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, October 17, 2013

Potash....Then & Now

Atticus crossing an open ledge on Potash in the Sandwich Range.
About a month ago, Atticus and I sat on the familiar steep rock ledges about a hundred yards below the summit of Mount Potash.  We had the mountain to ourselves, and if you had stumbled upon us you wouldn’t have thought anything was wrong.  We sat as we usually do – side-by-side, sipping water, enjoying the view, enjoying the silence.  Rising up in front of us stood Passaconaway, Son of the Bear; West and East Sleeper; and the Tripyramids.  We know these peaks as well as we know some friends; that’s how familiar they’ve become to us through the years.

Potash is an interesting mountain to climb.  It’s only a 3.6 mile round trip, but there are sections that are pretty darn steep.  Although there isn’t much elevation gain in the beginning, over the entire 1.8 miles it rises up 1,480 feet which tells you how challenging it can be. 

Potash is part of the Sandwich Range that runs from Waterville Valley in the west over to Chocorua in the east.  The peaks have a different feel to them, almost primitive.  The trails are rough and dark. Many of the mountains are named for legendary Indians.  I like it there because it is rarely crowded on most of the lesser known peaks and it feels as though climbing through those woods is like hiding inside of a secret.  The forest has a mythic texture to it.  It’s the stuff of Tolkien’s hobbits, elves, and dwarves.

On that hike a month ago we didn’t make it to the top.  Atticus had enough of the climb.  He was happy to sit and take in the views where we were.  It was during a rough point between his second and third chemo treatments, and his blood levels were dipping lower than they should be.  While he was moving slowly over the tossed rock and tangled root of the mountain, he was happy to keep moving.  As if often the case, we checked in with each other to see how the other is doing.  I do it by watching him and asking him.  He asks with a particular look in his eye.  It’s a look halfway between contemplation and concern as he studies me.  I typically say, “I’m okay. How about you?”  Sometimes he will toss his head as if to nod and then look up the trail, an action I’ve taken to mean “I’m ready when you are.”

But since the cancer came and the amputation and the chemo, we move more slowly.  Lately, we spend a lot of time walking together.  Instead of following Atticus, he spends just as much time following me.  It’s a sign of the chemo but also of times to come as he grows older.  It’s okay.  We simply adjust as we go as we always have. 

I never worry about whether or not Atticus can do something. He’s always found a way to express what he wants or needs.  And on that day, just a hundred yards or so below the mountaintop he wanted to sit for a while. So we sat.  We looked out at a place we call home.  When it was time to get up I asked him, “Do you want to go say ‘hello’ to the top, or do you want to go home?” 

He turned to go home.

He had no trouble making it down the mountain, and he seemed content, if not happy, and he was very healthy throughout the night and during the next day. 

When I told another hiker about this a few days later, she asked, “Why didn’t you pick him up and carry him to the top?”

“Because he didn’t want to go.”

I’m not sure if she thought I was being flippant or not, but it was not my intent.  Atticus always has a say.  It’s how we’ve accomplished what we have.  I try to put him in the best position to succeed on a mountain by making good choices and he lets me know what he can and can’t do.  He’s very self-assured in this way.   

On that day, Atticus had had enough of going up.  So instead we went down and then we went home and all was well. 

Yesterday, on the same tough trail, we took our time.  I’m fighting the lingering grip of a cold with congested lungs while Atticus is getting ready for his fourth chemo treatment.  But it was clear that he’s feeling better than I am.  While we stopped and rested frequently, sometimes for me to cough, others to take in the views or a bit of water, we continued going up.  When we reached the place we stopped at just a month before, a place we’ve passed more than twenty times on the way up this rugged peak of 2,680 feet, we passed on by and made the last leaps and bounds to the top. 

Again we had it to ourselves, as we usually do.  He climbed to the highest point, took in the view; sat and took it in some more.  We ate our late lunch and drank, and the breeze came and the clouds parted, and blue skies were revealed as were the rust colored valleys below – showing off the lingering leaves tucked in the waves of evergreens for as far as the eye can see.

Atticus looked at me, and I knew to pick him up.  We walked over to the edge, and he put his head next to mine as we’ve done more than a thousand mountaintop times.  Together we took it all in.  I said my simple prayer, “Thank you.”  I don’t know what he says, but the expression of peace and tranquility in his eyes, the heavenly sigh, the way his full weight relaxes into mine, I think it also equates to a prayer of gratitude. 

In life, there will always be people who tell you what you shouldn’t be doing.  Recently I’ve received a few letters from people scolding me for hiking while he’s going through chemo.  These are the same kind of people who told me long ago we shouldn’t be hiking in the winter or hiking in any weather at all because Atticus was just too small.  I tend to ignore the advice of self-proclaimed experts and consider instead the communion of two souls from different species when we are together on high. 

It’s sacred and trusted moments such as yesterday’s, and what happened just over a month ago on the same mountain that tells me when a needle is slid into an artery in Atticus’s leg and the poison of chemotherapy is injected into his little body to fight the poison of cancer that as soon as he lays his head upon my hand and our foreheads touch and eyes meet as they often do on a trail we’ll be just fine.  Just as we always have been.  Just as we always shall be.
 

23 comments:

Jack Daley said...

Well said Tom. Great article!!!

Marijane said...

Your posts always make me feel peaceful....even at work. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful.

Kathy Lanigan said...

Beautifully written Tom. I can picture Atticus on top of the mountain, you holding him and Atticus being so content. I hope all goes well with chemo #4. Hopefully you are seeing the light at then end of the tunnel. Soon the chemo treatments will behind you and hiking frequently is adhead of you.

Lewis Green said...

I love your writing because it expresses feelings in such simple yet relatable ways. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Tom don't let what other people say bother you! (I don't think you do). Atticus and you are in tune with each other! He trust you and you trust him! Keep doing what you do! You two inspire me! Thanks, Ken G.

Catherine said...

I truly love your writing. But I never knew I coulld cry so much, whether from joy, sorrow, or empathy. Thank you for sharing your gift with us.

Barbie Perkins-Cooper said...

Your posts are always so compelling and inspirational. I admire how you always have Atticus' well being in mind when you climb these mountains. Together, you climb to find the strength, courage, and support needed to find cancer and chemo therapy. Fighting these dreadful diseases takes great courage and support from your loved ones. Together -- you climb, to stand tall in support of one another. Continue. Never allow others to influence your decisions where Atticus and Will are concerned. Onward!!! Thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

My heart warms when I read your words and think of the loving bond between you two.

Anonymous said...

Tom, Atticus and William THANK YOU for sharing this very special time with us .. It is like having a bit of the Gratitude Hike of our own every time you pass these adventures along to us ... I sort of read and put my spirit in gear and enjoy the ride !!! It is a very beautiful spirit connection you two have Tom and I can feel that in every thing you let us share!!! So all the best to you Tom and one of your good friends that just happen to have four legs and one paw with a toe missing our hero :-) along with our little Buddie William Thank you so much again Tom our thoughts and prayers are with you for tomorrow's treatment you are after all our friends Carter & Stacy

Anonymous said...

Tom and Atticus,
I always love reading your posts, as a tear trickles down my cheek, I understand what you mean about you and Atticus. You are equal, not one better than the other, or higher on the evolutionary chain, you live and love and hike as equals. No more, no less. Atticus is free to make his own decisions just as you are and you both understand this, and can communicate this to each other. I wonder if humans suffer from the "I am the boss" syndrome because we feel that we are the highest evolved of all the species? Which is why we feel we should bend the world to our liking, not listen to what it has to say to us. I feel that we miss so much about what we can learn from nature, and the beings around us because most people go into each day with a closed mind, and a closely guarded heart. I have found the best times in my life are when I watch nature and her beauty and wonder and see what I can learn from it..not what I can impose on it. The stars have always been my favorite thing, I wear a pendant I designed of Orion's Belt that to me looks like a giant arrow in the magnificent winter sky, and that reminds me to chart my course by starlight and to lift my eyes up in wonder at this amazing world we inhabit. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, I have recommended your book too many times to count. One last note..I was correct at my guess for the music you played in a video..I knew it wasn't from Lord of the Rings because I have watched it numerous times, but I just saw The Hobbit, and there it was, and now it is on my iphone. I will keep you, Atticus and Will in my prayers, and hope all goes well tomorrow.

Me for Now said...

Ah, contentment at it's best. Sending healing light and prayers for Atticus tomorrow!

Lisa in N.C. said...

When that needle was about to slide into my arm for the first time, all I wanted to do was run. It was the most terrifying moment of my life. I can't imagine what you go through Tom, watching that, as much as you love Atti. Will be glad when tomorrow's treatment is over and you can say, "only 2 more left." I can't tell you how I dreaded each one. The last one I dreaded most because it made me feel like crap. Worse than crap. I will be so happy when Atti's treatments are over. I dread each one for him and am always so happy and relieved to hear good reports afterwards. Please smooch him for me and tell him Lisa in N.C. is praying for him and sending good thoughts and positive energy, and of course, for you and Will as well. Hugs to all. xxx

Me for Now said...

Ah, true contentment!
He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature. Socrates

Chris said...

Sounds as though you are both right where you are supposed to be, doing what you are supposed to be doing. Thank you for your post. As always, brought tears of joy to my eyes and made my heart fill with gratitude that I have had the opportunity to hike with you. For that, I will be forever grateful. Peace, my friends.

Silvia G. Soos-Kazel said...

It is simply a beautiful bond that you, Tom and Atticus share. One can only hope that a least once in a lifetime one can share such a bond with another of God's created beings. All good wishes as Atti enters another chemo treatment. May the dear Lord be kind to both of you and of course sweet Will!

JennieP said...

The previous comments have all been spot on. I am so happy that Atticus feels as well as he has throughout his treatments. I know there have been down days, but all in all it sounds as if he's weathering it well. Again, thank you, Tom, for allowing us to be a part of this journey that you three are on. My prayers are with you both for tomorrow's treatment. You are Atti's rock and shield thru these times. You calm each other, comfort each other, and strengthen each other. I know tomorrow will be alright simply because you are together.

Hope little Will-man is well. I haven't read anything about him on Facebook this week. I do love that little man and think about him all the time. Those eyelashes and that little hoppity dance he does just melt my heart.

Be well, you three, and let us know how tomorrow goes. Hugs to all three Ryan men.

Harmony Hill said...

Thank you as always. You make others feel; that's a missing piece for many. Peace. Cindy

Donna Jean said...

I'm praying for a positive Friday for Tom & Atticus! Two hearts, One spirit can stand up & say "Fuck Cancer!" My favorite moment of the Gratitude Hike was when I saw You & Atticus facing away from us, Atti had his head resting on your shoulder at peace. I've seen the same picture many times before on your blogs... but it was different being there...it was so special to watch that pure connection. We were at the top of a mountain with Tom & Atticus...Big sign of contentment...PRICELESS! Thank you forever.

Betty and Lenny Fagen said...

And today he napped during treatment ... wishing peaceful days and nights to all!

Will Lange said...

Yep

Anonymous said...

We were out on Hedgehog & Potash this past Sunday, and knowing how you and Atticus love those peaks, I imagined you both sitting and looking out from the many open ledges. I guess that means you exist in some sense in more places than you yourselves know, and are part of more stories than you could ever read.

John

Rocky said...

Looks like Potash is a peaceful place for camping.