Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Monday, January 29, 2007

North & South Hancock; January 28, 2007


Today we hit the 40 day mark of winter and hiked Mt. Tecumseh for the second time bringing our total to 38 peaks. We are both doing relatively well and my Lyme Disease seems to have giving us some breathing room.

Sitting here with Atticus by my side tonight, I realize just how lucky I am to have found such a wonderful companion. In the middle of this odyssey I sometimes forget just what we've undertaken. But perhaps that is for the best. Twenty years ago I ran the Boston Marathon. I was smart enough to keep my mind numb until I reached the 20 mile mark. This winter we are on a marathon of a different sort. And while I am doing my best to keep my mind numb to the big goal, and take it literally day by day and hike by hike, I also try to peek out on occasion to take note of this wondrous journey.

Each day brings new tests, wears us down a bit. The winds can be vengeful, sometimes the temperatures cruel. And yet I have the size to withstand much of what January has thrown at us. But then I look to my side to see this marvelous little creature and remind myself that he is but 20 lbs.

It's humbling to have such company and humbling to have such a friend.

After the 18 mile hike to and from Owl's Head on Saturday we got a late start on the 9.8 mile round trip to North and South Hancock. We were on the trail at 12:40 in the afternoon and within the first few miles we encountered others who were finishing for the day. Some looked at the two of us and suggested we may want to turn back because it was too late to start a hike in winter. A fellow we encountered posted on an internet site: "Ran into Tom & Atticus getting a late start. I hope his headlamp battery holds out."

It didn't take long to have the mountains to ourselves. While hiking along and alone in the glow of the afternoon sun I would occasionally look at my hiking partner and realize that he is game for nearly anything. He inspires me. When we got to the summit outlook he sat and soaked in the sun and the views while I took photo after photo. Then we were on our way down into the shadowy and cold col between North and South and then up the climb to South Hancock and glimpses of the sun again. The steep descent from South Hancock was easier with crampons on and before too long we were off the steeper portion of the hike and we started moving right along back towards our car and the Kancamagus and the setting sun.
Lately we’ve had good company for many of our hikes but Sunday’s hike was important to us because it was just Atticus and I again. There comes a time to bond again, just by ourselves. It felt wonderful to be out there with him.

A couple of days ago, while reading a speech made by Thomas Merton in Calcutta in 1968, I was moved by his words: “The deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words, and it is beyond speech, and it is beyond concept. Not that we discover a new unity. We discover an older unity. We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. What we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.”

I know many people who are married or live together but few who seem to share the genuine experience of what Merton was talking about. When we hike as we did on the Hancocks yesterday, that’s exactly what this man and dog share. It’s a communion between man and beast, but more importantly between two friends. It’s far from the marriage I once pictured myself in but who am I to argue with a gift of such a splendid companion?

In our journeys with others this winter we have found some new friends and comfort in their company. Yet in the end it’s still about the two of us and on days like Sunday I remind myself to take note of these authentic experiences because they are the threads the fabric of a special odyssey are held together by.

We started out as two tired hikers and as always the mountains and the woods renewed us. During the last few miles of our hike we bounced along the trail in high spirits and playful interchanges. With the day waning I looked up to see the bruise colored Osceola’s and realized we were going to make it out before the sun set and this enlivened me even more.

I truly believe each mountain has lessons to teach, stories to tell, and on this one simple Sunday I was reminded again of the good company I keep. I was reminded of how grand it feels to be swallowed whole in these woods. And while “the deepest level of communication is not communication but communion,” I was reminded once again that communion isn’t just between two people. It is also found in the bonds between man an mountains, or better yet between man and dog and mountains.

1 comment:

Dawn Middlestead said...

I loved the paragraph in this Blog when you referenced your relationship with Atticus...you said, "It's far from the marriage I once pictured myself in but who am I to argue with a gift of a such a splendid companion?"...you and Atticus shared something even more spectacular than a marriage. You have plenty of life yet to live Mr. Ryan, marriage to a human might come along, but what you shared with Atticus...it was once in a lifetime.