Our Camera Develops a Friendly Mystery

Getting photographs back from the developer is always a surprise for my wife, Carol, and me. We aren't camera people. A roll of 24 exposures can last months, giving us plenty of time to forget what images we clicked. We'll tear open the envelope and stare at a photo of a mountain covered with yellow and red aspen. "Which fall trip is this?" one of us will ask, "Cameron Pass? Devil's Gulch? Red Feather Lakes?" We'll lay the pictures out and reminisce about various weekend trips, gradually reconstructing the chronology so we can label the photos correctly and save them in an album.

Usually, the surprise is a bad picture. A streaky black one: "This one must have gone off in the purse." The closeup of a huge nostril: "Oh yeah, I was trying to clean the lens." Disappointing are the blurs of the kids hugging the cat or jumping off the kitchen table.

Occasionally we are surprised by an excellent action shot: two-year-old Matthew's profile with the basketball in midair arcing toward the new hoop in front of the Christmas tree. But generally we stick with safe still shots, such as four-year-old Karen reading a book with two large cats on her tiny lap. Even then, we can be pleasantly surprised when the colors turn out well, as with the one of both kids in the bathtub covered with shaving cream dyed with vivid food colors: red, yellow, blue, and green.

But our biggest surprise was getting a picture of someone we've never seen.

His short, blond hair is parted near the middle. He wears a white Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt from Puerto Vallarta partially obscured by black, padded day-pack straps. Behind him are woods, probably the place we lost our camera along the Emerald Lake trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. No majestic backdrop such as Long's Peak or Flattop Mountain pinpoints the location, but our camera had been turned in to the ranger at Bear Lake where the trail starts.

Our relief at recovering the camera turned into surprised laughter when the film was developed. Along with pictures of the kids playing in huge drifts in the Snowy Range of Wyoming, we received the bonus photo. His blue eyes twinkle. His mouth opens in a full grin, which probably broke into laughter after his friend snapped the picture. I imagine him saying, "Just wait till they see this!" as they haul their find back down the trail. The children laugh every time we see his smile enshrined in our family's photo album.

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