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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Finest October

     Today is one of those days. Those immaculate days made for memories of an October too special to ever forget. A patchwork sky of blue and white; leaves brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow; and a breeze that sends some of them swirling down in gentle loops. It is the autumn day of our childhood, the blustery day of A.A. Milne’s Pooh and Piglet and Owl and Rabbit. Nostalgia is a powerful softener to our hard hearts. It forces its way into our busy lives and makes us stop for at various moments to remember. And maybe it finds a way to help us simplify the complicated in a busy electronic world.
     What grand lessons we’ve had in natural beauty over these past few weeks. It has been as raw as Photoshop and the Kardashians are processed. 
     In past years, foliage season seemed to wing by within two weeks. Colors would begin to change, and a mighty wind would blow and before you knew it, it was over. But this year has been different. We had that long, full summer of warmth right up until the end. It pushed the colors back ten days, and when they finally came on, they didn’t stop. I am writing this on the fourteenth of October, and you could say it’s still peak foliage viewing. 
     I’m happy for the businesses who make money at this time of year. I’m thrilled for the tourists, especially those from out of state, who get to see the area at its absolute best. But I’m also happy for us, who are all reminded once again why we are fortunate to live here. 
    This morning, Atticus and I were walking at Thorne Pond in Bartlett.  I had my camera with me, and I felt as though I was a child in Chutters Candy Store. Each scene seemed more delicious than the last; each photograph outdid the previous one.  It was impossible to choose my favorite.  
    At one point, I thought of the loves of my youth and how from day to day they seemed to get prettier beyond belief. That’s been the autumn of 2015. With each passing day, I find myself asking, “How many times can I fall in love all over again?”
    While circling the pond, and then dipping into the woods to walk along the Saco River, I felt the cool on my face and stopped to inhale the rich aroma of autumn.  I took my baseball cap off so that I could see all the trees, even those above me, without limitation. And slowly, ever so slowly, I was Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music turning circles in place as the leaves joined us on their descent.  
    In this temperate weather, Atticus acts five years younger. He has a bounce in his step and his ears flop happily as he strides along. And we moved as we always have in the past, with me just behind him. Along the riverside trail, I asked him to stop, so I could drink in the colors on the far side of the water, where the land quickly rises to the mountains beyond. Halfway across, we stopped at a small beach we often stop at when no one is around. He drank from the water, and I sat on the log that’s always been there for as long as we’ve been coming to that spot. 
     I uttered a two-word prayer, as genuine as any I’ve ever said before, “Thank you.”
    A few days ago I was sitting in the same spot as the sun set behind the hills. Atticus was there before me, just a foot away, and watching the waning sun reflected in the placid water.  I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye and to our right a good-sized bear emerged from the woods.  He had no idea we were there as he dipped his head to drink from the Saco.  We watched him silently as his massive body took a healthy draught, and then he raised his head, just as I do, just as Atticus always has, to look across the way at all those trees and the rising land. It was only when he scanned to the left that he saw us not a dozen feet away, and just behind him. He quickly turned and bound into the woods.
    We’ve seen this fellow a few times this year. I call him the Thorne Pond Bear, and he’s a bit skittish, as you might expect. But whenever I see him I’m floored by his size and how beautiful he is. 
    I like that he’s there patrolling the forest, because it adds mystery to our walks. Sometimes I think he’s there watching us without us even knowing it. And that reminds me of a suggestion made by an old Sufi friend who suggested I practice becoming part of the forest by imagining myself as a tree watching Atticus and I pass.
    It says something about the universality of life on this planet, I think. How we all mostly want the same things: to be safe, happy, healthy, respected, and to live out our lives appreciating the gifts of this world.
    When we emerged from those same woods and completed the circle around the pond, there was a group of elderly people from a local facility. They were stretched out along the edge of the pond looking up at the colorful scene leading up to the mountains and the reflection of the vibrant trees. Their faces were priceless. I dare say they were enchanted by the scene as we were and the years in their tired bodies seemed to evaporate. There childlike in what they were taking in and I wondered if nostalgia had grabbed hold of me, what must it be like for them so late in life.
    As Atticus has aged, our favorite thing in the world has been taken from us now that we aren’t climbing mountains any longer. But today was a fine reminder that there is always something to be grateful for here in these wondrous hills of New Hampshire. 


Amanda said...

Your columns always relax me. I don't know what it is about them but I like them. Maybe their simplicity. I mean that in a good way. :-)

Brenda said...


Anonymous said...

It has been a great foliage season in New Hampshire. I LOVE the visual of the people from the retirement community looking at the colors & being transformed. - Claire W.

Linda Carr said...

It has been the same in England in the Lake District the weather has been dry and warm the leaves are just beginning to change colour,unusual for this time of year there has been no winds and the colours are glorious no artist can create the colours of mother nature Linda

Anonymous said...

Thank you for presenting the beauty of your & Atticus lives and the NH foilage to those far away! - Henry, SF Bay Area

Sandy Didner said...

I read your blog as I listened to Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. Your words are perfect for the Maestro's music. Thank you for writing such beautiful prose.

Donna Jean said...

Some day I want to visit this place you take me to with your words. I'm so happy you and Atti are enjoying a special full blown autumn show of the changing leaves. Peace & Love to you both!

Jeanne said...

Just finished reading Following Atticus. Would welcome a sequel. I love the writing so much and appreciated the blog. Dogs certainly enrich my life and show their great love. Peace and Grace.

Jeanne (zhahn) from the Rocky Mountains

Blipfillypicklepoo said...

Nice post. I can smell autumn in your words. I always loved taking walks with my dog in the fall - she is still with me but due to her advanced age can't do the multi-mile treks we used to take. A turn around the block is about all she can do but she still enjoys it.

Lana said...

Always look forward to your blog and catching up with you and Atticus...we were up your way a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it...

Andrew McCormick said...

What kind of camera do you use?