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.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Fifth Week

It feels good to end our third walk of the day just after dusk, wrapped in a heavy sweater against the cold as the sun sinks behind the mountains and all fades from silver and black to black and gray, and ultimately to inevitable night. As the shadows grew, winds whipped across the meadow and swayed the treetops.  Occasionally an aged trunk groaned when asked to bend in ways it can no longer go.

“Go with it, my old friend,” I wish. For we had lost too many trees in these woods from the flood a month ago. “Bend,” I whisper, “and live in your bending.”

Between the sideways flying snow and the raucous chorus from the wind through the trees, Emily cocks her head in an almost mechanical curiosity. She is mesmerized by the snowflakes coming at her and their harmless kisses, and the way her ears catch the flow of air moving across the barren November land. She looks to me as if for explanation and I speak in a language she can understand by tilting my face into those flying bits of white. I laugh and sometimes sing aloud, which she takes for a good sign.  Then she spins and dances and takes off after Samwise, who is busy making his inspection of the land he knows like a close friend.

Eventually, this evening, I had to turn my headlamp on to make my way across sheets of ice covered by a thin white coating. I moved to the grass next to the path, but in this cold corner of the eleventh month, even the earth is hard. Above, the wind continues to sing, and I look up at the clouds flying across the waxing gibbous moon and imagine them to be witches on brooms. Enchantment abounds, even in the cold tip of my nose.

It’s dark early this time of year. All the better for time spent in the kitchen when we get home. I made a shepherd’s pie earlier using lentils instead of beef and sweet potatoes instead of white. The comforting smells are familiar and reminiscent of my childhood.

Once again, Emily, who is getting used to all her senses, stopped just inside the door and lifted her nose.

“Not for you, little one.”

Samwise is already sitting by their bowls waiting for their dinner. When she sees this, Emily joins him. Excitement bubbles up like carbonation, but she’s learning patience. This is one of her most difficult tasks to undertake. She wolfs down her food when I tell her it’s okay to eat and when finished she looks to Samwise’s dish. Before she lived here, he’d sometimes leave some food for later, but he knows not to do this now since it won’t be there when he returns for it. I’m sure the slow and methodical way in which he eats infuriates her.

In the first week, I had to sit with them so that she didn’t try to steal his food. He’s so polite; he let her.  In her fifth week, she’s better, and so is he. Reluctantly, he set up his boundaries. He’s taken to heart all his lessons about “being gentle, ” and it shows when it comes to sharing attention and food with her.

Emily is a fast learner and watches both of us to figure out what is expected. I’m happy to report that she already understands the words “Be gentle, please.” I notice it most after their last trip out into the night before we go to bed. Samwise sit’s proudly on top of the bed and delicately takes his treat from between my fingers. She watches from the floor and follows suit.

I fancy this effort on her part. One so young trying so hard to fit in, to do right, to be gentle as she’s asked.

Five weeks. Is that all?

Time spills together. Weeks and months and years. I look at the photos and drawings of Will and Atticus hanging on the walls to the red coat above my desk, and I see this two-year-old and this puppy who is only seven-months-old.

Different ages, different lives, and yet all of it stitched together with golden thread like a quilt with each patch a different scene.

We’ve been enjoying our time away from the online world. We’ve visited a few friends, one who is dying; gone for long walks; read poetry and prose; written letters and holiday cards; stocked the kitchen shelves for winter, and I’ve even decorated a little this Christmas season.

Carols fill our home. The notes and melodies nudge me until memories come and go. I think back to my mother I cannot remember but all the decorations she left behind for us, and to my early Christmases when I was just as filled with wonderment as Emily is now. Sometimes I see myself in her eyes, and this fifty-six-year-old man becomes a boy again.

27 comments:

Miriam said...

Wow! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I love this. It makes me feel contented and a little bit sad too. I’m happy for the three of you having each other. As you say, onward.

Nan Millen said...

Beautiful, sweet, sparkly!

Risë McDaniel said...

What a peaceful, wondrous picture you have painted with words!

Louise Mazerov said...

Aww, a peaceful time! Isn't it wonderfully? I've been lucky enough to have clear nights with beautiful stars the last week. Bliss!

Kathy Whitney said...

Vivid. Poignant. Joyful. Beautiful.

Robin Fowler said...

Such a gift! Thank you!

Dawn Middlestead said...

Thank you Tom. Thank you for this wonderful Blog, for sharing it with us, for all it means to you, all the memories it brings back, for all the memories you, Samwise and Emily are making. It couldn't have come at a better time...brought a smile to my face as lately that's been hard to do. Emily sounds like a wonderful girl, a wonderful friend for you and Samwise. You three have something pretty damn special.

Aubrey Engle said...

Beautiful! Thank you, Tom!

Joanne said...

What beautiful words, Tom - I will read them again. You paint such a beautiful picture & I can see everything through your words. Thank you. Happy to hear Emily is settling into your life so well & into Samwise's also. Joe & I pray for the 3 of you daily. Take good care of yourself. Fondly, Joanne & Joe

Lynni OHaver said...

So happy to read this tonight. Your words are soothing to my soul; it helps me escape the politics of my government job. Your words also remind me how simple life really is and when embraced, simplicity is truly beautiful. Hope you, Samwise and Emily continue enjoying all those amazing walks. Thank you for sharing them with us.

Barb Cuffley said...

Your beautiful words about our polar opposite worlds are so warm and comforting. Your quiet joy in your present and your sweet memories give me pause to take stock of my world and it’s many blessings. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Your words paint a beautiful picture that I can visualize in my mind. Thank you for sharing some of your experiences with us.

Danna Hoffmaster said...

Happy to read your latest post. I feel the ice crunch as I read your descriptions. I sometimes feel like I am there walking again in the woods and darkness with you and your companions. Thanks for taking me back to childhood days; just walking thru the woods.

Laurie Donohue said...

As a fellow New Hampshirite, and new owner of another Texas Monkey-tailed Terrier, I share your experiences. During this dark time of year, we must "become acquainted with the night" and "outwalk the furthest city light"

Georgia said...

Your words, and the pictures they paint, bring a smile and memories of holidays past. Slowing down and appreciating each day makes life more joyful. Thanks for always inspiring me.

Gabby said...

Your words reach into the very core of my soul. Thank you.

Carole said...

Thank you, Tom for these beautiful words. They are soothing to this Mainer's heart and bring a smile to her face.
How patient Samwise is with Emily as she works at fitting in and understanding "Be gentle, please"
Fondly, Carole


lemonhead said...

Mr. Tom, Mr. Samwise and Miss Emily, Happy belated Thanksgiving and an early Merry Christmas to you all. I've recently purchased your books, Will's Red Coat and Following Atticus and am presently reading Following Atticus. I love the way you write. The reader is taken along on a magical journey and it's like being right there with you. I look forward to reading Will's Red Coat when I've finished this one.
I hope you will return to Facebook at some point. I joined your page there and love to watch your videos. I had a Facebook friend who posted videos of his Golden Retriever, Mr. Charlie, and I became VERY involved with Mr. Charlie. He was a magnificent creature. He passed away Oct. 30th of this year from cancer. He was diagnosed with a couple weeks to live and 18 months later finally passed. Up to that point, he was very active and I loved watching the videos of him swimming in the lake (he lived in Virginia) or walking down the path along the water or through the forest. I miss him terribly. A co-worker/lady friend told me about your Facebook page and your books when she found out that Mr. Charlie had passed. I'm glad she told me. It's been nice trying to get to know the 3 of you. I hope all is well in your neck of the woods. Please take care and thank you for the books and allowing us to share your life with you and your canine family. Take care and God bless. Cheryl Lambert

Kk said...

I sat with our mutual dear friend for a bit yesterday. I needed to read this tonight. Thank you, from York

Wendy Morgan said...

That was lovely, Thank you

Anonymous said...

So glad to see you back on your blog, Tom, writing as colorfully
and truthfully as ever.
jd

Anonymous said...

I too am so glad you're back on your blog !!! I didn't know about Emily - I don't do Facebook so have missed you ! As always, love your blogs and look forward to your warm, descriptive writings -- so much soul ! Hope to hear more about the time you 3 spend together and continue to share insights into your East Coast lives. Bea

Sandra said...

Poignant memories of Christmas, tinged with the melancholy of reality. I feel like we’ve experienced life through the same lens.
Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, 'Sorrow is our joy unmasked''Gibran. Seems ypu have found a way to remove the mask...past and present...and revel in the joy...past and present. What a gift! Onward!

Alex said...

Your words have touched me very deeply, thank you for this post.

Joan said...

You are one super writer. I know because I am a super bookworm. I read "Following Atticus" followed by "Will's Red Coat," and I was delighted to meet those two wonderful dogs - and you.

I also met y'all on PBS, Channel 5, Boston.