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, September 30, 2014

A Seasonal Meditation

We were out in the dying light late yesterday, and in the new light of this gray New England morning.  We were walking.  Walking and thinking and reflecting.  I do some of my best writing this way.
Steve Smith, the author of several White Mountain guide books and a friend of ours, takes copious notes when out on a trail.  A section of his home is devoted to decades of tiny notebooks filled with his scratched observations.  We once compared writing habits and he was surprised that I do not take notes on a hike.  Instead I walk with Atticus and Nature and a theme is delivered to me. I ruminate on it and allow myself to actually feel it.  I bring that gift home with me to my writing table.  That's how it is when we hike, and now when we are hiking less and walking more.  This is how I write. 
Recently, while corresponding with a friend, I shared some experiences Atticus and I are going through that are new for us.  We have been discussing the aging process and how I notice signs that things are different for my friend.  As he ages we change the way we do certain things.  We grow together, even as he gets older.  So while his physical limitations accrue, so do the gifts of the experience of this friendship and shared love and life. 
I've come to realize that most of the mountains we've come to know intimately - the mountains who have helped shape our identity and this bond - will never see the two of us together again.  There will come a day when I return to them, but Atticus won't be with me. 
Fortunately, there is so much more he and I share than just our love of mountains.  We still enjoy our walks; our visits with the cool running waters of streams, brooks, and rivers; sitting on the side of a trail to catch our breath and let the setting of Nature catch up to us; and just being at one with Nature, or in our little home.  Atticus is supportive of Will by being understanding and patient.  But where Atticus thrives is when it's just the two of us out on an adventure either big or small.  Away from man made noise, and wrapped in the sounds of sighing trees, birds singing, chipmunks chirping, the grumble of bears we sometimes encounter, and of course, the rustling of leaves overhead and now underfoot as they fall from the trees.
Old age delivers lessons for us to learn together.  It's one thing to take in an aged Will at fifteen; it's entirely different to pay attention as Atticus ages before my eyes.  It's a process and together we handle it as a team.  I prefer to consider it a new mountain range to traverse.  

Walking through corridors of colored trees and watching a handful drift carelessly down upon us, spiraling to a quiet resting place to create new life in coming years; it’s easy to think of the passage of time. Of life and death.  There will come a day Atticus will die.  There will come a time when I do as well.  It’s something none of us can escape.  I learned this at an early age and I tend not to obsess about it, although I understand most other people do.  For some reason I do not fear death.  The adventurer in me thinks of it as a mysterious new beginning.

This was my contemplation while enjoying the glory of leaves as we strolled along the solitude of a country road, the only sound being the three crows who were following us from tree to tree and calling out their pleasantries or obscenities.  In the autumn we get a great lesson of how graceful that passage from life to death can be.  It's natural.   
When we returned home this morning I responded to a friend’s letter and wrote something I’ll share here with you as well. 
"Those we love, after all, are never really gone.  We may not be able to touch them any longer, but they can touch us and most likely always will." 
But death will have to wait, for today we live.  I don't mind visiting with it in my thoughts now and again, but these are the days for living.  I know that by the way Will is doing his best to jump up on me as I bring food to his dish.  He doesn't get very far off the ground with those two front paws.  He's more like a wind-up toy.  Yet his exuberance makes up for what his physical abilities lack.

So it's onward we go.  Onward, by all means.


Anonymous said...

A very nice three on the road to yet many more adventures throughout life. Autumn, a time of reflections and winds of change. Enjoy!

Karen Giebel said...

Yes. Though gone from sight, our loved ones will always continue to touch us especially when we need them the most. Thank you Tom for this beautiful blog. And onward by all means!

Joanne - Center Conway said...

As always, Tom, thank you for putting life's journey in perspective! Love to all!

Unknown said...

Thank you for this kind and gentle nudge toward I topic so many of us fear. I do want to believe that the adventures, for all of us, continue in transition to another ethereal (for lack of a better word) plein. Until then, heaven happens every day that I am able to walk with Marnie, and clearly it happens for you Atticus, and Will. Thank you again for encouraging us to celebrate what is available to us each and every day. Onward, and blessings to you three.

Carter W Rae said...

Beautiful and touching Tom your insights are always enjoyed and incorporated in our lives also. You are bright moments in my day especially now .. Thanks again to our friends out there the "three of New Hampshire" from us Stacy and Carter

Chris said...

Thank you, Tom. For those of us who choose accept and embrace the fact that we all will eventually die, we tend to make more meaningful memories with those we love. Wonderful to be aware of death, and even more wonderful not to fear it, as we have too much living to do...too many memories to make before our end. Onward indeed, my friend.

Anonymous said...

"The passage of Time" Great Blog Tom, what a gift you have & I am grateful that you share it with all of us! Thank you!

Betty said...

Hi Tom,

Thank you for a bright spot on this dreary gray day. I'm reminded of Leo Buscaglia's, The Fall of Freddie the Leaf. The seasonal changes in the leaves and the different phases of our lives are so connected. All life is here for the time it is given. We are where we are "supposed to be."

I look forward to seeing more beautiful pictures and reading your beautiful words.

Peace dear Jackson friends.


Unknown said...

Thank you Tom for your eternal giving and loving of both Atticus and Will. Wish I could meet you and share the love you have for these two special gentle souls. .

Anonymous said...

Never have I seen a more eloquent illustration of "Sad but true."

Donna Jean said...

As Always, thank you for sharing your deep inspiring thoughts with us. The past is history, the future is a mystery and that is why today is a "present" we all need to enjoy every second of. Every memory is precious, here's to you and Atticus making many more and sharing what you will. Hugs to You, Atticus & Will! Onward by all means!!

Sandy Zerbinopoulos said...

This article reminds me of another wise writing, the Fall of Freddie the Leaf, which also ponders life and death. Worth reading if you have not - it is actually written for children who must deal with the physical loss of a loved one, but so gently and gracefully written. I so love your quote here, Tom, as I face the daily challenges of the last surviving relative of an 89 yr. old mom, and similar to Atticus, the daily tribulations of my my dearest friend, our 11 year old yellow lab, Riley. This column was a comfort today, thank you. said...

I love that: we cannot touch the ones we love (and lost) but they touch us, and always will.
I miss my daughter who died 3 years ago, but she has changed my life and I am so grateful for having had the time I did with her. Life ends but love lasts forever.

Michael Morse said...

Mr Wilson will spend his entire life with me, and I'll spend a portion of mine with him. But the time we spend together is eternity for us both. Loving the moment, and the moments I took to read your post, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts of death. It inspires me to visit with it and accept it in ways I haven't been able to before.