I have a ritual that I practice with my three sons. Every couple of months I use some of my many frequent flyer miles to take a trip with one of my boys. Each one of my sons (Tom age 19 22, Alex age 18 21, and Drew, age 15 18) has a different interest that intersects with a facet of my personality. For Tom, it’s hunting. For Drew, it’s fishing. And for Alex, it’s photography.

This Labor Day weekend, I took Alex to New Orleans for one of our famous photography trips. We both love urban exploration or UrbEx (defined as “the exploration of man-made structures, usually abandoned ruins or not-usually-seen components of the man-made environment”) and have developed our own styles of capturing the subject we call strange-beautiful. Alex uses primarily macro photography techniques to capture pieces of larger objects or environments, while I prefer HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography to capture the atmospherics and spacial aspects of a place.

On the first day of our trip, we visited one of the top UrbEx sites in the US—the abandoned Six Flags theme park damaged by hurricane Katrina—and a couple historic cemeteries. That evening we took a long walk through the French Quarter with no particular destination in mind other than a place to eat. We wandered up and down main and side streets and were both pleased to stumble upon the artsy area lined by quaint galleries and antique stores. In the window of one of the galleries, our eyes were drawn to a large canvas depicting a very detailed picture of a huge and ancient tree whose limbs sagged gently to the ground, weighed down by age and the ever-present Spanish moss. We stood in front of the gallery debating for several minutes whether it was a very realistic painting or a photograph printed on canvas. Like many of our debates, no agreement was found, but the conversation is always enlightening.


The next day when we were deciding what to do, I commented to Alex that the causeway that cuts across Lake Pontchartrain is, in fact, the longest bridge over water in the world. Alex is a factoid nut and loves to read Wikipedia for fun (not kidding) and as expected, he thought it would be cool to drive across such a famous bridge.

So after breakfast, we set out across the causeway headed toward Mandeville. The bridge was very cool…it is so long the opposite end is not visible due to the curvature of the earth! Amazing!

Anyway…when we got to Mandeville we followed the signs to the Fontainebleau State Park thinking it might be nice to check out the pier and the beach. As we entered the park we discovered it is the site of an old sugar plantation complete with the ruins of the cane processing house, and some lovely tree-lined grounds. As we approached the main parking area we spotted this amazing tree. It was huge, very old, with branches spreading out wide and low with some touching the ground. We quickly parked on the side of the road, grabbed our cameras and trotted across the road. As we approached we both looked at each other and realized it was the very same tree we saw in the gallery window the night before. We were thrilled and spent the next 30 minutes taking lots of pictures and commenting on the grand old oak.

During the flight home, I pondered the episode and realized that something really improbable and marvelous happened. Our totally random wandering had brought us to stare at a random canvas in a random window and then we just happened to drive directly to the subject of that work of art the very next day.

I share this because it is a perfect illustration of the amazing, wondrous, majestic, and incredible power of a loving and personal God. I believe that God orchestrated that unlikely journey for me and my son. He gave us a shared memory of something beautiful, inspiring, and profound that we will remember for the rest of our lives. We have a moment in time wrapped in a mystery that we can both recall and wonder at in our own way.

As I laid my head down Sunday night after a great trip, I gave God special thanks for that small but precious gift he gave me. The gift of an oak tree.

If you would like to check out some of my pictures from the trip, please click here visit my Flickr page.