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.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Traffic Jams, Jackson Style

“I went to call you yesterday morning but I don't have your number in my phone. Must have lost it somehow. I was stuck in traffic. There was a fatal accident on 495 and it took me 2 hours to go 5 miles. Frustrating. Total commute time was 3 hours. Then going home last night someone drove off the road into the woods south of the Pike. That turned into a 90 minute commute. So in all I spent 4 and a half hours on the road.” ~ An email from my brother David

During a lecture the late mythologist Joseph Campbell shared the following...
A bit of advice given to a young Native American at the time of his initiation: “As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It’s not as far as you think.”

A few years ago, upon first getting to feel these mountains under my feet, I knew right away I needed to live in them no matter what the cost. At the time such a move seemed impossible to make. I was comfortable and in Newburyport I’d found the kind of community I always wanted to live in and found my calling as a writer. But the power of the mountains is both strong and mysterious and when the time came I didn’t hesitate – I jumped. One of the reasons I did so was because of the exact scenario brother David emailed me about. But it wasn’t just because of traffic. Traffic was only a symptom of the greater stresses of the world I knew. I longed for a simpler, less cluttered life; one not twisted up in the vortex of a society in constant competitive hyper-drive or the mania of owning things.

On the day my brother spent four and a half hours on the road, I spent four and a half hours on North and South Doublehead – twin peaks here in Jackson. It was the day summer relaxed its grip and the high temperatures and smothering humidity broke. Even the maddening bugs disappeared for the first time in months.

What a difference: my brother in stuck in traffic, me following Atticus up the steep Old Path to the col between the two peaks. While he was bumper to bumper, inhaling exhaust fumes, surrounded by angry commuters, Atticus and I were surrounded by dense forest primeval, so thick and tangled it was hard to imagine another human being there at any time in the past several weeks. I can’t say the same for moose. There were signs of them everywhere. I kept waiting for one of them to come lumbering through the woods. While David sat in traffic and drummed his fingers on his steering wheel, I sat on a cool, mossy rock feeling like I had stumbled upon a lost world. At about the time he was just beginning to creep along on his journey home, Atticus and I stood on the first ledges of South Doublehead. Below us the hills and fields of Jackson glowed in the late afternoon sun and rolled happily along. A breeze swirled around us playing with my hair and Atticus’ floppy ears. Its refreshing chill was a hint of things to come – the first taste of autumn’s crisp, clean air.

South Doublehead is a remarkable summit. It offers unique views towards the Presidential Range and even more so towards the Moats. North Moat stands out particularly, much like the prow of a great ship cutting through an undulating green sea. Had the artists who flocked to the White Mountains in the 1800s ever stood on top of the South peak I don’t think they would have ever left. That’s how captivating it is, especially in the glow of the end of the day when light is softer and more beguiling and the green of the valley invites you to sit back and put your feet up and take a deep breath. From this angle the view to the south plays tricks on your eyes. It is as if you are seeing North Conway long before the outlets or big box stores arrived, long before even the first house was built. There’s nothing to be seen but the rugged edifices of Cathedral and White Horse ledges and the pulsing mountains and valleys.

North Doublehead is not so special, at least when it comes to views. But on the way over we traveled through that great moose hall of twisted trees and could just imagine how many of the great beasts had made their way to that col through the years. The climb up North is a little steep in places but the cool air made it easier than it would have been just a day before. The lone view is from behind the cabin, on a little rock porch down a ways, and it looks out towards Maine. Were it not for what we’d seen on South Doublehead, it would have been much more impressive. Still, it was a fine place to stop and sit and drink in the cool of the shadows.

I didn’t have the heart to tell my brother David that the closest thing I’ve seen to a traffic jam around these parts as of late occurred when we were on our way back home after coming off of the Doubleheads. We stopped at a small, out of the way pond we’ve grown fond of, and in a 10 minute span we saw a Great Blue Heron, a beaver, a moose and two ducks. That’s about as cluttered as it gets here in Jackson during the summer, unless you count the line at the J-Town Deli on weekend mornings or when the mail arrives at 10:30 at the Jackson Post Office.


Cindy said...

I have to agree, "The way life should be."

David Olson said...

How do you escape the traffic jam at 302 and 16 when Storyland lets out?

Thomas F. Ryan said...

Thorn Hill Road gets you by that packed little corner of Glenn, Dave.

Tricia said...

See how awesome South Doublehead is?
I knew you would spend hours on the summit, as we do when we go there!
Glad you love it too
Nice to read your posts again!!

The best hiking weather has arrived maybe we'll see you out there Tom & Atticus