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.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Walk In The Woods

He makes it look easy no matter how much time we take off. I literally feel like I’m starting from scratch when I don’t hike all that often. Today, the easy climb up Mt. Pemigewasset didn’t kill me, but I felt it. As always, Atticus took the lead, even in the softening once-firm track. I wore my snowshoes but also wore too much clothing. It was literally too hot for me. I should have worn shorts and a summer weight short-sleeved shirt.

I didn’t die, but neither did I fly. Because of that we’ll go back there tomorrow, but this time we’ll start earlier in the morning to take advantage of the cool of the morning before the warm sun climbs too high and softens the trail. Even with snowshoes on I found myself sinking into the snow, sometimes knee deep, especially on the descent.

Atticus learned quickly that stepping off the midline of the trail, even for him, meant he was no longer Legolas-like and he couldn’t walk on top of it. After the first few sniffs off-trail and sinking in, he decided to sniff from the from the middle of the trail, tossing his nose softly into the air to see what he could read from the trees.

Today I brought water for Atticus. It was a good call. He was thirsty under the bright sun. But I forgot my sunglasses and the snow and cloudless sky and brilliant sun was blinding. Photos from the forehead of “Indian Head” were mostly glare and washed out.

The climb took a little longer than I would have liked and I felt the lack of hiking and recent fitness but then I remembered this is not a race, there is no pressure to get peaks done in a certain amount of time any longer. It’s simply meant to be fun and enjoyable. Once I allowed that seed to germinate in my head I relaxed, slowed the pace, and enjoyed it much more.

The highlight of the hike was born from this realization. On the way down the mountain we stopped at the highest stream crossing and we both sat on the snow watching the stream flow by, listening to its soft calling. I have no idea how long we were there for, but that’s the best part. This is the life I imagined in coming north to the mountains. I would spend part of the day writing, get off for a hike, and then let the woods stop me in my tracks to feel nature envelope me. It wouldn’t always have to be a mountaintop or a breathtaking view. And today it wasn’t either. It was a small stream, so inconsequential on this little trail that it was the only one we crossed without a manmade bridge across it.

But there we sat, both in peace, both in soulful repose. So this is it. We have found what we were looking for. Well, we’d found what I was looking for. Looking at Atticus, I think he spends much of his time in this state of composure. This is the life I had imagined; to find myself and my best friend here in the heart of the mountains, so far away from what I was and now planted firmly where I wanted to be with who I wanted to be with, with who I wanted to be.

I have long felt kinship with the great minds of history who have found solace and spirit while being held in the heart of nature. The great Greeks, the Existentialists, the Pantheists. These are the places they sought; these are the sentiments they felt course through their souls. And I here Atticus and I sat, right where they were, right where we were now sitting.

We stayed there for a while, relaxed; enjoyed the naked woods; the gentle stream; the blue, cloudless sky; and reveled in this life we took aim at and have since found.

Life is good. Life is here. Dreams, even the gentle ones, do come true.

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