The notion of magic is easily dismissed with a simple explanation or equation or scientific phenomenon or trick on the eyes, leading me to doubt its existence in an empirical world. But going to Peterhof reminded me that magic still exists in our minds; it’s more a feeling for me than a card trick, more of an impression than a slight of hand and eye. Indeed, the world is full of wonder, but only if you stop analyzing and begin mobilizing your deepest reservoirs of gratitude, the ones that honor a red leaf on the ground or a song bird singing in the rain. The one that takes the simplest thing and muses: “How is this all even possible?”

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I was lucky enough to experience the place during autumn. Leaves danced like giant golden snowflakes and the trees had that solemn and noble fall feel. The day was overcast with scattered showers, but I like to think textured skies and callous rain just gave Peterhof more whimsy. It was silent walking through the parks. It was just the rain and me.

Peter the Great’s palace is a playhouse of water. Rather, the magic is in the water. It’s in the booby-trapped fountains designed to soak visitors. The fountains use only natural elevations, pressures, and gravity to operate, a feat of engineering unique to Russia’s Versailles. “Impossible”, you say! “The Samson fountain alone shoots water twenty meters into the air!” you say. So how can this happen entirely without the use of pumps?? Like I said, magic.

Peterhof, for me, meant seeing the magic in the small stuff (the use of miniature effect in some of these photos was no accident). In a lone abandoned umbrella sitting in the rain. In the smallness of a single person in this world overlooking the big blue sea and sky. In a petite hungry bird who compensates stature with color and bravado. In the tiny details that make Peter’s palace so grand and impressive. And finally, in a toddler looking for Finland across the gulf.

With Peterhof as its stage, the world proves to be the most talented and elusive magician.