends and family at a loss).
Can’t wait for your lyrical return to DS, Pete! Take good care of yourself and have a speedy recovery.
Take care and rest following your surgery. A month can go by fairly quickly with low physical activity. Though, I am sure your mind will sharpen from the fog of surgery and bring your comments back to us sooner than you think.
Lad, you have perfectly captured the the “mistical” beauty of the trees of Brushy Hills! I totally believe in serendipity when it comes to photography, and you have made the most of it – kudos!
Thanks Nancee. I would like to think I’m getting better in responding to what presents itself, but there’s always room for improvement. On the other hand, I believe in satisficing (good enough); there is no such thing as a perfect image.
This is a wonderful set of images. Certainly inspiring to view mist and trees differently when we are out and about. The intimate landscape is all around us if we keep our eyes open while moving about searching for the “grand” image.
Thanks Paul. I agree wholeheartedly!