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.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Samwise Atticus Passaconaway Climbs His First Mountain

Samwise A. Passaconaway on the summit of Mount
Katherine. The great Chocorua is in the background.














Two months after getting out of the hospital, and one month after Samwise’s arrival, I had the pleasure of escorting my young friend to his first mountaintop.

As far as mountaintops up here go, it was more like a hilltop. But that doesn’t really matter. This morning, we stood atop Mount Katherine in Wonalancet and had it to ourselves. To celebrate, I ate cherries and Samwise had some of his favorite treats. Then he sat next to me on one of the flat summit stones, and together we gazed out at the prominence of Mount Chocorua set against blue skies and white clouds.

Eventually, he lay down and rested his head and paws on my thigh. While the breeze gently tickled the leaves, Samwise’s snores rose up to my face and turned a thoughtful look into a smiling one. Together we sat, with me gently rubbing his upward ear.

It was a good start for him. He’s too young to be doing the bigger mountains and the tougher trails. That can wait until he’s a year and a half old and his tendons and bones are ready for the rigors of our trails. Until then, we’ll still walk and hike, up to five miles, but I want to limit the impact on his joints.

This respectfully slow increase in intensity also works for me. I’ve got the distance down these days. You’d never know I went into kidney failure or that my heart was only thirty percent of capacity or that my legs were swollen to three times what they are now, or the endless hours I endured in dialysis.

This morning, without my shirt on, I looked at my chest and neck at the scars from my five-week stay in the hospital. They are not huge or unsightly, but there they sit on my body, a constant reminder of what I went through. I’ve come a long way between needing help to get out of bed.

Today, we kept it just under five miles with a walk along the trails in picturesque Wonalancet. We parked at Ferncroft and trekked along the Gordon Path. It’s a broad and gentle way, with but one hill. But that one hill had me stopping twice on my way up it. It’s pretty steep. Or at least that’s what my heart was telling me.

I kept to the doctor’s orders: “As long as you can talk when you are exercising, you’re doing fine.” And I was doing fine, but it was work nonetheless.  I could feel it in my chest (wonder if I’ll always pay as close attention to it as I do now), and in my hips, which are tight and rebel against me when I force them to climb anything at all.

Samwise was in his element. He stayed close to me, and when I stopped, he did too. He’d sit in the middle of the trail and wait for me. When I caught up to him, he’d start out again. He did some off-trail exploring, but not much of it, and was mostly respectful of the woodland creatures.

I noticed something different about him today, on our hikes, he checks in with me more often. His eyes search out mine. He remains close by. There’s a thoughtfulness to his actions. I like that. Once, when I sat down on a log, he returned to me, and I gave him a few treats and another draught of water. After that, he lay down on my feet and watched the forest as it stretched out before us. He was a calm as if he’d been born under that green canopy.

I put him back on the leash when we started a short road walk. He’s wonderful in nature, but he has a long way to go when it comes to co-existing with traffic. And it didn’t matter that we were so far out in the middle of heaven touched land, that we didn’t see a car. We did encounter a couple of hikers and the dog. They came from the opposite direction and while the people chatted, the dogs played. I like how he is with others of the four-legged persuasion. He is gentle and begs to play with them. Typically they comply, and he is thrilled by the dance.

Once the Red Path left the dirt road, we walked through a cathedral of ferns. They were everywhere. It was fresh and green and lush. Even as the sun lit up the leaves above, Samwise took on a shade just as verdant as the undergrowth.


When the trail angled up, I slowed. Then I stopped a few times. Whenever I did, he sat and watched me from ahead, never taking his eyes off of mine.

In past years, this was an easy enough walk for Atticus and me on days we weren’t hiking. But times have changed. It was an excellent introduction to going up for Samwise, and a way for me to ease back into it. 

At the intersection of the Pasture Path, we turned left and slowly made our way to the summit. Other than my reminiscing of the many times I’d been there before, it was no big deal, but it was pleasurable. The first of many.

On the way down, the trail’s rocks and roots reminded me of the importance of watching every step. This is where the White Mountains differ from many other places hikers gravitate to. Even a shorter, less steep trail like the Pasture Path requires balance and awareness.

At one point, Samwise jammed his paw and came over to me, holding it up for my inspection. I sat and held it. He watched my hands encircle his paw. I rubbed it gently. When I returned it to him, it was as good as new.

After one point one miles down along the trail, all we had left was a dirt road walk back to our waiting car. We stopped to soak our feet in a stream and to sit and watch the wonders around us. 

Once back in the car, Samwise fell asleep quickly. I was also tired. 

I’ve a long way to go to recapture the strength of walking uphill, but I have no doubt it will return.

Now we are home, and both of us are tired. As soon as I post this, we’ll climb into bed for a short nap.

Gosh, it feels good to be back out there again. For the past two years, I’ve missed the trails dearly. I wouldn’t hike without Atticus. He wouldn’t have understood me leaving him behind. Besides, the most important thing my late friend and I shared was not the mountains; it was the space we moved through together, bound in friendship. Our center was wherever we were.

I couldn’t be more pleased for Samwise. Just over a month ago, he was a day away from euthanasia. In his stay with me, he has proven time and again his joy for life. He’s a happy fellow. He never misbehaves. He also seems to understand already how to move on the trails and how the center lies somewhere between us.

Before long, he will cease to be a puppy and a pupil who needs to learn so much. Soon, he will be my hiking partner. My equal in many ways. That will come with time. As I said about Atticus when he was young, I never actually trained him. Instead, we just hung out together. It was learning by osmosis.

Samwise and I both had death sentences. Now you could say we share a life sentence, and nature is where we feel it most.

Mount Katherine by way of the Gordon Path, Red Path, and Pasture Path. (Map is from
 Mountain Adventures. The best map of the White Mountains.)

27 comments:

Daphine said...

Great report, Tom. Peace.

Melissa Cruz said...

Your beautiful words paint a picture for all of us to see... I could almost feel the breeze and smell the fresh air... thank you as always for sharing with us...

Mary Ann said...

Great first adventure. Hike on.

Ramona said...

Wonderful! You and Samwise are thinking along the same paths just as you and Atticus did. It's great to read of your adventures together! Onward always, Tom and Samwise!

Jan Reed said...

You are both exactly where you are supposed to be.

Karin said...

I am so happy for you and Samwise! Onwards!

joyce said...

"The space you move though together"......will embrace that as my mantra tonight/tomorrow with our family/company. The trappings/stuff are not the essentials......they never were/are, it's where your focus lies. Perfect, THANK YOU Tom......

AnnO said...

Good going, both of you

lynn kinney said...

Simply wonderful...

C said...

Thanks, Tom, for such a beautiful post. You and Samwise can both celebrate your "Independence Day" - a month ago Sam was near death and you fought it and won before that. Seems to me that you were each given the gift of each other. Savour every moment. Thank you for your posts.

Big Dave said...

Ah that center...and the reminiscing....those concepts ring so true to me..so happy the last two months have gone the way they have for you.

Donna Safford said...

What a beautiful description of your growing friendship and Samwise's learning about nature. You are a patient and wise example, Tom, and you two will continue to do very well as time goes on. The picture of Samwise is awesome! The name sure fits him as you can see the wisdom blooming in his eyes. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and pictures. It is really fun to follow your adventures. =)

Dawn Middlestead said...

Your posts...just truly enjoy them. Your detail...I can visualize everything, every step taken. Tears streamed down my face when you spoke of Atticus and described the most important thing you and he shared. Through my tears though, I smiled thinking of Samwise, what he accomplished today, how much he is learning already...where he was a month ago and where he is today. I'd say you and Samwise have a wonderful life sentence ahead of you. Thank you very much for this Blog.

Linda P said...

It seems like you and Samwise found each other at just the right time in both of your lives. It is wonderful that you two can share the beauty of the mountains and of just being together. I am so enjoying your blogs and look forward to sharing in more of your experiences with Samwise.

mharris44 said...

Very cool. I was on Chocorua Summit today.

Jane Coffyn said...

I loved reading about Samwise first climb. You have such a beautiful way of expressing everything. He is a very lucky boy that you made it so he could have life and experience all the beauty of what he is seeing now and will see. Thank you for sharing all of this with us. Happy Fourth.

Barbie Perkins-Cooper said...

After a horrifying month of June where my husband was in ER more than at home, it is so refreshing to read your stories. Like Atticus and Sweet Will, Samwise has found an amazing life with incredible beauty, adventures and love with you. I am so thankful you chose to work through grief by rescuing a friend who needed someone like you.

Thank you, Tom Ryan for showing all of us how to walk through and love again. Samwise is blessed. What an adorable spirit he is. Happy Adventures to both of you.

Colleen said...

What a great blog post, Tom. Your loving words about Atticus brought tears to my eyes as well. Your life now with samwise is a continuation of that love. I also love your written detail, I can see every leaf and smell every smell, in my mind, you do it so well. I am glad you are having such a wonderful new lease on life.

Shelly Woolum said...

Thank you for sharing your stories, Mr. Ryan. This beautiful story of the mutual love and respect between you ans Samwise brightened my day.

Ro F said...

A good (re)start for you and Samwise. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the read, Tom. Very much.
jd

Jaye said...


This was the best thing I've read lately. Thanks, Tom, for such a pleasant description of your first climbing venture with Samwise. Here's to many more. I love the photo. It's obvious he's growing, and his legs are a bit gangly. He's, by this account, also growing into his partnership with you.

Barbara Sutton said...

This was a beautiful reflection on much that has happened in your life over the last two years, Tom. I'm glad you have Samwise to accompany you in your recovery, and it's lovely to see 'the center between you' emerging so soon. And thanks for another serene walk in the forest.

Paul Ilmer said...

Most enlightening. Most satisfying. Blessings to you both.

Beckie Jani said...

We went to Mt. Katherine in the snow, it's a great place! I'm glad you are feeling better and that you enjoyed your walk together!

Cajun Ghost Hunter said...

Reading your wonderful narration and seeing the picture of Atti on the side brought tears of both sadness and joy. Sadness for missing Atti and joy for you and Samwise living life to the fullest! God Bless!

Louise Mazerov said...

Thanks for the report, Tom. Since I'm off Facebook until after the election (my blood pressure, don't ya know?) I try to check out your blog a couple times a week. Glad to see Samwise, and you, are getting along so well. Take care!