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 04, 2010

Give Me that Old Time Redundancy

Having just turned in my manuscript for “Following Atticus” to my publisher this week, Atticus and I needed to get out from behind my writing desk and out into the world. So I set a simple goal: hike a trail of some sort each day for the month of June, weather allowing.

We’ve simply spent too much time inside, or when we’re outside, walking along roads and sidewalks. We needed to get away from black top and concrete and feel an earthen path underfoot. It’s a very simple goal and it has nothing to do with completing a list or climbing certain peaks. Although some trails we take will get us to the top of mountains, but they won’t necessarily be 4,000-footers. As a matter of fact, most of them probably won’t be 4,000-footers. This is more about discovering new places and a return to innocence. There are many trails we haven’t been on so opportunities abound.

Our first adventure was a little mountain I’ve always wondered about. Pine Mountain is a fine peak, or so I was led to believe. There’s two ways to access the mountain. One is to walk from Gorham. The other is to head towards it from Dolly Copp Road. We chose the route that leaves Dolly Copp Road.

For the first mile or so, we walked on a dirt road until we came to a fork where we had to make a choice. If we continued straight we’d head towards the Horton Center, a religious retreat that’s not open for the summer yet, and bypass the summit of Pine Mountain, catch a trail there and cross over the peak and head back to our car. Or we could reverse the circuit.

I went with the first option, simply because I wanted to have the view of Mount Madison and Washington in front of us when we crossed the summit.

The most wonderful thing happened when we reached the Horton Center and found what I believed to be an un-named path that would lead us to the trail. The sign said, “A Pathway to God”. How could I not be thrilled? I mean, who wouldn’t want to walk along “A Pathway to God”?

So Atticus and I took it and I wondered what I’d say when we came face to face with the Creator. We climbed a jutting, tree-lined trail up to a prominence called “Chapel Rock.” Well, it certainly was a pathway to God because the walk through the sun-dappled forest was stunning. It was exactly what you daydream about when you haven’t been on a trail for far too long. As we spiraled up the trail towards Chapel Rock we eventually broke through the trees and came face to face with a curious scene: a small stone altar and a large, primitive cross, probably ten feet high. Beyond it was a stunning view of the Carter and Wildcat ranges and the green valley below.

Now I have no problem with religion or those who practice it, but I stood there with Atticus looking at that huge rough-hewn cross and the view beyond it and I couldn’t help but think of the arrogance of man. Seriously.

You climb a mountain to get its good tidings and when you get to the top you come face to face with what John Muir called “…the great fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.” Well, you do that everywhere but Chapel Rock where someone obviously didn’t think God could speak for himself.

Actually the entire Muir quote backs up my argument even more: “In God’s wilderness lies the hope of the world – the great fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and the wounds heal ere we are aware.”

But there Atticus and I stood, somewhat perplexed by that big cross. It seemed more like an obstacle to the view of God than what I’m sure it was meant to be.

I actually felt badly for the people who erected it. It’s more than a little redundant. And just knowing that mankind tried to put up a symbol that said, “Here is God,” while God was all clearly evident in the valley below and the mountains above, just seemed silly.

So Atticus and I did our best to ignore mankind’s folly by scampering around it to the top of the small prominence so we didn’t have it obstructing our view to heaven. And there we sat, with views like the one you see in the accompanying photograph. Look at it. Is there a better argument for God than that. A picture is worth a 1,000 words, or so they say, and that picture shows the world as it was meant to be.

When we left Chapel Rock I couldn’t help but think of my Catholic upbringing when we came face to face with that giant cross again, and how it blocked the view. I recalled Luke 23:34, and as we passed it I said, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.”

Luckily, when we descended for a bit, then climbed to the summit of Pine Mountain with its vast ledges with outstanding views, I noted mankind hadn’t tried to put his big, old, ugly thumbprint on the view. They just let it be. So Atticus and I sat and gazed; took a nap; woke up to gaze some more; and then had lunch. Now that’s religion.

No comments: