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Posted: October 22, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Serendipitous voyages

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 pot-bellied 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 Atlanta-based 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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