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, 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.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Italian Rights to Following Atticus Sold

Within a week of getting a deal here in the United States, I’m pleased to announce that the Italian rights to FOLLOWING ATTICUS have been sold in a pre-empt deal to Sperling & Kupfer by Daniela Petracco at Nurn- berg Associates. Ms. Petracco is one of Brian DeFiore’s co-agents and she represents him in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Latin America.