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, September 19, 2013

At Times A Little Is Enough

Jack Ryan would be happy with the hikes we’ve taken this week. 

My father was mostly what’s known as a windshield tourist.  Whenever we came north from Massachusetts, he’d drive us around the White Mountains and that’s how we saw these wondrous peaks – through a windshield.  Oh sure, we did all the touristy things such as Clark’s Trading Post, the gondola up Cannon Mountain, the auto road and the cog railway up Mount Washington, the Flume, Santa’s Village, Storyland, and all the other activities young families tend to do.  But we also did some hiking.  Just nothing of any height or difficulty. 

Our hikes were more like walks in the woods of no real distance.  Occasionally we’d stumble upon a view.  This past weekend, while sitting up on the Roost at the northern end of Evans Notch, my father came to mind.  It was only a half mile to the summit, then down another tenth of a mile to a brilliant viewpoint.  We finished off the hike by walking down the long way (seven tenths of a mile), to the southern terminus of the trail, and with an eight tenths of a mile road walk back to our car.

Yesterday, we drove to Wonalancet and hiked to the top of Mount Katherine (a 3.2 mile round trip).  Now if ever there was a mistaken classification here in the White Mountains it would be calling what was named after Katherine Sleeper a mountain.  It’s more like a hill.  But once on top of that splendid little summit there is a beautiful view across the bucolic farmland in Tamworth and the land rises slowly until it reaches the crescendo of Mount Chocorua off in the distance.  And as soon as I finish typing this up, Atticus and I will be heading to Lincoln to drop in on Steve Smith at the Mountain Wanderer to take care of some business.  When in town we’ll drive up through Franconia Notch and take advantage of Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff.  We used to take that 1.5 mile hike quite often when we lived in Lincoln and treated it as an afternoon or morning walk. 

Now in all fairness to these smaller peaks, or what could be considered mere bumps in relation to the rocky behemoths around them, a mountain doesn’t know whether it’s tall or small.  A mountain just is and seems quite happy with its circumstances.  All three of these sensational short hikes have something in common, for little peaks they give great bang for the buck views to the surrounding area.  As short as they may be, there is some work involved.  The climb up the Roost may only be half a mile but it rises up more than 550 feet in elevation.  According to the AMC’s White Mountain Guide (edited by Smith and Mike Dickerman), an elevation gain of one thousand feet over a mile is considered a steep climb.  (No wonder we were feeling out of breath in Evans Notch on Sunday.)  And that last scramble up to the top of Bald Mountain has you using your hands from time to time. 

Okay, so none of these are to be confused with Lafayette, Washington, Moosilauke, or the Kinsmans.  But presently we take what we can get.  Atticus and I are a long way off from the days of thinking nothing about trekking longer than twenty miles.  The little guy is halfway between eleven and twelve, but I don’t think his age would really slow him down.  Cancer has, however.  Actually, the cancer hasn’t.  It’s the chemo.  He doesn’t seem to miss that absent toe since its amputation earlier in the summer.  Heck, we climbed Black Cap less than three weeks after its removal.  But chemo is a different thing.  It’s fighting poison with poison, but the drug doesn’t differentiate between good cells and bad and it wreaks havoc on the body. 

Atticus’s body handled the first treatment well.  The second wasn’t so easy.  It got worse as the weeks went on, so much so that we’ve now moved his treatments from every three weeks to every four. There were even some days last week he chose not to go for our regular morning or evening walk. 

So while in the past I would have had nice things to say about the views offered from the Roost, Mount Katherine, and Bald Mountain and talked about them being pleasant “walks”, for us, they’ve turned into mountains.  At least for this summer and fall. 

My father loved such gentle hikes and it was a great way to work out his troop of children when we were on vacation.  But like the mountains themselves, Jack Ryan didn’t seem to consider them small at all.  He was away from his Framingham or Boston office and was in the woods, armed with a sense of wonder and a lightness of spirit.  And oh, what a pleasure those walks in the woods were – even if I was too young to appreciate them.  Those gentle seeds he sprinkled throughout our childhood turned into something much more for Atticus and me.  They turned into our way of life. 

As we wait patiently and hold onto ourselves throughout the chemo storm, I remember what my father thought of little mountains and those walks into a wooded wonderland and I feel it, too.  For now, they are all Atticus and I have as we scale our toughest mountain.  And yet, they feel like enough.  While sitting on those rocky viewpoints, the world is quite glorious to me – far more so than the view from our couch – and especially so when I look to my side and see one paw with a missing toe and a soul at peace as he too takes the views and fills his soul.

Atticus M. Finch takes in the view from The Roost.


Anonymous said...

Your written words always leave me in peace. Thank you. - Amanda

Silvia G. Soos-Kazel said...

Sometimes the little in life gives us the most pleasure.
Thank you Tom for a very thoughtful blog today. Sending positive vibes for a "good" chemo day and results for trooper, Atti. Please give him a loving pat from me and the 4 Pack.

Michelle Gray said...

I love your blog and your Facebook posts, Tom! They always help me gain perspective and gratitude for all of life's simple pleasures, the nurturing peace and calm that can be found in nature, and the miracle of taking each day as it comes and treating it all as a gift.

Sandy Z said...

Chins up, Ryan clan -you are truly finding the joy and peace in whatever each day brings, small hills or massive challenges. Nothing is insurmountable! Another beautiful piece of writing -from your heart to paper...thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

It was so wonderful to open this up and see a new post from you and Atticus. I check everyday to see how things are progressing. It's so wonderful that you and Atticus have such a happy positive outlook on the "c" word and aren't allowing it to interfere with your lives. Please keep it up.

Cate R said...

Your father would be proud of your hikes, accomplishments and the ability to give others peace and comfort through your words.I am addicted to your web site and posts which brings a smile to my face and warms my heart. Thank you once again....Onward!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think life and living and music go hand in hand. Each day, or stage in life, varies in rhythm. Luckily, when we can't choose the rhythm, we have choice in the music. The aim is to find the appropriate tune, symphony, etc, that can keep us inspired, grateful and of good courage. Today may be a slow dance; tomorrow one more demanding, but no less worthy to appreciate for the memories that bring hope and optimism.

A lovely remembrance of your father who, I am sure, is so proud of you.

Carter W Rae said...

Beautiful blog Tom I am smiling as I read it ... When this panorama of space and time mix as with your "windshield" sight seeing youth right up to the latest outing with your friend , it really makes me think on the cycles of life and taking the valuable essence of it all .. I really do enjoy your writing and the lessons, joys and challenges they share ...It helps us all savor the beauty of it all .. You are in our thoughts with the next round of treatment for our little friend there and thank you for letting us share your very special life that was introduced to us with your wonderful story... You have the entire Following Atticus community, praying for you all and on your side.. That is very powerful stuff!! Blessings to you Tom and the pack ....from Carter & Stacy

R&A Adams said...

Just got back from Conway area. Used to be able to climb up Tuckerman's Ravine trail--but we're dealing with aging and Parkinson's disease. Instead we "hiked" along Lost Pond and through a bit and saw great beauty. Lucky to have the opportunity.

Hoping all experience healing in your household. Best.

Pam Hicks said...

Ahhhh.....I'm a big fan of "less is more" & "keep it simple". And adaptability & flexibility are lovely qualities. Thanks for the great refresher, Tom! Bonus: Now I have a short list of the simpler hikes :-) Much love to you & A & W. And guess what my security word is below - "wilagem". This leads to another of my favorite concepts - there are no coincidences :-)

Anonymous said...

It really is the little things, isn't it. Love and prayers to all the Ryan clan. Just know that we all love you. You're in my heart and prayers daily.

colleen said...

Bless your heart, Tom Ryan. Thanks for sharing your days with us, and I know the trying times are something to deal with, but deal with them you must. Your positive thoughts lead us all, and we are all thinking positively for you and Atticus. That little dog has lead us on a journey. I was just talking to my sister and cousin, asking them if they are following Atticus, and they both chorused "Yes" thanks to me and my facebook followers. We are all keeping the positive thoughts your way.

Betty and Lenny Fagen said...

Hi Tom,

This afternoon we spent time with another warrior fighting her fight and working very hard at it. Atticus was on my mind during our visit and I wondered about how tired he must be, too.

I watched her family as they cared for her and saw that look in their eyes ... the look of love. I've heard "that look" in your words and I witnessed it in CT.

We say a healing prayer for Atticus and Will every Friday night and daily we send positive thoughts to the three of you.

Thank you for sharing the beautiful pics and vids ... glad today was a good day!

Feel the hugs from here to there!

Betty & Lenny

Ellen Kolb said...

There's great beauty to be found in the hills,seeing mountains from a distance! Take it easy, both of you.

Unknown said...

I think about Atticus all the time. I know how chemo feels. I also was a chemo nurse back in the day. Some of us do not handle these drugs as well as others. I am so glad his dose is being cut back. I could not handle it and never want to have it or feel that way again. I am so sorry, Atticus, for how you feel. I am sorry for you too Tom...having to look into Atti's eyes.

mlaiuppa said...

What is a mountain? A hill by any other name would still be a hike.

If it is a challenge to do a short hike up a hill, it's as good as a mountain.

It's not the altitude or the distance. It's the journey.

When will Atticus' chemo finally be over?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the inspirational post Tom and Atti. Hugs from Waterville Valley readers who've been touched by your journey.

Anonymous said...

You can see more than you have time for on the Roost or any other small peak, through the knowledge of science and through the wonder in one's soul. As Thoreau said:

“It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.”

You two see plenty.


Anonymous said...

Many years ago (15) i went through chemo and i had difficulty with even easy hikes and walks. And now hiking is one of the things that keeps me happy and sane, and i o it as much as i can.

My experience is that it can seem like a long slog, with bad days and better days, but once the chemo stops the body starts to heal. I know that you know this already, but the end of chemo does eventually come, and everything gets much better.

Best wishes to you, Atticus and Will, going through a rough spot, but together.

Betty Fagen said...

Hi Tom,

I'm not a good writer like so many that post here and on FB, which is a frustration...BUT I have a heart like so many others that is full of love and gratitude from the day I saw Atticus on the book cover way over on the other side of the bookstore - it was a chance meeting that has changed & altered me.

I read today about you holding Will up to the sky where he can be closer to the stars. Twenty nine years ago a new daddy held his baby daughter up to the sky and thanked the universe for the miracle in his hands.

Sadly, he was only to be part of her life for way too short a time & died suddenly a few weeks before her 4th birthday.

He always spoke about his death and when it occurred we were not to worry for every night we would know that he was a star way up high always looking over us ... and he did - always will. He sent us Lenny. So we always look up and smile.

My heart aches for you as Will continues to will himself to move forward and fight the fight that is tougher with each day. He is Will the Warrior. I know you'll know when the time is right for him and in the meanwhile he is enjoying another Autumn of his life. Who knew?

Hoping today is a peaceful day at your end.

Feel the hugs from here to there.