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.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Concerning My Previous Post & MSPCA Angell

I wasn't expecting the number of emails that came in after the last post. They are split between those who want to make sure both Atticus and I are okay, and those who were getting ready to donate to our fundraising event.

First off, Atticus is doing very well, as am I. As a matter of fact he had a check up at Angell Animal Medical Center on Monday. His first appointment was with Dr. Rebecca Malakoff, a cardiologist. Two years ago, then-Angell cardiologist Gregg Rapoport took a closer look at a heart murmur Dr. Maureen Carroll discovered. It was very minor. Monday's visit was simply a follow up on that.

Dr. Malakoff 's exam, which included an echocardiogram and an electrocardiogram, showed that the murmur has grown in the slightest manner possible. She wants us back in six months for a chest x-ray and in a year for another echocardiogram and electrocardiogram. For now, however, Atticus is doing great. This is just something we'll keep an eye out for over the lifespan of my little friend.

The second appointment of the day was with Dr. Daniel Biros, an ophthalmologist. It was a simple follow up to the cataract surgery performed two and a half years ago by Dr. Ruth Marrion at Bulger Animal Hospital. Dr. Biros pulled out a few small lashes that were most likely irritating his eyes. If they grow back he'll freeze them out. He also detected that Atti's tear production is about a third to a half of what it should be and this was of some concern but nothing too major. He prescribed some cream for his eyes and I put that in twice a day. Dr. Biros wants to see us back in two months time, but there's no real problem.

Dr. Malakoff and Dr. Biros are the third and fourth doctors at Angell Animal Medical Center to have seen Atticus over the last two and a half years. The other two were Dr. Rapoport and Dr. Maureen Carroll. Our experiences with all four doctors and their vet techs has been superb. These professionals not only know what they are doing, they are clearly passionate about their work and they care about animals. I consider us lucky to have had them working with Atticus. And I consider Angell Animal Medical Center lucky to have them on staff.

As for the second group of people who were responding to my last post: Atticus and I would have loved to have earned your money (from what I've read in the past 12 hours, it's in the thousands) for Angell Animal Medical Center, unfortunately it didn't work out. I'm positive they would still welcome your money even though Atticus and I won't be doing the fundraising. I'm so impressed with the care we get from the medical staff that I even made a sizable donation the other day when we were there - and that was on top of our bill. In this troubled economic times all non-profits struggle and MSPCA Angell is no different.

I'd also like mention Carter Luke, the CEO at MSPCA Angell. We had a lengthy conversation this morning and I continue to be impressed. He seems to be the perfect fit for that organization. He leads with the wisdom of Solomon and his love of animals is first and foremost. As a matter of fact, whenever we communicate one of the first things he asks is "How's Atticus?"

I'd like to say one last thing about Maureen Carroll, Gregg Rapoport (who is now down 'between the hedges' at the University of Georgia), Rebecca Malakoff, Daniel Biros and Carter Luke: they understand one very important thing - it's all about the animals. That sits well with Atticus. And you probably already know that you can do what you want to me, but so long as you treat my little friend well, you're okay.
That makes the CEO and medical staff at MSPCA Angell very special in my eyes.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Tom & Atticus' Winter Fundraiser For Angell Animal Medical Center Cancelled

I'll elaborate more in the com- ing days, but for now I'll just say that we'll not be following through with the full winter fundraiser we'd planned for Angell Animal Medical Cen- ter. We'll be honoring the mountains that have already been dedicated by hiking them, but the rest of the peaks will be hiked for our own pleasure.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Mount Moriah is Dedicated to Mittens

George Woundy is an old Newburyporter who has just left Newburyport. He's dedicated Mount Moriah to Mittens. I'll let George tell you about his friend.

Mittens was born a feral kitten somewhere in New Hampshire. My daughter, Jillian, picked her from a litter at the NHSPCA in Stratham, N.H. because she was "different" from the others. Suddenly I, an avowed "cat hater", was faced with a decision. At the time, Jillian lived with her mother and spent her weekends with me so it would have been easy for me to avoid the kitten, but of course I was asked, "Daddy. May I bring my kitty with me next weekend?” What was I to do? What the heck, it was only for the weekends. I could handle that."

Somewhere along the way that mean ol' cat hater began to miss his daughter and the kitten during the week. She's so darned cute. I couldn't stop myself. Eventually both Jillian and Mittens came to live with me full time and the rest, as they say, is history – at least for me. Mittens has been with us for 8 years and, now that I'm retired, she and I spend a lot of time together. She's a very spoiled, and very loved member of my family now. I think back on that cat hating part of my life now and I can't begin to imagine what the heck was wrong with me.

I mean . . . look at her . . . ain't she cute?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Another Slideshow Is Up: Lafayette & Lincoln

Now that I've logged back onto Phanfare as a member I'll be constructing slide shows of our hikes from now. But first I'm playing a couple of older slide shows past hikes. This one, of an autumn hike along the Lafayette & Lincoln loop on Franconia Ridge, can be found by clicking here. Make sure you turn up the volume!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Our Phanfare Slideshows Are Returning

A few years ago we discovered Phanfare, a photo hosting site, that worked well for our needs. I used it for a year or so but never renewed. With our newest Winter Quest coming up I've just signed up for Phanfare again. For the next year you'll get to see our photos from each hike and the slide shows put to music. Over the next few days, I'll post some of our old slideshows. Here's one from Moosilauke two winters ago.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The New Canon

On Black Friday we waded through the throng of dazed shoppers milling in the aisles of the Newington Best Buy to pick up a new camera. I think she employee who helped us was relieved to find a customer who next exactly what he wanted. Our new camera is a Canon Power Shot SX20. It will take some time getting used to the upgrade from my simple old point and shoot Kodak but I think it will be fun.

I took these shots today at the little park next to the Saco River in North Conway. There's finally a good amount of snow on Washington and the rest of the peaks. I don't mind that it hasn't started gathering in the Valley yet.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mount Jackson is Dedicated to Kozmo

We would be honored to have you hike Mt. Jackson in memory of our first and beloved Golden, Kozmo…Kozie, Kman, Sir Kozmos Mariner, Evil Doodies, the Mayor... the nicknames for him were endless! He was our “first born” (before our 3 sons) and the countless photo albums of just him say it all! Mt. Jackson was the first 4,000 footer that Kozie hiked back on Oct 3, 1998. Coincidently, Jackson is a town we now live in and it was Kozie’s final home. There isn’t a day that goes by here in the mountains that we don’t think of him on the trails. This was his home and he was his happiest when walking in the woods with us and his old green tennis ball or a stick. It wasn’t just any stick he would find and carry; the sticks were closer to the size of tree trunks! He talked all the time and had a way of communicating without ever having to bark. When he was really happy or saying hello he would sound like a mooing cow. He was a funny dog with a personality unlike any other I’ve ever met. His loss to cancer was devastating to our family.

We thank you Tom for finding such a worthy cause to support. We thank you Tom for all that you do and who you are. We thank you Tom and little Atti for inspiring us - we are so glad that you are in this world and even more so, our friends here in Jackson.

Be Safe!
Onward & Upward,
The Hagerty Family (Jenny, Shawn, Logan, Aidan, Quinn, Molly, Bo-Bo, Paco and Grampy Joe)

Another Death on Mount Washington

Mount Washington continues to be one of the deadliest mountains in the country. Another death was announced today. WMUR has the story here.

According to the Mount Washington Observatory website, more than 135 people have died on the mountain that resides less than 10 miles up the road from us. The website has a
list of all fatalities here. So far two people have died on Mount Washington this year.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Carter Dome Will Be Hiked For Fargo

"We adopted Fargo from the SPCA in Stratham, New Hampshire in January 1997. A week after we lost our sweet golden retriever Bradie to cancer, we stopped at the SPCA on a Saturday. Fargo was there as a stray. He had been tied to the door of the SPCA in a snowstorm, with no note, no information. Fargo came home with us – it took us just a few hours to come up with his name, but it fit perfectly. Fargo became a great hiking companion. A year later we acquired a German shepherd puppy, Aria, and they loved each other. We hiked many trails and numerous peaks together, including the Carters. Everyone loved Fargo. Once someone left a note on our car windshield while we were in a grocery store, that said, “You must love this dog, he has the most beautiful face.” Sadly we lost Fargo to cancer in October 2007, a disease that takes far too many dogs. We know the importance of places like MSPCA-Angell to dogs and their owners. Thank-you." Given by Ellen and Srini.

(You can see more photos of Fargo here, on Ellen Snyder's fine website,

Make A Difference For Animals In Need: Join Our Unforgettable Winter Quest

Starting on the Winter Solstice (December 21st), Atticus and I will attempt to hike each of the 48 4,000-footers during the 90 days of winter. We're undertaking this quest to raise money for Angell Animal Medical Center, the great non-profit. Each year MSPCA Angell helps more than 200,000 animals in need. They once helped Atticus, and this is our way to give something back to this amazing collection of good-hearted folks.

Our first goal is one we hope to reach before winter even begins: we'd like to have each of the mountains dedicated by the first day of winter. So far so good. We already have 16 peaks taken. To learn how to dedicate one of the remaining 32 peaks to a special animal,
click here.

Today we received a dedication for our first cat, which was something we had quite a few of last time around. Cat lovers, you are way behind the dog lovers so get a move on. Even if you don't have a pet, you may have at one time. Make a donation to his or her memory. Or give a mountain to a friend who has a beloved animal.

Once you make a dedication you'll have a front row seat to what will surely be an unforgettable adventure.

These are the peaks still open for sponsorship:

Adams (5774 ft)
Jefferson (5712 ft)
Madison (5367 ft)
Lafayette (5260 ft)

South Twin (4902 ft)
Eisenhower (4780 ft)
North Twin (4761 ft)
Bond (4698 ft)
Middle Carter (4610 ft)
West Bond (4540 ft)
Garfield (4500 ft)
South Carter (4430 ft)
South Kinsman (4358 ft)
Field (4340 ft)
Osceola (4340 ft)
Flume (4328 ft)
Pierce (4310 ft)
North Kinsman (4293 ft)
Willey (4285 ft)
Bondcliff (4265 ft)
Zealand (4260 ft)
North Tripyramid (4180 ft)
Cabot (4170 ft)
East Osceola (4156 ft)
Middle Tripyramid (4140 ft)
Tom (4051 ft)
Wildcat D (4050 ft)

Passaconaway (4043 ft)
Owls Head (4025 ft)
Galehead (4024 ft)
Waumbek (4006 ft)
Isolation (4003 ft)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Can I Get An 'Amen'?

Back in Newburyport a few years ago, one of our city councilors couldn’t believe I believed in God but didn’t go to church. She said, “Ryan, if you had to choose a religion, which one would it be?”

“I don’t have a favorite,” I told her.

“But say you had to choose just one. Which one would it be?”

“I don’t have to choose just one. That’s the beauty of it.”

“But say God made you choose a church to go to, which one would you go to?”

“I don’t think God would make me choose a church.”

She was now getting frustrated. “But what if he did? What if he said you had to choose a religion – which one would you choose?”

I paused for a moment, making her wait. I then looked her in the eye and said, “If I had to claim one belief I’d say I was a pantheist.”

This was too much for her. “You’re disgusting!” she said, before marching off.

A couple of days later I ran into her husband. “Why would you treat my wife like that?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why would you be so disgusting to her when she was asking you about religion?”

I didn’t know what he was talking about and told him so.

“When she asked you which religion you’d choose, you said you worshipped panties.”

What my not-always bright friends who switched churches every few years, the last time because their church became open and affirming to gays and lesbians, didn’t understand was that like Christ, Mohammad, Buddha and Lao Tse, I find my connection to God through nature. I like it best that way; there’s no middle man.

So recently, during a moment of heartache, when a friend invited me to church here in Jackson, I politely declined and instead drove over to Black Mountain. We started out early in the morning and crossed the frozen field next to the parking lot. The air was cold, crisp and clean. Immediately I felt better. Atticus, healthy again, bounced happily along the white path, leaving his footprints in the frost.

It was wonderful to step into the woods and away from the world. We passed deeper and deeper into the forest, crossing a small stream, hopping from rock to rock, stepping through leaves dry and wet, across roots smooth and slick, and along the frozen trail. The forest welcomed us home and with each step the world let go of us.

Before I knew myself, November was my least favorite month. It followed the fiery colors of autumn when trees are at their finest, and preceded the magic of the first snow and the festive draw of December’s holidays. It seemed a lonely month; a void, if you will, between two special seasons. It’s taken many walks with Atticus for me to appreciate the magic of the November woods, when all pageantry is stripped away. There’s no foliage; no snow-covered conifers.

As we climbed Black Mountain that early morning hour we left behind the sound of cars and the hustle and bustle of the human world. We listened instead to the wind weave its way through trees bare but not barren. They swayed in the chilly air, creaking, moaning, whispering. As to what they were saying, I think that, like beauty, is up to the interpreter. I’m sure you’ve heard that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Well, I think the same can be said for the message received from the song of the trees on the way up a mountain.

I woke that morning with heartache and on the way up the mountain that ache was replaced by the resolute beat of my working heart as it pumped blood to my limbs. The higher we climbed, the harder I worked, the deeper I breathed, the more my heart pumped. And there, there in the middle of our climb, I could feel Nature take hold of me and wash my worries away.

Nothing puts things in perspective quite like a walk in the woods. That and watching a little dog bound up the trail, pulling me along with a will that far outweighs his body. In the woods I become a student. Nature strips me naked, and then builds me back up again, putting things in perspective. And I’ve always felt that animals are far more at ease in the woods than we are – so what could be better than following my little talisman up that peak, into the heart of Nature, and out of the trials and tribulations that were weighing me down? He seems to know when I need the mountains and when I need him to lead me. And he takes his job seriously. He has a steadfast seriousness about him when in nature. Like it’s his job to see me to where I need to go.

There are two viewpoints on Black Mountain. The first is at a locked cabin (you can rent it out). Earlier this year the view from the cabin towards Mount Washington was cluttered by the trees. But here in November we could see through the woods. Then, on top of the mountain, there’s a more dramatic view towards Washington, but also towards the Wildcats, Carter Notch and the Carters. Most people approach Carter Dome from Route 16, but here in back of it, the view is far more dramatic and the mountain seems far more impressive.

As always we took our time on top, Atticus nudging me to lift him up so he could see over the brush. We settled into the views and our thoughts and stayed for quite a while.

A few days later the Town of Jackson held a Topping Off Ceremony where they placed a tree on top of their newly framed library. While there, I had my first chance to hear the minister of my friend’s church. He was enthusiastic, bold, loud and very animated. And I, still remembering my walk up Black Mountain, was thrilled to have chosen to listen to the song of the trees instead of his sermon in church.

In his essay “Nature”, Emerson wrote: “The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should we not also enjoy an original relation to the universe?”

Can I get an ‘amen’?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Atticus M. Finch on Animal Planet's Dogs 101 (Repeat)

In case you missed it, the Dogs 101 episode featuring Atticus airs again this Saturday night at 8:00 and 11:00 on the Animal Planet network. I've still not seen it yet but a friend is sending a disc to me this week in the mail.

The episode originally aired on October 1oth and brought many new readers to our blog. That weekend there were several thousand hits. About 10 days ago it ran again and once again the hits on the site spiked right after the show.

So, in case I haven't said it before, welcome to our new readers.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Following Atticus Across the Winter Wilderness for a Great Cause

This is one of my favorite places in the Winter Whites – Mount Guyot.

There’s no easy way to get there. We’ve passed over it three times in winter, always on a Bonds Traverse. Guyot sits between West Bond and Zealand. And the only way you can reach it is by walking 23 miles across the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Some consider this hike more audacious than a Presidential Traverse because there are no bail out points on this hike. Once you’ve come so far, you’re committed to going all the way.

The first time we did this traverse we walked from the Route 302 in the north down to Lincoln Woods along the Kancamagus Highway. We were caught in surprising blizzard-like conditions and a blinding snow drifted knee and hip deep. It was the only time I ever thought we might die on a mountain.

The next time we did it was later the same winter. It was the same route, but instead of hiking just Zealand, West Bond, Bond and Bondcliff we also threw in Hale. Unfortunately, upon approaching the summit of Hale, I felt weak and sick to my stomach. I dropped my pack below the summit, realizing I would not be able to go on, and when I tagged the summit I got very sick. I stumbled down Hale that day and was getting ready to go back to the car I’d dropped in the parking area off of Route 302.

I got down to the bottom of the mountain and I sat for a while and thought about why we were attempting to hike the 48 twice that winter. It was because my friend Vicki Pearson died of cancer and this was our tribute to her. We were raising funds for the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in her name.

Sitting there, feeling sorry for myself, I realized in the end there wasn’t a day that went by when Vicki didn’t feel like vomiting. That was enough to make me continue on my way. Strangely enough we finished the traverse in a very good time and after a few miles I no longer felt sick.

The third time we did the traverse we walked in the opposite direction, from the Kancamagus up to Route 302. Once again we added in Hale. It was a long day and we didn’t see another soul the entire time. It was an eerily calm before the storm kind of day. You can see it in the photo above. The clouds grew thick and beheaded some of the higher peaks and yet there’s Atticus, plodding along without caring about the gathering storm.

One of the reasons I love this photo so is because of the way it shows the scope of Atticus among the mountains. Here he is in the middle of a 25 mile hike over five 4,000-foot peaks. It’s clear he’s focused, but also comfortable, and right at home.

He’s the little dog who would and could.

When I’m tired and I see his little body moving forward like this I remind myself I can do nearly anything with him by my side.

So now that you see some of the lengths this little dog is willing to go to help animals in need at Angell Animal Medical Center, just how far are you willing to go?

You have it easy. You can sit home and watch Atticus’ progress from the comfort of your warm home this winter. All you have to do is pick a peak, make a donation and sit back and watch Atticus lead you through an unforgettable winter. And when he’s doing this, remember he was once a patient at Angell, relying on the kindness of strangers when he was battling what we thought was cancer. I was so moved by the way this non-profit organization fill everyone with hope – especially when it is most needed – I knew then and there I’d do my best to support them whenever I could. It’s one of the reasons we’ll be donating a portion of the author’s royalties from book sales of ‘Following Atticus’ to Angell Animal Medical Center.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mount Liberty is dedicated to Sasha

Sarah George is dedicating Mount Liberty to Sasha. Here's what Sarah writes about her friend:

Sasha began her life as an “Army brat” at Fort Knox, KY in 2005, ten days before Christmas. Her daddy was a Jack Russell/Beagle mix and her mama, a Basset Hound from Texas who pushed out twelve babies! Sasha soon grew accustomed to the booming of tank rounds and 50 cal.’s from the nearby training fields that rattled our house often. When my husband completed his military obligation, we settled back in Massachusetts with our favorite new companion. Sasha is a great teacher (and tester!) of patience and reminds us daily to not take life too seriously… for there is always an open field, a wooded trail, a quiet swimming hole, a windy car ride or an old ragged toy just waiting to fill us with giddy contentment. We wish Sasha a long, happy, healthy life with us on this earth and dedicate Liberty to her in hopes of someday hiking it! Thanks Tom and Atticus!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Atticus is back to normal

Atticus is back to his normal heathly self. I'll post an update soon on how we fixed his problem. He wanted me to remind you that we will be at the Whitney Center here in Jackson next Tuesday, November 17th. We go on at 7:00 p.m.

Susan Dunker-Bendigo, our wonderful librarian, wrote the following in the current JPL monthly newsletter:

The program in November will feature local author Tom Ryan along with his dog Atticus, talking about their life together, hikes they have made to raise money for Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston, and Tom's forthcoming book. Tom and Atticus are regular visitors to the library and are well known around town. Don't miss this entertaining evening which will serve as a fundraiser for the new library. We'll serve cake and coffee and ask for a suggested donation of $5 at the door. We thank Tom for his willingness to help out the library! This will take place at the Whitney Community Center at 7pm on Tuesday November 17th at 7pm. Tom assures me that no one will come, so prove me right and come out in droves to get to know this interesting duo!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Health Issues Continue for Atticus

As you read in the most recent post, in a two night span we went to the North Conway Animal Hospital on an overnight emergency visit and then spent an 18 degree night in the car.

Yesterday, Atticus wanted nothing to do with the house and he showed a great deal of fear throughout attempts to get him in here. Therefore we spent most of our time away from the house. When we returned mid afternoon, he was agitated but he calmed down a great deal. I felt we may have been through whatever problems have been plaguing him here. Since I hadn’t slept for the better part of 48 hours we went to bed around 4:00 p.m. yesterday and we slept well.

Actually, we slept well for about three hours. Just after 7:00 p.m. Atticus woke up in a panic again. He could barely breathe, was extremely agitated; and he wanted out of the house in the worst possible way.

I took him around the house room-by-room to show him there were no problems. I let him see me looking under beds, checking closets and opening drawers. We walked down into the cellar. None of it mattered. If he calmed down it was barely and only for a handful of seconds. It was clear we had to get out of the house again.

Luckily Atticus and I have made an elderly friend who lives down the road about a mile and she offered us the space of an unused bedroom in her condo for a few nights. That’s where we spent the night - without incident.

When we returned here this morning we were inside for less than 30 seconds before Atticus wanted out again. We went for a long walk and now we’re back. He’s currently sitting in the front seat of the car, the driver’s side door is open, and so is the front door of the house. I’m typing this from the front steps. It’s clear he doesn’t want to come up on the steps or into the house. He seems calm and happy lying down on his fleece blanket just feet away.

The strange thing about all of this is that the medical tests showed nothing wrong. And he shows no ill effects whenever we are away from the house, even if it is just five feet away from the front steps as he is now. For six months we've lived here and he hasn't had an issue until the last 72 hours.

Tomorrow morning the landlords are sending someone to look at the boiler. We shut the boiler down two days ago and the gas has been off for 24 hours.

In a bit we’ll leave here and drive to our friend’s place again. That’s where we’ll spend the next night or so.

A big thank you to all who have contacted me about Atticus. Please know that so long as we are out of the house he shows no ill-effects and you’d have no idea that something was amiss. Hopefully this mystery will be taken care of in the next few days and we can get back to a normal life where I write and he sleeps on the chair next to me in my writing room.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Column for the Northcountry News: Some Trails We Just Won't Do

We slept in the car last night. It was 18 degrees out.

We don’t make a habit of sleeping in my Honda Fit; and I hope to never have to do again. But I did it for Atticus.

Two nights ago he woke me up just before 3:00 a.m. He had a panicked look on his face, the kind he gets on the rare occasions he wakes up in the middle of the night and really needs to go to the bathroom. I let him outside. He walked to the middle of the backyard and sat down. Ten minutes later we returned to the bedroom. He woke up a short time later in more of a panic, his body trembling, his eyes wild, his tongue out. He was nudging me with his nose. He wanted me to get up. I got dressed and brought him outside again. This time we took a walk and he was fine. Forty minutes later we settled into bed again. A minute later Atticus was nudging me, acting strangely, this time worse than before.

Luckily Dr. Christine O’Connell at the North Country Animal Hospital is on call 24 hours a day. We called and half an hour later Dr. O’Connell was checking Atticus out: temperature; blood work; ultrasound. Other than gaining a couple of pounds due to his numerous new friends in Jackson and their generosity with treats, he is in good health. We were mystified. I was told to keep my eye on him.

Upon returning to the house the symptoms started again. I opened up the windows, aired out the house and called the landlord. White Mountain Gas showed up in a bit. No gas leaks. We shut off the boiler thinking it may be carbon dioxide kicking back into the house. (However, the carbon monoxide detector was running and quiet.) With the windows open and boiler off, Atticus calmed down. All was well until late last night when the temperatures plummeted. Even though the boiler was off Atticus became nearly wild. His trembling turned into something near a seizure. I opened the windows and he and I took a long walk. As soon as we were outside the house he was fine. When we returned the same thing occurred. We tried sleeping in the master bedroom, the guest bedroom, the den and the living room. Each time Atti’s discomfort was clearly visible. He wanted to get out of the house as soon as possible.

I knew there was nothing my landlords could do at that late hour back in their Massachusetts’ home so I decided not to bother them. I gathered a couple of pillows and comforters and Atticus and I went out to the car. As the car iced over, he slept well. I can’t say the same.

What does all of this have to do with a hiking column?


Dogs are like children. If you have them they are your responsibility. If you love them you’ll do anything for them. Even if 'anything' means spending an 18 degree night in a Honda Fit just down the road from Mount Washington.

Just yesterday I read an on-line trip report about a woman who is attempting to get her dog to finish the 48 4,000-footers. (This is a different woman from my last column.) She had already finished the list but she wanted to make sure her dog became a member of the AMC’s 4,000-Footer Club and received the patch and scroll. Their last peak was to be North Tripyramid.

Now North Tripyramid is not the most challenging of peaks, but you still have to work to get to it. It sits quite humbly in the middle of the Sandwich Mountain Range with its siblings Middle and South Tripyramid and you can see where they got their name from the moment you lay eyes on them (which is something you can do from the Waterville Valley ski slopes).

There are numerous approaches, but there is one I’ve never been on. It climbs a slippery and steep slide up North Tripyramid. It’s one of the few trails I refuse to bring Atticus on. (The others are the Huntington Ravine Trail and the Flume Slide Trail.) I think he could probably hike each of these, but there’s always a chance there could be trouble. So why chance it? Why put my friend through that even though he’s climbed some 500 peaks in the last four years?

I know very little about this woman, her dog or the relationship between them. I’ve never met them. From her on-line reports it’s clear she loves her dog dearly. But see, that’s what confuses me. One slip on such a trail and the dog could be terribly hurt – or worse.

I know some other dogs have done the trail, but I don’t see the point in it. I know some hikers love the challenge of climbing the North Tripyramid Slide and I guess they figure the dog will love the challenge too. I guess.

People tell me, “You don’t know what you’re missing. You’ll love climbing the slide!”

Sorry, it’s not going to happen. I think I’ve climbed the Tripyramids at least seven times and I’ve tried numerous beautiful approaches. All were rewarding. More importantly, Atticus was safe on each of the approaches.

There are many great things about these mountains, including the joy and inspiration they bring. Atticus loves it here, but he also always has a say. We turn back when he wants to, even though that’s only happened a few times. We don’t hike when he doesn’t want to. Twice we showed up at trailheads on very cold days and he refused to get out of the car. We didn’t hike. Last fall we were climbing the Hale Brook Trail and when we came to the first stream crossing it was running harder than usual. Now Atticus can leap this deep gully easily enough but on this day the water bothered him. I offered to pick him up and carry him over. He wanted none of that. Instead he lay down as a sign that says, “Don’t pick me up.” And so I didn’t. We turned back. We returned the next day. Same thing happened. On the third day he leaped over it without a second thought.

It’s important to me that he has a choice.

This does not make me a better dog owner than the other person. But I do think I pay more attention to what Atticus likes and dislikes, his needs and safety requirements, than most dog owners do. Perhaps that is a product of the time we spend together, which is more than most people spend with their dogs.

As for the woman who wants to make sure her dog gets a 4,000-footer patch and scroll, they didn’t make it up North Tripyramid on a cloudy, slippery day on those treacherous slabs. The dog eventually said ‘enough is enough’ and that was it. Smart move. I was glad she listened to her dog after it sent her several signals. But I guess she wasn’t listening all that well because she reported they would return for another attempt this weekend – dangers of the slabs be damned!

While I’m sorry for her dog, I’m happy for this woman. I’m pleased she’ll never know what it’s like to sleep in a Honda Fit on a November night when it is 18 degrees out.

Friday, November 06, 2009

North & South Hancock will be hiked for Gus & Harley

Here's the dedication as written by Nancy & Mike Lindberg:

Gus is a 13 1/2 year old schnauzer who has been our personal trainer since coming to share our lives as a puppy. He has helped raise our sons and keep us well trained through his constant vigilance. Due to age and health problems his hiking days are behind him, but his spirit could still soar to the top with Atticus. We'd like to dedicate Hancock to him. Our other dog is an age-indeterminate yellow lab named Harley. He was found by us just after returning from our trip to the Whites to conquer Mt Washington in 2004. We grabbed Gus and went for a stroll in our local woods only to come across a very dejected lab who promptly saw Gus and us and lay down with his head on his paws to await our approach. He looked in terrible shape (overweight, sores oozing on his feet) but realized we were his salvation and marched over a mountain (a small one!) to get in our car and come home with us. Gus was never a fan of dogs in general but seemed to sense a felllow in need and showed no animosity at this invasion. After a week in the pound and advertisement of a lost dog Harley came home to us. We only can conclude that he was abandoned and he has dedicated his being to letting us know how much he loves us on a daily basis. We would like to dedicate South Hancock to him. It is only fair that Gus gets the taller mountain.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cannon Mountain is dedicated to Neka

Cannon Mountain has been dedicated to Neka. It's being given by Bryan and Suzanne Flagg, our friends at the Northcountry News.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"Be favorable to bold beginnings." ~ Virgil

There's 48 4,000-footers in the White Mountains. Each one of them has a story to tell. Tell your own story by dedicating a peak to the pet in your life.

It's Nice To Be Remembered

Last Thursday night the MSPCA held their annual Hall of Fame Dinner at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. This is the event Atticus and I were honored at last year. We did not attend, but we were fondly remembered. One of the organizers of the event sent along the above photo. The woman speaking is News Center Five's Heather Unruh. According to two people who were there, Heather was telling the audience about the book deal and when this photo came up people oohed and aahed. She reportedly turned around and said, "I just knew that picture was going to be up there."

As you may know, we were honored last year for our fundraising efforts for Angell Animal Medical Center. Please check out this year's fundraising event by clicking here.

The photo was taken by Robert Torres.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

From One Season to the Next

Recently, a rather vociferous woman on a hiking website posted a notice that her dog was going to finish the 48 4,000-footers on Mount Carrigain. She blew the trumpets and unfurled the flags in her typically rambunctious but friendly manner, inviting all hiking dogs and their humans along. I sent her a note congratulating her dog on her upcoming day. She replied that we were welcome to join her group in their merrymaking.

"Thanks, but no thanks. It’s not our style," I wrote and again congratulated her dog.

She responded one last time saying, “I know, you guys are loners…”

Loners? I’d rather say we are particular about our mountain experiences. Atticus and I hiked our first mountain to see what it was like. After that we hiked for the magic of it.

A lot of people start out that way and they love it. But sooner or later, nearly every one of them forgets that they came up here to get away from society and they get locked into another society – the hiking society. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I’m just saying it’s not our style.

Joseph Campbell, the mythologist I often read and quote, once said that he felt spiritual nearly everywhere he ever went – other than a cocktail party. Amen, Joseph. I feel the magic of the mountains most when I can walk through the forest or sit on mountaintops alone with Atticus. Or at the very least when others are respecting the solitude we seek. But get in a group hike and that experience is shattered.

And yet it never fails, wherever we go people say, “Let’s get together for a hike sometime.”

My answer used to be, “Okay.” Now it’s “No thanks.” If I want to spare someone’s feelings I soften it a bit, but the message is always the same: do not disturb.

People are always shocked by this. “Are you serious? You don’t want to go for a hike with me?”

And yes, I’m serious. William Blake had it right, “Great things are done when men and mountains meet; this is not done by jostling in the street.” Hiking with other people often equates to ‘jostling in the street’. There’s talk and typically lots of it. I learned this the hard way the winter we did 81 peaks. We started out with others but ended up on our own.

It’s not that other people are wrong to want company, but neither am I. Typically we are old enough to know what we want in life and we simply have to go out and get it. What I’ve wanted from the moment I stood on top of my first mountain was to have that same feeling time and again. Being with Atticus allows me to have it. He’s never been a barker, a chaser or a herder. He seems to get from the mountain what I do. If anything, he enhances the experience for me. Not being human he’s more comfortable where the wild things are than I am and in watching him I’ve become more comfortable, too. He blends noiselessly into the forest and I do the same. No longer do we hear society bleating away, worried about the economy, religion, politics or Jon and Kate. It’s just us and the mountain and we are welcomed home time and again.

I thought of that the other day while we walked up Mount Stanton. It was not a day for views; and even the trees are past their prime colors. The remaining leaves are a drab yellow or hang lifelessly from a mostly naked branch. And yet the forest was very much alive. The sweet smell of autumn – a mixture of apples, wet leaves and the musty scent of the cooling earth – was invigorating. A mysterious fog slipped through the trees and wrapped itself around us, snaking here, crawling there, twisting and turning and dancing slowly about. Whenever she grabbed at us we moved beyond her embrace and the mist vanished like a ghostly hand. The fog creates a silence like nothing else can and the mountain seemed to sleep beneath our feet.

And so it was as I’ve always liked it best, just the two of us making our way up Stanton then down into the col and up to Mount Pickering. We were kept company by the silent forest and by the ever lively fog. We sat on a ledge on Pickering where we sat this spring and watched the valley below come to life. But on this day there was nothing to be seen. But oh, there was so much to be felt.

I turned and looked at Atticus, who was sitting next to me. He looked out just as he had this spring and felt as at ease as he always does. We typically just let each other be at such times but I couldn’t help it. I had to speak.

“Thank you,” I said.

He turned and looked at me.

“Thank you for all of this,” I said.

And man and dog looked at each other for a moment more and then both faced out into the fog. After a minute or two he moved closer to me without either of us taking our eyes from the fog. He leaned into me, and I into him. We sat that way until time disappeared.

These hikes we are on now mean the world to me. In a few weeks it will all change. No longer will it be just Atti and me. We will be three. I’m thrilled by this. Judging by Atticus’ actions this past spring, he will be thrilled when the one we love is here again, too. And yet being Irish and sentimental I cannot help but say how much I will miss what we’ve shared alone over hundreds of mountains.

I would not be here had Atticus not led me here. I would not have climbed these mountains, moved to these mountains and made them our home without him. It’s funny how things can change when you let a friend into your life, even if that friend has four legs instead of two and never talks.

For the past four years I’ve wanted nothing more than to be here. Each and every step has been taken together with the vast majority of them being by ourselves and that has made a profound difference in our lives.

When we are three, we’ll be hiking at a feverish pace like we haven’t done in a year or so. We’ll try to hike all 48 of the 4,000-footers this winter and it will be fun to watch Atticus lead her as he always led me. Of course you are all invited to follow along, too – by way of your computers, of course, because you see, the three of us are, after all, ‘loners’.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mount Hale will be Hiked for Simon

Hale is being dedicated to Simon and is given by Tracy Haskell. Here's what Tracy writes about Simon, who is pictured above on a hike:

Simon was an absolute fiend as a puppy and I am so very, very thankful to him for that. He challenged me in many ways and was responsible for adding many new directions to my life. One of those was getting me to hike and to hike a LOT! Simon got me back on the trails and has inspired me to set goals that, four years ago, I would not have dreamed of. We have spent many days rambling around together, exploring places that neither of us have ever been. We have also found that old familiar places continuously offer up new treasures. I am filled with peace and love when I sit side by side with Simon as we gaze out over the mountains and sea. I delight in watching him as he picks up a new scent and experiences life fully in each moment. He has been, and continues to be, a wonderful teacher and companion. One of our goals in the coming year is to start hiking some of the 4,000 footers in the White Mountains and So, Mount Hale first in honor of Simon who has brought many firsts into my life.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tecumseh is Being Hiked in Honor of Larry

Our first dedication has come in. Ann MacMullen has dedicated Mount Tecumseh to Larry. That's Larry above. What a nice shot!

Here's what Ann writes:

Dedicated to Larry, a brindled hound of unknown lineage. He loves chasing squirrels, dreams, and anything resembling food. He is my protector and my best friend. Left tied to a fence in Manhattan 8 years ago, Larry now enjoys a country life in Off-the-Leash-Land, MA, with his own beds on every floor of the house. And he's real life proof that dogs are 'chick magnets': because I married the boy that rescued the brindled hound. Since then, I've had many adventures with Larry, in many woods, during many seasons; and I know I'm lucky to have had each one. Larry has made my life immeasurably better, and this is cause for celebration. We're donating to Angell to help support the most successful inter-species relationship on the planet--Dogs and Humans. May we never be parted! Thanks for all that you do, Tom and Atticus, to illustrate just how strong this bond can be.

Following Atticus Has Never Been Easier: Our Fundraising Efforts for MSPCA Angell

It has been a very good year for us and we’d like to give something back. Therefore, this winter we are back it in raising much-needed funds for MSPCA Angell by attempting to hike each of the 48 4,000-footers during the 90 days of winter.

Winter starts at 12:48 on the afternoon of December 21st and, weather permitting, that’s when we’ll start our hikes. If all goes well, we’ll hike each of the 48 before the first day of spring three months later. This year there will be an added twist to our Winter Quest, but I’m not at liberty to announce it yet. Stay tuned. It will be announced around November 17th. I can assure you, you'll love it and it will add to the entertainment value throughout the winter.

MSPCA Angell has made our fundraising much easier and now it’s easier than ever for you to make a donation, too. You simply
click on this link and it will tell you what you need to do to make a donation on-line. If, by chance, you are not into that but still want to contribute, you can do it the old fashioned way by sending a check made out to MSPCA Angell with Tom & Atticus written in the memo line to:

Kathleen Santry/Donations
MSPCA Angell
350 South Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02130

There are various ways to contribute to our efforts.

You can donate a 4,000-footer to the animal in your life, or one who has passed, and we’ll hike that mountain in your pets honor, or in their memory. A donation of $100 is needed to donate a peak, but feel free to contribute more if you’d like. It’s all for a great cause. Make certain to email us at atticusmfinch@gmail to let us know which peak you've chosen.

To dedicate a peak
click here to see which of the 4,000-footers is still available.

Make sure you send us a photo of your pet and a bit about him or her and on the day we hike the peak we’ll post your story and the photo on our website. To get an idea of what people sent in two years ago when we last did this,
check out this link.

For those who want to contribute but don’t want to dedicate a peak, you can go to the website we’ve set up at MSPCA Angell and click the “Make a Donation” button and submit any amount you want to.

Also, if you’d like to sponsor us per peak hiked this winter, simply email us at and let me know the amount you want to donate per peak hiked. It can be any amount. You choose. Then, after winter ends, you can make your donation.

Corporations can also get involved by sponsoring a peak for a minimum donation of $500. This is separate from making a donation in honor of a pet. Corporate sponsorship gets your logo posted on our blog, along with a link to your company’s website.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The 48 4,000-Footers of the White Mountains

Atticus and I will be attempting to hike each of the 48 4,000-footers in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in the 90 days of winter. We'll be using our quest as a fundraiser for MSPCA Angell once the season starts on the Winter Solstice, which is 12:48 p.m. on December 21st.

Here's a location map for those of you not familiar with the 4,000-footers. This will give you an idea of where each of the peaks are located. (If you click on the map it will enlarge for better viewing.) Our home base is in Jackson this year, just five miles down the road from the trailhead for Mount Isolation and 10 miles northeast of North Conway on the eastern side of the map. (Thanks to Steve Smith for the permission to use the map as it came from within the pages of he and Mike Dickerman's 4,000-Footers of the White Mountains book.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

German Rights to 'Following Atticus' Sold to Piper Verlag

Yesterday at the Frankfort Book Fair in Germany, Piper Verlag aquired the German rights to 'Following Atticus' in a pre-empt deal. The deal was made by Sabine Pfannenstiel at Andrew Nurnberg Associate (London). Ms. Pfannenstiel is a co-agent to our agent Brian DeFiore of DeFiore and Company in New York City.

Foreign rights have now been sold in the U.K., Italy, and Germany.

'Following Atticus' is scheduled to be published in the spring of 2011 here in the U.S. by William Morrow.

Monday, October 12, 2009

John Muir: "The mountains are calling and I must go."

Atticus' Dogs 101 Segment Will Air Again Tonight

Several people have contacted me complaining they missed Atticus on Animal Planet's Dogs 101. It originally aired on Saturday night. Not to worry, it will air again tonight at 9:00 and then again at midnight. It will also air various times during the coming weeks, too. And the segment will find its way onto the Animal Planet website within the next day or two. When it does, there will be a link to it from our blog.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tom & Atticus To Raise Money For Animals In Need This Winter

It’s been a good year for us. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of. What better time to give thanks by giving back?

This evening we came to an agreement with our MSPCA-Angell liaison, Kathleen Santry, to use this coming winter to raise funds for our favorite non-profit organization. Once again Atticus and I will take to the snowy trails in an attempt to hike each of the 48 4,000-footers in the 90 days of winter. However, this year’s attempt will have a new twist added in. That new twist? You’ll just have to stay tuned. It will be announced in the coming weeks.

I won’t go into too much detail yet, but there will be various ways to contribute. One of them is by dedicating one of the 4,000-footers to the animals who hold a special place in your heart. We’ll hike that peak in honor of your pet or in memory of a lost pet. So, start thinking about which of the 48 you’ll want to dedicate to your best friend. When the day comes to sign up, we’ll post it here.

As for the other ways to contribute, we’ll get into that when we spill the beans on the rest of the details. And the best part, all money raised will go directly to MSPCA-Angell to help animals in need.

As many of you know, Angell Animal Medical Center played a big part in our lives when Atticus was sick a few years ago. They gave us the best health care possible and they did it with compassion and understanding. More importantly, we believe in Angell because the one thing they most offered us, and hundreds of thousands of animals a year, was hope and hope is very precious when you are filled with fear.

Just to give you an idea of how special Angel is - when we raised money for them two winter ago, we did some of what we'll be doing this winter: allowing people to dedicate a mountain to their pets. Well, the people who were the first to sign up were many of the folks who work at Angell. Imagine getting paid at your job and turning right around and giving money back to the place you work for. How could we not believe in such a place?

And at MSPCA-Angell the caring for animals starts at the top.

Those who have participated in our other fundraising efforts will tell you how much fun it was to follow along on our progress during those two winters. When you get involved with our winter quest you’ll have something to look forward to every day. It’s almost like you’ll be climbing the White Mountains during their most dramatic season right from the comfort of your computer.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Penguin Gets UK Rights for Following Atticus

We’re very pleased to announce that earlier today Penguin Books won the UK rights to FOLLOWING ATTICUS. The deal was brokered by Mary Pachnos at Aitken Alexander Associates on behalf of our agent Brian DeFiore. UK rights include: England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, New Zealand and Australia.

In the last couple of weeks we also signed with William Morrow here in the U.S. and Italian rights were sold to Sperling & Kupfer on a pre-empt deal.

Atticus on Animal Planet this Saturday

Atticus will appear on Dogs 101 this Saturday. The show airs at 9:00 pm on Animal Planet. I've not seen the segment and I don't know when the segment on miniature schnauzers will air during the hour. I'm not even sure how much of the segment will focus on Atticus. What I do know is that they spent the better part of two days late last winter following Atticus around with their camera crew. We filmed portions of the segment in North Conway while walking down the street, sitting for an interview at the Nereledge Inn and gathering more footage at the Met Coffeehouse. Then we filmed a short hike to the top of Elephant's Head in Crawford Notch. The following day the cameras met us at Angell Animal Medical Center. Other than the interview I sat for, Dr. Maureen Carroll and various members of the MSPCA Angell fundraising staff were also filmed.

For those of you who are like us and don't have a television, you can catch the segment on the Animal Planet website following the airing. I'll link to it when it is up.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


It’s early morning and still dark outside. By the sound of the rain drumming on the metal roof of the house, it’s coming down hard and steady. The little bug always senses when it’s storming outside. On mornings like this he’s in no hurry to get up. While I’m under the covers, he’s on top of them, but fairly covered, the way he’s snugged them around himself and pushed up against my hip. (Funny, when we go to bed at night, he likes his space. But by the time I wake up in the early morning he’s craving contact, his little body pressed against me.)

Late yesterday we did the long loop here in Jackson. On good days we try to do it at least once. Now that we are getting ready for another round of the 48 we sometimes do it in the morning and the late afternoon. It’s 6.5 miles of bucolic bliss. Actually, I stumbled upon a term I like better – bucophilia. It comes from Maxime Kumin’s poem “Highway Hypothesis” and she refers to it as “nostalgia over a pastoral vista”. That’s what it’s like when we are striding along the quiet stretches of Carter Notch Road beyond the Eagle Mountain House, along the entire stretch of Moody Farm Road, and on the higher reaches of Black Mountain Road. On these sections of road it’s so sleepy we often walk in the middle of the street. When a car approaches we hear it long before we see it and we move to the side.

On our loop it’s not uncommon to see great blue herons, moose, bears, beavers, and countless chattering chipmunks. (The chipmunks, like the cars, are often heard before we see them.) Occasionally one will dart across the road in front of us and disappear into a stonewall so quickly it’s as if we imagined him. I always remind Atticus, “Remember, Little Bug, this is their home, let’s respect it.” At that he stops poking around the stonewall and comes back to me. It’s not that I worry about Atticus killing the little creature. He’s learned to be gentle. But the chipmunks don’t know that and I don’t want them to be scared.

The other day when a bear emerged from the woods just 20 feet in front of us, stopped and looked at us, Atti knew he wasn't some oversized chipmunk. He stopped and watched respectfully. When the bear disappeared into the woods on the other side of the road, Atti stopped and gave a look as if amazed at the vanishing act.

When we come to the pond where five beavers live we sit on the shore and the beavers approach us and I feed them apples. They are used to people and don’t bother to bat their tails on the water. Instead they glide up, one by one, and tread water just two or three feet away and wait for me to toss an apple into the water. I always bring five; one for each. Not all of them get an apple every time but the ones that do have no problem holding them in their hands and chomping away on them happily as man and dog sit and appreciate their ease.

As for moose, we see them least of all, but when we do Atticus knows to sit and not move. (I once heard about a little dog who was barking at a moose that had appeared in its backyard. The moose, in a request for quiet, stomped the dog to death. Since then, whenever we see one I whisper to Atti, “Pssst – moose.” And he sits. But now I don’t have to do that, he knows to sit and watch.

As much as I love the wildlife, the bucophilia is more about the silent trees, who on the rarest occasions murmur with the wind; the Wildcat River, which we often sit by and listen to her song; the far off views towards Carter Notch on one road, or towards the Moats, Tripyramids and Sleepers on another road. It’s about the enclave of native Jacksonsians in this quietest, unpretentious part of town – my favorite; and the way the farmland rolls blissfully up towards the base of some nearby mountains. It’s especially beautiful now in autumn when each day seems to outdo the last and whenever I think it cannot get any better, it always does.

We here in New England are the luckiest people in the world when it comes to this time of the year. No place is more beautiful or more longed for. In those years I lived in other areas of the country my heart would sing a melancholy song this time of year and I’d have done anything to get back here where the trees save their best for last.

And how does it all happen? How do the trees give us such a show? Rudyard Kipling, he of the Jungle Book fame (and many other things), once lived in Vermont. He wrote:

"A little maple began it, flaming blood-red of a sudden where he stood against the dark green of a pine-belt. Next morning there was an answering signal from the swamp where the sumacs grow. Three days later, the hill-sides as fast as the eye could range were afire, and the roads paved, with crimson and gold. Then a wet wind blew, and ruined all the uniforms of that gorgeous army; and the oaks, who had held themselves in reserve, buckled on their dull and bronzed cuirasses and stood it out stiffly to the last blown leaf, till nothing remained but pencil-shadings of bare boughs, and one could see into the most private heart of the woods."

This route is a road walk for us, and yet the elevation gain is significant enough to get my heart racing and force me to breath deeper. I feel it in my legs and my low back. And the views, well, they are better than on some mountains. And like those mountains, whenever we crest a hill near the top of Black Mountain Road, Atticus skips up and brushes my hand with his nose. Once he gets my attention he stops and sits. The first time I didn’t know what he wanted. Then I realized the views we had of the various far off mountains (and the Doubleheads, which are right there for the touching) and I knew this seemed like a summit to him. Now I know to pick him up and he sits up in the crook of my arm as he does on any summit and slowly pivots his head to look at the views. It never fails. It’s his routine on a mountaintop and his routine at this exact place on the walk.

We walk this way for a quarter of a mile or so. I can only imagine what the drivers think as they pass by and see a grown man carrying a little dog like this.

“Is he hurt?”

“Is the dog tired?”

“That dog sure is spoiled!”

If only they knew the truth – the little dog who was once blind simply wants a better view.

When I put Atticus down it’s not too far off from where two bulls stand in a field. He always approaches them with curiosity and I remind him, “This is their home, Bug, remember to respect it.” But those words are never necessary as he stands outside the wire fence and watches them. Sometimes the bulls look up. Sometimes they keep chewing the grass as if we don’t exist. Sometimes Atticus stands and watches them. Sometimes he sits for a spell.

The other night he decided to sit. He was about five feet from the fence. One of the bulls ambled slowly over and started to sniff the air. He pushed his large snout against an opening in the square of the fence. Atticus looked at me and I told him, “Okay, but be gentle.” Slowly the little black and white dog approached until both creatures, so different in size, so similar in color, curiously looked at each other and then with the softest of intentions touched noses.

I stayed back and watched. Why interfere with such innocence?

Animals and nature get it. It’s the humans who don’t. We’re the only ones who have to be reminded time and again how to act human. But you never see that in another creature. A bear knows how to be a bear. A dog knows how to be a dog. Mountains sure as heck know how to be mountains. It comes naturally them. Us, well, we need these little reminders from time to time and they help us to be human. Perhaps we find it climbing a mountain or sitting in our kitchen watching the birds at the feeder (as my father used to do) or taking a walk with a daughter and granddaughter as a friend recently wrote of doing.

It takes Atticus and me around two hours to do this walk. Sometimes, if we are sitting with the cows or feeding the beavers or listening to the song of the Wildcat River, it takes longer. The time doesn’t really matter, what matters is the experience.