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, June 19, 2014

It's a Perfect White Mountain Morning for Hiking

If there were a perfect day to hike in the White Mountains, this is it.  The world is brimming with life.  Birdsong is everywhere.  The trees and grass are lush green.  Wildflowers spring up and sprinkle the world with their joyful colors.  Even though the mosquitos and black flies have been terrible lately, a good wind exists to keep them away.  Temperatures will get to seventy degrees but no higher.  Views are boundless.
These are the mornings I daydream about all winter long, the ones I desire for in the long, dark winter.  I imagine dipping into a vernal wood with expectation and excitement, swallowed whole by the forest where things are wild and mysterious and only the path beneath our feet is tamed.  Even then there are places in these White Mountains where the trail doesn’t seem tamed.  Many of them.
People in other regions where mountains are higher and without the rich green we enjoy, often laugh when they hear we climb mountains four thousand feet high.  “That’s nothing,” they say.  “We have real mountains here.”  But if those people ever make it here they no longer laugh. The trails are more rugged than what they are used to. There are few switchbacks.  You simply go up and along the way there are twisting roots and jagged rocks along the way.  They eat their words in between gasps for breath while trying not to sprain a knee or an ankle.  New York’s Adirondacks are even tougher.

Alas, this is not a hiking day for us.  We won’t be on a trail until after next Thursday’s appointment with Dr. Malakoff, Atticus’s cardiologist at Angell.  She’ll do an echocardiogram as she’s done for years. I’ll be by his side watching that amazing heart of his – full of life and blood and love – and she’ll show and tell me what she sees.  Interns will gather round.  If all goes as expected, Rebecca will start him on the heart medication we’ve been expecting for seven years now.  Each year she has told me, “He looks good.”  Each year she tells me there will come a time when if the murmur worsens he’ll need a medication to help his heart pump more efficiently.  I’m told it’s nothing life threatening and our days will return to normal.  I look forward to that. 
Until then, I pay attention to the other gifts found in these mountains.  The ones you don’t have to hike to. 
This morning, we were up early.  Right after the sun.  The solstice is just a collection of hours away and light comes early and burns past eight at night.  We went to Jackson Falls because no one was there.  Watched the rush of the water, listened to the song of the woodland spirits.  After that we went to a local beaver pond with some apples. I cut them up into sections and tossed them to the beaver family floating back and forth in front of us.  We’ve done this for years and when they see us by the shore they come closer. This morning I counted five in their flotilla.  One summer there were seven.  Last year I saw only three.   
I find peace and joy in watching the beavers bob for apples, like children on Halloween, then grasp them in their tiny claws and dig in with those giant teeth.  It’s a humble act, to feed and be fed, and a gentle one. 
This morning, one of the elders came out of the water and approached where were sitting on the cool earth.  Atticus was by my side.  They looked at each other, then the beaver looked at me. There was no more than ten feet between us.  I tossed him a wedge of apple. He picked it up, sat back on his plump rump, that giant, flat tail lying on the dirt behind him.  And he ate.  I tossed him another.  And a third.  When the apples were gone we all sat in silence letting the morning wash over us. 
He stayed where he was and watched us as we watched him.  All three wild in our own way, each enjoying the freedom, and this act of communion. 
I heard a car pulling down the road, gravel kick up from under its tires.  It slowed when it saw us with the beaver.  It stopped, a car door opened and a woman got out with a camera.  The beaver looked at her, got up, dragged his tail back into the pond and that was that. 
She was nice when she apologized for ending our moment but I told her not to worry.  “We were done anyway.”  The old beaver swam out, turned back and came towards us.  She took a few photos, and then he was gone.  Under the water, after a loud splash of his tail.  We’d see no more of him or the rest of his family.
Living in the mountains is not just about the views from the top or the mysterious trails we travel upon.  Often the little gifts are found by ponds and streams, in meadows with sweeping panoramic views, or in the wildflowers which rejoice and reach to the sun.  We came here to live a different life, to escape traffic and rush hours, time clocks and the laws of busier communities.  We came here to breathe and smile and to just be simpler – to own less and have more.
There will be no mountain trail for us today, but we’ve already packed in a lot of life and it’s not even nine o’clock.


Anonymous said...

This is such a nice post. The "Living in the mountains" paragraph is extra special to me, it is why I came here too. I have less time now to enjoy all the many small gifts it offers; but I still have many. Living here, I can relate to and enjoy the ones you write about as well. Thanks Tom.


Ursula R said...

Your words are a wonderful gift! Will be thinking of you and Atticus next week and praying that all goes well.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom, Atticus, Will and moderators,

Thanks again for sharing your adventures. I look forward to your next book, especially for the audio version. Will you be the reader again?

Kandy said...

Tom, Atticus and Will,
I want toThank You, for sharing with all of us. I have read your book, I read your blog and follow you on facebook.
I have been a lost soul since Jan. 15, 2014. I lost my best friend, Suzy Snickers on that day.
Your adventures, your words and your love for your best friends, some how you are Helping me heal my heart! So please keep sharing and I can't wait for your next book.
Your sitting by the river feeding the beaver, reminds me of a time when we were fishing and Suzy was hanging over the side of the boat. When a manatee saw her and she swam over to the back of the boat, came up to look at Suzy. They stayed like that for a few minutes. Before she left she pumped her tail and came nose to nose with Suzy. Suzy gave her a kiss on the nose and the manatee went on its way.
So Thank You for sharing, I will be a fan forever.

Kaye Yearta said...

I read this and felt a peace wash over me that I can't explain. Thank you for this gift.

Ellen Snyder said...

Yes, so much to see, smell, and hear between (or before) dawn and 9 am. I'm rather glad that most people are not even stirring before I've experienced nearly a full day! All the best to Atticus on his trip to the Doc next week.

Gina said...

Tom, I recently stayed in North Conway and when we visited the Summit of Mt. Washington, I picked up your book at the gift shop. Thank you for letting me peek into the journey you and Atticus are sharing. It's even more real when I can picture what you so beautifully describe because I was there. The White Mountains are beautiful but I didn't get to hike as I would have liked because apparently as much as the Black Flies love me, my system does not love them. Through you and Atticus, I feel I am right there enjoying a most beautiful part of our country.

Candy said...

I envy you both the time to just be. Nature has a way of being accepting; I also enjoy the comfort of it, even in a lightning storm or blazing sun. Maybe it's the engagement of all the senses. You live in a beautiful place. I love any place I can hike and will at some time get to Vermont and New Hampshire; it's just a bit of a trek from Idaho.

Carter W Rae said...

Just go to read this a bit late.. Tom you three are in our prayers for you Atticus and William for all the wonderful pictures and thoughts you give us Thanks With you in spirit from us Carter & Stacy

Betty and Lenny said...

Hi Tom,

I hope you are feeling better and that today was a great day!

All the hugs needed, coming to the three of you, tonight and always.

Peace dear friends peace.