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.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Atticus M. Isn't The Only Finch Here

Jack Ryan was a curious man. He could flirt with the best of them and charm a smile onto the face of the grouchiest cashier in one of Medway's stores, but he wasn't all that friendly to his kids. As my father got older and all of us had moved out of the house he enjoyed our visits, but he was happiest when we didn't stay very long. Like many elderly in New England, in the spring, summer and fall he had the Red Sox and their 162 game season to keep him company. Never underestimate the importance of all those games to people who live on their own. It's like they have friends coming over for a visit and you can count on those very familiar faces always being there. The other visitors my father loved were the birds outside his kitchen window. He'd sit at the table, smoke slowly swirling up in a vine from his cigarette, cup of tea in front of him, and gaze out at the birds that would come to his feeder. He'd done this for years, even when some of us were still living with him. And he always kept a birding book on the window sill.

I turn 49 in two days and I realize more and more just how many of my father's habits I've picked up. He loved to write and to read. He loved the White Mountains and he loved his birds. Out in the world he was quite social, but behind closed doors he was private. Well here I am, sitting her this morning with Atticus, as we look out at the birds at our feeder. Finches. Lots of finches! And there are two regular woodpeckers that feed at the suet hanging from the door.

I call the female woodpecker Amelia, because there are times when I have the door open that she comes to feed on the suet but gets lost in leaving and ends up trapped inside the house and not outside. We've become quite good, Amelia and I, at getting her out of the house. I approach her as she sits on the widow sill looking out to where she wants to get to and I gently place a wastepaper basket over her and tight on the window. Then I slide a piece of cardboard between the glass and the basket and take her outside. The first time I did this she panicked. However, in the subsequent times she's been much calmer. It's as if she knows I'm not going to hurt her. The last time I did it I took the cardboard away from the top so she could fly back to the dead tree she lives in (who said Jackson doesn't have affordable living?), but she just sat there looking up at me. Amelia, as I wrote a friend the other day, either has a horrible sense of direction or she's coming on to me. Not sure which.

On Saturday we had a fresh snowfall that had the birds flocking to our bird feeder outside the kitchen window. Oh, and what a crowd it was! Mostly all of them were different colored finches.

I've yet to perfect the art of catching their wings in flight with my camera but as I sat there taking picture after picture the other day I decided I'd put together a slide show. It's something my father would have loved.
Here it is.

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