It pays to be prepared

A river otter clings to a log, submerged in an algae-filled pond
A river otter clings to a log, submerged in an algae-filled pond

“Chance favors the prepared mind,” goes the saying by Louis Pasteur. I wholeheartedly believe this is true – in fact, I would say that it is very uncommon to be lucky without being prepared. The image above demonstrates this belief.

Kerry and I were up in Mt. St. Helen’s National Volcanic Monument taking photos of the mountain and just being tourists. We were blessed with great weather and clear skies, so we decided to take a short hike out into the ash flow that wiped out the Toutle River in the 1980 eruption. I was primarily interested in gaining a new vantage point on the mountain for landscape shots, but as almost an afterthought, I decided to take a second camera body with a telephoto zoom, just in case we saw any wildlife.

Now, I almost never take a lens this big with me on a hike unless I’m going for the express purpose of setting up somewhere for a particular animal. The lens and body together was pushing over 4 lbs, so it’s not the most comfortable thing to sling over your shoulder. But the hike was only 2.5 miles, so I figured, “why not?”

About half way through the hike, we came to a medium sized pool of water, filled with bright green algae and surrounded by thick vegetation. Just as we were passing the water, two river otters burst out of the bushes and jumped into the pond. At first they watched us intently, to see what we were all about. Soon, however, they relaxed and began playing and eating clumps of algae. “Luckily” I had my second camera with the long lens ready to go, and preset to the correct settings for wildlife photography. Because of this preparation, I didn’t miss any of the action while I fiddled with controls. If I had not considered the “what if” possibility of seeing wildlife, and just stuck with my wide angle lens, I would have missed these otters completely.

So next time you’re headed out, think about all of the different situations you might run into. It might lead to bringing different gear, or just pre-visualizing a potential photograph you might be able to create. I am grateful for that extra moment that I paused to think – in this case, it certainly helped me get “lucky”.