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.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Slide Show: Mount Carrigain

John Muir said, "The mountains are calling and I must go." I think Atticus and I can relate.

When I was in the intensive care unit recovering from surgery and fighting septic shock I set a goal for Atticus and me to be on the summit of a 4,000-footer on the first full day of autumn. We reached our goal today when we climbed Mount Carrigain, the first 4,000-footer since surgery. It wasn't easy and I have a long way to go, but it sure felt great to be back up there again. All along I've felt that little Atticus and I were being called up to the mountains we fell in love with five years ago.

I chose Carrigain for a several reasons. First, the views are spectacular and is a perfect place to see autumn unleashed in the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Second, from the tower on top of the summit we could see nearly every 4,000-footer. (Carrigain ranks first in number of 4,000-foot peaks you can see from the top.) And I wanted to say hello to them all again, especially since I'm writing about them. Third, mountains are a lot like people. Sometimes, for no special reason, someone just doesn't like you. Mount Carrigain has never liked me very much, and the feeling is mutual. Nearly every time we climb it (I think it's eight now), it knocks me on my behind. So I chose my least favorite and most difficult mountain as the first 4,000-footer to climb to let me know how I was doing. Once again, it knocked me down again and again! It wasn't an easy climb, was very painful and it took me an hour longer than I was hoping, but we made it. We're now back in the game.

Here's the
slide show. You'll notice autumn is coming alive in the mountains!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Agiocochook Is Still At It

Last night, I shared some shots of the bewitching sky we saw on our walk. This morning, the Great Spirit was at it again. The sky is simply stunning with it's mysterious shades and powerful tones. And better yet, when it comes to foliage, each day is better than the last one. Every morning I think to myself, "It can't get any more beautiful than this." And yet each morning it does.

We really are blessed to live in such a place - especially during the month from September 15th through October 15th, the best of the year.

Tomorrow marks the first full day of autumn and to celebrate it's arrival Atticus and I are heading off to hike a 4,000-footer or two. It's the first we will have climbed since my surgery this summer and I figure my favorite season is an appropriate time to celebrate a saved life.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

From Our Walk This Evening

This evening Atticus and I were headed to Pudding Pond for a walk, but while driving through North Conway the sky became a dramatic roiling sea that cast various shades of light on the foliage. Instead of heading for the two mile loop in the woods that abuts the pond, we walked along the Saco River instead, where we could watch the show put on by the fading light and the clouds.

In the top photo, the clouds give the appearance that they are emanating from the summit of Mount Washington, which sits low in the center of the picture just above the trees. Those familiar with the Lord of the Rings can recall Mount Doom. Or locally, back a few hundred years, the Abenaki would say the Great Spirit Agiogochook, who lived atop the highest peak in New England, was busy at work. It sure seemed it from where we were standing.

The clouds moved rapidly. Just from the time we took to walk from the car to the river, perhaps one hundred yards, the great mountain disappeared in a veil of clouds.

After we walked along the river for a while we drove up to the top of Cathedral Ledge hoping for a different angle of the show. Alas, the sun had set and while the clouds still told a story, the light had left for the day and the photos were not as special.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

No Longer Waiting

My friend Laini, who works at Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport, tells me she has only memorized one poem in her life. It is Laurence Ferlinghetti’s I Am Waiting. It is a poignant poem from a poignant time in our country’s history. The last couple of lines are her favorite in the poem “and I am perpetually awaiting a rebirth of wonder.”

My friends were more than a little shocked when I rediscovered the mountains of my youth with Atticus and fell head over heels for them. They were even more surprised when I sold my newspaper and moved north into this new world. I’m not sure they understood my metamorphosis then, or even now. The best way to explain what changed my life is to say that unlike Ferlinghetti I am no longer “awaiting a rebirth of wonder.”

I found it up here and see it nearly everywhere we go. You don’t have to be on top of a mountain or sitting on the edge of a ledge. We see it even on our daily walks around Jackson, as we did this morning when we ran into this heron and spent fifteen minutes watching it eat before it took flight.
Here’s the entire Ferlinghetti poem…

I Am Waiting
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti
I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
Of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

Friday, September 17, 2010

Slide Show: Late Afternoon Potash Hike

A dreary morning turned into a brilliant afternoon here in Jackson and with Atticus nudging me with my nose to get away from my desk I decided we'd hike Potash this afternoon. It's the neighbor of Hedgehog, which we did a few weeks ago, sitting on the north side of the Sandwich Range just off of the Kancamagus Highway. The slide show can be seen here.

Gone Fishin'

A cloudy, drizzly morning eased into a stunning September afternoon. The chickadees outside our window are making fun of us for staying inside. Now we're not about to be mocked by a flock of little birds so we're outta here! Gone hikin' (which is our version of gone fishin'). We've been working on edits but clearer heads have prevailed and we're on our way to hike Potash this afternoon, which looks like it's becoming more beautiful by the minute!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Slide Show: Greeting the Day Atop Cathedral Ledge

Early this morning before getting to work on my manuscript, Atticus and I took a hike up the trails leading to the top of Cathedral Ledge. It was a great way to greet the morning! Here's the show.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Most Recent Column for the Northcountry News

There was a time, some years ago, when I gave thought to becoming a member of the clergy. Perhaps it was my Irish Catholic upbringing, my years as an altar boy, or watching Bing Crosby playing Father Chuck O’Malley one too many times in Going My Way. However, I chose another path since I wasn’t much of a follower – or maybe it was because I enjoyed the “sins” of this life far too much to give them up. I have never regretted my decision. But I never gave up my spiritual quest either.

I’ve always been intrigued and responded to the overriding mysterious order of being, as poet and later President of the newly formed Czech Republic Vaclav Havel referred to it. That mystery is the same one Einstein referred to when he said, “The greatest thing we can experience is the mysterious.” (You know when a poet turned politician and a scientist come to the same conclusion they’re on to something.) My own quest led me from the idea of religion to politics. Now any of you who knows a lick about politics may understand that I wasn’t about to find what I was looking for down that dark alley either. That’s the thing about religion and politics, they are based on faith and hope and they truly are wonderful until ego gets involved and they become sullied.

What I was looking for was that same sense of wonder we all have as children. You know what I’m talking about: the look on a child’s face watching the first snowflakes of the year, listening to a wind before storm, or walking through the magical realm of a forest. And that’s where I found what I was looking for. It took me nearly four decades to get back to where I started from and I found it in the forest.

Funny, isn’t it? When we get to a place in life where we are finally happy, we realize we’ve seen that place long before but we were in such a hurry to get away from it. Somehow growing up got in the way of being what we’ve always wanted to be.

I suppose I’m thinking about all of this right now because at this time of the year it seems the woods are filled with more magic than at any other time and it is ripe for the picking. All you have to do is take ten steps away from your car and start up any trail in the White Mountains. You not only find yourself surrounded by it, you also find it inside yourself, and suddenly you are part of that miraculous scene. It’s no longer something you have to seek.

The other day Atticus and I walked through the forest, heard the chill wind playfully shaking the branches, smelled the sweet decay of one season fading into another, saw the sun dappled green forest, worked harder in climber higher and then I simply surrendered to it. It’s amazing how quickly you can forget about responsibilities, bills, appointments or any of life’s other trials and tribulations when you become part of that “mysterious order of being.”

And the great thing about it is you find it wherever nature is. Recently in a mostly flat hike to Thoreau Falls we felt it all around. It only dimmed whenever we came in contact with other hikers and stopped to talk. We definitely found it atop the rocky ledges of the falls. (Thoreau Falls is the rare White Mountain waterfall you don’t view from the bottom, but the top. And just in case you were wondering, Thoreau never saw the falls. Back in his day there was no way to access them and they were named in memoriam for him by Moses Sweetser, the grandfather of all White Mountain guidebook authors.)

We felt it while sitting on the “back porch” of Crescent Mountain looking towards the Pliny Range and further beyond to the North Country.

We felt it on Speckled and Blueberry, two lovely mountains in Evans Notch where there are no crowds.

Truth is you find it wherever you find nature. But a good, long hike is the best place, for it is an uninterrupted walking meditation…or prayer. Thoughts come and go. So does inspiration. An occasional epiphany reveals itself.

Of course I wasn’t bright enough to pick up on this by myself. I spent quite a few hikes feeling the magic of the woods but not quite appreciating it. It was only when I slowed down and started paying attention to this little dog I hike with that I grasp it. Just as I had taught him the right way to fit in with society, he taught me the way to fit in with nature. Atticus always seems to know the right time to stop, take in the view, and breathe deep.

Recently Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love has become a popular movie. I read the book, but haven’t seen the movie. If you are not familiar with the story the author goes in search of herself by traveling to three exotic locations around the world and seeking out spiritual mentors. I had it much easier than Ms. Gilbert. You see, I didn’t have to travel quite so far. I simply came to the mountains, watched my dog and followed his example.

In closing, do yourself a favor and get out during these next four weeks. They truly are the best of the year. The bugs are gone, the tourists are too (save for weekends), the forest is alive; the air is crisp and clean. If you are an avid hiker you know where to go. If you’re not you may want to try something like Black Mountain, Welch-Dickey, Mount Pemigewasset, the Sugarloaves or Bridal Veil Falls. It doesn’t really matter where you g – just go. Go and breathe deep. I promise you the world will make a bit more sense to you.

(Photo by Ken Stampfer.)

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

New Addition to Our Team

Sorry to have been silent lately but I've been wrapped up working on the edits for Following Atticus. My editor at William Morrow, Cassie Jones, did a great job with my manuscript and I'm making the necessary changes and hope to have them done and back in her skilled hands by September 15th.

Atticus is doing well. And I'm doing better. We've been out on some hikes and longer walks. Slowly but surely I'm regaining my strength and endurance.

We received good news a week ago when my attending surgeon, Stuart Battle, took the drainage tube out of my side and told me I wouldn't need further surgery. I cannot tell you how much I loved having that tube removed but it was nothing compared to the news of no more surgery. That means that during the next five weeks, which are the best of the year up here in the White Mountains, Atticus and I can now be footloose and fancy free once again - that is once I regain my strength.

There is something else I'm excited about as well. Last year I bought a new camera, a Canon Powershot SX20 IS. It is a great camera and takes nice shots but I discovered I wasn't using it all that much on the trail because it is bigger and more cumbersome than anything else I've used in the past. Hence the photos you've seen here from our hikes have been taken with an inexpensive Kodak digital camera, the EasyShare Z950. But there's a reason the Kodak was inexpensive. It lacked several features I was looking for in a trail camera. Often times I'd have to wait ten seconds to be able to take a second shot and it had its limitations when it came to low light photos.

When I decided to buy myself a survival gift (and why not considering that I finally learned my chances of survival from the septic shock were actually only about 20% to 25%) I went looking for an upscale Kodak, since I'm comfortable with their products.

Even someone with such a limited photographic ability as I have understands there's an intimacy that forms between a photographer and a camera and Kodak had treated me well through our first four years of hiking. I just needed to get a better one. I wasn't ready to make the full leap to a large SLR because I realized I wouldn't use it on the trail. While researching Kodak digitals I stumbled upon a new camera from Sony. It's called the NEX 3 and not only is it remarkably small, it's capable of great low light shots and takes as many as seven shots per second! That made my most recent Kodak seem like an antique.

The Sony NEX 3 will be here on Friday and I look forward to trying it out. There's one specific function I'm most excited about - the
panorama sweep. I can hardly wait to see what it will do when we are on some of our ridge walks.

Here's a
fun overview video of the Sony NEX 3.