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.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Where The Tall Grass Begins

The backyard is now but a starting point for Will.
We have the simplest backyard.  It’s not too big, nor is it too small.  It’s mostly covered in grass but it's not an overly-manicured suburban lawn.  I even welcome the bright-faced dandelions that look up at the sun and I don't sweat the bare spots.  On the right and left boundary there are trees that obscure the houses on either side of us that rarely have anyone in them.  One of the houses is vacant and up for sale; the other is a vacation home and it’s either owned by someone very old (who rarely gets to the mountains any longer) or someone who is married to his or her job (and doesn’t have time to waste on vacations).  There are trees in the back, too, with a path that leads down to the Ellis River. The bears often use it to access the property.  But the trees in the back, unlike those that shade the sides, are set back from the lawn by a healthy tangle of thigh-high grass and wildflowers. 

The middle of the yard rises into a small hump and that’s exactly what it looks like, but to Will it’s more of a hill than a hump – a hill he couldn’t climb when he first arrived. However, more than a year later he can now slowly negotiate it.
There is one old and tired tree right behind the house.  It’s not very healthy.  It’s the last to show green leaves each spring and the first to lose them in early autumn.  There is also a thirty foot by five foot garden bed surrounded by roughhewn two by fours and railroad ties.  I’m not much of a gardener but this year I’ve planted wildflowers and pumpkins.  The green chutes are climbing higher each week and the pumpkin vines continue to sprawl out.  Both give me a surprising amount of satisfaction.  Although one of my friends tells me that the local wildlife will most likely eat the pumpkins before I do. 

“That’s fine with me,” I say.  I like eating pumpkins but I didn’t plant them for that reason.  I just wanted to see them grow and bring a bit of orange to the autumn.  “If the raccoons decide they’d make a fine meal, they are welcome to them.  After all, this is their yard, too.”
 
In the back corner of the lawn, just before where the high grass and wildflowers rise up like a tiny jungle, sits two Adirondack chairs.  They make a fine place to sit and read a book or write letters or cards to friends or to listen to music while taking inventory of the puffy white vacationland clouds drifting happily by against a backdrop of a postcard blue sky.

The back lawn is also where Will likes to play.  He gives chase to me when I mow the lawn.  Alas, those hips are of little use to him and while his heart and front legs are willing, the rear legs and years of confinement don’t back him up.  Still he kicks up like a bucking bronco, his front legs jutting out, his head juking this way and that as tries to run after me and catch my feet.  He follows for five or six drunken strides like a slow-motion inchworm who has swallowed a Slinky but reality wins out and he gives up and waits for me and the mower to return again.  When we do the game begins anew.  He is happiest helping me mow the lawn like this.

What makes our yard special is the fact that is our yard – that and the way animals come and go.  It’s also a place where dreams a are born.  I sit in one of the two Adirondacks under the shade and let my mind wander and goals are set based on these fanciful reveries. I do this while Will circles about and Atticus either sits on the other chair, or on the grass next to me, pondering just as lightly as I do.

There are days though when Will doesn’t circle as much as he used to.  Lately I get the idea that I’m not the only one who sets sail to aspirations in our private corner of the world where birds sing and breezes blow.  I’ve noticed that Will has taken to walking up to the wall of high grass and tilting his head back as if to see what is beyond it.  In this way he’s not unlike me.  He’s got his dreams, too – perhaps.

So much takes place in this lovely tiny patch of green grass hidden from the road by the house, halfway between North Conway’s outlet stores and Mount Washington.   But as small as it is, there’s a big world beckoning beyond it all.  Something tells me Atticus understands this and that’s why other than watching the parade of wildlife, he isn’t all that impressed sitting back there.  But Will is another story.  To Will this used to be his entire world in those first few months – but that was before he set sail for his new world and tasted a bit of adventure. 

I like that Will seems to be wondering what’s beyond the places he cannot see – not that he can see what’s in front of him all that well as it is.  But he knows darn well the high grass and wildflowers are there and while last summer he used to just sniff at the small petals with his head down, this summer he sets his sights on grander things in the great beyond.

When I see Will doing this I smile and think about how I first thought about getting him up a mountain.  There were a few self-proclaimed experts who chimed in that I should just let him be.  “Old dogs are meant to sleep and just relax for the rest of their days,” they said.  “To do more than that is cruel and selfish on your part.”  One went so far as to call me abusive. 

Oh, how I love experts. 

Fortunately for me I find little use in them and have learned to ignore the most sanctimonious of them (no matter their field of expertise) while embracing possibilities.  I always figured Will would eventually let us know what he was comfortable with and he has – and continues to. 

Well, last October we finally got Will up a mountain by way of his Will Wagon.  We chose Pine Mountain because of the long dirt road and the short rooty and rocky climb to the top once on the trail. We pushed, we pulled, we carried, we lugged that cart to the summit and it seems he just adored his time up there with us.  He was clearly comfortable that day but the real proof came about after his ride to the mountaintop. 

In the immediate days that followed he was different.  He was closer to us, friendlier, more tuned in to what was going on around him.  He wanted to be included more often.  His adventure seemed to impact everything about him and changed what had been merely existing to living.

When I look at Will in the backyard now I’m fascinated by his newfound curiosity.  He is a young soul in an old body who is pulled to the edge of the familiar – where the high grass begins – and he stands and looks out with those cloudy eyes for several minutes. 

Yesterday I was thinking of Will and the way he stands there and about how like the most adventurous of us, he wants more from life.  He refuses to be what experts told him to be. 

Will won’t get up many more mountains here.  The trails are far too rugged for his Will Wagon and he doesn’t like sitting in a backpack.  Yet we’ll get him out and about still just as we’ve done over the past year – beyond the high edge of the high grass where predictability ends and adventure awaits. 

Such is life in our little backyard where hummingbirds flutter, butterflies dance, chipmunks scurry, crows caw, foxes slink, bears saunter, Atticus sits, Will wonders, and I dream. 

It’s part of a good life.

 
Out beyond the tall grass a new world awaits.

 


32 comments:

Rachael said...

I love this!!!!

Kat French said...

I love living Will's life with you. In a world of possessions and people reaching for that almighty dollar, I have learned to sit back, relax and watch nature do her thing. I watch my two little friends I live with, Heidi and Laci as they try to terrorize the rabbits and the birds, but the rabbits and birds know there is a fence between them and my pups. We go on our walks and they sniff and do their doggy things. I live at the foot of a mountain in the Appalachians and wouldn't change it for anything. So, I know how you feel about your mountains. thank you for letting me enjoy Will and Atticus with you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Tom, MRW, and Atticus for giving this life of possibilities to WILL! You are all special. :-)

Kat French said...

Thank you to for letting us enjoy Will and Atticus with you. People get so tied up in possessions and making the big buck they forget to stop and smell the roses, which Will has already figured it out. Thanks for letting us "Follow Atticus".

Anonymous said...

And I think to myself...
what a wonderful world.

Mark Totten said...

Can we all come and join the four of you in your backyard? Sounds like the place to be.

Carole Chighisola said...

I am eternally grateful to you, Atticus, Will, Sharon and the rest of your gang - you give me hope, peace and always make me smile - thank you.

Carter W Rae said...

Tom I so enjoy your narratives that speak to the soul and enlighten the Spirit ... I believe that this is why we enjoy the fanciful but realistic images you give us as the Wordsmith .. Showing us the way back to that place that we all enjoyed as young souls and cling to in this journey... Thank you Tom, William L and Atticus for allowing us in your space to sample the joy .. as you would say Onward by all means as we challenge the experts ie. know it alls ;-)

Susan said...

I love your stories and think of you guys often!

Catherine DeWitt said...

Since you only hike with Atticus, Ken, Ann & MRW I won't ask if I can hike with you guys.....but can I come sit in your yard with you. LOL!

Anonymous said...

It's sounds like a wonderful part of your life! Keep on wondering Will! Tom please keep on dreaming/writing & Following Atticus! Thanks for being you! jg

Silvia G. Soos-Kazel said...

Ah such a lovely paradise, the backyard of the Ryan Family. Thank you Tom for again bringing us back to basics if only with the wonders of nature around us. Your two best Buddies Atticus and Will bring such interest with their own personalities to your endearing narrative. So love the enthusiasm of Will to enjoy life. Will encourages all who meet with their physical challenges daily. Your words bring peace and calm as the sun sets on this God given summer day. May the dreams of this day come to reality for you and your Dear Ones.

Patricia Simon said...

As usual, a wonderful story, eloquently told.

Judy Abbott said...

People can be inspired by Will to look beyond themselves. Create that space in our own garden and in your own heart.

Mark Truman said...

Embracing possibilities - where the high grass begins. If only we can all hope to spend our later days in such wonderful ways. Dream on Will...

mlaiuppa said...

I can't tell you how thrilled I am to read of Will's new life. What a gift you have given him and how tightly he has embraced it.

I wonder if Will sees more than we give him credit for. Perhaps creating images from memory enhanced by sound and smell and feel.

And I love how he loves to smell the flowers.

(BTW, the blue letters on black background are very difficult for these aging eyes to read.)

Anonymous said...

I think Will looks forward to what is to come versus back at what was. You gave that to him. From one dog rescuer to another THANK YOU! Your backyard sounds like a wonderful place to be. My pups, Jack and Cate would love it there. As would I. It sounds lovely. Thanks for sharing it with us. Carrie

Carolyn said...

Whenever I read one of your stories I tear up. You are such a good man Tom Ryan. I know everyone says you are lucky to have dogs like Atticus and Will but the real truth is they are lucky to have you. I hope MRW knows how lucky she is to have someone like you. I'd like to find someone like you to fill my life like you fill theirs.

Anonymous said...

Will has become quite the adventurer. Who would have thunk it?

Anonymous said...

God Bless you and your babies! I love to read what you write about Will journey.

Kristyl Adams said...

Loved this blog. In thinking, was wondering what you would think of deeming the little hill, Will's Hill? What would be wonderful for him would be many flowering plants on that hill...he could wander from plant to plant, following the trail of scents. I even thought about watering it...a sprinkler on a hose? And knowing Will with his hop, skipping and jumping like a drunken sailor, I bet he would play in the sprinkler and bite at the water. Oh how my mind wanders. And I can bet you, a lot of FA people would love to send a plant to his hill for planting. Get out your Knee Pads and Garden Gloves, Tom Ryan! :D:D:D

Cyndy Kirk said...

Thanks for inviting us into your back yard Tom! Sounds like a wonderful place to just be! Who would have imagined a year ago that Will would be enjoying such a wonderful life, full of joy and wonder - so glad we can all be a part of what you share with Will and Atticus!

Wendi said...

Making some long term decisions about a big location change in my life. And trying to decide if I want to stay in my safe "yard" or go "beyond the tall grass" and experience something totally new. Still not completely sure, but reading this sure helped. Thank you, Tom, and your family, for being such inspirations. Onward...

Patricia Simon said...

It does indeed sound like part of a good world. Exactly the same or not, it was eloquently written, as usual, and a joy to read once more.
Your writing makes me yearn to live in your part of the country instead of mine - NE Ohio! It does indeed sound like part of a good world. Another reason to give thanks :-). And your generosity in sharing it with us is another reason for us to be thankful as well! Thank you, Tom.

Are you a grilling man? Grilled vegetables for the 4th? Or maybe just some peace and quiet. Whatever, may it be peaceful day and another part of the good life.


















Bev A said...

This was a great story to read while enjoying my morning coffee...thank you Tom....
Molly rallied to be part of the living until she died....was her demise hard to watch...absolutely...was her courage a gift from God...absolutely....

Pam Prince said...

a Special Place in Heaven for you Tom....you have allowed these Friends to do their individual Soul Work...and Will chooses to gaze beyond the Tall Grass....How awesome is that? Thank you for sharing this part of your Life with your Army! we love you!

Sandra Didner said...

I am so glad you are willing to share your pumpkins with the raccoons. So few humans feel generous toward the creatures who live on this earth with us and realize it is their world as much as it is ours. By the way, I am going to share your last blog in which you described how you felt when Will ruptured the tendon in your thumb with my lit classes in order to demonstrate that great literature teaches us to empathize and understand the motivations of all beings, great and small. Forever onward and upward.

sue burrill said...

Your story reminds me of Peyton. We were her puppy raisers, she was a guide dog. She worked for 7 years, and returned to us at age 9. We don't know the circumstances of her last few years working, but she returned overweight, with a severe rash making it painfull to walk. Slowly, with a new diet, the rash went away. We walked short distances and her stamina grew. She lost weight and relearned how to hop over a tree down across a path rather than guide her person around it. She played with our Golden, hiked the woods (leash free for the first time in her life) and swam in the pond and brooks. She spent summers with my son, who was working at Camp Pemi. Her job was to walk around the camp and say hello to staff and campers. She enjoyed her NH life until age 14. Thank you for your posts about the joy an older dog can experience and provide.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING ALL FOUR OF YOU DO! MY DAYS ARE BETTER BECAUSE OF YOU.

Forgiven said...

Made me smile and cry at the same time I love to read about Will and how far he has come. You are an amazing person for giving Atticus and Will the life they have. Keep writing and we will keep reading like a kid waiting for his favorite bedtime story.

Cheryl T said...

Can I please have the life you four lead?

Laury said...

Your second to last paragraph puts your life there into keen focus. Beautifully put as I can hear, smell and see it all with those words alone.