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.
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