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.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Of Rocks and Leaves and Bears

On Thursday, on our way back from a quick four hours spent in Newburyport, we stopped at Chocorua Lake for the signature view up to the mountain of the same name. The water was calm and clear; the skies were blue with powder puff clouds. It was the most pleasant of summer days, the kind you remember from your childhood when being idle was good enough.

Samwise was fascinated with sniffing the woodland path near the water, and the stones placed there for people to sit on. Eventually, he settled next to me and took in the view and the breeze and the scent of summer by the water. Then, in an instant, he cocked his head, his ears rose, and he let out several shrill barks to raise the alarm. I put my arm around him and told him it was okay. I spoke calmly and as I did his ears relaxed and his body was no longer as tense and ready to spring. But he couldn’t take his eyes off what had upset him. It was a large rock, sitting in the lake, with only its top quarter above the water, and it stood only fifteen feet away from shore.

He’s not a constant barker, but if something startles him, or if he doesn’t know what it is and it looks strange to him, he sounds the alarm. He’s done it with leaves blowing in the wind, the Saco River, the cackling crows who loiter in the black ash in our backyard. One morning, we came out the front door, and he let out his shrill bark to let me know there was a deer twenty yards away. Heck, he even barks at people we encounter along the trail when they seem to materialize out of nowhere.

The other day, one good-natured woman petted him and said, “It’s kind of difficult to be afraid of that little bark of yours.”

For Samwise A. Passaconaway, it’s not about aggression, but being surprised. He’s a young fellow learning his way in the world.

This morning, on our woods walk, he met his first bear. He was off leash, as he always is when we are in the woods, and he ran into the underbrush, and his machine gun barking led to some crashing through the trees. Something big was rumbling along, startled by Samwise’s barks.

When I called him, he returned to my side, and I attached the leash to his harness. He continued to be vigilant and continued to erupt with his barking now and then. I sat down next to him, requested that he “please be gentle,” and stroked his wiry fur. He looked at me, then up at the tree where a young bear was trying to hide, and he growled.

Down into the gully we went, but instead of having him walk, I carried Samwise in my arms and whispered to him the entire time. Eventually we stood right below the bear. I explained to my little friend that brother bear is not to be quarreled with. Even further explained that Samwise A. Passaconaway’s last name translates to “son of the bear.”

At first the bear gnashed his teeth. He snapped his jaws a few times. And when he did this, Samwise growled.

I continued to whisper to him and then they both quieted down. Samwise was no longer tense in my arms. He relaxed and looked skyward to the young bear in the trees with curiosity. For his part, the black bear looked down on us, I think, perhaps trying to figure out what we would do next. But as I backed away and apologized to the bear for the early morning ruckus, he too seemed to be at ease.

Eventually, we walked several feet away and I put Samwise down and sat with him. The three of us watched each other, until we left the bear to do whatever a bear does on an early Saturday morning.

I remember, years ago, when we first started hiking, that I was fearful of running into a moose and having Atticus bark at it. For moose have been known to stomp on and kill little barking dogs who get on their nerves. So after our hikes, we drove to the more popular moose hangouts at dusk and whenever we saw one, I’d whisper to Atticus, “Pssst, moose. Please be gentle.”

We practiced that a lot. Whenever we were in the woods, no matter what the stimulation was, I could softly say, “Pssst, moose,” and Atticus would calmly sit down and look around for a moose. We did this especially in trails where moose were known to hang out. I wanted Atticus to be aware, and to be ready to be calm whenever he saw one.

Through the years, it worked. I even have photos of Atticus sitting twenty yards from a moose who is wading in a local pond and looking back at Atti.


I’m not sure how much of this Samwise will pick up. He’s still an excitable puppy of only seven months or so. Time will tell. But starting him on the path of being gentle cannot hurt.

27 comments:

Cara said...

SO COOL!

William Crounse said...

Great storey, Tom. Love the moose part. Like a code word between two friends.

Marilyn Pelletier said...

What an amazing story. Loved reading it.
Marilyn

Missymia said...

AWESOME Tom. I truly love your methods with your little friends! I have several terriers and they are little spitfires!!! Two mini schnauzers who are delights!!! I also have 3 Yorkies!! Love them. I don't look at the breed LOL. It is their spirit. Ever vigilant!!! I also live in NH probably 45 miles away from your area. The bears and wildlife are abundant! Gentle voice and touch calms them for sure. Onward you go!!

Marilyn Pelletier said...

What an amazing story. Enjoyed reading it. Samwise is learning useful lessons from you.

GloryBe said...

Tom, thank you for blessing me today with this lovely event with Samwise.

Honey Bear said...

Another great story. I'm glad Samwise had the opportunity to see his first bear and it went well.

bethany fowler said...

Bethany said... Wow!Another awesome adventure this am.Samwise is learning for sure and has a wonderful teacher!

AnnO said...

A great lesson for all. Thank you for sharing Samwise's adventures in learning. Have a terrific weekend.

Penny Childs said...

Animals, just like children, pick up our feelings and reactions to situations so we must be aware of this. We must give more credit to those that are younger than us that they are picking up many life skills as they observe. Samwise has a good friend that is aware.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful respect for all life. You are so wonderful with Samwise. God bless.

Donna Jean said...

Samwise has already captured our hearts here in Ohio. Your stories always have a calming effect and make me feel like im there in the woods, hidden behind a tree watching it all unfold. Thank you for taking us all on your new adventures. Onward, by all means!

Shelley Brown said...

Wonderful little Samwise! Very smart boy ❤

Sharon Stokan said...

Amazing story! Thank you for sharing it with us. I think your name should be Tomwise! Have a great day!

Anonymous said...

expect two corgis to arrive at your door within weeks-they could benefit from your calm training. Of course, herding bears could present a problem.
cheers and bravo to your story

KatVon said...

Your calm energy calmed me down while I got goosebumps reading about the bear gnashing his teeth.... no wonder it soothes the living souls around you!

Carol Casavant said...

So awesome, Tom...!!

Angel Judy said...

I have always said if we talk to animals as if they understand, they always do. It is true. Sometimes as youngsters, like all young ones they have to learn, but they always do.

Aurora said...

For some crazy reason I cannot LIKE COMMENT or SHARE on your FB page for sometime now. But, now I can on your Blog. Love your posts and stories. Missing Will and Atticus, but loving Samwise. I'd be turning and running away from bears and Mooses!!! Your one great human being Tom. Wish I could meet you in person and shake your hand. Be well, be Samwise! Safe hiking guys❤️

Donna Safford said...

What a great story of teaching with love and by example. I love these updates! =)

Beth Schell said...

A good life lesson for all of us...

Grace Lemon said...

Thanks for the giggles. It's nice to know that I am not the only one who has a canine that barks at the wind when it changes direction. Does great inside, (unless the doorbell goes off or the knocker strikes) but outside... Shesh. (giggle and grin)

Barbara Grant said...

I love hearing about your new adventures and teachings to the newbe. He can't help but be a gentle soul with your teachings. Hope you are feeling better Tom. The mountains are such a place of healing. But you know that.

Why can't I post in the comments in Facebook?

Unknown said...

Samwise is learning well...I just saw Tom Ryan and Atticus on the Animal Planet. I had seen this before, but it was nice to see again...

Dawn Middlestead said...

You have definitely started Samwise on the right path ;-). He's learned a tremendous amount in the short time you and he have been together. It is amazing. Samwise has much to learn, but you have the time and patience, the gentleness, the willingness...everything he needs right now. Only time will tell how much Samwise will pickup...how well he will react to bears, moose, whatever/whoever you and he come across on a hike or wherever you go together. Atticus was gifted, no doubt about it. For he wasn't really a dog now was he? ;-)

AWBookGirl said...

What a slew of new adventures for Samwise. Glad to see that he is taking calming queues from you.

judy kucharski said...

Your stories always enchant! So glad you and Samwise are bonding!