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, February 20, 2014

Today's Walk


The abandoned farmhouse.
Every two weeks I decide what outdoor experience has moved me the most so I can write about it for our column in the NorthCountry News.  Until this morning, I thought what I was going to write about was a hike we took earlier in the week.  It was a crazy cold day with roaring gusts of non-stop wind, and when the sun dropped below the mountains the day became forlorn and the wind grew stronger and became more harsh and even more vociferous.  We did the smart thing and retreated inside where we were safe and warm.  Atticus and I took to the couch; Will to his dog bed, covered by layers of soft blankets. 

But about ten o’clock something strange happened.  It became noticeably quiet and still.  The full moon was shining brilliantly and the night, sans wind, was as pleasant as a February night has ever been.  After taking Will outside one last time, then tucking him back into bed, Atticus and I set out to hike Stanton and Pickering.  Two mountains just four miles away in Bartlett. 

They are standby peaks for us and with all the fresh snow they were perfect for a night hike with a ripe moon overhead.  I rarely needed my headlamp, and we took advantage of the broken path to make our way to the ledges of Stanton with views over to Attitash.  Then we turned our backs on the lights of the ski area and followed the well-packed path through the snow-laden woods to the views from Pickering.  There, glowing as beautifully as a bride all in her white gown stood Mount Washington.  She caught the moonbeams and danced beneath the stars.  We stood there taking her in for a while before turning around and heading back the way we came.  We were home and in bed by 1:30 in the morning all the better for living our dreams instead of getting fleeting glimpses of them while sleeping.

I thought of that hike over the next few days, and I felt like I was walking around with a pleasant secret hidden away in my pocket.  Night hikes do that to a person. You see things hardly anyone else sees in places no one else is, and you can’t help but feel fortunate to have what amounts to a private showing of some of New Hampshire’s best scenery.  It was like walking in a dark gallery with the masterpiece being lit by the only spotlight in the room. 

That was the experience which enlivened me the most this week – until today. 

It’s Thursday, and the sun is out and the wind is mostly quiet.  The skies are blue and, as is always the case in winter, here in Jackson the sidewalks are impassable.  In order to find a place to walk with Atticus on days we are not hiking we drive the ten mile commute to one of the few places in North Conway where the trails are mostly packed out: Pudding Pond; Diana’s Baths; or Echo Lake.  It helps that the scenery is gorgeous, but two trips a day puts forty-miles on the car only to go for walks. 

But this is the week of February school vacation and the roads in Jackson, much like in most of our small mountain towns, are more dangerous than ever with a neverending fleet of oversized out-of-state SUVs being driven by people who seem to forget that the idea of a vacation is to leave your stress behind and not bring it with you. The invading Huns are so great in number this week each winter that they typically spill into our peaceful walking areas.  So today, looking for a quiet place to go for a walk with Atticus, I came up with a new idea.

We drove to Passaconaway Road and parked at the empty lot for the trail to South Moat. We then returned to the road and started walking west.  Two miles down Passaconaway Road runs into a gate that is closed for the winter, and there aren’t many houses along that stretch of road.  So we took advantage of the bright blue sky, the wind not being able to reach us between the trees, and the warmth of the sun hinting that there may be a spring after all and we simply walked. 

I cannot tell you how luxurious it was not to walk through snow or on top of it.  How nice it was to be outside without having to wear Microspikes, snowshoes, or crampons and to be able to just saunter along. The little snow left on the road was melting underfoot, and it felt grand to have pavement underfoot and to stretch out our legs. Heading west, the road rises a bit in elevation but even that slight grade felt good. I could feel my muscles stretching out in a carefree flight up the road like we haven’t had in months. 

Oh that glorious sun was a treat to behold!  It warmed everything, including us, and I took of my sweater and walked with only a shirt on. Atticus skipped along happily. On either side of us snow was piled deep and the gold beech leaves quivered and waved at us when we passed.  We could hear the roar of the Swift River down the bank as it followed the road and when there was an opening and we could look down there wasn’t much to see.  Occasionally the water was revealed but mostly the Swift was covered by snow over the rocks and it looked pure and serene. 

There is a month left to winter but on this walk, on this day of elongating our legs and elevating our spirits and not seeing a vehicle nor another person, I could feel that winter was in the last depths of its slumber, that place where we all know when we are somewhere between sleep and being awake when dreams, at times, can still be remembered. 

Often when we walk the roads I wear my ear buds and listen to music, and I gave some thought to it on our walk, but the roar of the river below and the sound of the toothless wind above the trees and the otherworldly silence on a week where mania is typically the rule I wanted to listen to nothing but nature. 

Eventually, we came to a farmhouse that looked abandoned. There were “No Trespassing” signs up, and I fancied how nice it would be to live there in peace and quiet, no matter the time of year.  Even in summer when Passaconaway Road runs straight through to the other end where it’s known as Dugway Road and crosses a covered bridge to reach the Kancamagus Highway, it is not all that busy nor is it loud. 

We didn’t trespass onto the property, not physically anyway. But in my imagination we lived there and walked the open porch and sprawling yard and through the weathered barn and the small apple trees sprinkled at the foot of the cliffs in the background and my dream of owning a small farm to take in abused and neglected farm animals sprung to life.

Walking under a moonlit sky on two mountains all to ourselves is always a special gift. But to walk with the promise of a new season and in the possibility of dreams is even greater.

27 comments:

Barbie Perkins-Cooper said...

Perhaps this walk was a sign for you. You have spoken of a farm many times. How I'd love to see that dream become a reality for you. Your words always inspire me. You, Atticus and Sweet Will are so blessed. I enjoy every word I read. Thank you so much for sharing!

Carol said...

Wonderfully written. You paint a picture in my mind as if I was there and experienced the same things. Thank you. I enjoyed the quiet - if only thinking or dreaming about it.

Mary said...

Sounds lovely. The quiet country air can certainly make you dream and appreciate God's creation....and bring the peace this world needs so desperately. Enjoyed the read!

Lis Boucher said...

Leaving the masses behind is ideal...snow, river and warming sun..doesn't get any better. Wish I had your gift for finding such wonderful spots to walk. Thanks.

Terry said...

There is a moment of spectacular "knowingness" that comes to those who are lucky and aware enough to notice it. Those moonlight walkers, those dream trespassers, those who prefer the call of nature to noise. The recognition of not just possibility, but probability, that sends your heart soaring. It comes in the blink of an eye, and nearly takes your breath away - I know - I've been there. What an amazing life you've already created for yourself, Atticus, & Will. What an amazing future awaits you! Nothing much compares to the fulfillment of a dream, and somehow, I think your vision will see fruition sooner rather than later, Tom. Here's to many more peaceful moonlit nights, and the time when a barnyard of new friends will enjoy them with you! Thanks for sharing & allowing us to enjoy the wonder of it all with you & Atticus!

SILVIA SOOS-KAZEL said...

Tom, you so poetically worded your and Atticus's beautiful adventures for this week. Your writing drifted me off to a pleasant sojourn for my afternoon serenity break. My mind, soul and heart received a soothing balm as you so vividly described your hike and walk. I may not have exerted physically, but still the relaxation was good for the tightness of the body. I do so pray that one day your unselfish dream will become reality and that farm house and property will be there for you to venture to your heart's content. In so doing also offering many creatures a life well deserved. Gratitude Tom for my so pleasant afternoon.

Deb said...

I close my eyes and see your farmhouse...precious word pictures bringing peace and grace to a snowy afternoon in Iowa. Thank you Tom...God bless you all.

Magdrael said...

I can think of nothing better for you or for unfortunate dogs to find you and come to a place of serenity, love, and end their days in the peacefulness this kind of farmhouse could be. I will dream it with you, Tom, and if we all dream the dream with you, who knows? Magic happens. I have to say, in this blog the line that got me was this: "you can’t help but feel fortunate to have what amounts to a private showing of some of New Hampshire’s best scenery. It was like walking in a dark gallery with the masterpiece being lit by the only spotlight in the room." You are a true poet in the heart. Thank you for sharing your moonlit walk and the dream.

MadamRenfield said...

I love to read your stories of hiking with Atticus, and the stories about Will, which always warm my heart and inspire me. I often think about your posts when I'm walking/hiking - following Lola, my 8 year old blind mix. We live in St. John's, Newfoundland, and so your pictures of the beautiful landscape in your area really resonate with us. Thank you so much, from both of us.

Sandy Zerbinopoulos said...

Again, you took us along on a blissful winter walk. Your words bring your quiet North Country surroundings to life and we feel your joy in the simple, peaceful existence you have chosen. My favorite line in this article is "the gold beech leaves quivered and waved at us when we passed" - a lovely personification! Thank you Tom and Atticus - and a hug to that snuggly sweet William!

Carter W Rae said...

Love reading your blogs Tom it is like being there !!! We are all so ready for the grip of winter to take leave along with the long dark nights The farmhouse sounds like a wondrous place !!! It was very much like coming out of the other side of the woods in back of my boyhood home. Excitement and anticipation as to the sights and smells of what is there ..with the sunlight coming through the leaves...Only in your case it was the moonshine to quote Anne of Green Gables!! Lucy Maude another one of my favorite writers!! Thanks for sharing with us!! Hugs and belly rubs to the your friends there too .. It was like being there...!!
from Stacy and Carter

rusty andrews said...

Such a great daydream! Intend what you dream, it's yours!

Sal said...

You take me to another world when I read your posts, and give me inspiration for what I sincerely hope is to come in my life. Thank you

ingrid fluke said...

I loved reading about the walk you and Atticus did. Just reading it, I feel like a was walking with you.Someday you will have that farm House. Thank you Tom.

Rebecca Boren said...

That is a farmhouse that dreams are made of. For me, it's the front porch, built for morning coffee listening to the bird chorus grow, or for rocking into the evening as the sun goes down. The rest flows from there.

Diane Hawey said...

I loved reading about your winter walk and finding the farmhouse. One day you will have a farmhouse of your own. Keep believing, it will happen.

Chris said...

Not only can I feel the sun on my face, hear the crunch of snow underfoot, I can smell the winter air and hear the river. Thank you, Tom. Love the way you bring nature to us, no matter where we are!

Pam Sheppard said...

I live in Salt Lake City but am originally from Vt. SLC is considered high desert and we don't receive much snow. Your writing took me home to VT. and I could feel the wind and hear the water as it moved down the river. I miss the smell of a promised spring and nature moving thru it's paces. Thank you for taking me home once again. I can almost feel the wind on my face!

Elayne Tiller said...

Oh how I'd love to see Atticus skip!! Our 20lb Russian Blue cat (Easton) skipped thru the kitchen one day to meet papa at the door…it was the sweetest and silliest thing he's ever done!! Love the old farmhouse, that's our retirement dream....not traveling, not RVing, nor a fancy beachfront
condo...just an old farmhouse that needs some tlc (and passes code as is)
We love you, the furry boys, your book & stories as well, my husband works long hours so I keep him updated on my books at nite, so it's like we're reading together, and he couldn't wait to get home as "we" read your book, and now your blog and Facebook. I've looked for Schneusor rescue sites but even they want $600 to $2000+ for them, which is way out of our budget, plus we're committed to homeless and shelter animals only....might you know of a shelter that could help us? Thank you for putting Atticus on the cover with his muttluks as that caught my eye and I was sold, plus I do like animal books, I had just finished "The art of race car driving in the rain"…it's now #2 in my favorite books…give the boys a hug from us, we love them both so much already…and you Tom are such an incredibly great guy who gives so much back to so many of God's creatures and children, something that could never be repaid in one lifetime……










Elayne Tiller said...

I'm reading A Time to Kill right now...it's so good!

Pascale said...

Thank you Tom for sharing your gift with your readers ... it is truly inspiring and calming to read about your adventures. I live in a big town my son, his dad, two cats, a dog ... and life can be stressful. I dream of leaving this town, of living somewhere where the connection with nature is deep and emotional ... but timing is everything. So for me the way you write and share so visually, like guided imagery ... ebbs away the tension and helps me to look for treasured moments here amongst the madness. For there are always some to be found. Love to you all ...

Tandi said...

I hope your dream comes true, Tom.

EndlessLight said...

Thank you, Tom, for bringing me with you on your adventures. I feel as if I can look up the trail and see the sweet eyes of Atticus looking back at me, encouraging me to saunter along the trail. I am so there with you that for a moment, when we turn around, I am looking forward to giving a homecoming boop to Will.

Carole Jurack said...

Tom ... what a writer you are. You paint such marvelous images of your adventures with Atti and Will. Thank you so much. I enjoy reading your life. We live in Maine 6 months of the year and know of many of the places you talk about.

Beckie Jani said...

WOW!!! As soon as I saw the photo I knew I had to comment! My daughter and I love that road and go swimming there (less crowded than the nearby falls on the Kanc). We went there for the Boulder Trail and the Moat that is on that side, too. Every time we pass that house we dream of living there as well. Such a nice place! A good place for all sorts of animals. Thanks for the story.

Melanie said...

What a wonderful old farmhouse. And that magnificent
barn! Just imagining how many well-loved animals it could shelter. I hope your dreams come true. I think they will.

Jennifer Preece said...

I spent time at that farm about 25 years ago. It was as magnificent as you imagined.