An ancient Persian folk tale tells the story of ‘The three princes of Serendip’ who through sheer unexpected good fortune come happily through a series of great adventures. In time, Serendib gave rise to our word serendipity. I’m a great fan of serendipity – though it is true we often have to give luck a helping hand.
Take today. We went looking for a waterfall that was said to be down a set of increasingly narrow dirt tracks not especially far from our house.
We never did find the waterfall but, instead, happened upon a Bunong spirit forest sitting like a shady green island above the cleared land below. This was a mixed evergreen forest and the deciduous trees have already shed their leaves, dry and crunchy on the forest floor.
But it is the evergreen trees that are the real stars. These are monumental; placid, smooth-trunked giants with snaking buttress roots and aerial roots that have dropped from elephantine branches to form serried rows of 10 metre high columns that I can barely get my arms around.
There is bird song everywhere and constant movement in the canopy – crested bulbuls, large flocks of clattering green pigeons and – once – a giant hornbill with its black-barred white tail and ludicrous yellow bill. Some people say that the Bunong believe that God has the wings of a hornbill so, in some way, it was fitting to see it here in the spirit forest.
It was clear that this was a relatively small patch of forest, but we could hear wild pigs snouting around in the undergrowth and giant squirrels chase skittishly but sure-footed high above our heads. These squirrels are the size of a medium dog; black with a large bushy tail but with a tawny marking that looks like they have slipped a child’s painting apron over their front legs and chest.
This is a truly captivating place and the gentle clacking of bamboo stems and the lisping murmur of wind in the tree tops make it easy to see why it is believed that it is home to spirits.
At the time it was hard to imagine a more perfect place when, out the corner of my eye, I saw a new movement, and craning my neck I can see two yellow-cheeked crested gibbons.
Nothing moves like a gibbon – they are absolutely unmistakable. Lithe limbed and seemingly flowing through the canopy with a reckless fluidity, they loop along in one unbroken movement. They pass from our sight quickly but we are left with a real feeling of exhilaration.
It is incredibly rare to see gibbons like this, and especially so close, and we knew we had been party to something very special indeed. It was all the more exciting because it was so utterly unexpected. This is a place we will be coming back to often.
So we had set out to find a river and a waterfall and, instead, found a forest and some gibbons.
This is serendipity all right – and I am still a great fan.