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 30, 2013

Want To Hike With Tom & Atticus?

Here's your chance to follow Atticus to an autumn view similar to this one.

Our favorite thing to do is to find a mountain without anyone else on it.  It's our preferred method of hiking - if we want to be around people we can head to Starbucks.  Over the past eight years the vast majority of our hikes have been just Atticus and me.  As a writer I like the solitude.  As a man I enjoy the peace, tranquility, and spirituality found on a quiet peak.  As an individual Atticus does well with crowds but he'd rather be away from them.  And Atticus is definitely not a "let's hang out with other dogs" kind - especially on mountains. He enjoys a brief hello, but that's about it - and because of that I can count the number of times we've hiked with other dogs on one hand.

However, one of us is about to change, while the other stays in his comfort zone when we invite twelve people to join us on a hike on Saturday, October 5, 2013.  (Rain date October 6.) We'll be inviting six individuals and three couples to climb a mountain with us. (Unfortunately for those who want your dogs to meet Atticus, no dogs will be allowed.  He just wouldn't enjoy it and it's too unpredictable to subject him to that for several hours on the trails.   Since Atticus will be going through chemo treatments, it's just one more reason I will make sure he's comfortable and not harried by other friendly but enthusiastic dogs.  Sorry about this.) 

For those who are used to hiking, it will be a moderate trek of four to six miles, but it won't be easy.  You'll feel it and you'll most likely be stiff and aching afterward.  Some will probably even feel it the next day.  Because of that we're asking only those who actually think they can handle a tough workout to consider joining us.  And for those who say the White Mountains are nothing compared to the Rockies, which are 10,000 feet higher, don't be so quick to judge.  The elevation gain is often the same and these trails are pretty rugged and tougher than in most other places in the country.  In short, while the hike will not be a 23 mile Bonds traverse in winter conditions, it will be tough.  Please keep that in mind.

I have several peaks in mind for the hike but will keep them to myself right now. The only people who will know which hike we'll be doing are those who are selected to join us and even then they won't be informed until the very end.  That will give us a modicum of privacy.

Each of the mountains being considered all have stunning views and since it will be the first week of October our stunning fall foliage will be something to behold.
Here's what you will be responsible for if you are chosen: transportation to the White Mountains and to a morning meeting spot where we will all have breakfast; your own lodging and meals; your hiking gear (we'll give you a list of what to bring); your own well being, even though we will be with you it will be up to you to hold yourself responsible and you'll be asked to sign a waiver.  Depending how people feel after the hike, we may even all get together for dinner as well.  What we are supplying is the hike and a walk up the mountain with us.  All else falls on you. 

Will won't be joining us since it will be a rough trail and there are only a few his Will Wagon can go up.  However, you'll get to meet him in the morning before the hike.

I know the invitations will be made over the next couple of weeks and thankfully that's out of my hands.  But here's what you can do, if you are interested in joining us, send an email to with the subject line "Oct. 6 Hike". attention to the Facebook page where Christina (and Mike) will come up with some ideas. 

I suppose the only thing left to discuss is my motive.  Why hike with a dozen other people when we crave the solitude of the mountains?  Consider it a thank you for all the good energy, support, and kindness you've sent our way.  We can't bring thousands up a mountain with us, but we can bring a dozen who represent the more than 15,000 on our Facebook page. 

Oh, and one last thing: make sure you have a good camera.  You'll love it views, the colors, and something tells me the company of what promises to be a good and interesting group of people.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Backyard Simplicity.

It's a simply soulful afternoon here in Jackson. Atticus is sleeping under a shade tree. I'm reading and listening to music. Will is spending time in his garden.  Life is grand.
Wildflower Will.
"Welcome to my little patch of garden."
For one mostly blind old dog, bliss is found somewhere
between the wildflowers and the pumpkin patch.
Will watching over the pumpkins.
His squinty-tough guy pose. (The sun was bright and in his eyes.)

Cosmos and other wildflowers.
Where we do our best thinking, reading, writing...or nothing at all.
“A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one's neighbor — such is my idea of happiness.”  ~ Leo Tolstoy
Chaos & order.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Kate Ebner's Interview with Tom Ryan On Her Show "Visionary Leader, Extraordinary Life"

Yesterday we appeared on Kate Ebner's "Visionary Leader, Extraordinary Life" and enjoyed every minute of it.  You can listen to it or download it for free at the link provided below.

I can't say enough about Kate Ebner's ability to host her show.  she is a gifted conversationalist and made it easy to chat with her even though we were hundreds of miles away from one another and I think it comes off in the comfort of our conversation.

Here's what Kate has to say about the interview:
Many dream of undertaking a quest into nature, but few actually pursue this idea. Middle-aged, overweight and acrophobic, newspaperman Tom Ryan and his miniature schnauzer, Atticus M. Finch, were an unlikely pair of mountaineers, but, as a tribute to a friend who died of cancer, they began a journey of endurance and self-discovery together. Tom followed his dog up the highest peaks of New Hampshire’s White Mountains in the icy dead of winter, and they went on to attempt the 48 peaks of the White Mountains twice in one winter while raising money for charity. Since the publication of the book Following Atticus in 2011, thousands have been touched by Tom and Atticus’ story of friendship, perseverance, love and self-discovery. At the heart of this story is an extraordinary relationship that leads to personal transformation.

You can access it by
clicking here.   Enjoy, everyone.

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.