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, October 08, 2010

John Muir: "...cares will drop off like autumn leaves."

While many of our fellow hikers were out fulfilling their ambitions (or addictions) by running up and down various mountains on Sunday afternoon, Atticus and I were taking a nap. And why not? Is there any better time for a nap than a slow-rolling Sunday afternoon? The only difference between the two of us and other weekend nappers is that we weren’t snoring away on the living room couch but on top of a mountain. As for comfort, I used my backpack as my pillow while Atticus used me as his.

Now you may be thinking, as some of our friends do, “You take naps on mountains?”

Hey, don’t knock it until you try it. Find just the right quiet peak and lie down. Watch the clouds drift by, listen to the breeze, the song of the birds, and let yourself go. When you wake up it’s as if you are waking up to a dream. You open your eyes not to an alarm clock but to an incredible sky and equally stunning mountain vista. I guarantee your visits to the local shrink and the number of anti-depressants you take will decrease, if not cease altogether.

Don’t get me wrong, Atti and I still do some intense hikes but I’ve learned to relax a bit more in the mountains. I suppose this came from Atticus, who likes to sit on a ledge and cast his thoughts out onto the wind. When he first did this I often hurried him along but after our first summer of hiking the forty-eight four thousand footers in a mere eleven weeks, I realized I’d missed most a lot. Instead of enjoying the mountains and the gifts they had to offer our summer became a quest that centered around me and what I could accomplish: how fast or far I could hike or how many mountains we could climb in a limited time. It wasn’t until our second summer that I started following his lead and learned to sit and relax for a spell. From that moment my mountain experiences became more fulfilling.

In the days leading up to our mountainside nap Atticus and I climbed Mount Hale and, on a separate hike, North and South Hancock, three four thousand footers. But on Sunday, when we avoid the peak-bagging hordes on the higher peaks as we do each weekend, we sought out a local favorite – Pine Mountain, elevation 2,404 feet. What little Pine Mountain lacks in height, it more than makes up for in views. Not to mention its numerous ledges, any of which are perfect for private little cat naps (no offense, Atticus).

Franconia Notch has Cannon Cliffs and Crawford Notch has Mount Crawford as their signature viewpoints of the respective notches. Over here on the eastern side of the White Mountains, the third great notch – Pinkham - which is admittedly less dramatic than its western cousins but still quite stunning, has Pine Mountain. From its ledges one can look south and take in the entire breadth of the notch. To the east stands an astounding array of mountains: Moriah; North, Middle, and South Carter; Hight; Carter Dome and the rolling ridge that makes up the five Wildcats. To the west Madison, the fifth highest mountain in the state, towers over the ledges and is the star of the show. It even appears to dwarf Washington, whose summit is forced to peer over Madison’s shoulder.

We climbed Pine Mountain for the first time this summer. That day I swore we’d return to take in the October foliage. I fulfilled that promise on Sunday when Atticus and I had the mountain to ourselves, and then again on Tuesday when we brought our friends, Ken and Ann Stampfer with us. Ken and Ann have been hiking up here for years and there aren’t many places they haven’t been, so it was a pleasure to introduce them to our private little peak. They were suitably impressed and Ken, one of the regions better photographers, had a field day with his camera.

Those of you who are reading this because you live up here, or because you’ve stumbled upon this paper during a weekend trip to the White Mountains, realize we are all blessed. We are blessed to be in these mountains that Lucy Crawford, of the famed Crawford Notch family, long ago referred to as this “grand and magnificent place.” It’s true year round but it is never more evident than it is during the current month.

If you lose track of where we live and how beautiful it is, all you have to do is check out the leaf peepers emerging from the endless caravan of buses coursing along our scenic byways this week. Or you can follow John Muir’s advice: “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 cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

And if you want to get radical about it, leave behind the insanity of reality television shows; local, state, and national politics (especially tea parties and mama grizzlies); and find your own private mountain, take a nap and wake up to the wonders of this world.

(Photo by Ken Stampfer.)


Karl said...


Great post. I love that John Muir quote, it is my I'm sure it is many people's favorite. I use it on my FB status often.

There are so many peaks/ledges I can think of that would be great nap locations. One that comes to mind right near you would be the South Cliffs off from Iron Mountain.

Again, great post...I enjoyed it.

Thomas F. Ryan said...

Not to mention the peaks you guys just hiked: the Sugarloaves! Great place.

Funny, but I'm not a big fan of Iron Mountain. It has nothing to do with the mountain, but the road itself. On the two occasions I drove up there I had a tight squeeze with cars coming down.

Our best hike up there was when we walked up there before dawn one morning and greeted the day.

Thanks, Karl.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,
Love your articles and that little dog. : )
This is my first visit to the blog and I will continue to do so.
We love the mountains and NH....finally moving up here (almost) full time last October. Every day is beautiful....rain, snow, wind or sunshine.
The Muir quote says it all.
Thanks for sharing your experiences and love for the mountains with us all.