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.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Another Death in the Mountains

Another death on the hiking trails in Franconia Notch. This one took place this weekend, making it the third in half a year.

First there were the two hikers who climbed up on the Falling Waters Trail while the weather forecast was screaming for snow and high winds. One is still alive; the other was frozen as solid as a board and dead when the search and rescue people got to their bodies on Little Haystack, not too far from the relative safety of the trees.

Then came the woman who was hiking up Falling Waters with three members of her family when a large rock broke loose, came crashing down, and she died after being hit by it.

This weekend a body was retrieved, after a three-day search and rescue effort, after a Massachusetts man decided to come north to take his own life. His car was parked at the Liberty Spring trail head parking lot. It is the trail preceding the Falling Waters Trail from the south. I’m not sure how far up the trail he was when the dog sniffed out his body. All the deaths have occurred within minutes from where Atticus and I live.

These mountains are beautiful but harsh. At least this time they didn’t take a life, they just gave the man a place to end his own.

My thoughts are with his family and with those rescue workers who found his corpse.

An article about this man’s death can be
found here in the Union Leader.

"They've been here for three whole days," said Ted Merri- man. "Fish and Game was here leading these volunteers all night to find my brother. How do you say thanks for that?" A search for Dan Merriman began late Friday, after the despondent man sent an e-mail to his family, telling them that he was heading to the White Mountains, where he had often hiked, and that he would end his life.

Another article, about people killing themselves in national parks can be found here. It ran in the New York Times this weekend.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Nancy's Ghost

Yesterday, we hiked the Nancy Pond Trail to Nancy’s Cascade and then eventually to Nancy Pond. The name of the trail, cascade and pond comes from the sad legend of Nancy Barton. Poor Nancy Barton was done in by a lover and found frozen to death not far from where the trail leads the road.

Her ghost reportedly haunts the Notchland Inn just down the road, and some say it haunts the woods around the surrounding area.

Here’s one version of the legend, as recorded in The History of Coos County, New Hamphsire by Georgia Drew Merrill.
The first white woman of the town was Nancy, whose story has been told in every book published concerning the White Mountains. Her full name is said by some to be Nancy Livermore; but the weight of authority gives it as Nancy Barton. She came here as cook for Col. Whipple, and kept a boarding-house for the men who were clearing land for him. She was a hard-working woman, and by her toil in this wild country, had accumulated some money, which in the fall of 1788, she entrusted to an employee of Col. Whipple, with the intention of going with him to Portsmouth with the Colonel's next party, andsettling down there to the enjoyment of married life. This did not meet the Colonel's wishes, for he did not desire to lose his competent cook, and he arranged with her treacherous lover to start during her temporary absence at Lancaster. She learned this, by some means, the day of their departure, at once walked to Jefferson, tied up a small bundle of clothing and set out to overtake them at their first stopping place, the "Notch" thirty miles distant through an unbroken wilderness. She travelled all night through the freshlyfallen snow, reached the camp soon after they had left, tried in vain to re-kindle the fire, and then hastened on after them through the "Notch" and wild valley of the Saco. For several hours she continued her course, fording and re-fording the icy river. Exhausted nature at last gave way, and she was found, frozen to death, a few hours afterwards, by a party who came after her from Col. Whipple's farm. Nancy's bridge and Nancy's rock in Bartlett both claim the melancholy honor of being the place where she expired.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I came upon this today on the Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. I’ve long been charmed by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This tells more about the author of The Little Prince, and other best selling books.

It's the birthday of the aviator and author of The Little Prince (1943), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, born in Lyon, France (1900). He came from an old aristocratic family that had fallen on hard times. Saint-Exupéry was a poor student, but when he was 12, he took a ride in an airplane and fell in love. When he was 21, he was called up for military service in Morocco, where he received his pilot's license.

After his military experience, he signed up to be an airmail carrier. At the time, it was a death-defying job to take, flying mail from France to Africa in frail planes with open cockpits. He flew without instruments except for a compass and an altimeter, navigating by landmarks and the stars. In 1929, the airmail business sent him to South America as well. He turned his experiences as an aviator into two novels: Southern Mail (1929) and Night Flight (1932), both of which were best sellers.

He flew some missions for France at the start of World War II, but when France fell to the Germans, he sailed for the United States and arrived in New York City on the last day of 1940. He planned to stay for four weeks, but he wound up living in New York for two years. It was one of the hardest periods of his life. He'd survived numerous airplane crashes in the previous 20 years, and those crashes had taken a toll on his health. He spoke little English, and he deeply missed his home country and the family and friends he'd left behind. And so, to cheer himself up in his period of exile, he began to write a children's book that became The Little Prince.

The Little Prince is narrated by a pilot who has crashed in the desert, where he meets a strange little boy who claims to have come from an asteroid where he took care of a single rose. The little boy asks the pilot to draw him a sheep, and the two begin a series of conversations, mainly about why it is that grownups are so difficult to get along with.

When The Little Prince came out in 1943, it didn't sell many copies. The following year, Saint-Exupéry was presumed dead when his plane disappeared while he was flying a reconnaissance mission for the Allies, divers didn't find the wreckage until 2000. After Saint-Exupéry's disappearance in 1944, sales of The Little Prince skyrocketed. Today, it still sells more than 100,000 copies a year.

The Photographer

One of the various joys that attend hiking with Ken and Ann Stampfer is watching Ken with his camera and then seeing how he captures a hike when he sends his photos along. He’s a gifted photographer; how fitting for a well-respected Boston-area ophthalmologist to be good with an art that pertains to vision. I’m sure I look as forward to his photos as he looks forward to what I have to write about our journeys into the mountains. Two mediums, one story told in different ways.

Yesterday, the original plan was to hike Galehead and the Twins (or some portion of the three) but low-lying clouds robbed us of what would be some of the better views of the Whites. Instead, Ann relied on her encyclopedic knowledge of beautiful places up here to suggest the day called for a journey up to Nancy Cascades and Nancy Pond. Ken and Ann have been quietly hiking the White Mountains for years, passing below the radar screen, and I have benefited from following them around over the past few months of Saturdays.

In my eyes, the Stampfer's represent what hiking was meant to be before people like me were seduced by lists and the mania of keeping up with one another. They are in the mountains for the sake of the experience itself. Yes, Ken takes beautiful photos of their mountain adventures, but he does that simply because that’s what a photographer does, and not for bragging rights. Our Saturday sojourns have been like detox for this hiker bred on hiking by way of lists in a somewhat competitive exercise. I woke up one day and realized I didn’t enjoy doing lists just because other people did them. Instead I wanted to maximize my internal satisfaction by what brings joy to me up here. Atticus and I have been lucky to join Ken and Ann and relax into what I perceive as the best way to appreciate something one loves.

Yesterday’s misty walk through the woods gave focus to the forest itself. Nancy Cascade was beautiful and powerful and Nancy Pond, although I’m told it is beautiful was all but invisible in the fog. Instead we were rewarded by the lush green look of a rainforest and endless colonies of the most spectacular spider webs, their fibers lined with moisture and suddenly visible to the eye. At times there we so many distinctive bell-shaped webs they reminded me of ornaments on a Christmas tree. My camera and my eye did not do them justice. However, this morning Ken sent over a photo of one of the “normal” webs we encountered.

He made the shot work to his advantage by focusing on the water drop in the center of the web. It’s both delicate and beautiful and if we didn’t associate webs with spiders, it would be a considered art fit for any home. And it is captured for all time by a photographer’s eye.

[A little aside for you Newburyport readers who remember Doug Cray: Ken was Doug’s doctor and when Doug discovered I had a relationship with Ken he was pleased beyond words. With six months left in Doug’s life, his son Kevin and I (and Atticus) took him to see Ken at Mt. Auburn Medical Center for one last check-up. If you know Doug at all, you can imagine how memorable the trip was, especially just heading in and out of the ‘big city’.]

(The top photo is by me, taken of Ken. The bottom is Ken’s, as described above.)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Rest in Peace Uga VI

This from Sports Illustrated's website today:
ATHENS, Ga. -- Uga VI, the beloved University of Georgia mascot, has died from congestive heart failure at his home in Savannah.

The bulldog's owner, Frank Seiler, said he had the best winning record of any mascot in the school's history. Seiler said he noticed the nine-year-old English Bulldog was breathing heavily Friday night. He passed away soon afterward. Uga will be buried in a vault in the Southwest corner of Sanford Stadium with his predecessors. Private ceremonies are expected early next week.

Uga VI became UGA's mascot in 1999. He was the son of Uga V, the only college mascot to land on the cover of Sports Illustrated. University of Georgia Athletic Director Damon Evans called it "a sad day for the entire Bulldog nation."

A Walk in the Misty Woods to Nancy Pond

Today's original plan was to head to Galehead and North and South Twin but low-flying clouds and the threat of rain changed that plan. Better to save the Twins and their views for a day with blue skies and Maxfield Parrish clouds. Instead it was off to a misty walk in the woods past Nancy Cascade to Nancy Pond. The round trip was over seven miles with more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Not a lot of great photo opportunities along the way but the falls were very dramatic (that's the photographer Ken Stampfer taking a photo of them), a mushroom straight out of Alice and Wonderland and this bare, wet fallen tree Atticus chose for a rest stop. All-in-all a great walk in the wet woods with the good company of Ken and Ann and a nice little workout.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Walk Along the Southern Presidentials: June 21, 2008

I love the almost tropic feel of a summer morning in the mountains. The cool night giving way to a fresh day that slowly warms while the sun follows its arc. When Atticus and I step foot on a trail we are swallowed whole by the green forest and enter a mythic realm. Earthy scents greet us, dew clings to the undergrowth and glimmers like small jewels, mist rises like the mysteries of the ages from the moist ground.

We walk together, he and I, watched by invisible eyes. The forest whispers. It whispers to me to remember. It beckons me to come closer and to remember what I have forgotten. I cannot help but respond to the call of a brook’s lyric murmuring and the birdsong from inspired but unseen messengers. It’s hard not to find myself in those lines from that Federico Garcia Lorca poem:
Give me back the soul I had
Of old, when I was a child
Ripened with legends,
With a feathered cap
And a wooden sword

That’s me, the one with the soul I had when I was a child. And how could it not be with this little dog by my side? He’s a fine guide and immune to the things I count as troubles. He could care less about money stresses, failed and failing relationships, dreams dented and graying. He trundles over moist rock and root happily traveling through my childhood. Through a place I once knew but almost forgot to remember. The Garden I didn’t weed and didn’t water. But where there is purity there is no forgetting. By watching Atticus, by following him and seeing him fit right in with Mother Nature I’m allowed entrance to this place I have always loved; even if I have at times forsaken it.

I’d like to think we all have at least one great love in our lives. (If you haven’t, I pray you will.) Entering the forest for me, any forest, but especially any forest in these mountains, is like remembering the one special love that got away, or falling in love all over again with the one who is still by your side. It’s a dream: delicious, textured, sweet. Life was never so good, so simple and clean, so ripe and fragrant.

I love the forest for all I see in front of me. I love it for all I don’t see but can imagine. To walk through these leafy corridors how does one not understand we are one with it all no matter how hard we may have tried to forget it?

In its simplest form this is what a hike is for me.

It is going to a very special place for the first time all over again. It’s peeling back the layers, peeling back the years, washing way the sins and the regrets. Maybe you were five or seven or nine the first time you entered a forest alone, or with friends; either way you brought with you more than you do as an adult. But listen to the forest, really listen to it and it wraps its arms around you and pulls you gently back. Welcome home.

If that was all a hike entailed it would be enough.

On Saturday that’s what we had in the beginning and in the end. But for us it was even more special in the middle of our journey. We took a leap of faith that the clouds over the Presidentials would rise and take flight and give us a grand day by the time we traveled the three miles from Crawford Notch up to that lovely place where the trees grow short and sparse and the trail to the summit of Mt. Pierce is on the right. By the time we reached that place the clouds started to shift. We could see Mt. Eisenhower in front of us and Monroe, too. Beyond that Washington’s head was still in the clouds but we hoped for more.

In the best of times walks through a forest are like stumbling into C.S. Lewis’ magical wardrobe and pushing through the rows of clothes, at first maybe to hide from something or someone but then moving deeper because an inkling arises that there is something special beyond it all. Stepping out of the trees and onto that ridge is like exiting the back of the wardrobe and entering our own special Narnia. It is a world apart.

There are more dramatic places in these mountains but few offer a more beautiful walk than along the spine of the Southern Presidentials. The stretch from Pierce to Monroe is a special place.

On Pierce we debated whether or not to continue on. Dark clouds came from the west and threatened us but when they let loose their bark was worse than their bite and the rain fell briefly and gently. The decision was made to head to Eisenhower.

Upon leaving Pierce we descended into short scraggly trees until about a third of the way across. We then climbed out of them and up onto the great ledges. We were center stage and in every direction our eyes feasted on marvelous delicacies from the now fully revealed Washington, Clay and Jefferson to the distant waves of mountains, first green then in the distance blue, a vast ocean of peaks below fairy tale clouds puffed and fluffed as if they had floated out of the pages of a children’s book.

Along the way we stopped often. There was much to see and we were in no hurry. Too often we’ve hit this ridge – yes, hit is the right word – from the other direction, first climbing Washington and then continuing in a hurry over Monroe, Little Monroe, Franklin, Eisenhower and then Pierce in a peak-bagging fever. But not on Saturday. We came from the “other way” and enjoyed our trip over the ledges we used to scurry over. Atticus approved, as he always does when offered the chance look around at the views. I think if he could speak, like we do I mean, he would say there is no difference between then and now. With his old eyes and his re-done eyes there is no difference. He still cherishes what he sees, he sits and soaks it all in, taking his time to see it all as if he were Benjamin Champney, Thomas Cole or one of the other White Mountain Artists re-incarnated.

When we reached the top of Mount Eisenhower I picked up Atticus as I always do on the summits, holding him like a ventriloquist holds his sidekick, and we turned in a circle to see it all together. When we faced the bigger peaks glowing in the afternoon sun, under a blue sky and those magnificent white clouds and I heard that sound I love the best. At times like that, in places like that, he breathes deep, slowly exhales and as he does he sighs, his little body relaxing into mine, two souls spanning the distance between our species, moved by these mountains.

There are days and places where words will not do and cannot be stretched upon a canvas to paint a picture. There are days too perfect, too special to be believed or described. There are days where only a sigh will do. Saturday was a day best summed up by a sigh.

Photos can be found here.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Slideshow for Pierce and Eisenhower Is Up

On Saturday we hiked Pierce and Eisenhower. More to come on this trip which marked a return to our fundraising efforts for Angell Animal Medical Center in the days ahead but for now here's the slideshow. Enjoy.

Pierce Was Hiked For Layla

"Pierce...dedicated to Layla. Layla climbed her own mountain of fear, and found JOY at the top. Pierce has been a place I've found much pure JOY...lazily lollygaging for hours with my own two Aussies. I am so grateful for everything Layla taught me about taking things slowly, step by step...just like hiking a mountain. When the goal is reached it doesn't matter if it isn't the most magnificent or glorious 'peak', as long as you feel the JOY of reaching it!" Given by Rosie Homer.

Eisenhower Was Hiked in Memory of Gus

We hiked Mount Eisenhower in memory of Gus. This was made possible when Steve and Stephanie Jaques made a donation to Angell Animal Medical Center in Gus' name through our site. If you want to read more about Gus check out his site. (Steve points out that Stephanie gets all the credit for the site.)

Pierce & Eisenhower: June 21, 2008

On Saturday we hiked Pierce and Eisenhower with Ken and Ann Stampfer, our regular Saturday hiking partners as of late. And as always while Ann charmed us with her wit, Ken gifted us with his photographs. Here's a few Ken sent over this morning. The first is of Atticus and me at Gibbs Falls, down low on the Crawford Path. The second and third are of Pepper, and Pepper's owner John. They are from Rumney. John recognized us from this blog. He was the first of many to say so on this fine day in the Southern Presidentials. Pierce was Pepper's 24th 4,000-footer. (John, if you are checking out the blog, contact me at I will put you in touch with Ken for some photos.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Couple More Photos

These are my photos, from a bad photo day. The sky was cloudy, hazy and uncooperative when it came to taking pictures from the summit of Parker. I only took a few photos. One is a nice angle of the Wildcats (to the left) and Carter Dome (higher and to the right). The other is of Atticus keeping his body on the cool earth during a break.

Two Ken Stampfer Photos From Saturday's Hike Up Mt. Parker

It was warm and muggy and the views were hampered by the haze, the summit experience by the biting bugs, but all-in-all we were treated to another good day by Ken and Ann. The hike was shortly under 8 miles in length and not particularly steep at 2,800 feet of elevation gain, but we were all thirsty. Atticus drank almost all of the water in his Gulpy water bottle, which is unusual for a hike of this distance. It just goes to show you the conditions of the day.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Our Slide Show From North & Middle Sugarloaf

Ahhh… It was a perfect, cloudless, breezy day here. It’s good to have said goodbye to the heat of earlier in the week. The original plan was for a longer hike but this and that got in the way and I put that hike off until tomorrow. Today, we made our first visit to North and Middle Sugarloaf in Twin Mountain and I couldn’t have been more pleased.

We had both peaks to ourselves. Perhaps it was because of our late start. But it wasn’t so late a start that we couldn’t spend as much time on top as we wanted to. It was absolutely beautiful.

We hit the North peak first and I was very impressed. Then we hit the Middle peak and I was even more impressed so we stayed even longer. The breeze was just enough to keep the bugs at bay and allowed us to enjoy our little dinner. Atticus had peanut butter crackers and then split the chunks of watermelon with me.

The song that goes with the slide show says it all. It’s Tim Myers singing “A Beautiful World.”

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hemingway and Frost and the Heat

I don’t know how Hemingway did it, writing all those years in the heat of Key West. His writing habit was to get up and start writing when it was still cool outside. He’d be in his writing room at 5:00 am and work until noon on the days he was writing something.

This heat wave is draining me. It’s tough to do anything. We do not hike, cannot really write much. We mostly sit around trying not to move too much, or go for rides in the car. For the first time since I’ve known Atticus he slept on the floor last night. Usually it’s the couch or the bed, but he obviously finds it cooler on the floor. But the little dog doesn’t have to worry too much as today is supposed to be the last brutal day of heat for a little while anyways.

But still, I don’t know how Hemingway did it, writing in the heat without air conditioning. It’s not yet seven am here in the mountains and already it’s uncomfortable. At least when Robert Frost wrote in Key West it was during the winter months. Key West was Frost’s home for twenty winters. Most people don’t know that. But he had a great little cottage he stayed in down there. It wasn’t as expansive as Hemingway’s place, but then neither was Frost’s Franconia home either. In their own ways their houses said much about the men’s lifestyles.

This morning, after I take Atticus for a walk down at the Flume, I’ll try to relate to those two great Key West writers while literally sweating at the key board. At least Frost and Hemingway had that great Key West breeze. Here, we’ll try to stay cool by taking several trips outside to sit by or in the Pemigewasset River.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Even Without Snow & Ice, Mountain Rescues Continue

We kept Saturday's hike short and cancelled any plans for yesterday due to the heat and humidity. I'm glad we did. It may seem less 'hard core' to some, but to me it's simply common sense. That is backed up in this newspaper article today.

We're Melting

The heat rolled in this weekend and slowed us down – literally. I don’t do well in high heat and high humidity. On Saturday I planned for the weather by choosing a short hike and an early start. The destination was one of my favorites, Hedgehog.

The forest was fragrant, still wet from the rains of the previous days, with both bark and leaves rich in color. But the rain also unleashed a host of mosquitoes who swarmed us from the very beginning. The early start, although warm, was comfortable, but as the sun climbed in the sky and the temperatures rose the forest was like steam room. Visually it was perfect. Physically, it left me gasping for air; sitting on rocks with my head between my knees trying not to pass out; and unable to put together more than a 100 steps at a time.

The Hedgehog loop is an easy hike and less than five miles with very easy to moderate elevation gain. It didn’t matter. I was melting. Even the East Ledges, which typically inspire and renew me, were not the same. The views were not as clear through all the haze. I read somewhere the visibility was only 10 miles.

Atticus did better than I did but once on the ledges he found shade and lay down on the rocks. I soon joined him in that exact same position. We didn’t move for a little while. Before heading to the summit we stopped for some photos on the ledges but while the air quality diminished my ability to breathe well, it also diminished the quality of the photos. I ended up putting the camera away after only a few photos.

We were off the mountain by noon and on our way back to Lincoln where we took shelter in my apartment for the rest of the day. I don’t have a fan or air conditioner and missed the central air we used to have in Newburyport a great deal, but we survived.

On Saturday night we drove down to Concord to get a new bladder for my Camelback water system in my summer backpack. Thanks to reader Torri Z. who sent an Eastern Mountain Sports gift card, the only thing I had to pay for was gas. But even at 4.04/gallon it was worth getting into the car and turning on the air conditioning. It’s always good to visit with the folks at EMS Concord. They welcome Atticus in and treat him well. During the ride home the sun set and I drove with all four windows open as the early evening cool filled the car. It was amazing! I felt as though I were swimming. Buzzing down the highway at 65 mph, we said goodbye to the heat and hello to the fragrances and cool of the evening.

On Sunday we had various invitations to hike. The two most tempting came from Jeff Veino for a hike up Cannon, and from Beth and Charlie, the Maine couple we met in Carter Notch a couple of summers ago and have since followed through their blogs. Charlie was finishing his 48 on Garfield.

I love Garfield and look forward to spending some time with Beth and Charlie on a hike this year, and Jeff is always good company. However, I knew on Saturday we wouldn’t be hiking through that kind of weather again. Not only do I suffer in it, I simply don’t want to put Atticus, whose fur coat is dark and a magnet for the sun, through those kinds of conditions. So I regretfully informed both parties we were out of commission for Sunday.

What we did instead was something my father would have done with us when we were kids. We toured the White Mountains in my car, saying to hell with the cost of gas, and alternated between using the air conditioner and opening the windows. In Twin Mountain we dropped in on John and June, two hiking friends who have just built their house in the mountains. We stayed for a light but pleasant lunch. Then, after saying our goodbyes, we drove down through Crawford Notch and hung out at the site of the Willey Homestead for more than an hour, mostly with Atticus soaking in the shade and me soaking my legs in the lake water. Poor Atticus, this heat gets to him as much, if not more than it does me. He has forsaken his normal positions on either the couch or the bed for the floor, even though it is carpeted. I suppose he finds it cooler in some way. I kept my eye on him yesterday and while I’m watching every penny it was worth being out there in the car and not sitting in misery in the apartment. Because Atti’s tongue spent more time out of his mouth than in it yesterday, even in the air conditioning, we stopped on the way to North Conway and I bought him a soft-serve dish of vanilla ice cream. That seemed to do the trick.

Soon we were on the Kancagamus Highway and stopping quite often to take in the different watering holes. It was the only way I could think of to escape the heat. (Reminder to self, as soon as money frees us, first thing I’m going to buy is an air conditioner. I’m a wreck without one.) We took our time working our way across the Kanc and back home. When we did return to the Pemi Cabins, I brought Atticus out back to the river and dunked him. He hates to swim but by carrying into the deep end a couple of times and letting him swim back to shore, the cool water seemed to make him more comfortable by dropping his core temperature.

It was not the most fruitful of hiking weekends. But up here the weather dictates what we will do more so than any other time in my life. Today and tomorrow are also supposed to be nasty. I can attest to today actually being that way. The sweet seventies will roll around on Wednesday and we may try to hike again. For now, however, I’m going to try to write, continuing the strong work of last week, even as I sweat just sitting here.

Stay cool.

there is a slide show from our hot adventures this weekend.)

Monday, June 02, 2008

Of All The Photos...

...from our hike on Friday, the following is my favorite. It shows the scale of these mountains to my hiking partner.