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 16, 2017

All Roads Lead Home

I don’t own a television any longer. A few years back I knew of a single mother whose kids wanted a large flat screen TV but couldn’t afford one, so I gave her mine. 

I have not missed having one. 

We have been on the road for the eleven of the past twelve weeks, mostly staying in hotel rooms. I’ve yet to turn a television on. Tonight, though, will be a rare treat. The Red Sox and Yankees are on ESPN. It’s a fitting way to get us ready for the last three days of driving back to New England. 

I’ve changed the route we were going to take. We’ll still walk into our home on Wednesday, feeling comfortable in a place that has been whistling to us since we’ve left the bison behind.

Today, I told a dear friend that heading home feels a bit like getting ready for the first day of school. I always loved that feeling: the blank notebook pages and the buzz of the promise of what was to be. 

Back in Jackson, we’ll get back into our routine, but things will also be a little different. I look forward to sitting at my desk, writing as I digest recent experiences. I crave spending time in my kitchen and cooking meals from scratch once again. And yes, I look forward to the familiar trails that await our happy feet. But home is now different for us, just as we are different. 

I have some ideas of changes to make, pictures to hang, items to dispose of. The desire to become more of a minimalist (although not a full one) tugs at me these days.

“Do I need all these coffee mugs?” 

“What are all these pots and pans for?

“How many shirts does a guy need?”

I have no doubt we’ll be ditching about a third of what I own. 

This afternoon, we put an end to our time in Kentucky in a manner befitting our trek. We made our way through the fields and quiet roads of the hotels and restaurants that clutter these acres right off the freeway. Then we discovered a vacant lot, which led to a field of high grass. There was a faint path through it, and we could not help but follow along. Eventually, it took us to a stream shaded by overhanging trees and perfect for wading in on a hot and humid Kentucky day. 

Samwise brought me a stick, and I tossed it upstream. He waded after it, snared it in his teeth, and returned it to me. Again and again, we played out the cycle. It was delicious wading in that fresh, clean water. 

After a spell, I sat on a stone, my legs still in the water, while Samwise dried himself on the nearby grass, coming over from time to time to take a drink. 

How perfect is this, I thought. These simplest of pockets are what has defined our travels. Always in search of the quiet trail or path, sometimes the one that could barely be followed. Often finding our way through the back of highway rest areas through a hole in the fence, or a forgotten opening that led to a field or a neglected road or, in some cases if we were lucky, a forest path. 

These past two months have never been about many destinations. They've been about making up our minds as we drove down the road. Following wind and whim. I see it as a metaphor for the world, for life itself. I rarely care for the answers.  What excites me is curiosity and discovery. The mysterious is what lifts my heart and tells me to take note.

My favorite people are the ones who are never afraid to say “I don’t know.” Sometimes they say nothing at all. Or they understand I want to figure things out as I go. I’ve never been into the folks with all the answers and suggestions. After all, I want a life that works for me, and what works for me is not following the crowd. 

I remember an evening at Jackson Hole a couple of weeks back. I posted where we were, and I was flooded with suggestions on what to do, where to eat, what to see, where to go. One snag of advice echoed by several was a certain point along the road where the river bends and reflects the Tetons in the background at sunrise.

I already knew we were not going to stop there because it wouldn’t have been much fun for Samwise to sit right along the road waiting for the sun to show up. But as we approached the area, there were at least fifty people there, cameras and tripods set up to capture the way the rising sun hit the jagged peaks. 

We drove by.

Then another turn off that we were told about was upon us.  We drove by that one as well. 

Finally, I found a place where people don’t travel very often. I could tell by the conditions and the lack of signs. Bill got us to where we needed to be, and then we left him behind and walked along the river’s edge, not always seeing a path and therefore having to create our own. I sang out loud to give the grizzlies and moose some warning we were in the area. (If my voice didn’t scare them away, nothing would.)

Onward we walked, hopping logs, finding a path, seeing no one. Ultimately, though, we ended up in a crowded field, but what I loved about it was that everyone there was a wildflower. Among the yellows, purples, and pinks we played and luxuriated in this quiet and remote place. A sprinkling of bison was off in the distance. In another direction, a lone moose waded. Birds sang as the sun rose. And there was Samwise and I so far away from Jackson but feeling right at home.

Today’s late afternoon walk to the stream was a lot like that glorious morning in the Tetons. Simple gifts, solitude, quiet for giving thanks and saying prayers, and a place to play in with Samwise. 

Our trip has been about seeing much of the country outside of New Hampshire, but not always the most popular ones. I've sought out places of freedom where we could both enjoy ourselves. It has been a ball. But all roads lead back home because home is wherever we are. 

For nearly three months we have been away from our little hobbit hole and yet there was not a stitch of loneliness the entire time. I like that. It bodes well for the future, and it defines our current state. 

I know we are both ready for whatever comes because all that is guaranteed is the unknown. I figure we’ve learned to embrace that.


Ellen said...

Thank you for sharing the journey! Bless you & Samwlse🐾

Unknown said...

I have thoroughly enjoyed following the journey that you and Samwise shared with us. Looking forward to what's next.

pegeston said...

It has been a joyful journey. Also looking forward to what is next. Safe travels home...

KAScrivines said...

I've been thinking about the trip we just did in the White Mountains. This is the 2nd trip in my 41 years that I didn't wish for home the day before we were leaving (the first being my Alaskan cruise last year). I'm not sure if it's my age now, my 2nd marriage, or that my daughter is 9 (old enough to have been through the kid stuff). It's also my 2nd home that I've bought, acquired cheap enough to be comfortable but allow some room to have the means to travel.
I enjoyed reading your books, Tom. I always like to read about New England because I live here. Your books are kind of a coming-of-age manuscript, to me anyway. Making that life 2.0 decision, reflecting on who we are deep down as a person. I also have dogs, and the kindness that is portrayed in your writing has really hit home for me. It will be something to think about if/when I am put in a similar situation.
I am looking forward to reading about Samwise, of which I have no doubt you will write, especially of this trip. It will be another chapter of growing, learning, and getting older. I'm talking about you, of course, along with the dog. I know I'll pick up some tips for myself along the way.
Good luck in your travels. It's been nice following along.
Onward, by all means.

Dogma said...

Thank you for helping me keep things in perspective. This journey has made me realize I need to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life. It has been wonderful checking in even if on the computer. Safe travels.

Unknown said...

Thank you for taking me on a journey that circumstance does not permit me to take myself.

Carol Casavant said...

Have loved following along...

Unknown said...

Tom, something you said regarding "the desire to become more of a minimalist"...very interesting. I say this because, Michael and I have this same desire. I can't explain why, but we both just do. Something else we have in common...crowds and how we prefer not to be in one. I know a few times I replied to your posts over the last two months when I said one of the things I love is your adventurous spirit. You would come upon a road, path, trail...perhaps it wasn't even on a map, but you took the chance, the opportunity to explore it. I loved these specific times of your grand adventure. It was so exciting to see the photographs and learn about these out of the way places. And I absolutely love this sentence..."But all roads lead back home because home is wherever we are". Thanks again for taking us on your grand adventure, for sharing all you did, for all the spectacular photographs. It's been such a joy and brought a smile to my face each day. For that Tom, I am very grateful. And like you always say, "Onward, by all means".

HAH said...

Beautiful. Thank you for sharing. Your words made me smile, especially about everyone there being a wildflower.

Colleen said...

Can't believe this particular journey is done, I was sure you just set off. I loved following along, so happy you got to take Samwise and that he enjoyed it just as much. Looking forward to reading Wills red coat on my cruise which starts Wednesday, England, Scotland and fiords of Norway.

Kathy said...

You have me thinking... maybe the reason my senior friends relate to you so well is that you validate that it's ok - wonderful, actually - to simply take life as it comes. They so miss their former busy lives and you make an unplanned life normal. Thank you for that... for me, as well.

Anonymous said...

Reading about your journey and adventures - the places you have been and seen, the people you have met and shared with, the echos of solitude and quiet - reading about all this - the time has gone by so quickly, and some of what you have wrote - the pictures the words painted in my mind - those are memories or your trip for me. Thank you for sharing your summer adventure with your readers like me. It certainly is a summer to remember! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Unknown said...

May you and Samwise live the life you live.

Joannie said...

What a pleasure to meet both you and Samwise at Stull's. It is truly a joy to follow your journey!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Tom and Samwise - though I do not wish a journey's end for you, I am glad you will be returning to home.Tom, at a time in her life when she was really down, you gave a wonderful boost to my daughter, Sasha. She is a creature whisperer, connecting with humans and animals ls alike. Your recognition of her at a book signing brought joy to her. Thank you from me and from her - Susan

Unknown said...

Thank you, Tom and Samwise, for sharing your great journey on the road! It sounded wonderful and I know it was. I love your words and I love your quietness and I love your wisdom for it helps me! Thank you for writing the books about Will and Atticus! Blessings, peace and love to you in your home!

Kris said...

My husband and I talked the entire 5 hours back home after leaving Stull's about how we are not taking advantage of the time we have here on earth. There will be a lot more traveling in our future and our next big trip is actually a leaf-peeping trip this fall in Vermont to visit a childhood friend that I haven't seen in about 40 years! We know it will be the first of many trips to areas we want to visit. We look forward to reading more about this adventure you have undertaken. - Kris Price

Onesnap said...

Thank you for sharing your journey with us!

Rohana said...

I've been following your blog now and again for years. Your journey inspires me to look more closely into my own life, which has blindsided me. I don't know how I ended up where I am -- well, of course, it was because of decisions I made regarding the circumstances surrounding me, but I made so many of those decisions without thinking, without considering just who I am. I'm closer to the end of my life than the beginning, and I don't want to leave it without experiencing the who and why of me. I have a saying I put on my door - "go forth and have no fear" (from the X-Ambassadors' song Renegades) - and I have been trying to do just that, although I find myself screeching down into the depths of fear (where I have lived most of the time) too often. But after reading "Will's Red Coat" I'm hopeful that "'s never too late to live again."

Unknown said...

I love hearing your journey and how you write. It is soothing to the soul. Thank you for doing that.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the ride, we enjoyed being part of your journey

Anonymous said...

Welcome home, Tom and Samwise!!!