Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Remember The Ice Cave: A Lesson In Serendipity

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

In the field of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind. – Louis Pasteur

If I miss a turn while driving in the car nowadays or otherwise simply get lost or rerouted for some reason, rather than getting perturbed or irritated or worried about being late and inconvenienced in some fashion, I simply blurt out in a semi-strident voice “Remember the Ice Cave!” Most often my kids are in the car when I vocalize, but I’ll do this even while driving alone sometimes. It’s a reminder to myself of discoveries that possibly await me around the next corner.

My family took a trip to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa a couple years ago. My wife was attending a writer’s conference. While there, after dropping my wife off at Luther on one of the days, my kids and I meandered throughout and on the outskirts of town. I’ve actually visited Decorah numerous times so have a certain familiarity with the place. One spot I wanted to take my kids was a place called Dunning’s Spring.

Dunning’s Spring is a small park and picnic area on the northern outskirts of downtown Decorah. It’s a five, maybe ten minute drive from Water Street, Decorah’s main drag. The park features a 40 ft. cascading waterfall with a wooden staircase meandering through the trees on its left for exploring the length of the falls. Except for the sound of falling water, it’s a fairly quiet place. Fun to explore.

Having been to Decorah previously many times, and visited Dunning’s Springs on occasion while there, I didn’t bother checking a map for street names or asking for directions. The drive to get there is fairly straight forward. Needless to say, I didn’t readily recognize the foliage covered final left turn that leads up the mile long gravel road through the trees to the spring. After a few more minutes of driving I knew I’d gone too far. I missed the turn.

There weren’t any obvious spots on the narrow gravel road to do a quick 360 when I realized my mistake. I thus drove a little while longer until I saw a more convenient place to turn around. I ultimately turned left into what looked like a small three or four-car gravel-covered parking lot, and realized we had happened upon what was known throughout the area as the Ice Cave. A place that I’d never known existed. As the name implies, it’s a relatively simple looking cave, largely visible from the gravel road, created by glacial ice countless years ago. My kids and I decided to have a look. We climbed around a bit but didn’t actually venture into the cave. Wet slippery rocks, no flashlight, the possibility of encountering animals larger than or more vicious than myself, while carrying one of my toddler sons didn’t sound like a smart move a responsible parent would make. We thus limited our exploration of the Ice Cave to the rocks surrounding the locale. We decided to return at a later date when my youngest was older and we’d be better prepared.

Despite not having ventured into the cave, it was still a beautiful discovery. A discovery by mistake.

Innovation is no different. Missed signs and wrong turns are inevitable at times. How you deal with them perhaps holds the keys to your success. Attitude matters. Prepare yourself with knowledge and open your mind to the missed turn. You never know what you might discover.

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