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.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Roaring River Gazebo

The Little Bug and I took a quick break from my writing and his napping to head down to the Roaring River Nature Path down off the Flume Visitor Center parking lot. It’s only 0.3 miles through the woods, but at the far end is a wonderful little gazebo that looks down at the Pemigewasset River and up at Liberty and Flume.

We didn’t walk very far, but I brought a book along with me and let Atticus go sniffing through the woods while sat in the gazebo, half reading, half daydreaming.

Liberty and Flume both have new layers of snow on them. They received more than six inches of snow, I believe. It won’t last long, not with May knocking on the door, but it sure looks mighty pretty from where I was sitting. The photos above are from within the gazebo.

The Last Day of April

I woke up to Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” this morning, literally. It was playing on How fitting as I also woke up to a crisp chill in the air, and sun filtering through the trees for the first time since Saturday on this last day of April and realized that tomorrow will mark my eighth different month since moving up here to the mountains. I know it’s been spring for a while now, but it hit me today that this is my third season up here. I’m not sure why.

I came here during the peak of autumn, was here for all of winter, and then when spring came, both on the calendar and in the air. Until the rains started on Sunday we come through an unseasonably warm stretch of weather that felt like two weeks of summer. Down low all the snow melt and the rivers have run high. But it didn’t feel like spring, even as plant life struggled to emerge. It was just too warm.

Today feels like spring, even though it is just below freezing today.
That in a nutshell is how my life has changed since my days in Newburyport. I used to wake up back in that wonderfully intimate little city with the taste of the hangover from the previous day’s political machinations in my mouth. I would plot my day so as to best be able to read the political currents. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea and coffee were almost always planned around meetings with those with information. Until I got burned out in the end and wanted to ram my head into the wall, my nights were filled with meetings at city hall.
This morning this juxtaposition of the life I used to lead to this life I lead now came into play when I logged onto one of my favorite blogging sites: Beth’s Stories. Beth is Beth Maddaus, an attorney who doesn’t write like any attorney I ever knew in Newburyport. In her profile she sums up her website nicely: My name is Beth and I live in a small town in the mountains of western Maine. My stories are about all that is around me---family and nature and mountains and hiking and books and food and anything else that catches my fancy.”
Beth is married to Charlie, a school teacher. I met them on a hike a year and a half ago when Atticus and I trekked into Carter Notch and then on the climb up Carter Dome. When Atticus and I made our way to Mt. Hight we were greeted by a stunning undercast and the clouds that filled in Pinkham Notch and made the Northern Presidentials appear like islands rising out of a white sea convinced us to stay and just sit a spell. While sitting up there Beth and Charlie came up and we chatted for some time.
As most who know me will tell you, when I head to the mountains, especially during those days when I was escaping the politics of Newburyport, I liked to get away from people and avoided conversation, at least lengthy ones on the trail. (Other than occasional hikes with select friends, that’s still pretty much the case, too, as the mountains offer me more than most conversations could.) That I stayed and talked and listened to Charlie and Beth should tell you something about them.
I recall thinking them both gentle and genuine and found an ease to them that made it easy to spend time with them. We ended up hiking down to Zeta Pass together and when they hiked down the Mt. Carter Trail, Atticus and I continued on over Middle and South Carter.
I later sponsored them for membership on Views from the Top, the popular hiking website. They followed our first Winter Quest and then our second. Some time last fall Beth launched her site and it has been a delight.
I enjoy reading about her and Charlie’s life, and her views on the world. Again, she appears to have views like no politician I ever knew, and that’s what makes her site such a delight. In logging on this morning I read about their attendance to a school board meeting where a librarian was cut from the payroll. Reading Beth’s words, I was transported back to Newburyport, just for a little bit. It served as a reminder of where I was and where I am now.
I am happy to be both struggling and sometimes dancing with my writing, and not involved in politics any longer. Friends I had accumulated through the years may be shocked by this, as I think many, if not all thought I would return to Newburyport after having my fill of the mountains. Most thought I would return to start another paper. But that will never be the case. Even now I can feel fewer and fewer tendrils from Newburyport holding onto me, even though of the often times shocking number of hits this site gets a day, more than half are from the Newburyport area.
It was Beth’s site that introduced me to the The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. On a daily basis I also check out this site and uncover wonderful treasures. For instance, today, I learned, is Annie Dillard’s birthday. She went from Pittsburgh to the wilderness and writing. (Let’s here it for those willing to make the leap of faith!)
The other day there was a wonderful nugget about Harper Lee on the site. As most of you know, Atticus M. Finch, my wonderful side kick, is named after Lee’s great character in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, another admirable lawyer, by the way, even though he is a fictional character.
This from “The Writer’s Almanac”:

To support herself while writing, she worked for several years as a reservation clerk at British Overseas Airline Corporation and at Eastern Air Lines. In December of 1956, some of her New York friends gave her a year's salary along with a note: "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas." She decided to devote herself to writing and moved into an apartment with only cold water and improvised furniture.

Lee wrote very slowly, extensively revising for two and a half years on the manuscript of To Kill a Mockingbird (which she had called at different times "Go Set a Watchman" and "Atticus"). She called herself "more a rewriter than writer," and on a winter night in 1958, she was so frustrated with the progress of her novel and its many drafts that she threw the manuscripts out the window of her New York apartment into the deep snow below. She called her editor to tell him, and he convinced her to go outside and collect the papers.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1960 and was immediately a popular and critical success. Lee won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. A review in The Washington Post read, "A hundred pounds of sermons on tolerance, or an equal measure of invective deploring the lack of it, will weigh far less in the scale of enlightenment than a mere 18 ounces of new fiction bearing the title To Kill a Mockingbird."
Lee later said, "I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected."

With that, I leave you, as Atticus and I get ready to venture out into the woods for a gentle stroll before breakfast and then a day of writing.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The LL Bean Fellow Wasn't Impressed By Atticus

My reluctance to hike through rotting spring snow, along a thin and further withering monorail, and my refusal to put Atticus through the post-holing nightmare that many higher peaks would ensure him off having has driven us to smaller, mostly snow-less peaks as of late. I cannot express how much I have enjoyed these smaller but no less wondrous peaks over the last couple of weeks.

On Saturday we were introduced to Mt. Israel. I’d seen the panoramic photo of the Sandwich Range taken from Israel’s summit by Ken Stampfer and on display at the Mountain Wanderer. Since first laying eyes on it decided I wanted to go there. As good fortune would have it, Atticus and I were invited to join Ken and his wife, Ann, for a leisurely hike to the summit.

To say it is only a four mile round trip seems to discount this hike unfairly. It is a real treasure, especially if you don’t get fooled by the false summit and continue on to the true summit, a rocky cone that offers up even better views than the false summit. (However, it is easy to see why some don’t get beyond the first viewpoint, for it seems that the view cannot get better.)

But the charms of this hike lay not just in the views from the summit, but in the gradual climb through the open forest. When we started our hike we did so by walking under the outstretched arms of a magnificent tree just starting to bud. From there we walked along a earthen path strewn with dried brown leaves and made our way along the dips and rises of a man-made stonewall and a God-made stream. They both offered charming boundaries to the trail, and at times we crossed them in our ascent.

On the climb we were greeted by trees just giving birth to leaves and yellow wildflowers escaping the brown earth. Spring had just kissed this place and awakened the flora and the fauna and it was a pleasure to be among the first to witness some of their initials yawns and stretches of the season. Most of the trees, I should point out, are still bare and just getting ready to explode, but that was just as well as it gave us an unobstructed view up at a charming blue sky on another delightfully pleasant temperature day.

We ran into a few other hikers but were glad to have let them get an earlier start than us. There was the fellow with the new Bean boots, and his wife with the new boots, too. And all the gear they had appeared to be the greatest gear ever made, or so we were told by the gentleman who appraised our worn gear with less than charitable eyes. They had a nice but somewhat high strung dog. She was introduced to us as the greatest hiking dog ever. I smiled and offered their dog some water and told them I hoped that Atticus would some day be half the hiking dog theirs was.

It has been my experience in meeting dogs along the trails that they are typically good company but their owners fall under one of three categories: people who love all dogs, including the other dogs they meet along the trail; people who like to think their dog is the best dog ever and don‘t seem to think it is possible any other dog could be half as special as theirs; and people who live out their lives through their dogs, much like a “Little League Dad” pushes a child to fulfill his own shortcomings and in the process are threatened by other dogs (the owners are, not the canines).

I did not find the man to be insulting even when he continued to praise his dog and discounted Atticus by suggesting he looked more suited to napping than hiking. And while I’m cannot say for sure, I am fairly confident Atticus was not put off by this either.

The next couple we came upon did not step out of the LL Bean catalogue, but from the pages of J Crew‘s spring offerings. The man was especially well-attired, in white trousers, white sneakers, and a crisp button-down Oxford. They had a dog, too. An Akita mix, I believe. But they didn’t think their dog was the greatest in the world, or for that matter the worse. But I took notice that the dog was quite happy to be in the woods and in my mind that makes him a very lucky dog.

The third couple we encountered was the most interesting. She had a voice like a Screech Owl and it carried through the woods just as easily. They were the reason we took our time reaching the summit. However, on their descent we chatted with them and they proved to be quite pleasant. Nevertheless, it was great not to have that voice on a summit day made for napping.

In meeting these couples and their varied backgrounds and shared love of the woods and views from up high I have no idea how they appraised our party, if at all (other than the gentlemen’s comment about Atticus and the telling glances he gave to our worn gear). Perhaps they looked at me and wondered why so slovenly a man was out in the woods, ruining their view of this great beauty.

In meeting people along the trail I am often reminded of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Each person has a story. Some days it’s fun to hear them. Other days I fall deeply into meditation and the walk and climb seems more like a prayer. Both are edifying experiences that add to the day, it’s just that they are different in how they tickle me.

We had timed our hike just right and reached the top as the day was stretching into the afternoon and we took a more than leisurely rest atop the stone dome. We ate, drank and chatted quietly. Atticus moved about checking out the view towards Moosilauke, then to the behemoth of Sandwich Dome right in front of us, then the Tripyramids, Sleepers, Whiteface, Passaconaway, and all the way east towards Chocurua. He then found a bush that offered some shade, scraped up some cool dirt with his paws, and lay down for a nap. It was one of our longest summit visits ever. We were in no hurry to get going and instead took a lesson from the wildflowers we had met earlier and raised our happy faces towards the sun in languid pleasure.

I find these trips to the so-called “lesser peaks” to be quite fortifying this time of year. They are mostly snow-free and it’s good not to get frustrated tromping through snow that is giving out, or about ready to. I like a physical test as much as the next person, but I want to be able to enjoy it. Sloppy footing does nothing but take away pleasure from my hike, but that’s just my opinion.

The other thing that hits me about these smaller peaks, is that when I do them, I’m doing them simply for me and the pleasure of it. When I do a 4,000-footer, as much as I enjoy it, I find myself checking it off a list, for this season or this month and in that way it almost resembles a chore to have hiked it. It may be a pleasurable experience, but nevertheless, I’m still checking it off. In hiking Black or Israel or Welch-Dickey as I‘ve done this past week, I’m doing it simply for the views and the experience of being out there.

I enjoy the walk through the woods, the conversation with select people, or the meditation when on my own. I also find myself relating more to these new peaks, these first-time climbs, as I would when I was a child and playing in the woods not far from our home. And much like those woods back home, no matter how near they are to the road and civilization, it doesn’t feel that way. Stepping into them is like melting into them, and finding myself in a magical story where nature is the leading character and my imagination flies making all things possible.

In Carl Jung’s “The Holiness of Mountains”, I am reminded of two things. First that Jung believed that the collective unconscious was simply nature. He believed that when we removed ourselves from nature we lost touch with the magic of life. The other is a direct quote from that essay: “Knowledge does not enrich us; it removes us more and more from the mythic world in which we once at home by the right of birth.”

These sojourns into the woods and up the mountains are for me a chance to get back to that innocence of more feeling and less knowledge. It reconnects me to much of what I have forgotten to hold onto through the years. It brings me back to that place where I was when while unaware of much that I now know, I was more aware in other ways.

We left the woods six hours after embarking and covered only four miles, but what a wonderful four miles they were.

Hallelujah Chorus

The dreary, sometimes rainy, sometimes showery and all very raw weather of yesterday has decided it likes it here and has settled into stay, not just for today but through Wednesday. However, I really don’t mind. This is a work week and last Saturday’s hike will sustain me for a few days.

More important than any upcoming hikes is the breakthrough in writing. I finally found the route I was looking for and the first chapter of the book is done. I will spend the remainder of this week fine-tuning the book proposal and getting it ready to send to the publishers early next week.

I had done something before but it wasn’t right. It wasn’t me. This time around I just let it fly, figuring if I’m going to succeed or fail I’m going to do it on my own, in my own style of writing. That made all the difference. I have a group of select friends I chose to read, critique and edit the chapter. I chose each of them for a reason. All but one of them have responded to what I sent out and the response is very strong.

In writing that chapter, in finally falling into the trance I wanted to be in to write it, I knew it was good, but like all work needed fine-tuning. When I write I write with my ears. That may sound funny to you, and I’m sure it is strange and not what most writers do, but I write to a rhythm. It’s one of the reasons I write best to classical music or to wordless movie soundtracks. I fall into my writing trance and just go and when it is right it feels almost like I’m composing music. (Although I don’t know how to compose music and have never played an instrument.) But that’s what it feels like. I feel as though when I’m typing on my keyboard my soul is lifted by something greater than myself and my fingers are trying to compose something that allows me to keep up with inspiration, or the vision of what I’m trying to express. The drawback of this writing style is that my ears don't always pick up on errors my eyes would, particularly misspelled words that sound the same but are spelled differently (to, two, too; through, threw; etc...). I was never a good student, so grammar is sometimes an issue and I rely on my circle of friendly critics to help me clean that up.

When my contact at the publishing house first contacted me about the idea of putting together a book proposal he was quite clear that he didn’t want it to be about the mountains. He loves the mountains but is aware that there is a limited audience when it comes to writing about them. To be sure they play a huge role in my book, but he'll be happy to know it is coming out just as he hoped it would, I believe.

In his explanation at the time, “Dogs sell.” Indeed they do: Marley and Me; Merle’s Door; A Good Dog; A Dog’s Year; and most recently, Tell Me Where It Hurts.

I could not have constructed a book about a dog if I had wanted to if I didn’t have an actual story to tell. And I think my experiences and relationship with Atticus was something this fellow picked up on when he read my columns in my old journal. That’s why he approached me. But when he did approach me, it was before our first Winter Quest took place. He approached concerning that first adventure and wanted me to write about it. But then it took place and Atticus went blind (mostly) and then I thought I may lose him to cancer. It’s ironic that Atticus' hardship and my heartache actually adds to the story I have to tell.
My little focus group, the ones who read the finished first chapter throughout the weekend had some good feedback. They were not without helpful criticism, but for the most part they were moved by what they read. The one email which sums up the majority of the responses follows:

Before I say anything else... I burst into tears when I read the final 2 sentences. I'm kind of at a loss for words right now... I keep typing and deleting typing and deleting.

When you've told me of your adventures in the past I have always been moved, but not like this. I now have a deeper understanding of the bond you and Atticus have and yet it is something I will never understand, which makes it all the more interesting and strangely thrilling. It's unattainable yet the soul grasps it, the heart is full and the spirit is moved.

I will have to read it again if you really want me to pick it apart but, honestly, I don't think there's a whole lot to be picked. You accomplished the goal of inviting the reader into the adventures of a profound relationship that happens to take place in the mountains... and not the other way around, an adventure in the mountains that happens to have a cool dog in it.

I laugh when I think of what the hiking community, those who know that I’m writing a book, will think when they read it. They are probably the small majority of book buyers the publisher didn’t want me to focus on. They would be happiest, I’m sure, if I focused on the best routes up Moosilauke, or the Owl’s Head slide, or perhaps any of the Bonds Traverses we have done in winter and kept my emotions out of it, but that is something I'm incapable of doing. They may be a bit surprised that while the mountains play a major role in this book, they do not play the biggest role. Instead, at its heart is the story of a man and a dog.

I can now see that the publisher was right. Publishing is a business. They want a story they can sell, something that will garner them the most money possible. My proposal will be into the publisher next week, but there is a difference now. Before, I wasn’t sure if I could do it and worried about making this particular publisher happy. Now, I know, I really know for the first time in my writing life that I am a writer and I have a story to tell and that if for some reason this particular publisher decides not to run with it, another will.
I cannot tell you how good it is to finally realize that.

(Interesting to note that as I wrote these last few paragraphs the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah has been belting out over And that's exactly what it felt like as I wrote what I did.)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mt. Israel: April 26, 2008

On Saturday Atticus and continued our education in the appraisal of smaller but no less beautiful peaks. Ken and Ann Stampfer introduced us to Mt. Israel, just off the Sandwich Notch Road. The summit gives a wonderful view to the west towards Moosilauke, and to the north, which includes all of the Sandwich Range, from Sandwich Dome across the Tripyramids, Sleepers, Whiteface, Passaconaway, severl lesser peaks, and ultimately Chocurua. It was only a 4 mile round trip so we started at 11:00 and took our time. Along the way we chatted about this and that and got to see the early stages of the budding of some trees, walked along a peaceful brook and saw some spring wild flowers. The visit to the summit was a languid stay where we soaked up the sun and the views. All-in-all a very special place. To make it all the more carefree I have finally finished the first chapter of my book to my liking and it is now ready to be sent in as soon as I finish the rest of the proposal, which is the easy part. As far as the book goes, a dear friend tells me that when she got to the last two sentences of the first chapter she broke down in tears. (Luckily she assured me it wasn't because the writing sucked.) The slide show is a relaxed little number but it fits the hike well.

Photos From Michael and Donna Serdehely

Michael and Donna Serdehely of Maryland, contributors to our Winter Quest and winners of the gift basket from the Natural Dog in Newburyport, are doing quite well but not as well as their beagles. Yesterday Michael and Donna sent along photos of their dogs enjoying the basket.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ken Stampfer's Photos From Mt. Black

Last weekend we hiked Mt. Black with Ken and Ann Stampfer. We both enjoy our hikes with the Stampfers for various reasons but for me the highlights have to do with with Ann's lively conversation and Ken's photos. This morning Ken sent over some of the photos from that hike. Here they are:

I'm rather excited about today's plans, which have us going to Mt. Israel, a peak I've never been to. It's located in the Sandwich Range and the Little Bug and I have been invited once again to join Ken and Ann. The forecast is for great weather so there should be some great summit shots.

Then we'll come home to see what the Patriots have done with their draft.

The first chapter of the book is down to my liking but I'll admit, it turned out a little differently than I had first pictured it. It's now been sent out to those who are doing the proof-reading/editing for me. I'm looking forward to the feedback. I cannot tell you how freeing it is to have finally got a finished copy I'm happy with done and out to these folks. Much of the rest of the book is already written, but the first chapter, well, that's written for the publishers as much as anyone else. One of the problems came in trying to write something they would like, instead of writing like I am comfortable with. I know have great confidence about this book and about the story I have to tell. We'll soon see what the publishers have to say about it.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Snow Depths In 70 Degree Weather

Lonesome Lake Hut at 2,760 feet of elevation and just up the road a few miles is reporting there is still 32 inches of snow on the ground. Depth at 4,000 feet and higher is a lot more than that…unless you get above treeline where there is very little snow these days.

The reason this snow depth is a problem is because with all these 70 degree days, even with snowshoes on it’s easy to posthole up to your knees or even worse, your crotch. (Ouch!) A friend of mine contacted me yesterday to tell me he’d done the Tripyramids recently via the Pine Bend Brook Trail and wore snowshoes and shorts. But even with his snowshoes on he sank in deep and there were times the upper crust cut into his shins. By the time he returned back to the car his legs were very bloody.

For Atticus this ‘rotting snow’ is more of a problem since he cannot wear snowshoes and simply postholes right up to his body, all four legs getting stuck at the same time. And if the crust hurt my friend who climbed the Tripyramids imagine what it would do to Atticus at this time.

This is the reason we’re staying snow-free from now one. And while the temperatures have been high, there are only a few places to hike snow free these days. That means we’ll be heading back to Welch-Dickey and Black Mountain several times, simply for the workout to get us ready for the late spring and summer season. But who am I to complain? It could be worse in that to get a workout I’d would have to go to a gym and get on a Stairmaster. This way I get my workout in and at the same time get to watch nature come to life as the spring spreads throughout the mountain.

This morning I’m writing, but by this afternoon Atti and I will be back at Welch-Dickey for another 4.4 mile loop, and we probably will be there tomorrow, too.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Carl Jung and "The Holiness of Mountains"

Dear Friend,

Last night, as the thunder rolled overhead and lighting ripped apart the darkness, I was reading Carl Jung‘s “The Holiness of Mountains.” I’m not sure what Jung would say of the symbolism of the last night’s storm as a soundtrack for his written word but I’m sure it would be interesting.

Looking back on what I read last night I find that I have highlighted two sentences. One is in the introduction, written by Wayne Grady: “Jung believed that humanity took 'a wrong turn' when it lost contact with its past and with 'the collective unconscious,' which, he said, 'is simply Nature.'" The other comes from the body of Jung’s text: “Knowledge does not enrich us; it removes us more and more from the mythic world in which we were once at home by right of birth.”

Upon returning from a blustery but sunny walk through the Flume Visitor Center with Atticus this morning I was greeted by an email from a Newburyport friend directing me to look at the various informational blogs that have sprung up since I have left town. I took several minutes to peruse them and decided that Jung was right: “Knowledge does not enrich us…” Not always.

I hold nothing against these bloggers and find them to be at times interesting. But they remind me too much of what I did for a living when I ran the Undertoad. There was always a quest for information about what was going on around town; who was doing what; who was doing it whom. I played a role in that political game and made my living off of it, but to be honest, I cannot imagine going back there to do it again.

I have no idea if my present path will pay the bills but I’m much more comfortable here in these mountains, no longer removed from the “mythic world”.

Again, this is no slam against the scribes who record the current events of the world. Lord knows I spend enough of my day scanning various websites all around the world, but it feels good not to have to look upon the political world in the same way any longer.

In my walk through the woods leading up to the southern ledges of the Welch-Dickey Loop two days ago, I found myself in perfect peace. My heart was pumping, my lungs were burning, it was hotter than I like, but I found myself looking through that forest, through those naked trees and into myself. To look at them, you cannot tell spring is here. Nor can you tell by the look of the ground either. No growth was evidenct, only brown leaves littering the forest floor. If someone had just woken up from a year-long coma in those woods they would be hard-pressed to tell whether it was spring or fall just by the look of the forest. What made the difference in telling the difference was the scent in the air. Spring just smells a certain way.

We came to a gentle stream and while I was not tired I decided to sit for a while. Atticus came walking back to check on me, then sat on the other side of the stream facing me, realized I was just relaxing and then relaxed in his own manner: first by sitting watching the stream, then by laying down and chewing a stick.

In watching the diamonds of reflected sun dancing in the current and the clear water turn white while churning over rocks in a succession of mini-rapids I was mesmerized. We sat and enjoyed the soothing song of nature. Here we were, a hundred miles away from the life we used to lead (literally and figuratively) and all alone in the woods and I didn’t feel the slightest bit of longing for company. I was not lonely. It seems I never am when I am up here.

The meditation carried me deeper into myself until I came to a vision of my father. You had written in your letter: “Sadly, he was also flawed and not just a little. He was brought up by a father who beat him and a mother who loved him as a child but not as he got older. Physical abuse is horrible but it is not even close to causing the damage that emotional and verbal abuse does. Your Dad was emotionally damaged. To protect himself, to survive, he closed himself off. Just like the war---what they couldn’t bear to think about, to talk about because it was just too painful, they shut away. What a huge amount of energy it must take to do that, to keep that door shut. Like you, I try to think he did the best he could. I try to believe that he did better by you all than his father did with him, even if it was only a small amount better.”

How he would have loved sitting in these woods where Atticus and I sat. It is ironic that even now that he is gone, we are close in this manner, probably closer than we ever were. I know he loved this place, loved the peace and tranquility of the mountains. But more than anything he did most of his writing by the side of some stream or river. We’d play on the rocks and he would sit on a picnic table and just write.

He did not have the easiest of lives by any means but I believe he made it all the more difficult by shutting it all down, by closing and locking the doors and shutting the windows and drawing the blinds.

Where he was at his best was at his most primordial---up here where nature heals and sets the mind free. Here he was allowed to be innocent again, allowed to be a child with carefree days, something he rarely knew.

Perhaps that is part of the reason I am up here these days, to better understand him. It is not unlike “Field of Dreams”---in being here perhaps I’m creating a place where he can live for all time away from demons.

I also know it’s more than just that, I’m also here for me. The other day, while climbing I felt all cares and worries slip away. It is when I’m feeling the pain of the climb when it all falls away. Talk of walking meditation. Who has time to think of financial shortcomings or sins when breathing and sweating profusely, while concentrating on one step at a time?

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who, by the way, is becoming a favorite of mine, wrote: “Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.”

That’s what climbing a mountain does to me. It strips me down to my nakedness, forces all that is not essential to drift away, to evaporate until I am left bare, my soul revealed to myself. This is one of the reasons I prefer so many solo hikes with Atticus. In the company of others I find it difficult to reach this place where the outside world disappears and the inside worlds becomes clearer than ever. It’s a walking, breathing, sweating prayer.

In looking back on my life, I have succeeded and I have failed, but there was one great disappointment I had, it’s one many can relate to. When I was a child, when I was most innocent, I had dreams about what life would be like. In some ways I have attained some of those dreams, become what I wanted to become. But in other ways I haven’t. There were distractions and roadblocks and roads not taken. What I realize in being up here is that now I get a new chance to be the man I wanted to be, to live the life I wanted to live.

As children we imagine a life worth living. Few of us reach that potential we dreamed of back then. I took a leap of faith in coming here so that I could journey up these mountains and into myself to take an interesting life and make it more interesting.

I was able to make a living for more than a decade writing a newspaper the way I wanted to do it and in the process had the ability to change a community to some extent. How many people can say such a thing? I was gifted with that opportunity. But now that is a life I cannot even imagine. I did my time and now I want something more.

In some ways it was a goal to fix a community. But now, now I get the wonderful opportunity to fix myself by going back to that point in childhood where I dreamt of a certain kind of life that was both special and passionate.

The other day, while in those naked, gray woods I recognized myself. I saw those trees that have spring coursing through them even if the eye cannot see it and I could relate. For I feel a new season coursing through me these days, even if it hasn’t revealed itself to the rest of the world yet.

I recognized something else in those woods the other day. It was the man I dreamt of being when I was a child, the life I had imagined.

Meanwhile, Atticus is here by my side, reminding me it’s time to go for a short walk and do some more stream sitting. He’s patient with me on these days we do not hike but he does not only need to get out to relieve himself, he simply needs to get out. I can relate.

Thank you for your letter. You were accurate about so much and I appreciated reading your words. I will write more later. For now though, the little one is letting me know it’s time to say goodbye.

Onward, by all means,

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Spring On Welch-Dickey

In this age of emails, joy is getting a letter. A letter; handwritten and lengthy, filled with true sentiment and genuine communication, coming straight from the heart. One soul reaching halfway across the country to another. Half the pleasure of receiving a letter from a kind soul is finding the right place to read it.

When I plucked it out of my mailbox at the North Woodstock post office this morning I opened it immediately, then thought better of it. Back at the car I tucked it into my backpack for the right time and place, which I already had decided upon.

Today was a little warm, a little humid, a little unseasonable for this time of the year, but oh, what a pleasure to hit the trail with shorts and t-shirt and low-cut hiking shoes and little else. Atticus was thrilled to be on another trail with no snow, the scents excited him as he sniffed along the earth, along the base of trees and on rocks. In winter he leads, a constant distance in front of me, with a methodical and sober march. It’s all business. But today, today while the earth is waking up, even if it isn’t showing it yet, the scents were calling out to him and he ran from one to the next like a child running from one Christmas present to another on Christmas morning.

He hopped over rocks, splashed a little in the streams, drank from them (another thing he doesn’t do in winter) and gamboled about lightheartedly.

I followed along, noting the trees are still bare and the forests mostly gray. To the eye it could be late fall, but my nose is smart enough to pick up on the scent of spring. We worked through the forest, picking our way over rock and root, sometimes slippery, sometimes not. Before long we were at the ledges looking down on the Mad River and across to Jennings Peak and Sandwich Dome. Stunning.

It was warm enough that Atticus’ pink tongue was out. We sat on the first ledges for a little while, Atticus drinking his water, me drinking from one of the liters of frozen Gatorade that was quickly thawing. We watched the clouds float by and beneath them watched two hawks riding the wind just off the ledges.

Neither Welch nor Dickey is a 4,000-footer but it has views that rival many of the best 4,000-footers and dwarfs others. It also offers quite a workout working up the steeply angled ledges to Welch. But we were in no hurry so we took our time and stopped when we felt the need or when Atticus was tempted by a mossy, shady area.

Just below the summit he found a patch of shade protecting a crusty, laggard plate of snow and Atticus lay down upon it with his limbs splayed out. He was in no hurry to move forward and I was in no great hurry myself so we sat until he was ready to go. When we reached the summit we drank some more and Atticus ate some of his treats. While he sat on the edge of a ledge looking out at the dramatic lower shelves of Dickey, I took out my letter and read it. It was that kind of letter; a letter written with care; a letter that should also be read with care and with the same reverence that went into writing it. What a pleasure to sit up there on this wonderful afternoon, in no great rush to be anywhere, with enough time to read the 10 pages more than once; enough time to take out pen and paper and start a response.

After a while I took out Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation and read through several pages, my pen underlining a sentence here, bracketing a paragraph there. All the while Atticus sat on the ledge and looked out towards the horizon. How long we sat like that, me reading, then writing, then reading again, and he looking out at the mountains, I have no idea. Our silent revelry was broken by a more joyous one as a large group of spirited young women from Plymouth State reached our little perch, first with their excited squeals and then in person. Oh, to be that young again.

After quick greetings and much fawning over Atticus they soon disappeared into the scrub and down into the dip on the way over to Dickey. Some had on hiking shoes, a few wore only Tevas, all of them wore shorts and skimpy, summery tops. Listening to their song of spring as they chattered on in good spirits long after they disappeared, I was reminded of Shakespeare’s wood nymphs. (And how appropriate since Shakespeare’s birthday is this week, as best as anyone can guess.)

Atticus and I were soon on our way, too. We bid adieu to the great view of Sandwich Dome and the Tripyramids, Sleepers and Whiteface and descended into the hollow between the peaks. It is a steep climb down off of Welch and there are times it looks like the trail leads to the edge of a cliff but as soon as my faith wavered a sudden foothold appeared. To our right Tecumseh looked impressive and massive. (How often do you hear that about Tecumseh?)

We met some more snow between the peaks but it was of little consequence and only served to cool us both down a bit. It was like standing above an air conditioner. Soon we were back into the woods and climbing Dickey. It is a short but steep ascent, ledge leading to ledge. On top, even through the haze we could see Franconia Ridge, a jagged edge in the distance; and the Kinsmans and Cannon. Soon we saw Moosilauke, too. To our right Tecumseh loomed up. (How often do you hear that about Tecumseh?) Seeing the shortest 4,000-footer like that always gets me to stop and sit. And that’s what we did again. More sitting, more cloud counting, more reading for me, while Atticus watched Tecumseh to make sure it didn’t rise up on us.

The descent along the ledges is very dramatic. We walked towards the sun and the fading layers of blue-gray mountain after blue-gray mountain in the distance. The ledges continue on for a while, a precipitous drop off to the left offering a great view over at Welch.

And then we came to that pyramid rock and the mysterious circle cut into the stone in the distance in front of it. I’m told there is a legend to this circle, something to do with ancient times, but I forget what it is and I make a mental not to ask Thom Davis, (Dr. D, VFTT resident geologist) about it.

Entering the woods the path was gentle, the grade easy to maneuver down even while my mind wandered from daydream to daydream. Off in the distance the giggles and peels laughter of the young women rang through the woods. About half way down I ran into a young man, college aged, I guessed. He was on his way up and looked drunk with pleasure. He looked at me and asked with a big grin, “Did you see all those girls? Awesome.”

I smiled back at him, no words were needed. Then he went up the trail and I went down the trail falling once more into daydreams and the blissful warmth of the afternoon.

Spring is in the air. Thank goodness.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Welch-Dickey Slide Show Is Up

What a beautiful day above treeline on the Welch-Dickey loop today. It was warm and a little humid, but it was well worth the journey today. When Atticus got too warm he found some snow to lay down on and I brought plenty of fluids today. The loop is only 4.4 miles so we weren't exposed to too much sun. I'll have more to say about today later, but for now here is the slide show.

The Ledges Are A Great Place To... the hawks flying by. You can see two of them behind Atticus in this shot on the climb up Welch today.

One of the Joys of April Hiking

When it's hotter than one is used to due to the unseasonably warm temperatures, what's a little dog to do? Why find some snow to lay down on. And that's exactly what the Little Bug did today on the Welch-Dickey loop.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sharing A Birthday with John Muir

I turn 47 today. It’s also John Muir’s birthday. I didn’t realize the two of us shared this day but I’m thrilled to now realize we do.
Muir was an amazing man. He was born in Scotland and came to this country with little. At the age of 29 he made his living working in a carriage shop in Indiana. A freak accident caused him to lose an eye.
Joseph Campbell made a life out of fleshing out the “Hero’s Journey.” Campbell believed that we are all capable of such journey’s whether they come from training for an running the Boston Marathon, writing a book, climbing 96 peaks in 90 days of winter or in the day-to-day life by surviving an accident, doing well in raising children as a single parent, overcoming loss or chasing after our goals.

Campbell believed there was two ways to get on the hero’s journey, one was by volunteering, the other by being picked for it whether you liked it or not. The only failure came in not saying yes to your adventure.

Little did John Muir know that losing his eye would set him off his ‘hero’s journey‘. He so loved nature that he feared if he lost his sight completely he would never see a beautiful flower again. He then quit his job and walked from Indiana down to the Gulf of Mexico to live closer with nature. He then traveled on from there and never really stopped. From the time he lost his eye he moved on with his life and led a most remarkable existence as a naturalist and lover of mountains. Muir eventually ended up in California and lived with the mountains where he helped found the Sierra Club.

Some of my favorite Muir quotes:
  • "I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in."
  • "I have a low opinion of books: they are piles of stones set up to show coming travelers where other minds have been, or at best signal smokes to call attention....One day's exposure to mountains is better than cartloads of books."
  • "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while care will drop off like autumn leaves."
  • "In God's wildness 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."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Our First Advertiser: Sarah George

We welcome Sarah George, a Newburyport massage therapist, on board as our first advertiser for this site. Advertisers have their ads placed on the right hand column and a link to their website, if they have one. Sarah does not, but you can reach her through her phone number which is listed on her card. To find out more about advertising on this popular website email me at

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Black Mountain (Benton)

There's more than one Black Mountain. The one we hiked today is in Benton. And while it was not a 4,000-footer, it was a pleasure, although it was a bit steep at times and today's temperatures made it feel like it was July, but oh how wonderful not to have to deal with any snow, other than a small stretch towards the top. I hiked in shorts, t-shirt and my new hiking shoes; no boots, no snowshoes! We ended up hiking with our friends Ken and Ann Stampfer. They are always good company. One of the pleasures of hiking with them, other than the friendship we share and that Ann and I can match each other with all our talking and insights, is watching Ken with his camera. He is a gifted photographer and it is fun watching the artist at play. Well, it's been a while since you've heard this, but the slide show can be found here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Passaconaway Birch

God is the experience of looking at a tree
and saying, "Ah!" ~ Joseph Campbell

This image is one of my favorite photos of a tree. I call it our "Passaconaway Birch". It's one of the greeting cards we offer. Today it is very popular. It's one of the cards that will be carried in a Newburyport store starting in the next couple of weeks and tonight another order came in from a woman in Vermont asking for a box of 10 cards all of this image.

Pemi River Today

Serenity Rock

This has been the best writing week of my life. As I wrote to a friend, I finally feel like a writer. You haven’t read any of it on-line because I’ve been concentrating on my book proposal but hopefully you will all be able to read it soon enough, you’ll just have to pay for it. However, this morning my writing was ruined when I received a troubling and angry email and as much as I tried I couldn’t get back to it. So instead Atticus and I took a walk out behind the Pemi Cabins.

We crossed the Pemigewasset River by way of the old metal grate bridge that used to lead to Camper’s World. My father used to take us there in the 70s. It was one of his favorite campgrounds. We’d set up the tent trailer in one of the sites abutting the river and then the four youngest Ryan boys would play in the river, rock-hopping and rock skipping and wading and dunking ourselves. Meanwhile my father would sit on the picnic table looking up at Indian Head and down upon the stream and write on his yellow pad of paper.

I still find it ironic that I now do my writing across the river from where he did some of his.

Camper’s World is no longer recognizable. It’s tangled with overgrown weeds and the existing dirt roads are rutted and in various stages of disrepair. I’m told the campground was sold to a developer several years ago but the developer went belly up. It has since been sold to the Clark family, from Clark’s Trading Post (they of the trained bears). Rumor has it that they hope to extend their railroad ride by a few miles, and if all goes well it will end up behind us up there on the hill. However, nothing has happened up there in years.

Today the main road up the hill was a combination of rotting snow and ice, soft mud, small rivulets of snowmelt, and some terra firma. It climbs steadily after crossing the Pemigewasset for a few minutes and then by turning around to look back where we came from there is a nice view of Indian Head (Mt. Pemigewasset) and part of the Kinsman Ridge behind that.

In my first walk up back a few years ago I came upon “Serenity Rock”. Not sure who carved this out but engraved in the rock is the beginning of the prayer the Theologist Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in the early 1930s for a sermon he gave. Since then Alcoholics Anonymous has adopted the opening. I’m sure you know it well:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Through the years the original words have been slightly corrupted but that is Niebuhr’s original opening and a close version of it is carved into a boulder at the top of the hill behind where I live. Not many know of its existence other than those who have stumbled upon it. Today, under a very warm sun, the thermometer read a 100 degrees in the direct sun when we returned from our walk, Atticus decided to brush up on his Niebuhr by checking out the Serenity Rock.

It felt like mid summer up there away from the shade. Just past the rock I was thrilled by the jutting summit of Mt. Liberty, a 4,000-footer, peering over the trees at us. Small streams were running down the hill and into little gullies, eventually making their way down to the Pemigewasset. Throughout our walk Atticus stopped at these streams and drank heartily. I know it’s spring again because he refuses to drink from a stream in winter, even if we are on a 24 mile hike. But come spring, summer and fall he drinks early and often.

When we returned to my apartment I tried to write again but couldn’t concentrate so he and I drove down to the Flume again and I walked monk-like while reading as we did. Eventually we stopped at a picnic table and I read while watched the newly arriving birds fluttering here and there. I was in shorts, t-shirt and Keen sandals.

How strange it is up here this week. The air screams July, the snow on the ground says it’s still April. Along the dirt road behind the cabins all the exposed snow has been melted away. But in the shade it’s holding on. At higher elevations there’s still several feet of it (six to eight feet at last report). This afternoon I saw a couple of tourists unloading their bikes at the Flume parking lot so they could ride on the bike path. They made it about 10 feet up the slushy and icy trail before giving up. Not really sure what made them think they could go any farther than that but try they did.

Tomorrow is supposed to be another warm day. Atticus and I will head off to Tuckerman’s Ravine to watch the skiers. I’ve never done this and I’m told it is a circus worth buying ringside seats for. We’ll go with our friends Ken & Ann Stampfer. Ken is a highly-respected ophthalmologist who works out of Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge. (My late friend Doug Cray used to see him and was thrilled I had become friends with Ken in my visits up here.)

It helps to have a friend who is good with eyes, even dog’s eyes. Last year Ken was a great help in understanding the cataracts, the surgery and the recovery Atticus went through. He has since been there whenever I panic anew about one of his eyes. The last couple of days Atticus has had some discharge coming out of one of them. Nothing major but it was still a relief to have Ken look at his eye this afternoon and tell me just that.

As you can tell by now, April has not been our hiking month. Hopefully we will be out on the trails a bit more often as the snow melts. I do find myself in wistful longing for hikes on dry, bare ground, wearing a t-shirt and shorts and low-cut hiking shoes. I’m starting to put together my fair-weather hiking wish list. Along with hiking the remaining 4,000-footers on our list I have several other hikes that are starting to bubble up from within. Come one summer! Or at least spring without all this snow.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

For Those Of You In The Newburyport Area... looks as though in the following weeks you will be able to purchase our greeting cards in a Newburyport store. Today, the store contacted me about carrying them. I've sent them the complete collection of cards to choose from and they will be ordering some to carry. Once the deal is done you will be reading about the store here and will then be able to pick up our cards in your town. And remember, 10% of the profit from each card sold goes to Angell Animal Medical Center. Some of the cards have Atticus in them, others don't. And for those of you who still want to order them on-line, you can do that too. Just look to the right border for how to order them.

Monday, April 14, 2008

We Make Do . . .

We make do on these days when the snow on the trails is too soft and Atticus sinks in. We make do when this little dog still wants to climb something. We make do by finding a mountain to climb...even if it is in a parking lot.


You must not blame me if I do talk to the clouds.
~ Henry David Thoreau

I find myself watching clouds up here.

Perhaps it is because there sky seems bigger up here; maybe because there are less distractions, less things going on down on my level like there used to be while living in Newburyport. Or maybe it is because I am freed up from the life I used to know, the hurrying from here to there, the gathering of information and gossip like a squirrel with nuts.

Up here my eyes are drawn skyward. Maybe I’m just following the reach of the mountains, looking towards where they are pointing. And then again maybe it is because the sky is more dramatic here, the clouds especially so. Maybe I’m just seeing with new eyes.

When I get up in the morning and make my way to the bathroom, the window there looks north towards Franconia Notch. On the left is Cannon Mountain, on the right is Franconia Ridge. Many a day I’ll find the clouds hung up on these peaks, like clothing getting snagged on a sharp edge of furniture, and they refuse to move. Many a gray cloud stays around longer.

Weather in Franconia Notch is its own phenomena. You can drive through there, be caught in a blizzard, make it just a quarter of a mile to the other side and there are blue skies and calm winds to the north.

Weather descends upon the Notch and lingers there. It can hang like depression on a dark day. When the skies are ominous they are very ominous, as if a warning to not go that way. On days like the one we had yesterday, the darker clouds dropped low and hung flat, making a straight line across all the mountains as if someone had poured them that way and they were determined to block out the tops of each of the peaks equally.

Today, as we do a lot as of late, we took a walk along the six-fingered parking lot that makes up the Flume Visitor Center. Fresh snow had fallen higher up and the view towards Cannon and Lafayette on the far end of the Notch was dreary and heavy. But where we were, under the watchful pinnacles of Liberty and Flume and little Pemigewasset, the sky was blue with puffs of wonderful white clouds slowly sailing by on a blue sea. If the ground were soft and dry I would have lay down and watched the clouds come and go.

I have no idea why I am as enamored by the clouds as much as I am but it is something that grows within me. Give me a cloudless day or day with wonderfully white clouds sailing by and I’ll take the latter. This is especially true when I am on a mountain with a camera. I’ve grown fond of these kinds of clouds in my photos, waiting at times for a cloud to come into the frame before taking the shot.

A week from today I will be 47 years old, nearing the half-century mark, and while much of my life is flawed and I am scarred with the years of living, I find great satisfaction in knowing the something as simple as a white cloud in the blue sky overhead is enough to make me smile and put me in touch with something greater than myself.

The Importance Of Preservation

My Newburyport journal, The Undertoad, was controversial to say the least. Any paper that calls out local leaders and at times their questionable motives in a provincial community where nearly everyone knows each other is bound to be controversial.

What the paper ended up as was different from what it started out to be. I started The Undertoad because I didn’t like the way the mayor at that time was being treated and thought a new voice was needed in the community. That mayor was targeted by a segment of the community because she was an outsider, a woman and a lesbian. It had nothing to do with the work she did. Back then I didn’t waste any time jumping into the fire pit of local politics. To hell with the frying pan. But even then I had no idea how it would take off and what would become of it. I figured I'd print three or four issues and that would be it. I'd prove my point and move on.

My journal became a must-read publication because I named names and expected more out of those who chose to lead us. The ‘Toad reached its zenith when I ended up going head-to-head on a bi-weekly basis with a police department that was considered to be out of control and was headed up not by a questionable marshal (same as a chief in other communities) but an even more questionable and controversial detective who ran the department for decades.

I was advised not to do this by several members of the department themselves, and not all were were doing this in a friendly manner. At one point during this ‘war’ the Boston Globe wrote an article about the police stealing my trash so they could go through it. I had no idea what they were looking for; perhaps some evidence of drugs or child pornography or anything else they could find on me; perhaps even a list of informants. At the time I weighed close to 300 lbs and the only thing they found were Twinkie wrappers. I was fat, but I was also pretty boring.

Due to our reporting on the department the City commissioned an outside consultant to come in and look at the police, paying $32,000 for the report. The report, done by Earl Sweeney & Associates, backed up what had been reported in The Undertoad and went even further by saying that members of the department had approached stores urging them not to sell my paper and businesses not to advertise in it.

As is the case in all wars, there were casualties on both sides of the fence but I’m happy to tell you that I outlasted many of the bad guys and in the end the department turned out a lot better than what it had been. Now when I return to the city, most of the officers greet me warmly, but there was a time when I feared for my safety. There were all kinds of threats, including anonymous death threats to both me and my dogs. A girl friend was threatened more than once, not her life, but nevertheless it was unnerving for her.

At one point members of the police department, all but two or three of the 35 or so members, showed up at a city council meeting in full uniform, wearing guns, in an attempted show of intimidation to the council wanting backing from the elected officials and wanting them to decry my journal. It didn’t happen. Their “show of force” backfired and the department made themselves look even worse, revealing themselves as bullies. This was highlighted by a cartoon in the local paper of record, the Daily News, my competition and a publication that at the time refused to acknowledge by existence, running a cartoon that depicted The Undertoad in a good light. It was drawn by the locally-influential and talented Gary Robinson. (The original was given to me framed and matted by my friend Carol Buckley on my 40th birthday and is one of the few reminders of The Undertoad I have in my apartment up in Lincoln, New Hampshire.)

The political newcomers (progressives) and townies (good old boys)---(the terms no longer apply)---made for good reading, as did much of the cronyism and other controversies that were reported on. The Undertoad covered the community so closely it could be argued that it was the reason that during it’s 11 years in business not one mayor was re-elected to a second consecutive two-year term.

But for all that reporting that was colorful and controversial what I am most proud of is that this little paper thrived and created change. There was a weekly and a daily and yet my journal was the only publication at the time to get behind citizens who were trying to save historic High Street, support the Community Preservation Act, stop an access road that would have destroyed wetlands and open meadows and forests, and fight for the preservation of open space. The Undertoad was the only publication that questioned various boards in the business community such as the banks and the local hospital as to why they didn’t have more women members. (In all fairness, the Current eventually caught up to speed on environmental issues so they deserve some credit but they were late to the dance.) Those things, and shedding light on the good members of city boards and on the city payroll who were out to do positive things for the community went a long way towards shaping the city during those 11 years.

The merits of The Undertoad is debatable. If I agreed with what you did, I was a good guy; if I didn’t, or if I reported something unsavory about someone you liked, were neighbors with or were related to then I was a bad guy. To this day I’m often considered either a saint or a monster, depending on those you talk to.

What the critics didn’t understand (even though they read the paper, while not admitting to it) was that The Undertoad worked because it shed light on the dark places and got more people informed. You could call me a reformer or a muckraker, the choice is yours. Either way an agitator gets the dirt out and cleans things up. Through 11 years The 'Toad got people talkinig about Newburyport and that is a good thing. People are smarter than they appear (except when voting for a president), get them talking and you just never know what will come of it but it is usually something good.

My true love was not the controversy, I just refused to run from a fight, or in the case of The Undertoad, many fights, but was in nature and the protection of it. My favorite place in Newburyport was and is a small forest glade where Atticus and I went and sat. Most people don’t even know of it but come spring it erupts in more than 60 lady slippers. I would sit at the base of the tree and read and often just think, letting the controversy of the downtown and politics evaporate from my mind.

And that’s why I’m up here now in the mountains. I wanted a place where nature takes center stage. Long ago people gathered together up here to protect what the timber barons had not protected, what the timber barons had raped and pillaged. And now this is a pretty special place. I was enchanted upon my first return visit here in September of 2004, even more so when I came to the summit of Mt. Garfield with Atticus and three of my brothers and saw mountain after mountain running off into the distance.

I often argued against developers in Newburyport and considered them the biggest threat to the community which had beautiful open areas and historic neighborhoods. In my last year of publishing the journal I even argued against one developer by using the White Mountains and the move to protect them as an example of what can be done when a beautiful place is protected.
I don’t think about my old journal as much anymore, rarely talk politics with anyone, but I do continue to think about the importance of the land and open space no matter where it is, whether it be a meadow or woods in a small city or up here in the mountains.

Today I was reading Thoreau’s “Maine Woods” and came upon this:
The kings of England formerly had their forests ’to hold the king’s game,’ for sport or food, sometimes destroying villages to create or extend them; and I think that they were impelled by a true instinct. Why should not we, who have renounced the king’s authority, have your national preserves, where no villages need be destroyed, in which the bear and the panther, and some even of the hunter race, may still exist, and not be ‘civilized off the face of the earth,’---our forests, not to hold the king’s game merely, but to hold and preserve the king himself also, the lord of creation,---not for idle sport or food, but for inspiration and our own true re-creation? or shall we, like villains, grub them all up, poaching on our own national domains?