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, May 21, 2014

A Thousand Shades of Green

The colors of autumn are often easier to grasp for me than those of this fleeting and rapidly shifting stage of spring.

Autumn delivers red, orange, yellow, and brown in a stunning display.  But in a White Mountain spring it’s all green, but there seem to be a thousand shades of green as new life pulses through the trees and shrubs. Even when it comes to the leaves on similar trees, I find there is a difference at this time of year.  Not every birch tree is at the same stage of development. Some are slower in delivering their leaves to the forest and are just beginning to bud, while others are further along and their little flags of mint green are larger.  I’ve noticed this especially with the beech leaves. Many are already full.  Not in color, but in size.  Others, meanwhile, are just barely curling out of their shells and tentatively reaching out to their new world. 

In the shady and sun dappled forest, it’s not as easy to see.  But once higher up with views out to other mountains or down into the valleys, the variation of greens is dizzying.  They are impossible to define. 

In looking back at the White Mountain artists of the 1800s, I realize they never captured this phenomenon.  They mostly worked from down below and looked up at the mountains, and their paintings seemed to capture full summer, or a bit of fall, some of winter.  But not these thousand shades of green.

Yesterday, when Atticus and I were on the ledges looking out, I thought of the dizzying array of greens and how impossible it is to describe.  I would imagine they would have been just as impossible to capture on a canvas. 

In another two or three weeks, this uniqueness will be camouflaged by a uniform lush, verdant sea.  All will be a deep green and we’ll have to wait until late September and the rolling out of the autumn rainbow across the ripples of mountains to see the trees march to their own drummers again.

For now though, we take it all in.  The shades, the shapes, the sizes, the wild impossible to capture population of greens.  We inhale with eyes wide and are left in wonder. 

It’s not unlike looking up at the stars each night.  If you get to a place where you can see the sky perfectly, where mankind hasn’t diminished their view with too much light, you lay on your back and there is a tapestry of infinity above. It boggles the mind and forces us to surrender to nature. 

I was thinking about this yesterday and last night read again Whitman’s poem, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”.

When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide
and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with
much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander' d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

I find comfort in knowing not everything can be captured or defined.  Not really.  It’s often the essence of the big picture which delivers us to wonder and not the definition found in the certainty of the microscopic view. 

Oh, and if you are looking for Atticus, he is indeed in the photograph, just not as central to its theme as he usually is.  Sometimes, it’s nice to just blend in and become part of the scenery.

A White Mountain Spring.


Carrie said...

Thank you for starting out my day in wonder! When you write about nature I feel like Henry David Thoreau has come back.

Anonymous said...

What beauty! Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Loved your book. Love your blog. That is beautiful photograph.

Deb Pultorak said...

An absolutely perfect way to start the day... Thanks so much! Love to you and Atticus from Iowa!

Carter W Rae said...

Very nice post here Tom we become part of your wonderful journey, sights and sounds and all of the restoring sights and smells that make this memorable and beautiful .. All the best in your beautiful journey thank you for your commitment to beauty and letting us share .. Carter & Stacy

Unknown said...

Beautiful description and photo. What a wonderful way to start the day. How lucky you, Atticus and Will are!

jspillane said...

I read in the autobiography of Grandma Moses that she had counted 16 shades of green in the forest. This amazed me at the time but then I started to pay closer attention and discovered there were many more...

Unknown said...

Your photos and way with words are so descriptive, the vision you paint in my head fills me with a must be breath-taking to actually behold! Hugs to you my friend and Atticus & Will as always!!!

Anonymous said...

I have often thought of this time of year as Spring foliage season for the pastel greens and occasional spots of colors of flowers. But this is the first time I've seen some one write about it, let someone with your skill. Thanks for another wonderful read Tom.


Unknown said...

What a grand image you describe...a New Hampshire Spring...and one can tell by looking at Atticus that he truly loves being in the mountains with you. Perhaps our paths will cross one fine day!

Betty and Lenny said...

Hi Tom,

We just returned from the beautiful Tennessee mountains and I'm catching up on FB posts. I missed so much while away, but, it felt good to be out of touch.

We thought and talked about you, Atticus, and Will often as we were surrounded by all the beauty.

After reading your page I wanted you to know we are sending extra of everything to our three special friends, that is the best we can do from a distance. We will continue to send positive and healing thoughts your way.

Feel the hugs from here to there. Peace.

Betty and Lenny

Cindy K said...

Tom and Arricus,,,Thinking of you on your walk this morning.....a beautiful sunny one...sharing with great friends.
Knowing you believe in a higher being thoughts went to you on your we sang the second verse of 'How Great Thou Art'!
'When through the woods and forest glades I wander....
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees...
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze.
Then sings my soul, my savior God to great thou art, how great thou art! And so on.....
My thoughts went right to you on your walk...knowing the love you and Atticus share of all these in nature....and knowing that you found peace and serenity today, that will carry you through tonight and prayers are yours....thousands sending love and support for you both!
Cindy K.

Anonymous said...

Everything is exactly as you describe. All the colours, the sunlight on the leaves, i see this miracle every year, and it makes me so happy

Candice said...

So, there is something to cold therapy! I love how you're so intuned to your dogs; you truly do have family.