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, March 16, 2009

90 Minutes In Heaven

Before Monday I’ve never stood atop North Moat before but I can now verify what I’ve long been told: of the three Moats the view from the northern triplet is the best.

Stunning, simply stunning! And what a day we had for views, too: just the slightest whisper of a breeze; a warm sun; day-dreaming blue skies without a cloud in sight.

Standing there I thought of something Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Our faith comes in moments…yet there is a depth in those brief moments which constrains us to ascribe more reality to them than to all other experiences.” (I often find myself revisiting Emerson atop a scenic summit.) And that, I thought to myself as Atticus meandered around the edges of the small summit looking out this way and that, is what makes life worth living. It’s all in the magic we find here and there – not unlike stars poking through the vast darkness of the blackest night.

That’s the great thing about these mountains of New Hampshire; they deliver us from the mundane, time and again. You can park your car, and in the case of North Moat, walk into the woods, first keeping company with a ‘little poem’ of a brook (to borrow a term from John Muir), move through a sunlit forest carpeted in untouched snow, climb ledge after open ledge of steep pitches and then reach a place where you can turn your back on the troubles of this life and find a reason to smile, no matter what ails you. And literally, by turning your back to the east and the outlet stores of North Conway below, you face west directly into the wilderness.

At 3,196 feet, the summit of North Moat is more than 3,000 feet shorter than the summit of Mount Washington. But bigger is not always better. I can tell you that simply by looking at my diminutive hiking partner. When planted firmly atop North Moat as we were on this stunning day, try convincing yourself it is anything less than Washington. There’s a good chance you will lose the argument. In many ways, the view is far greater, simply for the proximity to the Sandwich Range to the south and the Pemi Wilderness to the West. It’s as though you can reach out and touch Chocorua or dip yourself into the waters of the Pemi where mountains break from the earth like wild waves.

The climb from Diana’s Baths to the summit is at first easy for two and a half miles, then difficult for the last two, but it is well worth the effort. While summit sitting I had to remind myself it is still winter. But it was so pleasant we stayed for 90 glorious minutes and all I wore over my shirt was my summer windbreaker. No gloves. No hat.

Watching Atticus summit sit – Buddha like – on the various outcroppings, I recalled something I was asked during the Animal Planet interview. I had forwarded the producer my book proposal so he would know about our complete story. In it I wrote about how Atticus sits and takes in the views. He reminded me of the term ‘Buddha-like’ and asked me if I thought of Atti as my spiritual guru of sorts.

At first I laughed. For whenever I think of gurus I think of how in “Eat, Pray, Love” Elizabeth Gilbert went traipsing around the world for a year in search of a guru when all she really needed to do was sit on a mountaintop with a little dog. But the answer I gave was simply: No, but by watching Atticus and following him over these mountains for the last few years I remembered what I long ago forgot. It is all about the primitive. Somehow, we lose it. We grow up and leave much of the magic behind. But by watching him, I was reminded time and again of the best part of myself – the child within. I’d lost him. It took four decades and a little dog but what was once lost is now found.

And so it was that on Monday morning while much of the world was at work, Atticus led me back to the primitive once again and to one of those beautiful Emersonian moments.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

I can't get enough of those pictures of Atticus enjoying the view, sitting "Buddha-like"! Your imagery is so eloquent - I really enjoyed this post as I too have been finding the primitive in my wanderings (and with a little--well small to medium--dog too). Thanks for your stories.