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 09, 2014

An Unusual Guest On A Wild Night


We have been off center the last several days.  There was an accident in our little apartment and we’ve been left with some water damage.  The carpet in the bedroom is one of the casualties.  Mold formed quickly and because of it Atticus and I have been sleeping on the couch with Will tucked in one of his dog beds just below my head.  We have a small place, but a cheery one, and the kitchen and living room is combined with big windows on the east and west side and a glass door to the north that looks out on a quaint roofed deck where there sits a small table and two chairs with some plants along the railing. 

Two nights ago a wicked storm blew across the mountains and covered the bright moon with fast moving clouds.  When the rain came it was as if the sky exploded and heavy raindrops pounded on the metal roof of the house.  I sat up on the couch to look out from our second floor perch into the backyard to the skeleton of our black ash tree, which had dropped its leaves several weeks ago.  The heavy rain was mesmerizing.  I tucked back into sleep with Atticus behind my knees and Will snoring blissfully below. 

Sometime later I was startled awake by a crash.  One of the ceramic planters must have been blown over by the storm on our deck.  I walked to the door and took my headlamp off the knob and turned it on.  I could see the planter broken into bits but I also saw an enormous bear settling down on the deck, it seemed, to take shelter from the storm.  When the light flashed on him he jumped up and turned around, ready to race down the stairs. 

It was Butkus, who I had not seen in over a year.  He’s the largest and oldest of our local bears and the first we encountered some five years ago. I turned the headlamp toward myself so he could see me and gave him a casual wave.  He stopped, moved closer to the door to look at me, and then he sat down. 

We haven’t seen the bears for nearly two months.  There is a house that is rarely used right next door to us.  You cannot see it because of the trees and the way it’s back form the road.  But for the past two months a young man in his twenties was staying there.  He rode a motorcycle and revved it loudly shaking walls and the peace and quiet.  He came and went  at all hours of the night.  Through other discoveries (which I will not go into) I learned he was not a very nice fellow. Since the time he moved in the bears had stopped coming by.  They are funny that way.  Although they have always come and gone in Jackson as they please, drawn by the sweet and savory aromas of the inns and restaurants here, they watch closely and don’t reveal themselves often when things are different.  Whenever our landlords are up for a visit and staying downstairs they bears don’t reveal themselves.  Nor do they when the landlords let friends use their place.  But as soon as the downstairs is quiet again, the bears return.  Alas, this hasn’t been the case over the last two months. 

But the young fellow next door is now gone and I wondered if we’d see any of the bears again before they disappeared for the winter.  And here was Butkus, enormous and wet and sitting out the storm on our deck. 

I watched him for a few minutes and then pulled the comforter and pillow and my Kindle from the couch and sat with my back against the glass door, drawn by this incredible animal.  Soon Atticus was with me, his head raised up on my thigh watching Butkus.  Eventually Butkus lay down and placed his huge head against the glass next to where my head rested against the pillow.  Our eyes were only the width of the glass apart. It wasn’t long before both Atticus and Butkus were asleep. 

When I woke up, still pressed against the door where I sat with Atticus and Butkus the night before, the rain was gone and so was our neighbor.  Blue skies poured over the valley and the sun danced on the jeweled raindrops left behind.  A gift of a day followed the gift of the night before.

The bears fascinate me.  We know enough to be careful around them and to make sure they have an exit plan, and so do we.  We don’t encourage them with food; they just pass by on their way to other places.  Occasionally they linger for a little while, but they don’t appear to be very comfortable with most people.  They obviously didn’t like the short term lodger next door, and they don't like the family that moved in on the other side of us.  Once when Atticus and I were sitting out back a few months ago Aragorn showed up and sat contentedly with us fifteen feet away for fifteen minutes.  Some of you may remember the photographs.  He only left when our neighbors came outside, unseen due to the summer foliage, but easily heard.  He gnashed his teeth and repeatedly snapped his jaws before growling and running down to the Ellis River. Last year when two of our moderators, Christina and Mike, showed up for a visit while Atticus and I were watching the “Jackson Five” (a mother and four cubs) playing in the yard, the bears abruptly left. 

I’m not certain why they come around us as they do.  I’ve always believed it has something to do with Atticus and how other animals are often drawn to him.  That’s how we met Aragorn three years ago.  He was a yearling and followed us home from a walk. He trailed us for half a mile before showing up in our backyard.  When I reminded Atticus, “Not all dogs are friendly,” Atti sat down.  In the bushes on the border of our yard Aragorn did, too.  When Atticus dropped into the sphinx position, so did Aragorn.  Since that day, of all the bears, it’s been Aragorn who spends the most time around us, always looking to Atticus, and occasionally to me. 

I’m reminded of our third floor apartment in Newburyport where there was a window box without flowers in it.  We couldn’t plant anything because the wind would rise up from the Merrimack River and rush up State Street removing any of the flowers there.  But one year a pigeon built as nest and Atticus, who was very young, stood up on his hind legs with the window open and watched her, his head less than a foot away.  When there were chicks in the nest he was fascinated by them and the mother thought nothing of leaving them behind to seek out food while Atticus watched over them. 

Pigeons are one thing, but bears are another.  Although I’m fascinated by all forms of wildlife, the bears most intrigue me because of how we share this yard with each other.  When young ones come along, I typically scare them away.  But the older ones know their boundaries with us and I let them come and go as they will.
    

24 comments:

Shannon Z. said...

I'm so glad that Butkus dropped by before leaving for the winter. I'm sure the bears are drawn to Atticus, but I believe that they are also drawn to you, Tom. They recognize another gentle soul who only wants them to be themselves. We are visitors in their homes...the great outdoors. You respect them as you respect Atticus and Will. They know it.

Carol..... said...

Love this blog!!! :)

Sandy said...

Great story!

CRS224 said...

What a beautiful - and amazing - experience. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post so much! Thank you for sharing your time with Butkus.

Cheryl W said...

It is wonderful to see connections between all animals( both 4 legged and 2) that roam our outside natural world, non-threatening , respectful souls who can share space and time, both gleaning joy and comfort . This is such a sweet tale of that connection. Thanks for sharing, Tom.

Linda White said...

I'm so fascinated with the inter-species understanding animals share. If only we were so blessed. Great story this morning, Tom.

Margo Chapski said...

Thanks for sharing this encounter. I agree with Shannon Z's comment. I think mutual respect always welcomes comfort, trust and security for one another. Enjoy another Fall day together��

Margo Chapski said...

Thanks for sharing your encounter!

Linda White said...

I'm so fascinated with the inter-species understanding animals share, and you've nurtured this in Atticus. If only we were so blessed. Great story this morning, Tom. Thanks.

Sandy Kellams said...

This warms my heart. Makes me think of a visit from a friend or lover no words needed to be said. Just the silence being together no words needed, just sharing the time and space with each other. Thank you and have a blessed day.

Linda Herrell said...

I love your blogs and your book and want to know what happened with Paige. When you ended your wonderful book you were going to meet for a social event.

Pat MCDiarmid said...

I have a little fox that does the same with my little Girl Buckles. She never comes near but follows us on our walks through the county side

george said...

Wonderful blog entry

Anonymous said...

I look forward to reading your entries! This is beautiful. I wish everyone was as respectful of wide life and their canine companions!
Kerin

Ruthie said...

I thought I was blessed when, on the day of my late husbands funeral I saw a white ferret running around my back garden. Suburbia doesn't usually lean toward such sightings. I took it to be some sort of sign (call me daft if you like). However, I think if I'd ever seen something as magnificent as a bear, and one that curled up outside my window, then I would think the Powers that be, were definitely trying to tell me something.. What a privilege for you all 💕🐻

J & J Brown said...

Tom, I would love a book about all your bears....about all the animals that Atticus has befriended.I love the stories of how animals just accept and trust him.

carolyn bonier said...

I love to hear about interactions between species. I have just retirned from a vacation on the Cape and felt very drawn to the many seals along the shore. Yesterday while walking along the beach a seal was swimming parallel to me close to the shore. He would swim under water and then pop up again and turn looking straight at me before going under and swimming along at my pace1. I hated leaving! I felt some sort of acknowledgement between us..best part of the vacation!

Carter W Rae said...

Love sharing your life Tom!! Obviously the bears and the pigeons know who is who and enjoy the company!! So do we !! Stay dry too I think that this winter is going to be another COLD one and I do not mean Light Lager either ;-)

Anonymous said...

Periodically a person or an animal comes into our awareness that seems to defy what we have come to believe is a "norm." Though sometimes those norms are shaped by the media and have nothing to do with reality; sometimes I believe they are appropriate. In many of your posts (FB/blog) I often think Atticus just doesn't fit the dog-norm, there is just something different about him. Why wouldn't he bark at a bear? How would he sit on a mountain peak without putting himself in peril by running all over the place, smelling everything? Why is sitting on a mountain, in stillness, appealing to a dog? And although I know you were very specific with the breeder in terms of the kind of dog you wanted, breeders know somethings.... but they simply can not predict the behavior of a dog. Does it come from intention? Perhaps your intention and knowing so clearly what you wanted in a dog...you expect a dog to walk next to you without a leash....therefore he does.......Or you don't expect a dog to go after a bear....therefore he doesn't? I don't get the sense that you have "trained' Atticus to be who he is, but that Atticus just is who he is. I know there are lessons here....is it who you are and who Atticus is that just happen to be this way? My questions are rhetorical but thinking about this makes me feel good...and it makes me look at my dogs differently, even at their ripe old ages of 14, 14, and 10..Are they a reflection of what I want? I once knew a woman who was certainly a hypochondriac and she had a dog that was sick all of the time.......it makes me wonder..

mlaiuppa said...

I hope Butkus, Aragorn and the others are getting enough to eat.

I worry about the bears starving during hibernation because of climate change.

This year at least 9 bears have been relocated in California, coming down to forage for food because of the drought. Many of them Mothers with cubs. If they're doing that, it means they're not finding enough to eat. And this is the time they bulk up before their winter hibernation.

How wonderful Atticus is a 'bear whisperer'. And what a special event you all had.

Thanks for sharing it with us.

And I hope your carpet is repaired soon.

Anonymous said...

I love the bears also. We were favored with a couple of visits from the neighborhood bears this summer and I live ouside of Concord. I hope you find your farm soon and and are able to get away from your noisy neighbors.

~MyGalSal~The "Bird Whisperer" said...

Your words, pictures, and sentiments are so uplifting to me. I am inspired by you. I am also a dog lover, though I never owned one. One the greatest joys of hiking for me are the "friends" I encounter along the way, both 2-legged and 4-legged. God bless you and Will and Atticus.

judy smith said...

Thank you, Tom for giving Will so much Love