Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Art of Serendipity

I like the sound and meaning of the word "serendipity." According to Wikipedia, serendipity is the effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something else entirely. There are many fascinating examples of serendipity in science and technology.

In a small way, some of my photography attempts end up being serendipitous to me as a beginning naturalist. This probably happens to others as well. Some of the pictures I shoot turn out to be blurry or have other problems. But while trying to focus on one thing, I have unknowingly captured something else that I can learn from.

For example, while walking home from Sabino Canyon one evening, I took this picture of an agave in a front yard, because I liked its shadows.
The next day when analyzing the photo, I was shocked to see the rattlesnake. In the picture below, I colored the snake pink to make it easier to see.
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake Crotalus atrox
This is a timely reminder that rattlesnakes are active around here and to be extra careful where we step.

I photographed these globemallow flowers by the parking lot at Sabino Canyon.
When cropping the flower image later, I discovered this spider hiding under the flower. This was an exciting find for me because I had never seen this kind of spider before. Again, the bonus animal is painted pink for visibility.
Flowering Crab Spider or Goldenrod Spider Misumena vatia
Here are some facts I gathered about crab spiders: They are so named because of their long front legs and their ability move sideways like crabs. They will feed on butterflies, flies, and grasshoppers, but bees are their favorite food. The crab spider does not make a web or use silk to catch its prey. It just sits on a flower and waits for the victim. Then it grabs it with its front legs, bites with its fangs to inject immobilizing venom, then sucks the prey dry. The female lays her eggs on a leaf, rolls it up into an ice cream cone shape, and sews it shut with silk. To blend in, the crab spider can change color from white to yellow but it takes 2-3 days. All crab spiders have eight eyes.

The next critter is harder to see, so it has an arrow pointing to it. I originally took this picture to show the orange cape honeysuckle blossoms in my backyard.
Later, looking closer at the picture, I noticed the tree lizard blending in with the mesquite tree bark. The lizard pictured below is highlighted with purple to help it to show up.
Tree Lizard Urosaurus ornatus

I just learned from my Sabino Canyon reptiles book that mesquite trees are the tree lizard's preferred habitat in this area, so now I know where to look for them.

The next photo is of an artist painting at Sabino Canyon. I was surprised later, to see the unusual crested saguaro cactus in the background in plain sight. It's so obvious that it doesn't need highlighting.
It is strange to have walked past that big cactus many times without noticing it, then to view it for the first time on my home computer screen. Someday maybe I'll do a post about crested saguaros now that I have enough examples.
Crested Saguaro Cereus giganteus forma cristata

These were happy discoveries for me that I only became aware of while looking at my computer monitor at home. However, I'd like to notice more of these things while outside in nature. Louis Pasteur, inventor of the process of pasteurization said, "In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind." To heed that advice, perhaps in the future, if I expect to see surprises when looking for one thing, I will be more open to finding something else that might be even more interesting. We'll see what happens.


Walker said...

Lovely set of posts, great message. Enjoyable to read. Thanks.

deedee said...

I forget living in Phoenix that there are "critters" to look out for. I guess I assume they won't come into the city. But as you know, that is not true. That Kodak takes amazing pictures - must be the photographer :)

Gaelyn said...

Diane-Love the serendipity of your photos, and life. Isn't it amazing?
There are pink rattlesnakes found only in the Grand Canyon. Not that pink. I like the agave shadow. And that saguaro, WOW! I believe it's a learning process to keep eyes open.
For me, blogging is serendipitous.

I love visiting Sabino Canyon thru your eyes. Am hoping to take a road trip next week and may get as far as Saguaro NP, Ricon and the Desert Museum. That looks pretty close.

Diane C. said...

Gaelyn - Wow, I didn't know there are pink rattlesnakes at Grand Canyon! This is a great time of year to visit the Desert Museum. I like the Raptor free flight and the javelinas. They are always adding new exhibits too. Enjoy!

Teri C said...

This post was absolutely fascinating! I have also done this, taking a photo of one thing and finding other things. A very timely post.

T said...

I really enjoyed your pictures and site. It gives me the chance to see a part of the country I haven't been to in a long time!

I'm looking forward to coming back often....

Martha said...

What a great post. I find that blogging does help me to see. I hope that when that wonderful saguaro blooms you will post another picture of it.
Now that the weather is warming here I guess it is time for me to start watching for rattlesnakes, too.

Lance said...

The rattlesnake - yikes! If it were me, I'd be glad I didn't see that one until the computer screen!!

And the cactus picture - that is very cool!

Phoenix C. said...

The crested saguaro is amazing! I'd love to see more photos of it.

I'm a great believer in serendipity too, and try to prepare my mind for it - as your Pasteur quote exhorts. It has happened in everyday life, and in my art work many times.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Hi Diane, How's life in Sabino Canyon???? Isn't that God's Country????? Looks like the critters like it too!!!! Great pictures... I especially like that huge cactus... It almost looks like fingers...

Hope you had a good week. From the looks of your blogs, it was. We had a great time in Arkansas despite the ICE storm... At least the waterfalls had alot of water....

Have a good week.

BC Doan said...

I love all your discoveries of critters. That is amazing..Love the message you are sending out!

Anonymous said...

I agree, photography is a grand way to see the world all the more closely and to glance over and over again at the things that may have once been invisible to us. Nicely shown Diane.

T.R. said...

Your photography is like cracker jacks - you've never know what's inside. Fantastic! What little treasures. Can you believe you didn't even see that snake!

LisaNewton said...

My first reaction was, "OMG, a rattlesnake!" And then, eww, a spider. Lizards I can deal with, and strange plants I find a wonder of nature. We have a few of those here in Los Angeles, too.

I'm always surprised to see the things I missed when I look at a picture closely, but thankfully, I don't think I'll find too many rattlesnakes here in LA..............:)

Dee said...

This was just the best post! I loved every surprise and the snake was something else! I don't see them here in town- but I am sure there are some. A good reminder to watch for them. the information about the spider was great- and that crested saguaro was wonderful! Thanks!

Arvind said...

Loved that pic of the Agave. Once again goes to show how beauty and danger are side by side in a natural setting!

KaysWay said...

Wow, how cool. I love the way you discovered these things when checking out the photos later. Good thing that snake didn't bite you out there in the dark. I hate snakes.

Julie said...

Hi, Diane. This was wonderful! I loved all your surprises. And you made a nice parable for life in your story, too. There's always more to see...about everything.

I related totally to not seeing the rattler; nearly stepped on one a scant 6' from me at dawn. There was so much beauty I was seeing that I failed to look down, too. Looking down as I also look around is now second nature.

Flying Colors said...

What a super post, full of interesting, hidden tibits & creatures.
Love the orange flowers... and the crested saguaro is spectacular!
HCM from another cacuteer :-)

Leedra said...

Enjoyed this post too. The rattlesnake is a little scary, not to have known it was there. The cactus is unusual looking, neat.

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Kevin said...

I have had the same experience many times; it shows us how unobservant we can be. Many of my macro photos have little spiders or ants wandering around, pretty cool!