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.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


The storm is full on now and both of us are warm inside after a snowy morning walk. Atticus has settled down with an old marrow bone I filled with peanut butter. I’m at my desk with a pot of tea. Plows regularly rumble by while the flakes continue to fall. The tree just outside our main window that looks out over the backyard is perfectly frosted. And the dainty tracks left by our neighborhood raccoon which crisscrossed the old snow in the yard only yesterday, are now filled in. I’ve refilled the bird feeder and sprinkled extra seeds on the ground for the squirrels but it appears all our little friends are sleeping in today.

Our apartment is filled with the aroma of simmering turkey, onions, carrots, and mushrooms in the crock pot and I’m glad we are inside instead of on some mountaintop. Atticus seems to agree. He was more than happy to step out of his boots and body suit. He’s always been a nudist by nature. However, he’s very content to wrap himself in his favorite blanket as he worries at his bone.

Yesterday, I received an email from my editor at William Morrow. She really is the best. I was once warned I would be warring with any editor I worked with but nothing could be farther from the truth. I actually look forward to her emails and yesterdays’ was exciting because I got a glimpse of what marketing will be sending out along with the advanced reader copies of the book this coming April. It was a little write up about Following Atticus and it closed with a small piece about the author and, of course, Atticus. But some of the information was outdated since I sent it to them when I first wrote my proposal.

I had to stop and think when it stated how many four thousand footers Atticus and I have climbed. I’ve actually stopped counting. So last night I sat down with a piece of paper and a list of the four thousand foot mountains and figured it out. In the five years Atticus and I have been hiking we’ve now climbed 460 of them. I was shocked by that number for it seems to me we haven’t been collecting that many high peaks as of late. But when you consider that during that first and second summer we did more than 48 both times. In our first three winters we climbed 188 mountains – that gives you an idea of the jump we started with.

We’ve continued to hike them, just not at the same pace. Instead we’ve concentrated our efforts over the past two years of peaks that aren’t quite as tall and because of that not as crowded – and yet every bit as magical. And most of these peaks, other than perhaps the popular Mount Chocorua, which nearly always has a crowd on it, are sparsely populated.

However, I must admit that as of late Atticus and I have returned to many of the higher peaks and have kept it quiet. It felt good to have them to ourselves by hiking them on less crowded days and at less crowded times. I’ve particularly grown fond of hiking at night. It still can be unnerving, but it also life affirming.

As for my reason on keeping quiet about most of what we’ve been climbing I’ve done it for two reasons. The first reason is that soon enough our lives will be an open book and when that takes place we’ll enjoy having little secret places to go to and bits of our lives that no one else can touch. Secondly is the mania currently sweeping the hiking community that is clearly evident on various websites where people are making note of how many peaks they climb because they are chasing after one list or another.

In our first summer we set out to do all forty eight. We did the same our first winter. In our second summer we did them again, but only because we’d raced through them so quickly the first time through and I wanted to see them all again. During our second and third winters we used the forty eight as fundraising tools in our attempts to do two rounds. After that I had no desire to keep an accurate count of what we were hiking and when.

The only reason I sat down last night to figure out how many we’ve climbed is because of what it will say in the little author’s bio about Atticus and me. What I discovered was that we have actually climbed Mount Waumbek 16 times! Jackson 15, Pierce and Tecumseh 14, and Garfield – which was our first peak and is perhaps my favorite – 13 times. Bond, Bondcliff, West Bond, Zealand, Madison, Adams, and Owl’s Head tie for peaks we’ve reached the least number of times at only 7.

The latest craze for hikers is to do the Grid. That translates into hiking the 48 in each of the 12 months of the year. Used to be only a select few had reached this milestone of 576 peaks. And while a friend points out that our latest total puts us well within reach of the Grid, I decided long ago that Atticus and I would not chase after it. While it is fine for others to shoot for, for me it seemed the only reason we would do it was to get notoriety - to receive a patch and to get listed on yet another website. But that’s not our game. I gave up the external gratification hiking thing when I realized it meant nothing, especially when compared to internal gratification.

Atticus and I may eventually climb all the mountains needed to do the Grid but we won’t officially join that club, just as we’ve never become members of the 4,000 Foot Club or received the cherished scroll and patch. And when I was asked if we wanted to be listed on the website that celebrates the select hikers who have done them all in one winter I politely declined.

Five years ago we came to the mountains because of how they made us feel, not to see how others would feel about us. We came for the personal experiences, not for patches, scrolls, or notoriety on websites. That’s not to say that such things are not right for others. The beauty of the mountains is that everybody gets to hike his or her own hike. We all have our own reasons for being up here. If people seek to chase after membership in various clubs based on achievement they are welcome to it.

While I’ve not ever asked him, I don’t think Atticus really cares that he doesn’t have a patch or a scroll nor that has his name is not listed on a website. What seems to matter most to him is that he gets to walk in the woods, catch the wind in his ears, and sit Buddha-like on the summits while taking in the views.

I figure if that’s good enough for Atticus, it’s good enough for me as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is that your plate? "ATTI - 48"?