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.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Good Morning from the White Mountains

Good morning from the White Mountains.
Oh, you'd love it here this morning.  The air is delicious.  It is mountain cool and mountain fresh.  We have been up since just before five when only a glimmer of the day to come hung expectantly in the air.  Already we've been up Black Cap and we are now home. 
Atticus did well.  He's not seven years old any longer, but he is responding nicely to the cool air.  No breathing issues.  At least not like he's had.  He led most of the way and I'm grateful for that.  We took the easier of the two routes, the same way we went when we climbed it twenty-eight days after my emergency gall bladder surgery.  The same path we took when we reached the top less than a month after Atticus's toe was amputated. 
On the way up, we stopped at one of the ledges.  It's a private place, for the most part.  I'm not sure it's meant to be, but I think people either don't know about it or they pass it by in their hurry to get to the top.  But as we're wont to do on our hikes, we linger there.  It's like dropping in on an old friend the way to someplace else.  It's comfortable and easy.  It's familiar. 
Because it's the first view of the day, this wild little patch of rock and shrub with a window to the west is a welcoming place of us. I've never seen anyone there, which is another reason I favor it.  It's always a good thing when you get a mountain to yourself, or at least a piece of one. 
I should amend that by saying I've never seen any other people there.  
This morning, for the second time ever, we encountered a bear on those ledges.  He had the same idea we did.  We all came for the blueberries. 
As dawn was breaking and soft light filtered over the Valley and a peach glow of warmth washed over the three Moats and Chocorua, Atticus and I crouched on one side of a tangled blueberry patch, and while I plucked wild berries from their bushes, offering one to Atticus, then the next to myself, a bear lumbered slowly on his own side.  He foraged with ease.  Every now and again he'd raise his big head up into the air and point his brown snout at us.  But all he was doing was what we were all doing, keeping an eye on the others, for obvious enough reasons. 
I'm happy to report that an understanding was reached.  There was enough space between us, we weren't bothered by the company (for my part, I was overjoyed by it), and, perhaps most importantly on the bear's part, there were more than enough blueberries so he didn't have to go without. 
Black Cap is not a tough mountain to climb.  I used to consider it only a walk for us on mornings when we weren't able to hike.  But life changes.  Years add to years.  We age.  Our bodies change.  We adapt.  This summer it fits into a rotation of smaller peaks for us to climb where we are rewarded with grand views.  Seeing a bear is always a plus, but unfortunately it rarely happens on a hike.  So we like our places that are special for their own reasons.   
Atticus does well enough with these easier mountains.  He needs more water than in the past, and we spend more time walking side-by-side (when the trail allows for it), but he's happy to be out and about and getting up to a place where he can cast his eyes out over great distances, as a fly fisherman casts his line over the water. 
Winding around the "back," less popular side, we walked through the brush and listened to the glorious song of birds and looked up at the sky, still pale compared to the blue it is now.  I stopped, at a place where we always stop, and looked back to see the mountains peering over the growth at us.  It's a nice preview of what we'll soon see, but it also offers a different view, one where the plants are highlighted by the mountains, and the mountains are highlighted by the plants.  It's a relationship that seems to work for both of them, whether they know it or not.  At least to my eyes it does.
Nearing the summit, Atticus trotted forth and leaped onto the highest rock and sat.  I came to sit down behind him to let him enjoy the view toward the higher peaks of our mountains.
Agiocochook had his head in the clouds, as is often the case.  But the rest of the mountains were shining brightly, much like the red brick shops used to in the early mornings when we lived in downtown Newburyport before people stirred much and their doors opened for business.  That was when I appreciated Newburyport the most and it’s often when I appreciate the mountains most.  It's like waking up to a lover before her hair is done, before makeup goes on.  There's an intimacy to it.  A privacy that means something.  You get a view that not all others get.  You see what's real and not colored by the bright light of the prime of the day.  
I prefer Agiocochook's Abenaki name as the "home of the great spirit" to Mount Washington.  It seems more respectful to me; less self-congratulatory.  It’s a cultural thing and reveals much of how two different people came to see Nature.  The Abenaki name holds a reverence to it, while Mount Washington reflects our need to control nature, and infers we have bested it, that we own it.  Even when we don't.
Agiocochook says, "This is where God lives."  Washington says, "You belong to us."
We have our favorite viewing places on the sprawling expanse of the Black Cap's summit.  There is not a bad seat in the house, especially when the only others there to enjoy it are the birds and busy chipmunks and red squirrels.  They forage was the bear was foraging earlier.  It’s breakfast time. 
We stopped at each of viewpoints.  I brought food for both of us and we nibbled without looking at it.  Instead, our eyes were held captive by what we love - by what we've always loved. 
Gosh, I think we've both missed being on the mountains.  I understand we moved here to live in the mountains, and we've enjoyed that, but on these days when we still get up to a good view, when our bodies earn it as lungs, heart, bones, joints, and muscle all work together, it means more. 
There may come a day when Atticus gets too old to do even this level of mountain and I place him in a backpack to carry him up the trail, but I understand what this means to him.  He enjoys the journey.  It’s the mass itself before the sacrament of communion.
We both enjoy the view.  We've driven to some vistas and it's not the same to him.  When we climb by foot and paw, he takes longer with the views.  They hold his attention more.  I don't pretend to know everything he's thinking, but if I had to take a stab at it, I'd say it has something to do with being one with the mountain.  And being one with the surrounding mountains.  He’s always been different when he’s up high.  It seems to be the realm he belongs to. 
Atticus changed when we started hiking ten years ago.  He became more – more of what he was meant to be, I guess.  This was his place to feel at home, as compared to the provincial city we lived in when I had to lead the way.  In the mountains he was more natural, more at ease.  He’d come home. 
Sitting here at the kitchen table now, I look over at the couch and he's happily sleeping.  I'm grateful for the first few hours of this day but more joyful for him. 
Now, no matter what happens, the day is already something special. 


Lynne said...

Thank-you for sharing. You give so much to others with your beautiful and captivating writings!

Unknown said...

How beautifully written! I felt I was on the hike with you. I too love to stop along the way and take in the views and much prefer a less crowded hike. I once hiked up to Middle Sister while everyone else headed to Chocorua. I had the mountain to myself for a bit and I could see the crowd on Chocorua. Enjoy your quiet peaceful hikes. I look forward to hearing about more of them. Patty

Barbie Perkins-Cooper said...

How delicious it is to awaken, to read about the journeys you and Atticus share together. There is such an intimacy described. Respect. Love.

Thanks so much for carrying us along the precious journeys.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful way for you and Atticus to start your day. Thanks for sharing your hike. Makes my morning brighter!

colleen said...

Sounds like a beautiful dream for the rest of us, one that you get the chance to live any time you want. have a wonderful day, weekend.

Marilyn Clise said...

The sun is shining on my beautiful garden, and I agree each day and each moment is special. Thanks for making it better!

Carter W Rae said...

SO NICE to see Atti is doing well !!! Some behind the ears scratches for him !! from us Enjoying your day with you . from us Keep posting this is very restorative for us also .. :-)

Unknown said...

After reading this beautiful post, my day is already something special. Thank you.

Cissy said...

Thank you for sharing your morning with us. I felt I as there.

I didn't know Atticus lost a toe, but apparently it doesn't affect his walk. What a beautiful thing that is.

I thank you ll with all my heart. Bless you.

Allison said...

Thank you for the vicarious experience! I, too, am filled with gratitude when I'm out on a trail.
I love hearing of your adventures with Atticus and Will.

Betty said...

Hi Tom,
"Oh what a beautiful morning …" thank you for sharing it with us and allowing us to follow Atticus. The air is sweet and the sun is shining here, too. I just spent one hour and eighteen minutes on a live chat with Dr. Kress from Project Puffin. I feel so invigorated and grateful. It is wonderful to learn new things and share with others. There was a seven year old asking questions and one of hers was answered live. She was so over the moon and excited, you could feel it through the computer screen, when the chat ended she was going to call her grandma to tell her all she had learned this morning. Made my heart sing and eyes leak. I must admit he answered two of mine and I was just as excited. Great way to begin a day and oh what a beautiful day it is. Enjoy the rest of yours and the weekend ahead.

Peace dear friends.

As always, hugs from here to there.

george gretser said...

Thank you for continuing to share your journey for all of us who enjoy traveling it with you and Atticus (and Will)

Unknown said...

How lovely, I to felt as though I was walking with you, there is something about the early morning, it always feels to me fresh and unspoiled, so glad Atticus is out hiking again, sometimes the best views are from the smaller peaks, how he loves his mountains.

Anonymous said...

Thanks once again for sharing. Everything comes to life and I feel like I am making the trip too!

Unknown said...

Hi Tom,
As fate would have it my family encountered you on the side of the road this morning as you were getting in your car.
I was like "there he is Tom Ryan and Atticus"
I was in the blue SUV from NY and my wife called out to you she reads your blog.
I wanted to jump out of the car,
go to you and shake your hand, ask for pix....
I know that's not your style.
Anyway, a perfect end to our family vacation.
Back on Long Island now.
All the best to you, Atticus and Will.
Combs Family.

Linda P said...

Another wonderful message. Thank you for allowing us to share in your unwrapping of your daily gift as you do early in the morning. Nature has so much to offer and it is wonderful to see it with you and Atticus, and sometimes Will, although I don't know that I'd be so relaxed sharing blueberries with the bear! You are so fortunate - please keep sharing.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful essay. Thanks Tom.


Rohana said...

I love reading about you, Atticus, and the mountains. I live in west central Florida and the only "mountain" here is an arching bridge over the bay. So, when you write about your life with Atticus and Will, just for a few moments I am with you in the mountains, in wild nature, on a hike through forests and amazing vistas. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Tom,I want to take this opportunity to sincerely thank you for "Following Atticus". It's awakened in me memories of my youth when my father would take me along for a day of hiking up in the White mountains with his "hiking buddies" a few times each summer from the mid 1970's to mid 1980's. Those special days from those long ago summers were then and are still, some of the best days of my life. I believe that dogs have a soul unique unto themselves and that from time to time God intervenes and ensures that the two, man and dog, destined to be together find each other. God bless you and Atticus for the wonderful work you both do and I wish you both many, many more years of health and happiness together. Tony P. Salem NH