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.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Einstein: I want to know God's thoughts...the rest are details.

The kitchen doors are flung open to the late-morning fog and soft green trees line the Saco River while it curls through the 100-acre field soon to be planted with corn. Varied birdsongs spill into the kitchen.

Many would think the view dreary; I find it mysterious…and comforting. It is nature – soft and alluring. It gently calls to anyone who stops to listen. It whispers to come closer.

I’m seated on the bench against the wall beside the wooden table. Next to me Atticus has made a nest out of a coat he found on the bench and he’s curled into innocence. He likes to be near me when I’m writing. Perhaps he finds as much comfort in the background noise of my tapping on the keys as I find in his soft snores. Like an old married couple, we’ve grown accustomed to each other’s peculiar noises.

For seven years he’s listened to me do this. For seven years I’ve watched him turn off the troubles of the world and he’s reminded me of the security I once found in innocence. For those seven years he’s been my guide as I find my way back there. He has led me from the tempest in a teapot political strife of Newburyport I used to think mattered, to this life.

From this bench, next to this little dog, that old life is not missed in the least bit. How could it be as I look out on field, trees, river and the lower spread of hill and mountain?

It’s like Einstein once said, “I want to know God’s thoughts…the rest are details.”

The details can be so mundane.

Long ago I started The Undertoad for one main reason: a mayor was taking a beating simply because she was a woman, a newcomer and a lesbian. It just didn’t seem right.

I believed in something and took steps to do something about it. Of course, no journey is so simple. But take on small minds in a city and you become a target yourself. The more I wrote, the more tangled I became in the mundane spools of clinging threads of now-meaningless stuff.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, back then I loved the intrigue. I loved weeding the garden, shining light in the dark places and poisoning the poisoners. Being Irish, I loved a good fight. Being the editor of The ‘Toad, I found myself embroiled in many fights.

I’m sure The Undertoad itself was my own attempt to make an imperfect world a bit better. In some ways I succeeded simply by striving. In other ways I added to the clutter.

On the rare occasion I check in on the political scene in Newburyport through the many local blogs, I cannot believe the life I used to live. Watching as this one or that one goes on and on about the details that won’t matter in the least bit tomorrow – to quote a former girlfriend – it makes my ass ache.

There comes a time to make the world better by fighting for a good cause. Then you realize perhaps the greatest good you can do is by making yourself your cause, but refining what is there. By putting a better person into the world you make the world better in your own way.

A few years ago I realized that after spending enough time listening to small town politicians talk and I grew to appreciate the strong silence of a little dog’s company on a ten-mile hike along a mountain ridge. Watching Atticus summit sit in a prayer of serenity, I learned to do it myself.

I’m glad I put in my time. I learned how to write and tell a story. But I’m also glad I saw the light and moved on. Enough of the details – I wanted God’s thoughts.

So a year and a half after leaving Newburyport, here the two of us sit: me listening to him snore; him listening to me type; both of us listening to birdsongs even Mozart would envy.

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