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.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

A Confession

There are days I converse with clouds.
There are days I converse with clouds. This morning found me in deep conversation with these soaring souls flying over Mount Tremont.

“I blame it on Emily,” I told them.



Like all good interrogators, they looked at me without a word. Perhaps a trace of condescension in their eyes.

“Seriously. It’s not something I usually do.”



Did they shift to accusatory looks?

“Before she came around it only happened once. And I was young then. Young and in love and raging with hormones.”



Don’t you hate the silent treatment? When you’re guilty, it compels you to babble on.

“It took thirty years for it to happen a second time. That first time was at midnight in Lake Cochituate. Heather and I couldn’t sleep. So we drove down to the lake and jumped in.”

Silence.

“Fine. We didn’t just jump in if you must know. We jumped in with nothing but the pink of our bottoms on. Stark naked. God that was fun!”

The clouds seemed critical, but I was on a roll, and confession came easily.

“The second time was down in Key West this winter. We went for a late-night walk, and the air was sultry and sweet. A gentle wind stirred memories of days gone by. The hushed ebb and flow of lazy waves were like whispers of seduction.”

A few of the clouds were now listening raptly.



“And there the three of us were, hidden from the road by a dense lengthy and towering hedge. There was no one around. Samwise was wading in the Atlantic, Emily splashed in, and I thought…well, I thought, ‘What the hell?’ so off came the clothes and in I went. Sam stood guard – did I ever tell you he’s a good guard dog? – while Emily and I swam in circles as free and unencumbered as the day we were born. It was glorious—even if it was against the law.”

Did one of the clouds snigger?

You know that feeling when you are in close quarters with someone, and they are not carrying on their end of the conversation? Uncomfortable, right? So what do you do? You talk twice as much, and sometimes hurriedly because it’s so awkward your tongue feels like a runaway locomotive.

Those massive clouds leaned over me as I stood in that field of yellow and green. I could almost feel their breath on me.

“The other day it was hot. Scorching really. We were out walking and made our way down to the river. Gosh, it felt good to wade in the Saco. Those river stones shimmering under the clear water like magic. Emily was splashing around—having a ball. Even Samwise left his feet and moved smoothly across to the other side.

“I looked around. Should I?"

By now the clouds were pressing around us, leaning in as if fearful of missing a single word.

“Yes. Yes! I know, it was broad daylight. Middle of the afternoon. But I couldn’t help it. We walked further downstream, half in the river and half along the bleached stones. When we reached a bend we’d been at a few days earlier, the place where the tree is laying across the water, almost touching it, even though it’s very much alive still…

“I realized no one would be coming from downstream and the foliage of that tree partially blocked anyone seeing us. The water was still here. It was deeper. Samwise studied me because he sensed something different about to happen. Emily watched Samwise’s reaction but also kept her eyes on me. I took my hat off, placed my Fitbit, keys, and glasses in it and hung it from a small branch. Next came my shirt. Finally, off came my shorts. I hung each neatly on a branch. I thought Samwise was going to faint. Like Atticus before him, he’s all about dignity. But that little otter Emily saw me walking into the water naked and she came splashing to meet me like she was late for a party, full of glee and happiness bubbles.

“When I took the plunge – oh, God – did that feel amazing! Next thing I know Emily and I are treading water. Samwise then left the constant reassurance of the shore and swam out to meet us. Together we frolicked. We frolicked and smiled and blew bubbles and snorted.

“For once Samwise acted his age. Emily…well I think she was about to burst with happiness. And me…?

“Hey, don’t look at me like that. Yeah, I’m talking to you, the third cloud from the right! The judgmental one.

“I didn’t hurt anyone and it was glorious! How often does a fifty-seven-year-old get to feel like a five-year-old, especially in these troubled times?”

A few of the clouds nodded in agreement. Others followed. Then came a landslide of approval. Even the tight-lipped one in the back giggled.

“See, that’s what I’m talking about. We had a ball. And yes, I still do blame it on Emily. Atticus loved mountains so we climbed thousands of them. Samwise looks skyward, so we drive with the top down even on some winter days. Emily finds joy in most anything, but nothing tickles her like swimming.

“If I’m guilty of anything, it’s of making this little dog happy and – fine, making myself happy, too!”

As we all laughed together, the clouds and me, and even Samwise (now relieved) and Emily, I struck a serious tone. “You know, everything changed two years ago. There’s no going back. Ever. Why should I wait to feel happy, especially when it is right in front of me?” 

36 comments:

Patti Parks said...

“Why should I wait to feel happy, especially when it is right in front of me?” Indeed! Here’s to more fun times frolicking in the water!

Joan T. said...

Yeah! Go for it, Tom! You deserve to be happy whichever way you choose. Onward by all means!!

Pam said...

Bless you, Tom! Your stories come to life!

Sue said...

This makes me happy. What a way with words, even with that judgemental cloud. Rock on, Tom, Samwise and Emily.

Mary Marriner said...

What an opportunity for pure joy! So happy you indulged yourself. ��

Sandra Lund said...

Oh, I loved reading this - your joy was so much a part of this sharing. Oh, please, try to put this in your novel some way. I loved the description of the judging clouds and Emily's delight and finally, Samwise acting his age. Mostly, I love your joy - your happiness - and your awareness. And, secondly, I simply enjoy the beauty of your writing - your authenticity. I will say that I can't think of many more things that feel as freeing as swimming that way. Have a beautiful day, my three friends! Blessings and love to you!

Jan said...

BEST story EVAH!!!!! ♥

Heather Butler said...

Gosh I love your writing! It puts some joy in my heart and it's nice knowing I am not the only one who talks to clouds!

Pat Langer said...

Yessssss!

Diane Noel said...

I leave today for a road trip across the country with my family. You remind me to relax into it & stay in the moment, to embrace joy wherever it appears. Thank you for that!

Pam said...

So glad you enjoyed this freedom. Like the Darius Rucker song...'When was the last time you did something for the first time?"

dandlmoney said...

This tale makes me deliriously happy! Good for you! I can absolutely feel your joy through these words, and I am foolishly grinning from ear to ear. Carpe diem!

Thomas Bell said...

hi tom cindy and i stopped by to say to our family up there in jackson cindy is being goofy today.acting alot like will doing his happy dance. i hope you been getting our little notes we been leaving mama jan says hi bro emily and samwise really love the water enjoy your trip this summer ok tell bill to get you there safe tom we think of you often dear friend we love you gave samwise and emily a loving hug from me take care bro walk in beauty man hugs & love always tom and little miss cindy whoo.

Linda Webb Walsh said...

I smiled and laughed throughout this story...wonder and joy filled my soul. I wish I were so brave. Thank you for sharing.

Dawn Middlestead said...

Absolutely fantastic Tom!!!

Nancy said...

This story made me happy all over! You three have uplifted me, thank you!!

ebliss said...

Skinny dipping is the best! Though I am in my 6th decade I still take every opportunity to enter into bodies of water in my birthday suit--it is so freeing! Thank you for sharing your lives-and your exquisite writing-with us! It is inspiring to watch Samwise and Emily grow into the full and joyful expressions of themselves. Onwards and IN(TO luscious, delicious wetness)WARDS, by all means!

Sally LeLand said...

You brought back a memory or two of the same "nature" for me. The warmth of the Pacific and Caribbean each under a full moon. Ah to be thirty again...and for a brief moment of glorious memory I am.

Jennifer Bryant said...

Those clouds were just jealous! Love your young at heart spirit!

Unknown said...

" I thought Samwise was going to faint." Oh, did you have me laughing!!! Nice piece of prose, and thanks for the giggle! Glad you all enjoyed yourselves...

Unknown said...

Love it and your writing.

Leah Sherwood said...

Absolutely bloody brilliant!

Jabacat said...

Omg, Tom, this was your best story ever! I was right there with you, every step of the way. This will stay embedded in my brain, for a long time to come.

Jabacat said...

Omg, Tom, I loved this! This is your best writing yet! I will remember this for a long time to come.

Nancy said...

Made me laugh. Glad you had a great time.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful!😀

Kathy Whitney said...

Oh, Tom, my cheecks hurt from reading this one!

Danna Hoffmaster said...

What an awesome short story!!! Loved every word. I can close my eyes and remember a time many years ago of doing same thing. Many years ago being key words as I am mid 70's now.

Julie Brane said...

Oh how I loved reading this! I felt like I was there! It brings such joy knowing life is good, even in these frightening times.

Georgia Adamson said...

Pure happiness is a rare thing indeed. I loved reading your account of the "cloud conversation" and the joy that comes through so clearly!

Terry Metayer said...


<3 I love that Samwise acted his age! I think this is one of my favorite of your blogs so far, for it's energy and how you give life to the clouds. I used to write like this when I was a teen...ah, the things that happen to our writing as we age. I needed to read this today, thank you <3

Unknown said...

Your writing is phenomenal! I was right there with you...😄 FUN!! Thanks for sharing.

anonymous said...

Delightfully written, I enjoyed it as much as if I had done it all myself.

T & P Locke said...

Thanks, Tom! Love sharing your good times! Your writing brings such joy! Continue to "Walk in Beauty!"

Anonymous said...

Wonderful.

Anonymous said...

I don't undress in front of my cats much less ….well, that took guts. Good for you! What a great feeling that must have been.