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.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Slowly, Spring Comes To Us

Slowly, spring comes to us.

Today, I watched bright colored finches; blue jays, and red wing blackbirds take turns at our feeders. Earlier this week a bear walked drowsily through the backyard as if looking for his morning coffee. And this afternoon Atticus and I and watched a cantankerous crow fly back and forth across Echo Lake. In silent contrast to him was the quiet, graceful gliding of a heron. In the woods, the forest floor has awakened. Seeing the small sprouts of life push up through dead leaves and fallen fir needles reminds me of something Rilke wrote: “Spring has returned. The earth is like a child that knows poems.”

There’s no stopping her now. Spring, irrepressible spring, is here – even if the forecast calls for an inch of snow tonight.

The other day we brought our lunch with us when we took a six-mile loop over Peaked and Middle mountains. It’s not a taxing loop and it didn’t matter that we started after noon. We had plenty of time. It was warm and when we gained the ledges on the north side of Peaked the sun beat down on us. Neither of us is used to the heat yet, not after so many cold months, so we struggled. I sweat and Atticus’s tongue hung from his mouth. We stopped for water more often than we’re used to as of late and when we took our breaks we turned back and looked down the ledges and over at Mount Washington. So much brown rock where just recently there was plenty of snow.

The joy of Peaked Mountain lies in the stunted pines pushing up among the angled ledges. The higher you climb the more twisted and dramatic they become. They are not large, but they have character as they lean this way and that. Even these ‘evergreen’s’ were a sight to behold as new life ran through them and the needles looked brighter than they have in almost a year.

Once on top, and under that parasol of pine trees, a chill breeze washed away my sweat. It was refreshing and felt almost as though we were sitting in a cool swimming pool.

When we don’t have far to go and the climb is not all that taxing, we linger. That’s what we do whenever we are on Peaked’s prow of a summit that breaks like a wave towards the south. After we eat, and drink our fill of views, Atticus naps and I read, or I bring a paper and pen and write letters to friends.

Monday’s breeze was a delight and I took out my iPhone and made a video of the way the tree branches swayed and recorded the sigh of the wind through the limbs. I captured sleeping Atticus’s floppy ears being teased and tossed gently about. Then I sent it off to my friends who were stuck in cubicles or offices – nine to five prisoners - to give them each a brief recess.

Before long two hikers arrived, then another. They were all from Maine and decided to talk about the governor. I’m not sure whether they like him or not. What I do know is that they talked endlessly about politics and after more than a decade of writing a political journal I have a simple rule: when politics arrive on the summit, it’s time for us to depart. So Atticus and I left the three of them behind to solve the problems of the world, or at least of the State of Maine, and we descended for a bit, sharply at first, then more gently, and curled around to the western slope of the mountain. It wasn’t long before we came to a junction of trails and Atticus sat and looked at the signs. When I arrived he glanced over his shoulder at me and I pointed to the left and he led us up along a stream towards the top of Middle Mountain.

We’ve been up that path a few times these past months and throughout the winter I’ve enjoyed the way the faded yellow, parchment-thin beech leaves have clung to the smaller trees lending the winter woods their only color. Whenever we walk by them they shimmer and dance, all atwitter – like school girls giggling away. They do this even when there’s no noticeable breeze to stir them up. But now they are finally falling, being forced out by new life, and I miss them. But their loss is a small price to pay for what will soon replace them. Soon the forest will be teeming with life. Already the lichen on trees has filled out and feels lush and fresh to the touch. Everything else will be along in the coming weeks. What I look forward to most are the trillium and the lady slippers. This is their time of year to show their delicate beauty.

Once on top of Middle we sat again. Dark clouds drifted in and the temperature slowly dropped. However, it wasn’t significant and after looking at the views Atticus found himself a soft bed in the web between tree roots. Having the summit to ourselves I took out my iPhone once again and plugged it in to small speakers and listened to Brahms while I settled down against the same tree that cradled Atti and wrote another letter.

I wrote to my friend, “I do believe we’ve found a little patch of heaven on earth. I believe we find one each time we go for a hike.”

Later this spring and into the summer we’ll take longer hikes and return to each of the four thousand footers simply because it’s been a while since we’ve done them all. I want to visit with them as we did that first summer five years ago and I hope to see them anew. In the fall we’ll start our book tour and I imagine it will get rather crazy and I find comfort in knowing we’ll take along the memories of these “friends” with us, especially since they play such a big role in our story.

But for now, on these shorter, less taxing hikes, we nap, write letters, enjoy the breeze, and a little classical music. Through it all we welcome the spring.


Tim @ Appalachia and Beyond said...

Absolutely wonderful post Tom. Love the new Header pic of Atti on the blog too. I hope those Mainesters solved the political issues of the state. I don't blame you for leaving, I would have likely done the same.

1HappyHiker said...

Tom, another excellent posting!

Having once been a "nine to five prisoner" myself, I would have welcomed a respite from the grind by receiving a video such as you sent of tree branches swaying and the sound of the wind sighing through the limbs.

Most certainly, being a "nine to five prisoner" has its advantages, like receiving a salary, medical benefits, etc. But of course, the big thing that's lacking is FREEDOM!


Thomas F. Ryan said...

Tim, I don't mind sharing a summit with others (although my favorite summit is one where the little bug and I are alone) but there are a few things that violate the idea of good company. Talking politics in such a lovely place is one of them. And why not move on, when there's another peak waiting?

Thomas F. Ryan said...

John, I hear you! Security is something people with regular jobs have, but I've always been the silly kind of guy who chases after freedom.

Janice Badger Nelson said...

Very lovely post. I really enjoyed it. You describe things so well. I am sure your book will be a smash hit!

Thomas F. Ryan said...

Thanks, Janice, it was a lovely day...and a lovely hike.