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, April 14, 2008


You must not blame me if I do talk to the clouds.
~ Henry David Thoreau

I find myself watching clouds up here.

Perhaps it is because there sky seems bigger up here; maybe because there are less distractions, less things going on down on my level like there used to be while living in Newburyport. Or maybe it is because I am freed up from the life I used to know, the hurrying from here to there, the gathering of information and gossip like a squirrel with nuts.

Up here my eyes are drawn skyward. Maybe I’m just following the reach of the mountains, looking towards where they are pointing. And then again maybe it is because the sky is more dramatic here, the clouds especially so. Maybe I’m just seeing with new eyes.

When I get up in the morning and make my way to the bathroom, the window there looks north towards Franconia Notch. On the left is Cannon Mountain, on the right is Franconia Ridge. Many a day I’ll find the clouds hung up on these peaks, like clothing getting snagged on a sharp edge of furniture, and they refuse to move. Many a gray cloud stays around longer.

Weather in Franconia Notch is its own phenomena. You can drive through there, be caught in a blizzard, make it just a quarter of a mile to the other side and there are blue skies and calm winds to the north.

Weather descends upon the Notch and lingers there. It can hang like depression on a dark day. When the skies are ominous they are very ominous, as if a warning to not go that way. On days like the one we had yesterday, the darker clouds dropped low and hung flat, making a straight line across all the mountains as if someone had poured them that way and they were determined to block out the tops of each of the peaks equally.

Today, as we do a lot as of late, we took a walk along the six-fingered parking lot that makes up the Flume Visitor Center. Fresh snow had fallen higher up and the view towards Cannon and Lafayette on the far end of the Notch was dreary and heavy. But where we were, under the watchful pinnacles of Liberty and Flume and little Pemigewasset, the sky was blue with puffs of wonderful white clouds slowly sailing by on a blue sea. If the ground were soft and dry I would have lay down and watched the clouds come and go.

I have no idea why I am as enamored by the clouds as much as I am but it is something that grows within me. Give me a cloudless day or day with wonderfully white clouds sailing by and I’ll take the latter. This is especially true when I am on a mountain with a camera. I’ve grown fond of these kinds of clouds in my photos, waiting at times for a cloud to come into the frame before taking the shot.

A week from today I will be 47 years old, nearing the half-century mark, and while much of my life is flawed and I am scarred with the years of living, I find great satisfaction in knowing the something as simple as a white cloud in the blue sky overhead is enough to make me smile and put me in touch with something greater than myself.

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