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.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

He Can Be Stubborn

I tried to tell him that our book tour doesn't start until September, but Atticus refused to listen when we made a quick stop in Newington, New Hampshire on our way home from Newburyport today.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Two Species, One World

I owe my faith not to my Catholic upbringing, which was learned and programmed into me – just as my political preferences were – when I was young, but to those great minds throughout history I have felt a kinship with. Emerson wrote, “The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?”

Nature to Emerson, Thoreau, Muir, and other pantheists, was God.

I’m not a churchgoer, for I am not a joiner, but I’m forever seeking an authentic relationship with something greater. I seek out that which brings me closer to nature and I judge my days not by money made, things I’ve bought, my accomplishments, or who I know. It’s why I hike. Each journey up a mountain is a renewal of my faith and there are some days when it is easier to make that connection than others.

This past week, in spite of the horrors that took place in Japan, the constant angry bickering of our national and world leaders, yet another war, and the continuing struggling economy, was a good one for me. For nature brought me back to myself and gave me something to hold onto. More than that, it lifted me up, as it always does. Atticus and I went on three hikes where it was just he, me, and the woods. The first was up Middle Mountain in North Conway. When we reached the summit we enjoyed our lunch, took in the views, and I played Mozart. (If you’ve never listened to Mozart on a mountaintop you’ve never lived!) On the way down the trail spring revealed herself to us with a warm sun and I hiked across the white woods in snowshoes but only had to wear thin tights and a t-shirt.

A couple of days later we enjoyed the sun again. This time it was along the Boulder Loop Trail. We soaked in the warmth on the ledges high above the Kancamagus Highway. We took our time climbing, enjoyed our lunch, and then took a peaceful nap. We woke up to the sights of mountains named for some of the great indian chiefs that once traveled through the same woods: Passaconaway, Chocurua, and Paugus. I felt refreshed and we made our way down the snowy trail with a gentle sense of bliss and connection. On the way home we looked towards a snowy Mount Washington and I was so moved by the site of a gigantic, lone lenticular cloud floating in the blue sky above the summit that I pulled over to the side of the road. Atticus and I got out of the car and sat for quite some time watching that cloud move across the sky. It was immense and rich with definition and we were transfixed by its flight.

When the weekend came my plan was to hike on Sunday, the last day of winter. But we are a fluid pair and our plans are open to change. Upon taking a roast out of the oven I looked out at the darkening sky and thought of the full moon and how special it was supposed to be. I wrapped the roast in tin foil and left it on the stovetop, grabbed my backpack, and Atticus and I headed to South Doublehead. The last time we were on its summit was also at night when we watched the Fourth of July fireworks exploding over Jackson below us. It was an incredible evening, but it was nothing compared to what we saw this weekend. The moon, the closest it’s been to our planet in years, was enormous as it rose over the mountaintops. It was so stunningly beautiful I could feel every fiber of my being tingle. My legs, my arms, my heart – none of them were free from the pull of that extraordinary full moon. In the opposite direction, even under the blanket of the night, the snows on Mount Washington, lit by the moon, made the mountain appear as though it were some heavenly beacon. That’s when I had to sit down. And we stayed there, Atticus and me, watching our highest, most mysterious mountain in breathless awe.

Whenever I see Atticus enjoying the mountains like this I find myself smiling and realize that in spite of all our differences, we have a shared existence that thrives somewhere between the human and canine world. It’s a separate world we’ve made for ourselves, one not everyone can appreciate.

A few years ago, when my father died, one of my brothers never said anything to me but he let others know he was upset that Atticus was ever present – even at the graveside. What he didn’t, and never will, understand, is that there is nothing this little dog and I do not share. We never make a spectacle of our relationship; we are simply always together. It’s a seamless, leashless natural existence. We share the authentic experiences I longed for in a family that dissolved long ago. We’ve shared so many miles and mountains, so many triumphs and heartaches together, that the bond has become deeper than anything I’ve ever known. In three separate hikes over just a handful of days this past week he and I shared far more than I can ever remember experiencing with a family that doesn’t share much of anything.

Nature has the ability to bring all of us closer to each other, closer to ourselves, and closer to the natural world. It even has the ability to reveal a shared world between man and dog. Watching the shimmering moon and that luminous mountain on a night I’ll never forget with Atticus by my side was yet another stitch that connects the two of us.

I’ll not pretend to know what Atticus thinks when he witnesses such things but I’m aware that he appreciates them. For he sits and he watches, he breathes deep and he sighs. His face tells the story with how he used his expression. It’s in the movement of his ears, his mouth, eyes, and body language. So sitting next to him on South Doublehead the other night I recognized what he was feeling because I was just as spellbound.

He may be but a dog, and I but a man. But our experiences together in nature and a gentle respect for one another has given us something genuinely special. Why should we let the simple fact that we are of two different species get in the way of an appreciation of this one world. “Why should not we,” as Emerson wrote, “also enjoy an original relation to the universe?”

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Last Chance

I'm currently going through the manuscript for Following Atticus for the last time before it goes back to the publishers tomorrow. This is not heavy editing. That's been done for a while. But as the letter from HarperCollins directed: "Your changes should be restricted to errors of fact, misspellings, and/or typographical errors."

Once it arrives back in New York it will go through another round of copy editing and the next I'll see of it as one of the advanced reader copies that will come out in late April or early May. Advanced readers are those copies sent off to book stores and media outlets around the country to (hopefully) create buzz before the hardcover comes out in September.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Steve Smith Weighs in on FOLLOWING ATTICUS

Steve Smith, co-author of The Four Thousand Footers of the White Mountains, sole author of several other hiking books, and co-editor of the Appalachian Mountain Club's White Mountain Guide, mentioned FOLLOWING ATTICUS in his "Nooks & Crannies" column in the MountainEar newspaper today.

VALLEY HIKING BOOK NEWS: Congrats to Tom Ryan of Jackson, whose forthcoming book, "Following Atticus" (due out in September from William Morrow), has been chosen for this fall's "One Book, One Valley," community reading program, sponsored by eleven Valley libraries and White Birch Books in North Conway. Tom is well-known on the hiking websites for his many White Mountain hiking journeys in recent years with Atticus M. Finch, his stalwart miniature schnauzer. (They can often be seen walking the roads of Jackson.)

Together they have made hundreds of mountain ascents, including several rounds of the forty-eight 4,000-footers in winter. Ryan's lyrical trip reports posted on and on his blog, "The Adventures of Tom & Atticus" (tomandatticus.blogspot. com) have earned them a large following.

"Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship," is a beautifully written work. It's both a hiking book and a dog book, but it is also, as the jacket notes, "a story of love, loss, and the resilience of the human and animal spirit."

The "One Book, One Valley" event will kick off with a book signing in September at White Birch. Over the following two months each library will host discussion groups on Ryan's book, and the program concludes in November with an audience-and-author discussion event. Ryan will use the event as a fundraiser for the Harvest Hills
Animal Shelter and the Animal Rescue League of New Hampshire – North.

Who Cares What the Calendar Says...It's Spring!

This is a sure sign spring is here. Atticus refuses to drink on winter hikes. He always has. Instead he eats snow. So let yesterday's brief stop at a mountain stream along the Boulder Loop Trail signal the official change of seasons. (For those not wanting to trust Atticus, the "official" start of spring is on Sunday.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lenticular Cloud Over Mount Washington

There are times when the best shots aren't taken during the hike, but on the drive home from the hike. Returning from the Boulder Loop Trail this afternoon Atticus and I saw this wonderful lenticular cloud near Mount Washington.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Bears Are Coming! The Bears Are Coming!

It's snowing out this morning in Jackson. It can snow all it wants to these days because it won't stop spring from arriving on Sunday. There will still be snow on the ground. We may even have more snow, but it won't stick around for long. Such a wonderful phenomenon - just as morning follows night and light follows darkness, spring follows winter.

One of my favorite parts of spring is getting to see our neighbors again. We become strangers in the winter when most everyone shuts themselves away for a few months. It's like a rebirth of sorts. Of course my favorite neighbors are those that have been hibernating all winter long. Soon our backyard bears will return and we'll get reacquainted. They'll come after my grill, look for birdseed, and just saunter on through the yard on their way to somewhere else.

They are such grand creatures! And oh so smart as well. Last year, the local newspaper had an article about how bears had learned how to open unlocked car doors. It's why I lock my doors at night.

I'm thankful for our bears, but I'm also thankful that Atticus enjoys watching them, but he also respects them and lets them be.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Library Journal Takes Note of Following Atticus

The current issue of Library Journal gave pre-publishing attention to 15 upcoming non-fiction books. Among them was Following Atticus. The link is here and since authors are listed alphabetically you'll want to scroll down to the bottom of the page to find us. Or you can just read what they had to say here:

Ryan, Tom. Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship. Morrow. Sept. 2011. 288p. ISBN 9780061997105. $26.99.
Newspaper editor Ryan first met Atticus M. Finch as a five-pound puppy, carrying him around for a month so that they could bond. But they really bonded when, to raise money for charity after a friend died of cancer, Ryan set out in the winter of 2006–07 to climb all 48 peaks over 4000 feet in New Hampshire’s White Mountains—twice. And he did it with his little dog, an experience that changed them both forever. Another heartwarming dog story (there can never be enough), with this one getting attention from national hiking clubs as well as Muttluks, which makes canine booties. A strong contender for canine and inspirational lovers alike; with a 100,000-copy first printing.

Middle Mountain Today

Don't ask me what he's thinking in that top photo. I really have no idea. I just knew that I wanted to get Atticus's photo when I saw him looking at me like that. In the second photo he's awaiting one of his favorite summit treats, Stella & Chewies Carnivore Kisses.

It was a mostly overcast day for this hike up Middle Mountain but we still had some great views. The snow is getting softer as spring approaches and there were a couple of times I actually postholed with my snowshoes on. Won't be long before all the snow is gone and we'll start seeking out snowfree trails.

Friday, March 11, 2011

In Praise of Midnight Mike's Oddity

There’s a fellow named “Midnight” Mike Bromberg who has earned quite a name for himself in our White Mountains through the years. He is a skilled cartographer and his map of the Sandwich Range is a thing of beauty. He was only the fifth person to hike all 48 4,000-footers in each of the twelve months (and he did it long before it became the latest “monkey see, monkey do” craze that it is today). And he has hiked each of the 4,000-footers at night, standing on their summits at midnight – hence, the nickname.

That’s how Midnight Mike first caught my attention. I’d read his name in the back of Steve Smith and Mike Dickerman’s Four Thousand Footers of the White Mountains in a section called “Feats & Oddities.” My first thought was why would anyone in their right mind want to climb mountains at night?

That was way back when Atticus and I first started hiking and the Smith and Dickerman book was the last thing I read before drifting off to sleep – assuring me sweet, mountain dreams of places we’d never been, but would soon see.

Some five years later we’ve been up more than a hundred different mountains and I’ve decided that my favorite thing to do is to climb them at night. It’s a special treat, a chance to see the trails in an entirely different manner. And an opportunity for Atticus and I to experience them on our own. There’s little chance we’ll run into people on these hikes. There’s even less chance we’d ever emulate Midnight Mike’s feat (or is it oddity?), but I can now see the pleasure he derived from it. It’s no longer unusual for me to wait until the sun sinks behind the mountain ranges before grabbing my pack and starting out.

Strangely enough the urge to do this often comes later at night, when I should be settling down and getting ready for bed, or when I’m already in bed. A faint whisper calls out to me and Atticus puts up with this madness, even if it wakes me in the middle of the night. He’s come to think little of going to bed and then rising with me two or three hours later.

Such was the case the other night. I awakened with so clear and clean a thought it was as if I hadn’t been sleeping. Winter is almost over. Soon the snow will be gone.

You see, night hiking is richest in winter, when the ground is white, rocks and roots are smoothed over in layers of snow and ice, the trees bare, and the night cold, but crystal clear.

Once again I got dressed, grabbed my backpack, snowshoes, and poles, made certain I brought all three of my headlamps along. All the while Atticus looked at my appraisingly until I finally asked him, “Well, are you coming?”

Our latest nighttime rendezvous came on the small but beautiful peaks of Stanton and Pickering. They’re only five miles away from the house and an easy enough climb. Stanton comes first at 1.4 miles and along the way it offers cliff-top views of Mount Attitash to the south long after the last skier has departed. But the better outlook comes on Pickering, just another 0.7 of a mile along the trail. On the summit there were trees between us, the ski area, and the town of Bartlett. With civilization literally behind us, Atticus and I stood under brilliant stars piercing the black sheet of night. Looking north up at the multitude of unadulterated lights I tingled and butterflies took flight between my heart and my gut.

“My God, it’s beautiful,” I said aloud, as Atticus was tucked in a sitting position in the crook of my arm.
How often I’ve uttered some semblance of those words here in the Whites! He’s so used to it he no longer looks at me when I speak of such things. Instead he sits looking raptly out as if taking inventory of every last bit of heaven before us. Then, as always, he allows his weight to sit fully against me and, relaxing his body, he sighs. Often we both sigh.

The contrast of the night sky and the mountains below was spectacular. In front of us stood the hulking shadow of Iron Mountain, looking bigger from the top of Pickering than it does from anywhere else. Its enormity makes me see its full force. Beyond that, its white gown glowing majestically and flowing down into the dark valley below, sits Agiochook. That was the name the Abenaki gave her, long before “civilized” man changed it Mount Washington. But there are times when you see our highest peak - she with the wicked winds, frozen temperatures, lives taken, and the stuff of legends and lore – and Agiochook fits better.

Recently I came upon a John Muir quote: “Civilized man chokes his soul.” It’s true. We try to tame the wild places, to best them in some way instead of just appreciating them. Nature teaches us things and often the best we can do is to just let her be. Let her inspire us without putting some kind of stamp on her. And let her be Agiochook: home of the Great Spirit.

The next morning Atticus and I stopped in at the White Mountain Café here in Jackson and Crystal, who works the counter most days, asked, “Are you guys going hiking today?”

“Already been,” I said. “We got in about 3:00 this morning.”

She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. “You two are crazy!”

Perhaps we are, I suppose. Just crazy enough to be happy living a life that most might think a little odd. Although I think Midnight Mike would approve.

Now That's Wall Art!

Just received a poster of the book cover from our publisher, William Morrow. How fun is this! Now to get it framed.

Monday, March 07, 2011

"Following Atticus" Chosen as the Book for this Year's Mount Washington Valley's 'One Book, One Valley'

Each autumn the various communities of the Mountain Washington Valley, led by each town's library and the local book store, choose one book for everyone to read. This will be the sixth year of the event and today I received a call out of the blue that they chose Following Atticus as this year's title! It really is an honor for us. And it's the first time they've chosen a hardcover book. Typically they go with a book that's already gone paperback. Past authors have included Chris Bohjalian and Howard Frank Mosher, among others.

The event will kick off at our book signing at North Conway's White Birch Books in September. Throughout the next two months each library hosts discussion groups to talk about the book and it culminates in November when Atticus and I will appear on stage to discuss it with everyone in attendance.

We'll use this year's event as a fundraiser for two local animal shelters: Harvest Hills Animal Shelter and the Animal Rescue League of New Hampshire - North. I'll be donating the stipend they offer to each year's author, and we'll be asking people who show up at discussion groups to bring food for cats and dogs at the shelters, plus other supplies such as cat litter.

The link to One Book, One Valley is here. There are 11 communities involved in the event.

I'm honored they chose us and happy to be able to give something back to two great organizations.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Penguin U.K.'s Book Jacket for Following Atticus

While we sold our US rights to Following Atticus to William Morrow, we also sold foreign rights so far to Germany, Italy, and the U.K. Penguin U.K. shared their book jacket with us today. It's the same photo William Morrow used, with a nice sprinkle of snowflakes. Where the difference lies is in the words on the back.