Less than a mile from our home is a large nature preserve that is crisscrossed with walking trails that weave through old hardwood forests and restored patches of prairie and across arched bridges that span shallow creeks.
We walk through there frequently as a family, birdwatching or looking for (but never picking) wildflowers, or usually just disturbing other people with our wild children.
Several years ago, in early fall, I was walking through this park with my children, and we had done quite the walk. It started drizzling, with the threat of heavier rain to come. We were quite far from our car, so I hoisted then 5-year-old Monkey onto my shoulders, with 9-year-old Bug next to me, and we jogged back to the parking lot. After I buckled my boys into their car seats and hopped in the car myself, I noticed that the small backpack I had, containing snacks and water bottles, had unzipped a little during our hasty retreat from the weather. I quickly did inventory to realize that the one thing that had fallen out was my camera.
At this point, it was raining steadily. I became very upset, thinking of my camera sitting along a trail somewhere, getting drenched. The memory drive in that camera had photos of preschool graduation and Monkey's first day of kindergarten and our summer memories on it. Even if the camera was ruined, I had to find it and save that memory card. I called Hubster and he drove over to the park. We waited for the rain to subside a little and then started combing the trail system.
We retraced my steps. We asked anyone who passed us. No one had seen my camera. I shed tears, but as it became dark, we ultimately had to leave empty handed.
We didn't make it back to the park the rest of the fall. I bought a new camera. There was nothing else to do about it.
The following spring, as the days became longer, the warmer weather beckoned us outside and back to the trails of the nature preserve.
When we got to the parking lot, my boys slipped out of the car and ran all over the trail head, climbing up on the small walls of the information shelter at the park entrance, while I packed up water and fruit snacks in a small (more secure) backpack. As I was gathering things up, Monkey ran up to me.
"Mom! There's a picture of us on the bulletin board! Come look!"
I followed him over to the small shelter, and there, next to the trail maps and posters warning of invasive plant species, was hanging a picture of my children.
Seeing that picture gave me the strangest, almost out of body experience. Why was there a picture of my children, smiling out at me from the deck in my backyard? What was it doing here? Who had been able to get this picture?
I snatched the photo quickly off the bulletin board.
On the back of the photo, handwritten, was a small message.
"I found a camera along the trail. It was starting to rain, so I picked it up so it wouldn't get ruined. Pictures of these boys were on the memory card. If this is your camera, please call..."
I quickly called the number, knowing that it had been over 6 months since I had lost that camera, and who would keep a lost camera that long.
The person who answered told me that yes, they still had the camera! Also amazingly enough, they lived only one block away from me. They had hoped that the only person who would take down the photo would be the family of the children; who else would remove it and look at the back?
We did our walk, and then stopped by the kind stranger's house to pick up my camera, still fully functional and still containing the previous summer's memories.
I was blown away by that individual's kindness. They could have easily just left the camera there to become soaked in the rain. They could have picked it up and left it in the shelter, with the hope that it would be found. But they went above and beyond to make sure that camera, along with all the sentimental photographs, made it's way home to me.