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, August 03, 2013

The Day After Chemo Treatment One

The sun has set behind the mountains in Jackson and with one fan in the window of the writing room blowing out, the cool of the early evening flows in through the open windows here in the living room.  Just a few feet away, the music of Johannes Brahms flows just as easily out of a small wooden speaker on top of the coffee table.  Nestled on the floor with his ear pressed against one of the table’s wooden legs is Will. 

He seems to like Brahms because he does this on occasion with some music he likes – quite often symphonies.  He cannot hear it, of course, but he feels the vibrations. His body has the slightest rock to it as if he is conducting with his heart.  When I move around the room his eyes follow me, but his ear is steadfast.  It’s married to the vibrations. 

Just above Will, Atticus is stretched out on the couch.  He’s sleeping but when I move about the room his eyes also follow me.  He’s tired and he should be.  For the first time in more than a month Atticus took two pretty good walks.  Both through forest paths lined with soft, rusty pine needles.  The first was too short; he wanted to walk a little further.  But the walk this evening was longer and he was happy to get back to the car and is content to be resting now at home. 

The fact that Atticus took two good walks the day after his first chemo treatment has me smiling.  His foot seems fine.  The amputated toe does not hinder him and he walked without his Muttluk to protect it.  There is the slightest limp, detected only by his floppy ears being out of sync in the way they move with each stride.  But the bounce in his step belies any evidence of cancer or chemo.  He’s not ready to go up a mountain yet, but he was certainly ready to be out in the woods trotting along meandering trails.

Toward the end of the second walk we stopped by the lake. I sat on a log and he sat a few feet away at the water’s edge watching a couple of ducks.  After a few minutes he came and sat by my side and together we watched the clouds looking down at their own reflection in the smooth-as-glass lake while the laughter of children from the busy side of the lake played in the background.  He and I didn’t look at each other until it was time to leave.  I felt his eyes on me and said, “Okay, you ready?”  With that we both stood and walked together along the trail. 

We’ve been through a lot these past few months and while Atticus and I have had each other, what we haven’t had was our hiking.  It’s a strength for us and peaceful place to retreat to and renew ourselves.  It was finally good to be getting reacquainted with the woods we love.  The broken bone in my left foot is only a memory and he seems to feel the same way about the bones removed from his left foot. 

Emerson wrote, “In the woods we return to reason and faith.”  This morning and this evening we did exactly that, but we also returned to where we are most comfortable, where the outside world fades away like a dream at waking and our souls are filled and our spirits elevate. It felt right to be where we were listening to birds, watching red squirrels and the smallest toads we have ever seen.  At one point I picked one up, held it in the palm of my hand, and together we sat looking down at it as the toad looked up at us.  It didn’t seem panicked or in a hurry to leave because when I placed it down on the log we’d found it on it stuck around for a while – and so did we. 

It feels good to know we’ve now made it this far and what we share will only be fortified by nature’s embrace now that the beginning stages of hiking have returned.  This is the world we are happiest in, where the seasons dictate the pace of life, not technology, time clocks, or social life.

One of the advantages of having Atticus as a hiking partner is that he has no trouble stopping on a trail and letting me know he wants to turn back.  He didn’t do that today, but what gave me the confidence to walk as far as we did when he is supposed to be most susceptible to fatigue is knowledge that he knows his limitations and understands he has a right to choose.  I’m told that in this chemo portion of our lives we’ll be on a physical rollercoaster.  There will be good days and bad days; days when we feel like we can climb mountains and days when just making it out into the backyard will be enough. That’s okay.  We’ll take whatever is offered. 

Soon enough we will be sitting on a mountaintop once again.  Then another. And another.  I know the mountains will come and they’ll mean even more to us now than they already did.  That’s something I didn’t think was possible.  But watching Atticus bounce along the trail today was a hint of things to come.  In watching him I felt a joy that is indescribable and I can only imagine what it will be like once those walks get longer and we start to go up – up until there is no more up, which is what Atticus has always done.  

Those days are coming, but tonight here we are – two of us listening to Brahms, all three of us feeling him, and I’m dreaming of the mountains we love as never before.  Oh, the hikes we will take this autumn will be gifts indeed – there will be peace and laughter and gratitude and joy.  Most importantly there will be the two of us.

27 comments:

urbantidepool said...

Your peace is contagious. Thank you, Tom and Atticus!

Lori Kracoff said...

Like a breathe of fresh sweet air. Thank you.

Brenda Burns said...

I am so glad to hear Atticus is doing well. Every post about him makes me even more grateful for my three wonderful dogs and their companionship.

Anonymous said...

Just wonderful! So happy to hear Atticus & you had two great peaceful walks today! <3

colleen said...

Love to read of your continuous love for peace, nature and Atticus.

Betty and Lenny Fagen said...

Sitting here and breathing it all in ... feels so good. When I watched your walk in the woods today I noticed the hop in Atticus's step and it made my heart feel warm. The red mushroom you showed to us is one of my favorite colors. My dad was Poppy ... red and poppies make me smile ... and there it was on your trail.

My dad was called the hiker ... he walked us everywhere ... no mountains all flat but he made sure we saw what there was to see.

I miss him. August 22 will be a year that he is no longer with us but he had left us way before that to the dementia.

Enough of this I'm rambling ... let the peace continue on this special day and all the days to come as you, Atticus, and Will continue to be together, renewed & making sweet memories.

Pleasant dreams tonight.

Betty Fagen

GranSan said...

I'm glad he is doing good. I live your descriptions of the mountains. They sound beautiful

Denise said...

You have painted such a beautiful picture with your words. Love these kind of writings from you. Puts me in such a peaceful mood.

Kim Hampton said...

What glorious news, thank you for sharing :). I've so enjoyed all of the wonderful hiking stories that I've dusted off my hiking boots and I'm excited to go exploring - thank you for the inspiration!
After enjoying so many videos of Atti leading the way for you, Tom, all I will have to do is imagine Atti on the trail and it will keep me going...onwards.
Sleep tight!

Marilyn said...

You write so beautifully that I feel I am there too. Bravo to you and Atti---the mountains are waiting for you ! Enjoy your evenng rest gents and not forgetting Will and the soothing music. You all make my day very happy!

Carter W Rae said...

Tom we so enjoy your narrations with you times with Atticus and William ... It was a real pleasure seeing you both in your element today Thank you .... Blessings of peace, healing and comfort to all three of you over there in New Hampshire Always a treat!!! from our pack to yours ♥♥♥♥

Kristyl Adams said...

Here's to Healing ~ Mother Nature has her way of protecting our souls. So glad Atti took you for your walks today ;)
And Keep on Tip Toeing through the Tulips, Will~

Barbara and Bijou said...

Ahhhh. That was our lullaby for today. Thank you and good night.

Anonymous said...


I should just say absolutely nothing..and just remain blown away and speechless.. but I can't let such a genius piece of writing go unnoticed.

It is magic to me how you seduce us to drift from place to place seamlessly...almost, Tom, as if we are looking over your shoulder as you hold, a charmed and tiny toad in the palm of your hand under the watchful eye, of course, of our favorite sage and fearless canine, while Brahms plays sweetly through the trees, and your windows inhale and exhale the life you love ... It is for me so palpable a "visit" and one, needless to say, I loved.

I want to return. Something tells me I will.

celia said...

Wow, you really knocked that one out of the park. The nature of your spirit was voiced. Beautiful,beautiful thoughts on life coming out. Must have been the time spent in worship today!!

Mary said...

The peace and solitude described sounds healing and complete...although I do have a story of tiny frogs from east coast days which is not so peaceful. ;-) Your life is special.

Silvia G. Soos-Kazel said...

A day of revival and renewal for Tom and Atticus. So richly rewarded today for your patience, your facing fear head on, accepting life with all its gives and takes. Your writing is like a soothing melody that warms the heart and returns to mind as a happy treasured memory.

Ivana said...

I saw your story on TV and now I have also blog. Experiencing a fulfilled life. This post is wonderful ... Give my greetings to Atticus and Will.
I also have a dog (also written a book), with whom I go to the countryside, but the surrounding area is so beautiful.
Ivana from the Czech Republic, Prague
http://mimosa68.blogspot.cz/

Holli T said...

You paint the most vivid picture of you and Atticus. It is so calming to read and follow your journey. As progress continues may God be with you each and every step along the way.

Sandy said...

"Peace, gratitude, laughter and joy"-and with love, you have it all! Fervently hoping for continued strength and healing!

Tandi said...

You are fast becoming my favorite author since Thoreau, Tom. Something special here.

Mia_Italia_ Elisa M. said...

Dear Tom and sweet angel Atticus and Will! You all changed my life in such a beautiful way I can't describe...Thank you! Love you all deeply!

Debbie said...

Starting my morning with your sense of peace and calm. Looking out at a pond and listening to the birds, slight breeze. That's the limit of my writing, but thank you for yours, Tom!

Marrella Hale said...

I look forward to your beautiful words each day. Thanks so much. You all are in my thoughts.

mlaiuppa said...

I'm so glad the treatment hasn't limited Atticus' hiking opportunities. There is so much we do not know about health but mental attitude seems to have quite an effect on healing. You can't give a pep talk to a dog nor does he know he is being treated for cancer, but I'm sure having the freedom to hike and to choose makes all the difference in the world.

Will is definitely listening to the music through the table legs and the bones in his head. Try some Mozart, about 60 beats per minute. That will chill him right out.

Michelle Gray said...

Thank you, Tom, for allowing us to share a bit of your walks with us. It really moved me to see you and Atticus walking in the woods and Atticus doing so well. I know the woods, nature, and the mountains are where you find strength and renewal. It's wonderful to see you both back there. Continuing to send good vibes, much love, and many prayers.

Anonymous said...

Brahm's music has an intrinsic nobility. I think the same of Atticus and you all. It's just there.

John