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, April 20, 2009

South Moat Today

This morning we climbed South Moat and as usual Atticus took full advantage of the ledges for great sightseeing. There's something about this peak that makes him want to linger. The last two times we have climbed it Atti didn't want to go down. As a matter of fact, he pulled sit down strikes on both occasions. But can you blame him with views like this?

Monday, April 13, 2009

New Mailing Address

Please note that we have a new mailing address:
Tom & Atticus
PO Box 651
Jackson, NH 03846

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mount Washington at Sunset Last Night

It was not that the jagged precipices were lofty,
that the encircling woods were the dimmest shade,
or that the waters were profoundly deep;
but that over all, rocks ,wood, and water,
brooded the spirit of repose, and the silent energy
of nature stirred the soul to its inmost depths.

~ Thomas Cole

Cat Watching

Over the next month we are house/dog/cat sitting in the shadow of Mount Washington. I'm not the only one busy with my duties. Atticus has taken it upon himself to mountain watch (upper photo) and when he's not doing that he's honing his skills as a cat watcher (bottom photo). Here he watches Menou, one of the two cats we are caring for. The other is Stella, who was off licking her food dish for the fourth time since breakfast. Dawa, the dog we are sitting, was busy snoozing in the grass under the warm sun dreaming of our next romp in the woods.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Rudyard Kipling: The Power Of The Dog

I stumbled upon this last night and thought I'd share it. Those of you who can relate to the 'power of the dog' will understand. Of course there are many things those of us who love animals, and specifically dogs can relate to. Not too long ago in an email to me, author Sam Keen (Fire in the Belly; Hymns to An Unknown God) wrote: "I once had a Border Collie who loved to walk the hills. She got cancer and was incontinent and all but immoble. One day she wentout on a two hour walk with all the spryness of her youth. We returned to the house and she lay down and died. Atticus would understand."

Ah yes, the power of a dog. How they touch our hearts.

The Power Of The Dog
by Rudyard Kipling

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie--
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet's unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find--it's your own affair--'ve given your heart for a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!);
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone--wherever it goes--for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart for the dog to tear.

We've sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we've kept 'em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long--
So why in Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Bryan Flagg of the NorthCountry News Weighs In

Bryan Flagg, my editor and publisher at the Northcountry News was kind enough to send over the following note just after I submitted our latest column:

I don't think you know what kind of an affect you truly have on people that read your columns. I hear about it all the time. I am often asked how Tom and Atticus are, what they are up to and how things are going. You and Atticus have become household names in these parts and for good reason. You have allowed the readers into your world and have given them the opportunity to follow you and Atti up mountains that they may have never heard of in their lives. I have advertisers that tell me if they can't go on page three, then they want to be on the page with Tom and Atti. You have certainly made an impression on many folks. And at the cost of making myself sound like the over sensitive emotional fool I am - I am thankful and proud to be able to call you my friend. Thank you -Bryan

The Fat Man of the Mountains

(Dave & Lucas Olson from a photo lifted from their site

You’ve heard of the Old Man of the Mountains (boy is he ever missed), well here is a link to Dave Olson’s blog “Fat Man of the Mountains”. Atticus and I met Dave and his son Lucas on the Champney Falls Trail climbing Chocorua last summer. It was a beautiful day enhanced by the chance meeting on the trail. Then, later while Atti and I were on the summit, we visited for a bit with them again and I snapped some photos for them – one of which is used in the banner to the blog.

On his blog Dave writes:
I’m a newspaperman and writer living on the Massachusetts coast. I love the ocean, but I’d rather be in the woods. This summer, I’ll be climbing all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot mountains to raise money for Kestrel Educational Adventures.

He also writes:

The vast majority of hikers, however, take years, even decades to complete the list, so it would be pretty significant accomplishment if I could reach all the summits in 90 days. A fat but fairly fit guy like myself can pull off a difficult hike every once in a while. A summer-long series of difficult hikes — including a handful of traverses taking several days — is another thing altogether. It’s been a long time since I challenged myself physically, and the longer I wait the less of a chance it’s going to happen. I’ve spent the winter in the gym, getting as ready as I can. I’ll do some training hikes this spring. This summer, all I’ll need is a well-thought-out plan for getting to and from trailheads. The hiking’s the easy part; it’s the driving that takes its toll.

The hikes will also give me a chance to repay, in a small way,
Kestrel Educational Adventures, which started the conservation club that fueled my son’s already strong love for the outdoors and started us on a journey that’s changed both our lives for the better. I’ll have more details in my next post, but I plan to use my hikes as a fundraiser for Kestrel, with donors offering a specific amount for each mountain I climb. A dollar a mountain would mean $48 if I finish them all. Get enough donors and you’re doing some good for a great organization that does a lot of work with a little money. Again, more on that later.

Having the shortest glimpse of Dave and Lucas together last summer, I have an inkling that it will be fun to follow the two of them throughout their summer long adventure. To donate to their cause simply visit their website. Or simply visit it because it will be fun to follow along from wherever you are.

Father and son are about to have one heck of an adventure together.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Tom & Atticus Sign With Literary Agent Brian DeFiore

(Atticus and Dawa at Diana’s Baths. Photo was taken last fall.)

When in North Conway, we often take a morning and afternoon walk out to Diana’s Bath, a tiered waterfall just over half a mile walk from the road. It’s a beautiful place and on spring mornings such as this one during snowmelt it is also a very powerful place.

This morning Atticus and I were joined by Dawa, Marie Bouchard’s dog. We often house/dog/cat sit for Marie and when we do Atticus and Dawa spend their time in the house acting indifferently towards each other. There are no problems, just an understanding between the two to leave each other be. When we head to the car Dawa happily hops into the backseat and Atticus takes his usual place in the front seat. Then, when on the trail (any trail really), you’d think both dogs were best friends. They move together some of the time, apart on other occasions, but the three of us mostly move as a team.

This morning was no different. Our trio made its way through the woods. The dogs moved easily along while I crunched over the ice and crispy snow of the trail. Underfoot, my Microspikes gave me surety of foot as we moved along the icy ledges next to the waterfall. It gushed by us and the three of us took a seat on a boulder and watched winter literally washing away. Just a few weeks ago we were able to walk across the river but not here, not now. The deep snow and ice eroded from the bottom up and now the river is gaping wide open and the current gushes by with an impressive force.

From the falls we joined back up to the trail that leads to North Moat. Just two weeks ago Atticus and I followed it to the top of the mountain. It was a terrific day to climb and to sit on high above tree line. But then food poisoning came on and I was laid low for nearly two weeks now. It finally feels good to be out and about again and it felt great to be traipsing along the trail this morning. So long as I walked in the middle of it there was no problem, but step off to the side just a foot or so and I’d sink in knee deep in the rotting snow.

We moved through the woods and along the river that feeds the falls and were rewarded by a time both simple and sacred: a man, two dogs and the open woods without anyone else around. We walked on until we came to the first stream crossing. Had we been headed to North Moat we would have found a way to cross the stream, which was nearly bridged by a small fallen tree and some snow and ice, but on this day when we were just out of a walk in the woods there was no reason to push it. Neither Atticus nor Dawa had a problem with turning back. They took one look at the deep, fast-running cold mountain water and in unison gave me a look that said, “Yep, let’s head back.”

On the way back we stopped at the upper level of the falls again and looked out to where the river disappears below into the trees. Miles ahead of us, through an opening in the trees, North Kearsage stood peering down at us. We have yet to climb it but it is on my list to do this spring or summer.

How wonderful it was to stop and pause here and think about my writing again. Interestingly enough, I was actually tormented by the thought of writing throughout much of the fall and the winter. Last summer I signed on with a great agent but for whatever the reason it just didn’t work. I felt like I couldn’t be me and each time I wrote something I felt as though I were writing for her. It wasn’t a good situation. I stagnated, struggled and began to resent the book.

Eventually, I couldn’t take it any more. I ended the business relationship and now I’m happy to say I’m thrilled to be writing again. It feels like a gift again, instead of a chore. With the help of Brian DeFiore (about Brian) of DeFiore & Company (about DeFiore & Co.), my new agent, I’m changing the story into something much more than it was and I’m happy to say it still feels as though it is still my story. It is growing, but I’m growing with it.

Yesterday I spoke with Brian and it was liberating. I feel like an athlete who has in many ways been held back, but now I feel like he’s stretching me out and urging me to be what I can be. He’s got a gift for being comfortable and making me comfortable.

So this morning that’s what I was thinking about as Atticus and Dawa marched along ahead of me, two mismatched dogs – one small with only a stub of a tail and the other big with a feathery plume of a great tail. All three of us were in our elements. They were playing along at the base of a mountain while I was playing along with words and possibilities in my head.

I’m now dedicated to writing again. You’ll notice it in the coming weeks as I blog more than I have been since last summer. Writing just didn’t feel comfortable anymore. Suddenly, it feels like it always used to. In short, it feels like I’m now writing letters to a friend again and that was always my best writing – easy, flowing, simple.