The mountain that was beautiful is no longer beautiful, though unchanged. “Sam’s File” uses this contradiction to present its main theme: how real is natural beauty? Sam is disturbed by this paradox since it seems to invalidate his life’s work as a photographer of Nature’s beauty. He loses his former confidence that he understood the world.

Bernie, a medical student who joins the climb, argues that there is no contradiction because perception is controlled by the mind. What we see is not a reflection of what is looked at, like a camera puts an outside image on a strip of film, but rather is the outcome of a mental process which deconstructs the image received by the eyes and ends up producing a "thought" which registers in the mind as what was seen. Along the way, that process can be influenced by what else in in the mind, such as emotions or beliefs. Because perception is determined by the mind, it can never be certain that what it sees is real. It can only yield an opinion: beautiful, ugly, real, fantasy, fair, unfair, and so on.

Sam refuses to accept Bernie's argument and instead concludes that the contradiction is the result of an adolescent obsession with the Grand Teton. The climb rid him of that obsession and opened his eyes. He can still see the beauty of Nature, excluding the Grand Teton, but its effect is weaker and it no longer appeals. Satisfied with this solution, Sam decides to abandon Nature photography in favor of expanding his business. “No more words, no more images, no more insolvable puzzles like the beauty of Nature and the nature of beauty. It’s time for numbers . . . It’s straightforward, it’s direct, it’s real. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Does Sam reach the right conclusion? The novel closes with a response from Sam’s self-promoting psychologist who unwittingly issues a prescient comment: “You may think you have figured things out, but you should be wary.”

Seen more broadly, Sam's response to his insolvable puzzle reflects the trend in modern society away from a culture founded in the arts, philosophy, and religion towards a culture of materialism where commercial enterprise and financial gain are its primary aims, thereby avoiding the puzzle Sam cannot solve. 
More information about “Sam’s File” can be found in a detailed story outline, an “Author Interview”, and photographs all available upon request.
{Copyright © 2011-2021 Peter Langenberg. All Rights Reserved}
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