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.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Upcoming Chapters

We are home, and it feels…

It feels…

It’s interesting. 

It’s as if I’ve had a tune-up. I have a set of goals staring at me from the corner of my old desk. They each feel like invitations to go another adventure. 

For now, I won’t go into them. Suffice it to say that I'm overjoyed to be 
back on the trails we love, swimming and wading in the rivers and streams, and putting in more mileage than we have in the past year. 

Our kitchen has welcomed us home, as has my writing desk. Oh, to sit here is a joy itself. There wasn’t much writing done these last three months save for a few letters and cards to friends. But the written word beckons me. 

There are two projects I’m currently working on. Both are in the beginning stages. My first novel, and another memoir, a bit different than the last two. 

An excitement greets me that is fresh and tantalizing when I pick up a pen or sit down at the keyboard to let the words flow. It’s different than it used to be. Writing “Following Atticus” showed me I was a storyteller. “Will’s Red Coat,” helped along by maturity, experience, and my health issues, showed me I was an author. 

In “W.R.C.” I took more chances, felt freer, and bolder because…

Because . . . Let’s face it, when you dance with death, it loosens things up. It didn’t change me as much as it reminded me of what I wanted to accomplish. 

“Will’s Red Coat” prepared me for what comes next in my writing career. It let me know I can handle a novel, that the books will come more freely now. Although I will always love “Following Atticus,” Will’s book may never be replaced as my favorite no matter how many books I author. It’s not so much the story, it’s the writing and where it came from. It’s a new level. 

As my friend, Paula pointed out, “There’s more of you in there. I really got to know you.” 

Thinking about what comes next now has the butterflies in my gut swirling about. After “Will’s Red Coat” I fully believe there are no limitations to my writing. While I grew through my various sicknesses last spring, I’ve grown even more since then. That adds to the tools I can call on. 

As for Samwise, he’s also grown a great deal. The book tour and the road trip were intense lessons for him. (One day I may tell you about the time he and a bison touched noses.) To see him extend himself into the world, to know his limitations and what to take chances on is a joy to behold.

The other day, when a friend asked me if we would ever go out west again, I was honest in saying that I’m not sure. Doctors tell me I’m doing well, considering all that has happened, but the odds are against me living a long life. 

As one doctor put it, “The best way to describe it to you, Tom, is that there was a dumpster fire inside of you.”

Some things cannot be replaced. 

I have no plans on dying anytime soon, but it’s a reality I need to confront that I may not live into old age. All the more reason to write as much as I can, while I can. 

Before closing to go for an evening walk, I would like to tell those of you who came out to the book events just how much that meant to me. Seeing you face-to-face, hearing your stories, telling me how Will and Atticus touched your lives was a gift beyond any I have ever received. To hear you talk of your struggles with cancer, heart attacks, domestic violence, career changes, divorce, confronting your fears, and overcoming mental and physical challenges is the best medicine for me. That along with your comments about “Will’s Red Coat.”

Facebook tells me we have more than 245,000 followers on our page. As of tonight, there are only 112 reviews on Amazon and 253 on Goodreads.com. But gosh, they are magnificent! 

Thank you. Thank you! Thank you to everyone who has given a bit of themselves through their words in leaving a note about the story.

To see how “Will’s Red Coat” has moved those of you who have written reviews blows both my editor and me away. 

It’s incredible. 

By reading Will’s story, you’ve helped to keep his legacy alive. As I’ve said more than once, what was special about Will, what was relatable about him, is that he is every one of us who has ever been broken and had to choose a new direction. Like the subtitle says, he “chose to live again,” just as many of us have done. 

Onward, by all means. 
    

Sunday, July 16, 2017

All Roads Lead Home

I don’t own a television any longer. A few years back I knew of a single mother whose kids wanted a large flat screen TV but couldn’t afford one, so I gave her mine. 

I have not missed having one. 

We have been on the road for the eleven of the past twelve weeks, mostly staying in hotel rooms. I’ve yet to turn a television on. Tonight, though, will be a rare treat. The Red Sox and Yankees are on ESPN. It’s a fitting way to get us ready for the last three days of driving back to New England. 

I’ve changed the route we were going to take. We’ll still walk into our home on Wednesday, feeling comfortable in a place that has been whistling to us since we’ve left the bison behind.

Today, I told a dear friend that heading home feels a bit like getting ready for the first day of school. I always loved that feeling: the blank notebook pages and the buzz of the promise of what was to be. 

Back in Jackson, we’ll get back into our routine, but things will also be a little different. I look forward to sitting at my desk, writing as I digest recent experiences. I crave spending time in my kitchen and cooking meals from scratch once again. And yes, I look forward to the familiar trails that await our happy feet. But home is now different for us, just as we are different. 

I have some ideas of changes to make, pictures to hang, items to dispose of. The desire to become more of a minimalist (although not a full one) tugs at me these days.

“Do I need all these coffee mugs?” 

“What are all these pots and pans for?

“How many shirts does a guy need?”

I have no doubt we’ll be ditching about a third of what I own. 

This afternoon, we put an end to our time in Kentucky in a manner befitting our trek. We made our way through the fields and quiet roads of the hotels and restaurants that clutter these acres right off the freeway. Then we discovered a vacant lot, which led to a field of high grass. There was a faint path through it, and we could not help but follow along. Eventually, it took us to a stream shaded by overhanging trees and perfect for wading in on a hot and humid Kentucky day. 

Samwise brought me a stick, and I tossed it upstream. He waded after it, snared it in his teeth, and returned it to me. Again and again, we played out the cycle. It was delicious wading in that fresh, clean water. 

After a spell, I sat on a stone, my legs still in the water, while Samwise dried himself on the nearby grass, coming over from time to time to take a drink. 

How perfect is this, I thought. These simplest of pockets are what has defined our travels. Always in search of the quiet trail or path, sometimes the one that could barely be followed. Often finding our way through the back of highway rest areas through a hole in the fence, or a forgotten opening that led to a field or a neglected road or, in some cases if we were lucky, a forest path. 

These past two months have never been about many destinations. They've been about making up our minds as we drove down the road. Following wind and whim. I see it as a metaphor for the world, for life itself. I rarely care for the answers.  What excites me is curiosity and discovery. The mysterious is what lifts my heart and tells me to take note.


My favorite people are the ones who are never afraid to say “I don’t know.” Sometimes they say nothing at all. Or they understand I want to figure things out as I go. I’ve never been into the folks with all the answers and suggestions. After all, I want a life that works for me, and what works for me is not following the crowd. 

I remember an evening at Jackson Hole a couple of weeks back. I posted where we were, and I was flooded with suggestions on what to do, where to eat, what to see, where to go. One snag of advice echoed by several was a certain point along the road where the river bends and reflects the Tetons in the background at sunrise.

I already knew we were not going to stop there because it wouldn’t have been much fun for Samwise to sit right along the road waiting for the sun to show up. But as we approached the area, there were at least fifty people there, cameras and tripods set up to capture the way the rising sun hit the jagged peaks. 

We drove by.

Then another turn off that we were told about was upon us.  We drove by that one as well. 

Finally, I found a place where people don’t travel very often. I could tell by the conditions and the lack of signs. Bill got us to where we needed to be, and then we left him behind and walked along the river’s edge, not always seeing a path and therefore having to create our own. I sang out loud to give the grizzlies and moose some warning we were in the area. (If my voice didn’t scare them away, nothing would.)

Onward we walked, hopping logs, finding a path, seeing no one. Ultimately, though, we ended up in a crowded field, but what I loved about it was that everyone there was a wildflower. Among the yellows, purples, and pinks we played and luxuriated in this quiet and remote place. A sprinkling of bison was off in the distance. In another direction, a lone moose waded. Birds sang as the sun rose. And there was Samwise and I so far away from Jackson but feeling right at home.

Today’s late afternoon walk to the stream was a lot like that glorious morning in the Tetons. Simple gifts, solitude, quiet for giving thanks and saying prayers, and a place to play in with Samwise. 

Our trip has been about seeing much of the country outside of New Hampshire, but not always the most popular ones. I've sought out places of freedom where we could both enjoy ourselves. It has been a ball. But all roads lead back home because home is wherever we are. 

For nearly three months we have been away from our little hobbit hole and yet there was not a stitch of loneliness the entire time. I like that. It bodes well for the future, and it defines our current state. 

I know we are both ready for whatever comes because all that is guaranteed is the unknown. I figure we’ve learned to embrace that.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Our Big Trip, Six Weeks In


I have lost track of time. However, studying the calendar and adding up the days tells me we are now on Day 42. The original plan was 60 days, and I think we’ll come close to meeting that mark. We’re not quite at the three-quarter mark and yet time is running out on us. We need to be in La Grange, Illinois for a book event on July 13 and Andyville, Kentucky on July 15. I’m looking forward to both those events, but I also realize they’ll serve as a reality check that the daydreaming part of this odyssey will be over.


This has me doing something I haven’t done much of. I need to plan our days out carefully between now and Chicago to maximize what I want to see and do in the west. 

This evening, Samwise and I took a leisurely walk, then drove through the temperate air over to Whitefish, a few towns away, to visit their remarkable dog park. He is a social animal, more so than I am, and I see to his needs. I find plenty to talk about with those I meet, but I can also last days without conversation, especially when I am at home.

We met a genial fellow there who is originally from New Hampshire but has lived out here for more than a decade. Turns out he’s on the dog park committee and was justifiably proud that the New York Times listed their park as one of the ten best in the country recently. As Samwise played with his dogs we talked about New Hampshire and, before we left, I gave him copies of Following Atticus and Will’s Red Coat.

I don’t do that often, but it seemed the right fit and, he was quite pleased.

As we drove back to our hotel, the top down on Bill, Jackson Browne playing, and the golden light bathing us, I thought of something a friend recently asked.

“How are you going to handle returning home after seeing what you’ve seen while on the road?”

I replay that question in my head often because I like the answer.

“We live in New Hampshire, which has its own charms.”

Home is home.

I can imagine there will be a transition, to being still again, but we’ll be returning home just before August, the beginning of my favorite four months of the year in Jackson. There will be photographs and memories to think catalog. I have writing to catch up on. I like the routine of our simple life, as you can tell by reading about it in “Will’s Red Coat.”

Before we go home, however, there is still much to see, not to mention figuring out the way back to Jackson from Andyville when we do finally leave Kentucky. It will be a sweet route and one that is tempered in a gentler kind of beauty to the land. Already I’m considering a couple of days in a cottage or cabin if we can find one near the Finger Lakes in New York. A night in Cooperstown is also a possibility, and that always is a thrill for me.

Yesterday, we saw a deer, some long horn sheep, and several bison. The wonder of it all is still with me. We’ll be seeing more in the upcoming week, and hopefully some grizzly and moose, too.

I swear, watching that buffalo approach us yesterday was a thrill. I was ready to put Bill in gear in a hurry if need be, but the gigantic fellow’s tail was swishing back and forth casually. He appeared to be more curious that anything else as he approached, and then passed right behind us. 


Samwise has matured throughout the trip, even from that moment when he saw his that elk at the Grand Canyon and was excited by the idea of playing with it. With all the animals he’s seen since, he’s taken them in stride and remained a still and studious observer. I’m proud of him.

Even at the dog park, while he was racing and romping with others, whenever I called him to me he was attentive as he pulled himself away from the pack.

I look forward to seeing how this translates to the trails back home. Before, not only was his body too immature to hike, his mind was as well. He’s ready now, though. It appears I may be, too. 

Teaching Samwise to approach quietly so we can watch the ducks and heron. 
Over the next several days we’ll be back to rising before the sun to have the parks to ourselves, not to mention the best lighting for photographs. It feels weird to have the alarm go off at four in the morning while we are away from home, but when we get to linger in the solitude of places that will be crowded a few hours later, it’s well worth it.

As I sit here writing tonight, I realize that the full scope of this adventure will not hit me until long after we are home. However, I still make it a point to give thanks and take quiet moments to reflect on our good fortune, especially compared to where we each were just over a year ago.  

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Hospital Dream

Something a little more personal tonight. Some thoughts about what went into writing Will's Red Coat and how we got where we are today.

In my sleep, I often return to a night from last April.

The dream comes for me now and then, and I am transported.

In my dream, I am sleeping. Sleeping so deeply it feels like I am floating in a pool of death, black and still. Everything is calm. Then something changes and I'm propelled out of the depths, and I wake up not knowing where I am.

Again, this all takes place in my dream. And while I am still sleeping, I feel like I am opening my eyes.

Where am I?

There is something on my face. I feel like I cannot breathe. I panic and try to pull it off. A nurse appears and takes hold of my hands.

"Tom, it's okay."

Her voice is kindness itself. It is understanding.

I search her face. I have never seen her before. She can tell I am confused.

"You are okay. You have been under for hours."

I try to talk, but there is something over my mouth. I want to breathe.

Again, she holds my hands. "You have to leave it on. You cannot breathe without it."

"Where am I?" Although it doesn't come out like that. It comes out like a moan. The angel nurse understands, though.

"You were moved to ICU."

"I thought I was dead."

After three tries by me, she understands.

"We won't let that happen, but for a little while, we thought you were, too. Something tells me you won't let that happen either, Tom."

That's when I wake up. Always at the same point.

I often find myself back in that dream, in that bright room.

I remember a little more of it each time.

I was fighting for breath and rushed from dialysis when I passed, I'm told. I was out for a very long time, some of it induced by the doctors.

I don't know why I go back there. When I do, I travel across fields of emotions. There are tears and smiles. There is acceptance.

When I learned I had a monstrous breathing machine on to help me; I asked the nurse for my phone.

"You can't call anyone right now, Tom. You need to keep the mask on. It is how you are breathing."

"I don't want to call anyone."

I had to repeat it so she could understand me.

"Then why do you want your phone?"

"I want you to take my picture so I can send it to my friends, so they can see I am okay... and handsome as ever. They worry about me."

She laughed, and I smiled and gave her the thumbs up, but you can't tell from the photo she took.

I don't know why my dreams take me back to this night, but it happens about once a month. They don't frighten me. It's just the opposite. I find a curious comfort when I return. The quiet. The starkness with all that flooding light as I emerge from the depths. There is an understanding that I am alive when maybe I shouldn't be.

I think perhaps I return to that place when asleep because there is no way to comprehend it all when I am awake. In slumber, I can float through it all and pick up a lost piece here and there.

I know there are no answers, although some pretend to know what they cannot possibly. It is all part of a mystery.

The other night, after I finished reading the opening of Will's Red Coat, I pointed out that I wrote it as two different people. The first draft before my extended hospital stay; the second draft much later, when I could finally think straight again.

When considering that strange night when I woke up, and they were emptying my lungs of fluid that was drowning me with a needle longer than any I had ever seen, it felt like I owned all I had ever known but was also starting from an entirely new place.

I would leave the hospital a month after that night and Atticus would leave me twelve days after my return. That's when the dream, or memory, came most often.

When I think of everything that has changed since that May Day when Will arrived, all that living, all that work, the struggle, the growth and joy and surrender, and then the parting, and my almost leaving, followed by Atti's leaving, I realize I'm changed from who I was before it all.

There is much that went into writing Will's Red Coat. There was the old me and the renewed me.

In the moments before we go on stage or in front of a crowded bookstore during each event of our upcoming tour, I will revisit all of this. I'll carry it with me when I stand before everyone. I will think of dear Will, resolute Atticus, and that night I go back to.

I am a charmed man to have experienced so much. I feel wealthy to be able to carry it with me.

In the next few days, our tour will be announced, and it will become even more real. After each event, after all that excitement, when we get back to our hotel room, and I turn out the light, I get the feeling I will say my prayers, and when they are sent off, I'll whisper to Atticus and Will, we did well tonight, my friends. We did well.

I look forward to seeing many of you out on tour during the few weeks we are on the road.


Onward, by all means.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

A Letter About Will's Red Coat

In the next week or so, advance reader’s copies of “Will’s Red Coat” will be making their way across the country to media outlets and bookstores to give them a preview of what is to come. (A.R.C.s are a paperback version of the book that is 98% done. It is used as a marketing tool.) 

In the past a member of our publishing team would write a letter to accompany the A.R.C.  However, this time I was asked to write it.  I thought I’d share it here with all of you this morning.


Dear Reader,
            
Just outside, a soft December snow falls. Evergreens, birches, and maples are coated in white. Even the lone old black ash tree that has been dying for years is made to look young again. Such is the magic of transformation through Nature.  
            
I no longer look at our backyard the way I used to before Will came along. He changed the way I see the simplest things, reminding me that they are often miraculous themselves. 
            
You see, Atticus and I always had the grandeur of the mountaintops, climbing close to three thousand of them in a decade. But Will helped me to recognize the extraordinary in what we often take for granted. The optimistic yellow of dandelions in the spring, the nostalgic smell of summer shade, the crunch of fallen leaves during autumn in New England, and the purity of icicles in the winter. They were all gifts that helped a fifteen-year-old deaf dog who struggled to walk and see—who had lost everything, including his home, trust, and hope—to regain himself. 
            
I brought Will here to give him a place to die with dignity. Those early days were rough for all of us, but on his way to dying, he did something no one expected. He chose to live again.
            
What was to be a brief two- or three-month stay grew into two and a half years of wonder. When the time finally came to say goodbye to Will, I was surprised by how right it all felt. Instead of grief I had nothing but reverence for a friend, who in the end, got it right.  

Will left behind a legacy where hundreds of thousands of his fans were touched by one bright soul. None of those more than me. Each day when I look up above my desk and see his red coat hanging there, I smile and think that Will, who was once an afterthought discarded in a kill shelter, was transformed into something extraordinary by Nature, and by love, faith, and friendship.
            
On the night before he died in my arms, I knelt next to Will and told him I would tell his story. I’m honored to have kept that promise. 
 
Onward, by all means,
Tom Ryan


You can pre-order Will's Red Coat any number of ways. It will be available wherever fine books are sold. But you can also pre-order a personalized copy of it from my local bookstore, White Birch Books.