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.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Renewing Vows

My dearest friend,

I fell in love again today.

I read your latest letter and took it with us into the woods where it warmed me from the autumn chill.  As I walked with Atticus, you were with us as well, for I know you’d be just as enchanted by where the forest took us.  It was a different trail, one I never knew existed.  We strolled through the fading greenery and met with maples half red, looking like last night’s woodland elves didn’t finish painting them.  The path moved gently up and down, like a children’s rollercoaster and we rode it happily – deeper away from the unnatural noise we live into and into the natural world we thrive in. 

Atticus was young again, happy to be trotting with me through a realm cool and fragrant.  Pine cones here.  A few fallen leaves there.  Slick roots.  Boulders split in two allowing our passage.  Cool earth underfoot.  The air was clean and sweet enough to drink.  We stopped more often than Atticus wanted to, which is a nice change from what he experienced in the warmer more humid months.  We stopped so I could sit and look about us to see things we might miss if we were moving as we had been. 

With each pleasant break, I looked into Atticus’s eyes and he into mine.  I measured his age, thought about how just thirty minutes before he was having trouble on a linoleum floor, but once back in the forest he was moving as I hadn’t seen since early last spring.  Rolling along an undulating trail, that turned here and there to some mysterious place awaiting us, before we left that behind as well to move forward, ever onward. 

I thought about a repeated comment many who have lost the friendship of a dog have posted regularly on our Facebook page in regards to Will: “Treasure every moment.”  Whenever I read it I understand it’s more about their grief than anything else, but I also look at Will and Atticus and everyone else I love, you included, and say to myself, “Why wouldn’t I treasure every moment?  I always have since starting this new life.”  To me it’s only natural to always embrace and exhibit gratitude.

What made today even more special was discovering this new place to walk.  We had the sun dappled forest, the singing birds, sighing trees, and mountain breeze to keep us company, but that was it.  Other than my thoughts.  Watching Atticus move along I laughed aloud a couple of times and said what I often say in the woods, “I love this place.  God, how I love this life!”  Call it a simple exclamation or yet another prayer.  Either way works. 

I know Atticus and I will never return to most of the places that drew us here in the first place but to find our own hundred acre wood to rally through without a care in the world brought out the best in both of us.  I was breathing happiness.  At times we jogged up a slight rise, around a seductive bend, and when we came to an especially beguiling splash of red in all that green I stopped to take it in.   It wouldn’t have been right not to pause and take it in.

Falling in love again . . . I owe that to the forest and the lower reaches of the mountains.  To walk through the trees as we did today was reminder of what we treasure.  A fresh feeling in the midst of the familiar.  I felt as excited as a child and I wouldn’t have been able to speak even if you had been here because I was breathless, not with work but through beauty.  It’s the sixth sense that works for me.  It always has.  We can see, touch, taste, hear, and smell, but what matters most to me is how I feel when with a person or a place.  Today’s gift was a reminder of love, a renewing of the vows – to love and to cherish until death do us part.  Such is the ecstasy of walking through a new mystery and realizing that there are miles and miles to go that will both remind us of another special time, but also teach us again that each new day in the natural world is an adventure if we simply appreciate it. 

As I notice visible signs of Atticus aging, my challenge now is not to pay as much attention to what we can no longer do, but to the gifts still within our grasp.  Time spent in the forest where our bodies are free and filled with life are one of them.    

Today I fell in love again, and I knew you’d understand deep in your pilgrim soul.



Anonymous said...

Thank you for that journey and the recall of some of my wonderful memories. Yes - today we all fell in love again.

Clara said...

I don't know who your "dearest friend" is but she's a very lucky woman.

Carter W Rae said...

I know this is the truest expression love and being one with Creation .. Tom your expressions only get more vivid and choice as we follow along .. Carter and Stacy

Sara said...

Wow, just beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing and making my day.

Unknown said...

Yes, it is truly a wonderful feeling, being free to simply BE. Blessings to you, Tom, and to the always adored Atticus and Will. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Tom, reading this made me feel as if the reader was the "you" except for the fact that you began with "I took your letter with me into the forest ...." You are a gifted writer. Thank you for sharing your lives with us.

Linda P said...

I echo Sara's "Wow". Such beautiful and profound thoughts to give us pause. It's been several weeks and I've missed your blogs. Thank you for another wonderful writing.

mlaiuppa said...

That is absolutely beautiful.

I fear we humans rush through life too much. We don't stop and listen and look and smell and pay attention.

Dogs do.

Perhaps that is why to me they seem so peaceful and content.

I will be retiring in June. I am trying to learn to slow down, to stop, to listen, to see, to smell, to touch, to just let go and pause to reflect, relax and stop hurrying.

I need to learn not to rush through life but take my time.

I learn to be more like my dog.

Soon, there will be no place I need to hurry to, nothing that is so urgent I can't take some time to enjoy and ponder and experience.

Your words have said it exactly.

Thank you so much for this post. I think it is my favorite of all.

Anonymous said...

Love lives on.

Chris said...


Donna said...

Thank you for sharig such a private moment with those of us who love Following Atticus. You are are beautiful soul, Tom. With your words of peace and tranquility you take us to place we can only dream of. Those place are walking along side of you and Atticus.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing these beautiful nature hikes with Atticus. Your outlook on life always gives me something to ponder and learn from. You make my heart feel peaceful, like food for the soul. I love your blogs, they are worth the wait. Onward my friend.

KayGiblin S in Virginia said...

I read this three times. A breathtaking embrace of time, Nature, ...and Love...thank you for sharing your day, and the magic within it <3

Unknown said...

Hi Tom
It's brilliant to read your description and views on a simple life and the magic of the mountains, live life and follow your dreams
William and Charli Australia

Anonymous said...

Hello Tom. It has been well over one month since I read the last words of your wonderful book. There has not been a day that has passed, where I have not begun my day by touching base with the happenings in your life with Atticus and Will. You have been a very welcome addition to my daily routine, helping me begin my day with gentleness, compassion, inspiration and love. I look forward to each days adventure regardless of scale, knowing it will always be constructive and eye opening. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for always including others in your journey.


Michael Morse said...

Thank you for the inspiration. We live near the beach. It's like the mountains, only not as hilly.

Noblepa said...

Just confirmation that you are right where you are supposed to be!

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,
As always, thank you for sharing. I always enjoy your writing.

Angel said...

Death of the body is in inevitable, we will all die. I believe that the spirit of that person, animal will continue on another journey. Free from the restrictions our bodies endure as we grow older or due to ill health. It saddens me to think our beloved 'furry' companions will eventually pass over as will family & friends. However I will continue to speak to them as if they were but in another room. There is a quote '' I found myself smiling today & realised I was thinking of you'. Loved ones are only a thought away. ��