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.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Come What May

When the tempest begins, when the winds swirl and the rains lash and I lose my footing, that’s when I hold on to what we share – what we’ve always shared. I think of the simple things, the simple pleasures, the simple joys. I think of times I will never forget and how we got to where we are today and where we are headed.

I’m told that when our story is published less than a month from now it could get crazy. All writers should be so lucky. It will get crazy if the book takes off. As it is we’ll be on the road for the better part of three weeks. What first time author wouldn’t want that? And if things go really well, we could be back on the road again for who knows how long.

A friend of asked me, “Are you ready for this?”

Part of me doesn’t know the answer. The other part has been waiting for it my entire life. And so that’s what I told my friend.

“But how will you and Atticus stay centered if it does take off? How will you see to it that you both remain happy in the craziness?” she wanted to know.

The way I see it, no matter where we go, no matter what we encounter, the Little Bug and I have an advantage no one else has. If we are overrun by fans; or no one shows up; or the critics hate the book; or love it; or we are on the road so long we forget what our own bed feels like – we have a unique advantage.

We have each other.

So when we stand in front of a strange room with faces we don’t know looking expectantly at us and Atticus is sitting in the crook of my arm, whatever nervousness is coursing through my body I’ll think of the mountains. All those wintery peaks we’ve climbed, those miles through snow and ice and into the wind. I’ll think of how a good weather day up high is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen and the loneliest on the worst weather days. I’ll think of hikes started before dawn and finished after sunset when our only company at the end was my sore feet and the moon and the stars above. I’ll think about hikes where I felt like we were the only two left on the planet because we were so isolated.

But more than anything I’ll think about hiking with a little dog who surprised me from the very beginning. I’ll think about the friendship we share and the things we’ve seen. I’ll remember how he led me, until he went blind and then needed me to lead. I’ll think of how our most hopeless days were darker than the nights. And yet we made it through.

The advantage we have is that no matter what happens, we have each other.

And I won’t just be thinking of peaks where the temperature was fifteen below zero or the clouds draped over a mountaintop and took all hope away or the horrifying moments when the wind circled overhead like a great winged beast. Those are all memorable, of course. But I’ll also think of the softer times, the quieter times, the peaceful moments.

I’ll think about Chocorua as it was when we saw her last – just a couple of weeks ago – silhouetted by a ripe, round moon and how we could see stars falling off in the distance when we put that moon behind us. I’ll think about how just after midnight we reached the small table of her summit and sat side by side leaning against each other on a night cool enough to feel as if we were swimming through the air but not so chilly as to need anything more than a light fleece top. I’ll think of how we sat watching the miracles of the night and photographic negatives of the peaks fading into the distance and listened to classical music on a tiny, portable wooden speaker while everyone we knew was home asleep in their beds.

We were literally in a world of our own.

As we’ve always been.

Goethe wrote, “A talent is formed in stillness, a character in the world’s torrent.” I’ve come to believe the truest friendships are formed the same way: in both quiet and in wildness.

I’ll think about how after we sat on Chocorua’s summit until our eyes were so full we couldn’t drink another drop of the nighttime scenery that we carefully climbed off the highest and steepest reaches of the peak and then made our way like children through the night along the rock ledges looking out into the vast darkness on either side of us. And how when we reached Middle Sister, one of the sub-peaks, and readied to duck down into the trees and away from the views how Atticus stayed behind and sat down. He didn’t want to leave. So I joined him and we sat some more. This time without the music playing on my iPhone. This time with only the sound of his sweet sigh as I sat down next and he leaned his tiny body into mine.

There are some things you see and know you will never forget. And yet these pale in comparison to the things you feel and know immediately they are forever etched in your heart.

When we hit the road, two strangers rolling into distant towns with welcoming bookstores, Atticus and I will be traveling as no other first time author and friend has. Oh, I’m sure others have had their own secrets of success and comfort, but we have each other. And more than that there’s that sliver of magic that has always lived in the space between us in a world of our own making.

Let the storm come. Let the next adventure begin.

(*Photograph by Ken Stampfer.)


1HappyHiker said...

"So when we stand in front of a strange room with faces we don’t know looking expectantly at us and Atticus is sitting in the crook of my arm, whatever nervousness is coursing through my body I’ll think of the mountains."

Excellent Tom! There have been times when I've attended social gatherings where well-intended folks are chattering about things which have little meaning to me. At such times, my thoughts turn to my mountain adventures. Ahhh! What comfort!:-)


Bonnie said...

Parts of this made me cry, just like the ARC of your book. So special what you and Atti have, but you already know this.

Joyce said...

There isn't anything more wonderful than the love and friendship you both have with each other. I know you both will take your success in stride because you will be together. I am counting the days till I get your book. I know after I read it I then will be asking when is the next book. I know you and Atticus have much more to share with all of us.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought of "Team Atticus" as Atticus, Tom and the White Mountains. I know you've got to go away for the book, and we will love your stories about your trips good and not so good, but the mountains will always be here when you need to come home. Those of us who hike with our own beloved dog will be here to welcome you back too.


Unknown said...

Thank you for that. The connection between man and 'beast' is stronger than we can see.


Many days and many more adventures have past since this original blog posted, but you Tom and Atticus have remained true to each other. Yes, that magic between yourselves that has created "a world of your own making" has survived and will always survive for you both!

Betty and Lenny said...

Hi Tom,

I thought of you as I read this:

"I am grateful.
If it weren't for where I've been,
I wouldn't be where I am."

Wishing you, Atticus, and Will, well as you continue on your journey together. Peace always.


Rusty Andrews said...

Between the quiet & the wild, "the little bug" has me weeping in an inspired wilderness. Thank you Tom.

Anonymous said...

There are some you meet and you know you will never forget! For me that will be, Atticus Maxwell Finch, William Lloyd Garrison & Tom Ryan.