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, March 22, 2008

Newburyport Bank President Contributes Towards Corporate Sponsorship of Tom & Atticus

Spring is here. Okay, so maybe it’s not in the mountains yet, other than on the calendar. With the end of calendar winter comes the end of our Winter Quest. Our last hike was on Tuesday up Washington and across Monroe, Eisenhower and Pierce, bringing our winter total to 66 peaks. The goal was to hike 96 peaks in the 90 days of winter. We didn’t even come close. We fell 30 peaks, or 10 hikes, shy.

During the hopeful days of a beautiful October I welcomed Newburyport friends Peter and Julie McClelland to Lincoln for short visit. We had lunch together then went for a short walk along the nature trail beside the Flume parking lot. Peter pointed out that we would most assuredly make all our peaks this year since Atticus and I had moved north to the mountains. Last year we hit 81 summits while splitting our time between Newburyport and Lincoln. But I wasn’t quite so ready to accept his prediction. I told him it all depended upon our good health and the weather.

Hiking to the top of 96 4,000-footers in the three months of winter is not an easy challenge. Only one known person has accomplished this, the storied Cath Goodwin. When winter began I had some trouble with my knee that kept us from hiking two days in a row, but I soon learned to deal with it. But that wasn’t the reason we fell short this winter. The reason is the snow. We had twice as much snow as we did in the “typical” year.

But don’t mistake that for a complaint or even an excuse. Part of the challenge of hiking in winter is the conditions you face. Aside from snow there is ice and wind and, at times, extreme cold. This year we just couldn’t get to certain summits.

I would say that while it is easy to get fatigued on such a quest, the fatigue is not just physical. There is a mental strain of pushing to get the peaks done, waiting on the weather, trying to be patient.

The mental fatigue is what drove us from the mountains yesterday. I packed up my dirty laundry, my dirty car, and my dirty little dog and we drove down to Newburyport for a visit. And why not since yesterday’s winds on Mt. Washington reached higher than 140 mph and there was snow and ice all around as we drove out of Lincoln.

Once here Atticus and I stopped at the Plum Island Coffee Roasters for a latte and a visit with Joyce and Samantha; a quick visit with Richie Eaton at the Newburyport Bank to talk of the Red Sox and Celtics and other things; a massage from Sarah George (who for the second time this winter overlooked my financial limitations); lunch with Terry Carter; a quick visit with Paul Abruzzi at Jabberwocky (our host for the night---Paul, not Jabberwocky); tea with Mary Eaton at Licorice and Sloe (with a quick side visit with Bil Silliker---owner; a quick visit with Linda Garcia at Abraham’s Bagels; then with John & Linda Allison at John Farley Clothiers; a walk in Moseley Pines with Atticus; dinner with Tom Jones and Terry Berns; and finally a late night conversation with Paul before heading to bed.

All this was packed in after 11:00 in the morning and quite resembled our typical Newburyport day when I lived in this city and wrote about it. It’s good to be here, if only for a 24 hour tour of friendly and familiar faces, away from the winds and the snow and ice.

This morning Atticus and I got up before the sun, took a walk through the tightly knit South End, and then met with Tom O’Brien for breakfast. (Supper with a city councilor; breakfast with another. These are hints of my old life in the political arena.)

Now my dirty little dog is at Wagging Tails, getting washed and cut by Mary Erlandson and her wonderful crew and my dirty clothes are spinning in the washing machine next to me at Paul’s apartment as I type this. When I pick up Atticus he will be neatly trimmed and will look as though he has lost weight. Why does this not happen when I get a hair cut?

Mary Eaton is an accomplished painter, has grown into a dear friend, and is the author of the Newburyport Blog. We have spent much time on the phone together since I have left, and not always talking about politics. Her father died the week before mine went to the hospital and then the nursing home. She is also one of the select advisers I am using in proofreading my book proposal. Yesterday she gave me the wonderful gift of her copy of the book “the Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity”. It’s a great book with a wealth of wonderful quotes in it. One that caught my eye was from Jung: “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”

As my father shuffles towards the end of his life, I have thought much in the same terms, but knew nothing of Jung’s words. When both my clothes and Atticus are dry we will make one last visit in Newburyport to Moseley Pines for a walk and then drive south to Milford Hospital. My father has been moved from the nursing home he was in to the hospital. It is not known how long he will be there for. I imagine we’ll head back north tonight, away from the warm and friendly faces of Newburyport and a short visit with my father. We’ll head back to the mountains and to the writer’s life, struggling at times for words, and definitely for funds.

While winter is officially over you cannot tell by the way the snow is up north right now (although there is none here in Newburyport). We will continue on our quest, to summit the peaks we missed and fulfilling our obligation for those pledged peaks and in raising money for Angell Animal Medical Center.

As those of you who have followed this blog through the winter know, we lost our corporate sponsorship and this has put me in a financial hole. We are out $3,000 I was really counting on. However, I’m happy to report that Mark Welch, president of the Institution for Savings Bank in Newburyport, made a donation of $500 towards sponsorship of our cause. It is greatly appreciated. What makes Mr. Welch’s donation all the more impressive is that I don’t even have my account with the Institution for Savings, but with Provident Bank.

I will continue to shake the money tree in hopes that it will allow Atticus and me the ability to continue fundraising and completing our peaks.

In closing I will share with you this great quote from Robert Louis Stevenson: “To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”