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, June 18, 2010

Caribou Mountain

“When ambition ends, happiness begins.” ~ Thomas Merton

A hike is a walk in the woods that turns into a meditation, then a prayer, and finally a song. It’s rhythmic. It’s your heart, breath and the sound of your feet. It’s simple. It’s a return to basics and a return to innocence. It’s finding yourself alone in the woods and seeing the streams, rocks, trees and wildlife and recognizing all of it as wondrous – and then realizing you recognize the same thing in yourself.

That’s why I hike.

And this summer we’re seeking those very experiences by limiting distraction as much as possible. We’re concentrating on going mostly to places we haven’t been before, on seeing things we haven’t seen, on seeking out earthen paths that are not as crowded as the morning line at the counter of your local Dunkin’ Donuts. To that end we’re going to be spending some time over in Evans Notch during the next few weeks.

Evans is not as well known as its big brothers: Franconia, Crawford and Pinkham; but it’s no less beautiful. And it’s not quite as ambitious. By that I mean the mountains aren’t sexy. They’re not name peaks. You won’t get a patch for hiking them or get your name on a list. They are simply mountains and you go there to hike them simply because you like to hike and to have your soul filled with magnificent views. And best yet, while they are rugged, none of them top 4,000-feet so the crowds stay away.

It also helps that Evans Notch is just a bit out of the way and sits in the cleavage between New Hampshire and Maine.

Our first hike in the area was last weekend and we set out at noon for Caribou Mountain, a 6.3 mile hike. When we pulled into the parking lot I was thrilled to see only a couple of cars.

We made our way up the Caribou Trail through sun-dappled woods that were mostly bug free. There was a whisper of a breeze and the trail was gentle and crossed over many feeder streams before it climbed along Morrison Brook and we came to various small waterfalls. Eventually we entered into the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness area and the trail was a bit thinner, the forest a bit wilder. We climbed higher and higher and still saw no one. There was something special about the day and the way the forest closed in about us. It grew darker, more foreboding and tangled and thick moss gathered on cool stones that rarely saw the light of day. We passed by beautiful Kees Falls (25 feet high) and when we finally climbed beyond Morrison Brook we came to the intersection of the Mud Brook Trail.

We took Mud Brook up to the ledges surrounding the summit of Caribou Mountain. We were alone and off in the distance in every direction there were fresh views. It was exciting and refreshing to be in a place where we’d never been before.

Clouds filled the sky and the only mountains that would have been recognizable to me – the Presidential Range and the Carter Range – were beheaded. It truly felt like an entirely different place. It was as not like being on Garfield for the tenth time or Franconia Ridge for the fifteenth time. It was as if we’d discovered an entirely new set of mountains.

Atticus and I sat on the summit and enjoyed our lunch and drank plenty of water. We then made our way down along the Mud Brook Trail, which was much steeper in its upper reaches than the Caribou Trail. Not far off of the summit we came to an open ledge that looked out toward Kezar Lake and we took another break. The sun broke through the clouds in places and turned some of the dark carpet of forest below us a golden green. Atticus found a small but lush tussock between rocks and made a bed of it. I followed his lead and used my backpack as a pillow. Together, with clouds as our blanket, we napped above the rich valley below. I’m not sure how long we slept for but we woke up rejuvenated. But we didn’t hurry on our way. We lay back and watched the clouds pass by and let our thoughts drift with them.

Merton, who knew a thing or two about solitude, wrote “Yet it is in this loneliness that the deepest activities begin. It is here that you discover act without motion, labor that is profound repose, vision in obscurity, and, beyond all desire, a fulfillment whose limits extend to infinity.”

Alone on that ledge that’s what I thought about. Not the loneliness Merton spoke of, but the rest of it – specifically the “fulfillment whose limits extend to infinity.”

That’s what this summer is about for us. It’s about renewal. We’re going where we won’t find as many people so that we can be filled with the peace of nature. On the way to reaching it the plan is quite simple – we just want to relax, get back to basics and find ourselves at play with the mountains we’ve come to love. No ambition. No lists.

We’re simply a man and a dog walking in the woods.


Anonymous said...

I'm totally jealous! When my ankle is healed from its surgery requiring break, I'm totally going to try Evans Notch - it looks magnificent!

MattieDog said...

We just watched you & Atticus on Dogs 101! U both are so blessed to have found each other and share your lives together! Blessings!

Anonymous said...

Watched your story on Dogs 101 today! So inspiring! Atticus is a treasure....I can tell. :) Love Atticus' hiking photos!

Thomas F. Ryan said...

Mominsanity, you will love Evans Notch. It's a great place and so very private...relatively speaking.

Mattiedog and Anonymous, thank you for your kind words about the Dogs 101 show. It was a fun day in the mountains with their film crew. Glad you liked the segment.