Once upon a time there a was boy who lived in a village at the foot of a great mountain.
And at the very top of this mountain it was always snowing. Even in the summertime when all the world turned green and the flowers bloomed, and the birds were chirping in the trees, the mountain peak was covered in snow.
And from his room the boy would open the window and look up at that mountain in wonder, because he knew the legend that all who lived in the village knew. On top of the mountain was a snow leopard. But very few people believed the legend was actually true. No one had ever seen the snow leopard. No one had ever heard it shriek in the night. It was only a legend. But the boy believed it.
The years passed, and the boy would sit at the window and look up at the mountain. In time, when he was older, he became a photographer and decided that one day he would climb to the top and take a photograph of the snow leopard so everyone could see it for themselves.
So he packed his things and all he would need to survive, and went to the general store to buy rations of food. The old man who owned the store asked what he was doing, and the boy said, “I’m going to photograph the snow leopard.”
The old man shook his head and said that once he too had climbed the mountain in search of the leopard, and that he had seen a flash of white but no one believed him. He did know if he believed himself, and for all these years the question had haunted him.
Did he truly see it? Or was he losing his mind? The boy said I will take a photograph and show you, then everyone will know the truth. The old man showed him the climbing routes on a map, and the boy set off.
For weeks, day after day, night after night, he climbed towards the peak. Along the way he took the most beautiful photographs of what he saw: mountain goats leaping, birds overhead, foxes playing by the stream. But he continued on his journey until he reached the snow. And there he looked carefully for the leopard. He hid for long stretched, listening for a crunch of a paw on the icy ground. He moved ever higher until the cold and his dwindling food supply forced him to reach the very top.
But he never saw the leopard.
And from the top of that mountain he looked out at the land below. Far away he could faintly see his own house, the very house and the very window from which he had spent so many years looking up at the place that he stood now. He wondered, if there had ever been a snow leopard, if the leopard was watching him just as he was watching it.
In the moment, the boy’s heart was full. Full of wonder, full of joy, full of hope because he was surrounded by beauty. Because he had tested himself and followed his own dreams to photograph the leopard.
And with a full heart he began to descend the mountain, and there, standing in the pathway, was the snow leopard. Majestic and still, the leopard watched him. The boy lifted his camera and took quick snap, and just as soon as the leopard had it appeared it was gone, so fast that boy wondered if it had ever existed at all, or like the old man, it was only in his imagination.
He hiked back down the mountain and finally arrived back in his village. He sent the film away to be developed and one day a package came for him. Photographs. He took the package to the General Store and handed it to the old man. What is this? The old man asked.
I don’t know, the boy said. But I would like for you to open it.
The old man opened the package and began to look through the photos, until he came to the very last one. And he held it for a long time. And then, he smiled.