“Oooooh a kitty!” exclaims the blonde one, skipping towards me through piles of autumn leaves, her arms outstretched, her ponytail dancing behind her.
“Would you like to hold him?” I offer. She nods eagerly, her friend cooing with jealousy over her shoulder. I unhook tiny claws from my hoodie and scoop up a tangled weave of fur and paws and tail. The cat unfurls, momentarily confused, then folds itself willingly into the girl’s embrace.
“He’s soooo cute!” purrs her friend, rubbing velvet ears.
“He’s really friendly, too, for a barn cat,” I explain, turning to make my way back to my cabin. The girls giggle as they huddle together over the tabby, their laughter ebbing and surging like the tide.
Another girl steps out silently from behind the other two, bright hazel eyes searching for something she can’t seem to find. Her cheeks are sprinkled dark with freckles, and a cascade of mudbrown curls tumbles haphazardly across her shoulders.
Her hands play with something I can’t quite see. Above her ear, a streak of color catches my eye.
She notices my gaze.
“I found some leaves,” she says simply. Her grin is mischievous, as if she is sharing a great secret with me. As she leans closer, sunlight spills through the fragile veins of her autumn treasures. They glimmer with light, a ruby and a garnet stitched into a russet tapestry.
“They’re beautiful,” I tell her, wishing she could see how their glow fills her cheeks with fire.
My fingers twitch against the clasp on my lens cap. I am drawn to her wonder, the magic in this moment. Her fingers fidget with something, too, and a sudden streak of copper flares in the fading sunlight.
She holds it up, examining it, her eyebrows knitting together.
“It’s a feather,” she explains, and for a moment, its frantic twirling stops. “I…I’m going to clean it off. And then maybe, I’ll put it in my hair, too.” She looks up, her eyes searching mine for approval.
I can’t keep from grinning.
“Then you’ll have all the colors of autumn in your hair,” I affirm. Like a crown, I want to add.
Her friends are moving towards the barn, tabby in tow. Their laughter beckons the leaf-hunter to follow. She turns as they go, her smile lingering in my vision. I offer a friendly parting wave and a nod, urging her on. She turns away, the feather still burning bronze between her fingertips.
My camera hangs loose around my neck, unused.
The rest of the weekend is full of fellowship and adventure with the women of my church. We spend the next two days arrow-shooting and hatchet-slinging, wall-climbing and square-dancing, horseback-riding and S’more-sharing. My camera is with me through it all.
Being behind the lens, it taught me how to hunt for beauty. To admire the way autumn leaves glow like embers in dawn’s first light. To listen to the secrets of the breeze as it babbles through trees and wings and manes. To wait for the moment when two horses bow their heads in tandem, carving a heart against the sky.
But there are other treasures beyond the ones captured on my memory card.
My heart, it is learning to collect treasure, too.
The sweet aroma of chocolate greeting us at the door of a local shop. The delicate harmony of voices raised in worship around a campfire. The rush of adrenaline at the top of the climbing wall. The delightful fire in our stomachs as we laugh ourselves silly over Shakespeare, taxi cabs, and animal sounds.
The beautifully haunting smile of a teenage girl, sunlight searing her cheeks and wonder sparkling in her eyes as she whispers a tender secret:
“I found some leaves.”
Being behind the lens, it taught me how to seek beauty in the created world. But following after Christ is teaching me how to seek grace and truth and love in all things.
Not all treasure can be caught on camera.
But most treasure—at least the treasure worth keeping—requires a hunt, a quest. It has to be sought, unearthed, and lifted up to the light before its true value can be revealed.
This process of treasure-hunting? It takes effort. It takes practice. Most of all, it takes a willingness to see.
The secret to finding the treasure buried in darkness? It’s not a high-powered camera or an expensive zoom lens.
The secret is open eyes. The secret is noticing.
Two other girls walked through the leaves that day, but only the third found them.
In my mind’s eye, I can still see her smile, autumn jewels gleaming in her sun-kissed tresses as she holds out her humble treasure. Between her fingers, a single copper feather twirls triumphantly, blazing an invitation against the twilight sky.
And [the shepherds] went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.