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, March 05, 2015

Atticus's Different Winter Hiking Season

I think perhaps the gift that comes from Atticus turning thirteen is that as he has slowed down, I have too.  The difference being that I'm doing it by choice.  I now pay attention to different things on our walks through the woods.  Instead of being in a constant hurry, as we were for our first winters, when we were still peak-bagging, and being oh-so-proud of the latest epic adventure, I now take stock of the little things. Instead of hikes of more than twenty miles, or those where we reached the summits of three or four or five mountains in a day, now even the shortest walk in the woods is filled with wonder.  The gentle fall of snowflakes and the quietude that accompanies it.  The way beech tree leaves turn from yellow to bronze to brown to a ghostly yellow and how they flutter even when there doesn't seem to be a breeze.  Animal tracks, both big and small, and the stories they tell as we follow them through the snowy carpet of winter.  The warmth of the sun, even on days when the temperature is below zero.  The sound we make walking through the snow, the crisp and clean air we breath, even the taste of snow, which we both enjoy.  Gifts abound and they surround us in the natural world.

These days Atticus lets me know what he's up to.  He always has, but as the years have progressed he now cancels hikes, or stops after only a quarter of a mile, which he only did perhaps five times in the first few years of winter hiking.  For us the one mile round trip to Diana's Baths through a winter wonderland of frosted pines is enchanting.  The hike up short but scenic Middle Mountain gives us plenty of mileage for a day.  And then there are the times that surprise me.  The first that comes to mind is the ten mile round trip up and down North Moat a few weeks ago.  It was like the "old days" for us. 

I'm not sure what Atticus can do when it comes to mileage anymore.  But that's the point.  It's not important.  I wouldn't say that Atticus has retired from hiking, it's just that he's retired from extreme hiking.  Once the weather and trail conditions determined where we went in.  Now, along with that, I let my aging friend also have a say. 

I've never felt a reason to push him, but by setting the bars lower in what I hope to do, I'm opening up the possibilities that come with shorter hikes.  And still, Atticus and I get out and get to enjoy it.  I like that he still thrives during these outings and when I put myself in his shoes . . . well, I guess I'd be about eighty some odd years old, and to be able to do what he's doing now when I'm that age - I'll take it. 

To make the trails easier for him, we now hike more at night when the trails have been broken out by other hikers. What we miss in views we make up for in wonder.  To sit on an insulated pad together and look up at a crystal clear night with stars in abundance and the planets and the moon overhead is a gift not enough people appreciate.  Not just in winter, but any time of the year.  It's just that the view is prettier in December, January, and February than it is in warmer months.

If we are fortunate, we all get older.  We make adjustments.  But that doesn't mean there's any less wonder out there.  Emily Dickinson reportedly rarely left her yard in Amherst, Massachusetts, but she saw the divinity in everything.  William Blake wrote, "To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour."  Things don't have to be epic or huge to be transcendent.  The universe blooms everywhere - even right outside our doors or just down the street. 

Do we miss some of the higher peaks we'll never get to together again?  I can't speak for Atticus, but I do.  But part of gratitude is when you realize that what you have is enough.  In learning to slow down and relax my expectations, we continue to enjoy the trails and the seasons.  Both those that cloak the mountains and valleys around us, and the seasons of our lives, as well.


dcdashe said...

I love what you said about Emily Dickinson "seeing the divinity in everything." Words to live by, whether young or old. The slower we go, the more we see and appreciate.

Barimann said...

A few years ago, after seeing the film, I picked up the novella - "A River Runs Through It" and I thought I held in my hand some of the most beautiful poetic prose that I had read. But Tom you not only see beauty in life, your writing is itself poetic. Move over Norman Maclean,:) So grateful for what you write, what you say, and how you say it.

Anonymous said...

This post warmed my heart ... every walk in nature does hold wonder. Much to be grateful for, indeed. ~ Kat B.

Anonymous said...

Great post as always. Windows to the Wild had their 10th Anniversary Special on last night with some of Willem's favorite episodes! Atticus and you were highlighted, it was great seeing again. You and Atticus are the best and I am very grateful that you & Atticus are sharing your journey.

Anonymous said...

Although the word itself isn't very lyrical, the world is fractal. There is an infinity of joy to be found at every level to those who can match their senses and their thoughts to each. Few do and fewer can write about it lyrically. Thank you for the reminders.


Rick said...

Well said. As I am now in the fall/winter of my life, I appreciate small things so much more. Thank you for expressing what many of us feel.

Carter W Rae said...

Love your thoughts on the wisdom as we all age Will's Story really is our story So well said Tom Bravo !!!!! Carter & Stacy

Gretchen S. said...

Twice in the last couple weeks I took my 84 year old neighbor, snow shoeing! He had not dared to go alone after a challenging fall he took on his shoes about 8 years ago. What a fabulous and glorious time we had, moving steadily around the Cranberry Bog and then another day at my favorite state park. There was only one misstep, but I was there to help him up.
I imagine when you are out walking with Atticus these days, you might have a mile wide grin as I did when out with my grateful, joy-filled neighbor. I think I am learning that it's not about the speed with which we move, but instead about who we share our trek with that is most important.

Don R. said...

Having just finished reading "Following Atticus," I'm thrilled to see there is somewhere that I can continue to follow your adventures. More than a few times, Atticus' circumstances brought me to tears, wimpering like a baby. I am so thankful that my daughter (who is actively involved with dog rescue organizationss) gave me the book as a gift. This whole experience has made a positive impact on the relationship I have with my little Atticus, Izzy.