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.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sylvia Plath Got It Right

"Winter dawn is the color of metal,
The trees stiffen into place like burnt nerves."

~ Sylvia Plath, Waking in Winter

Sylvia’s got it. That’s the way it was yesterday and the way it is again today.

Up here there are days too beautiful for words, the brightest of bright blue skies, the whitest of white snow landscapes. But then there are days like yesterday and again like today. The sky is indifferent, unyielding, a bruise that has lasted for a long time.

I have grown to understand that what challenges most up here is not so much the physical test nor the snow conditions but the mind and the spirit within. Looking up at this dull gray sky this morning that “is the color of metal” there is little incentive to get outside and climb a mountain or two or three.

But I must remember that’s what happens up here in winter, especially in the Notch where we live. It can be gray and forbidden here but bright and blue and sunny just a few miles out of the Notch.

This weather affects me, as it affects all, all but the animals I think. For Atticus seems upbeat and ready to march uphill. Yesterday he had escaped the malaise I brought uphill with me and ended each of our hikes with a bouncy jaunt as happy as if the first balmy day of spring had hatched.

Yesterday was indeed mournful out there. Towards the end of my first hike, coming off the Mt. Cabot Trail, there were men with big trucks loaded with logs. The beginning of the trail has been scraped clean of most trees and looks like a scar on the earth, especially during a gray January day. The men had finished and were leaving as we approached. The only trees that remain standing are birches and in the winter wind they swayed and sang to me their dirge. I could not make out the words but the sentiment was clear to me and I felt it through and through. Even in the cold and the wind and my own ache and tiredness I felt compelled to stop and listen to their song. It went through me and I shall remember it for as long as my mind is sharp with memories.

In winter the battle is not only with the weather, it is also within. The goal is to motivate myself out the door and up a peak when I’d rather sit inside sipping tea and stay warm in a sweater listening to Mozart or Beethoven. Even when it is not in the head but also in the body. I continue to way whether or not we will hike today but think we probably won't and will instead get ready for a better weekend.