Serendip­i­tous voy­ages

The Covington News - - Opinion -

If you were lucky enough to grow up in a small Ge­or­gia town, if you had oc­ca­sion to lis­ten to farm­ers and other coun­try folks tell tales at the gen­eral store or around a pot­bel­lied stove, you know that a good bit of the most valu­able part of your ed­u­ca­tion came from the clichés and other proverbs which, from time im­memo­rial, have is­sued forth from the com­mon man.

One of my fa­vorite adages is “even a blind hog can find an acorn ev­ery now and again.” For city dwellers, a rough trans­la­tion is “serendip­i­tous dis­cov­er­ies are some­times made by those poorly equipped, and some­times not even try­ing, to ac­com­plish the task.”

Hav­ing just re­turned from a week in that city of lost wages, Las Ve­gas, I can tes­tify that there are many blind hogs walk­ing “the strip” looking for their prover­bial acorn: that huge jack­pot which will os­ten­si­bly change their lives. The Ve­gas trip was timed for­tu­itously, as it ad­joined the cel­e­bra­tion of Colum­bus Day, named for he who may well qual­ify as the great­est of all blind hogs find­ing the most in­cred­i­ble of all acorns. Christo­pher Colum­bus, seek­ing to prove that east could be reached by sail­ing west, stum­bled blindly upon the Amer­i­cas, thus in­spir­ing that great lit­tle rhyme: “In four­teen hun­dred and ninety-two, Colum­bus sailed the ocean blue.”

Colum­bus wasn’t the first, and cer­tainly won’t be the last, to find some­thing in serendip­i­tous fash­ion. I’m told that those cute lit­tle “Post It” notes, ini­tially mar­keted by the 3M Cor­po­ra­tion, were dis­cov­ered to­tally by ac­ci­dent by a chemist work­ing on a for­mula for some sort of su­per glue.

Nearly a quar­ter-cen­tury ago I ac­com­pa­nied a group of civic leaders and elected of­fi­cials from Nashville, Tenn., on a week­end trip to Seat­tle, Wash. I was work­ing in pub­lic re­la­tions for a ma­jor At­lantabased air­line which was pro­mot­ing ex­pan­sion of Nashville ser­vice us­ing the Boe­ing 737. My mi­nor role in the ma­jor pro­mo­tion was to is­sue a press release and pic­ture of the Nashville movers and shak­ers, along with air­line ex­ec­u­tives, tak­ing de­liv­ery of a brand new 737 at his­toric Boe­ing Field.

As our char­ter flight got air­borne, we cir­cled Seat­tle to give the big shots a bird’s eye view of the Puget Sound area, and re­ceived per­mis­sion to de­vi­ate near Mount Rainier.

There was an un­bro­ken, white, fluffy cloud layer at 12,000 feet, above which a cobalt blue sky soared for­ever. As we climbed through 14,000 on the way to Rainer’s twin peaks at 14,400 feet, a brisk wind was whip­ping snow off those peaks, cre­at­ing long, flow­ing, some­what tri­an­gu­lar plumes. I grabbed my cam­era, guessed at an f-stop set­ting, and just as we lev­eled with the peaks, al­most close enough to touch them, snapped an amaz­ing pic­ture that I’ve trea­sured ever since.

Serendip­i­tous? You bet. This blind hog found his acorn.

Back in 1991 my wife, a hero of mine and a ded­i­cated school teacher, re­ceived a grant to study for the sum­mer at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia in Berke­ley. Our three kids were fairly young then, so we loaded the whole fam­ily into our mini­van and set out on a truly grand ex­pe­di­tion. Though my wife was im­mersed in study, for four weeks the kids and I ex­plored San Fran­cisco.

Serendip­ity struck one golden af­ter­noon as we sought our way back to Berke­ley from Muir Woods. I took a wrong turn, and turned down a nar­row, non­de­script path named “Muir Beach Over­look” in­tend­ing to turn around. In­stead, we stum­bled upon a place that I wish every­one could see.

Muir Beach Over­look is north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. A sheer cliff face drops maybe 1,000 feet straight down to the sur­face of the ocean, for this is where the San An­dreas Fault plum­mets into the Pa­cific be­fore re-emerg­ing at Point Reyes, the epi­cen­ter of the 1906 earth­quake which lev­eled San Fran­cisco. Just af­ter the Ja­panese at­tack on Pearl Har­bor in 1941, ob­ser­va­tion bunkers and mounts for heavy guns were hastily cre­ated along the cliff at the Muir Beach Over­look. A gran­ite promon­tory ex­tends roughly 500 yards out into the Pa­cific; the kids and I braved a walk along the nar­row, un­even path and were re­warded with the view of a life­time.

As we looked north to Point Reyes, it seemed we could see all the way to Ore­gon. To the south, ships en­tered the Golden Gate; be­yond them lay the Pre­sidio, Seal Rock and Land’s End. Ahead of us, the Pa­cific, calm as the day Fer­di­nand Mag­el­lan named it and as blue as could be, stretched to the hori­zon.

That was serendip­i­tous, you see, for San Fran­cisco is nor­mally shrouded in fog ev­ery June. The lo­cals call it “June Gloom,” and it led Sa­muel Cle­mens to write, “The cold­est win­ter I ever spent was a sum­mer in San Fran­cisco.”

Last week, as my wife and I flew home from Las Ve­gas, serendip­ity struck once again. Our seat mate was a youth­ful Ge­or­gia Tech grad who de­signs dis­plays for RMS Ti­tanic, Inc. Re­turn­ing to At­lanta from mak­ing ad­just­ments to the cur­rent dis­play at the Trop­i­cana Casino & Re­sort, he’s the man who de­signed Ti­tanic Aquatic, now open at the Ge­or­gia Aquar­ium.

We talked of le­gal­i­ties as­so­ci­ated with dis­play­ing per­sonal be­long­ings of the de­ceased, of recre­at­ing the rooms now stocked with ac­tual ar­ti­facts re­trieved from the wreck, and of the lat­est ver­sion of how the ex­perts be­lieve the doomed ship ac­tu­ally sank. But most telling, for me at least, was the poignancy and sin­cer­ity in the young man’s eyes as he talked of the loss and lost, and of his de­sire to tell their sto­ries, and to bring clo­sure for their suc­ces­sors and ex­tended fam­i­lies.

Serendip­ity? You bet. Meet­ing this fas­ci­nat­ing young man and hear­ing of his work proved again that even a blind hog can find an acorn ev­ery once in while.

So to­mor­row, let’s all join to­gether and cel­e­brate that blin­d­est of all hogs, shall we? Have a happy and mean­ing­ful Colum­bus Day.

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