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.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Long Night Calls

We woke up just before seven this morning and it was still dark out – dark and cold.  Daylight continues to dwindle while the night grows.  And yet it felt warm and bright within our  little home this morning. 

There is a comfort in getting out of bed and turning the thermostat up on these frigid mornings.  Then there’s the stove and the frying pan awaiting the blueberry pancake batter; Bing Crosby singing carols in the background; and the Christmas tree glowing in the corner of the room with its little while lights and silver and gold ornaments.  Outside in the backyard, on the other side of the picture window, stands another tree; it’s wrapped in blue lights and is our beacon in the morning drear.  The other day it looked like a greeting card dressed in a thin layer of snow and we all stood in wonder as we gathered around it. 

Then there is Will, who is nearing sixteen.  He may be deaf and see nothing more than shapes and shadows, with hips so weak they often collapse beneath him – and yet he wakes up every morning tangled in joy.  He leaps to and fro in his desire to play and if his legs were stronger and his aim truer he may actually be able to catch us as he “gallops” like a slow motion drunken horse.  His front legs are ambitious but are disconnected from the rear ones that don’t have the heart to do go very fast and they are unsure of themselves.  So he rears up to give chase and then realizes it’s not going to happen.  There are even times he topples over.  But none of it dissuades his happiness.  And yet this spectacle is nothing compared to the unmitigated celebration that explodes within him when I’m getting his breakfast.  Every morning is Madri Gras for Will here in Jackson! 

On the other end of the spectrum, Atticus waits.  He sits and watches patiently.  He also eats but neither food nor happiness has ever been withheld from him so he exhibits a stately grace compared to Will.  Besides, although he likes food, what delivers elation to Atticus can’t be found indoors.  It waits outside beyond the fraying edges of the gray morning in the trees and the paths that wind their way through them.

Later today, we’ll leave all this comfort behind.  I’ll get dressed in my hiking gear and bring my three headlamps because I know that night will fall early, and we’ll head out into the woods and up a mountain.  That’s where Atticus is in his element.  It doesn’t matter how cold it is, how much the wind is blowing, or whether we’re being watched by the sun or the stars.  What matters is that we’re out there and up there together. 

For Atticus he is most at ease with me, but he is happiest when we are together on a mountain.  But still, he takes it all in stride, as if this is what life was always supposed to be and what we were meant to be together.  When it comes to me though, I cannot tell you the pleasure I find in being out in the woods when the sun falls behind the mountains and darkness grows.  It used to unnerve me and the darkness fed on a fear that grew with the night.  But now I find comfort in the dance that leads from day to night. 

I even find comfort in the long nights in the coziness inside and the excitement outside.  I like how the wind taunts and harasses me.  I like that I’m warm in my gear with just a hint of discomfort to create an edge.  And I like that together we are far away from anyone else.  It took some time but I finally learned to appreciate that Saint-Exupery quote: “Night, the beloved. Night, when words fade and things come alive.  When the destructive analysis of day is done, an all that is truly important becomes whole and sound again.  When man reassembles his fragmentary self and grows with the calm of a tree.”   

And that’s what I feel like when we are miles away from the rushing world, especially around the holidays like now, when roads and restaurants and stores are crowded and everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere other than where they are. 

In recent hikes night fell on us as we travelled carefully down the icy trail along the Three Agonies as we descended Lafayette; we watched the sun dissolve behind the Tripyramids on the Sandwich Range when we were just a third of the way down the ledges of South Moat; and watched a pregnant moon with its perfectly round belly rise over the little boxes of the village of North Conway below us while we traversed Cathedral and White Horse Ledges.

I derive a delicious pleasure of being where once I feared to be and when considering those steps taken in the forest at night I thrive on the simplicity of it all.  Let the world unleash itself on us as it does from time to time and you can find us on a mountaintop in the dark where I am reassembling my “fragmentary self”.

There’s also something else that’s pleasurable about being on a mountain this time of year when it is cold and the winds are howling when darkness falls.  It makes you feel raw and utterly alive, but it also makes you appreciate a place called home.  It’s adventure that plants the seeds for later contentment. 

So tonight, long after this has been sent off at deadline, we’ll be up on mountain, cloaked in darkness, little lamps lighting our way as we trek across icy rocks leaving behind whatever troubles we’ve accumulated throughout the past days and there will be one thought on my mind – home. 

And when we return home we’ll be happy we ventured away from it, only to return to it with a renewed appreciation and greeted by a little blind and deaf dog who has redefined that term for us – and in the process discovered his own home.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Will in December

Will greets the morning snow on December 2nd. It's good to be alive!
It’s a fine December morning and we’re feeling good.  There’s a coating of crusty snow on everything and it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in Jackson.  Better than that, as you can see by the photograph, Will is enjoying the snow. 

There was a time I wasn’t certain he’d live long enough to see it. 

When he arrived in May he was frail and bitter, he was in pain and ill-suited for much of anything but snapping and getting angry. He threw temper tantrums and did his best to bite me whenever he could. The first morning I took him outside and he shivered, even though it wasn’t cold.  I didn’t think he’d last a month or two.  Worse, I feared I’d have to make a tough decision so soon after bringing him into our home because, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure why he was kept alive. 

He was fifteen, had been neglected and abandoned.  He struggled to walk.  It was nearly impossible getting him in and out of the car or up the stairs to where we live without him attacking me.  He was alive, but he wasn’t living.

I was so depressed that first day I met him and wondered what we’d gotten ourselves into.  But I remembered why we took him in in the first place – to give him a place to live out his days with dignity, and a place to die with dignity. 

With that in mind I set out to make him comfortable, to help him understand he was allowed to be himself, even if that meant getting angry.  Because, quite frankly, I’d be awfully angry if the only people I ever knew dropped me off someplace where I was left alone without much sight, without hearing, without an ability to get around, and there was a good chance no one would want me and all that was left for me was to be put out of my misery. 

I also decided to give him what he wanted – food!  He was starving for food and I wanted to put some meat on his bones, always a touchy balance because of his decayed hips (he’d been crated for far too long), just in case he made it to the autumn so he wouldn’t be cold.

And when his guard was down – when he was sleeping – I’d drape a blanket or towel over his shivering, elderly body and put flowers, which he seemed to like, near him for when he woke up.  I played music so he could feel the vibrations.  I lay on the floor with him – on his level – and we started to bond, and I talked to him, even though he couldn’t hear me.  I also touched him, a lot.  I touched him whenever I could when we were on the floor together.  Oh, there were times he’d still bite me, and even then I gave him permission to do that if that’s what he felt he needed to do.  I guess I did this to let him know I’d respect him, respect his right to feel whatever he was feeling and allowed him to express whatever he wanted to express.  (Thankfully, he never went after Atticus, only me.  Then again, Atticus saw his behavior and stayed away from him, always seeking comfort where he most finds it – by climbing.  Not mountains, since we don’t have any in our home, but onto the furniture, where he’s always been welcome and Will couldn’t reach.)

Over time Will stopped being so angry.  Like most of us, he simply wanted to know he could be mad if he wanted to be.  Give someone that opportunity and they rarely stay made very long – that is, if they have half a heart.  He realized, I guess, that he could simply be Will.  And while there are times he still throws a minor temper tantrum, they are so rare they happen less than once a month and they are mostly associated with the pain he is in.    

Since arriving in May Will has gained seven pounds and we’ve cut back on the food and he’s a rather happy, well-fed fellow who no longer shivers outside, even when it’s only 25 degrees, as it is this morning, or 12 degrees as it was the other night.

And Will, who was in such pain he didn’t like being touched, well, this morning when it was time to come inside, I scooped him up into my arms and rolled him over on his back and carried him up the stairs like a little baby, his rear legs stretched out and his head dangling in about as relaxed a position as he could possibly be in.

So yes, it is a good morning.  I’m happy to report that Will has become Will.  He’s alive and well, happily living out his days.  He takes comfort in eating good food; listening to (or feeling) music; smelling beautiful flowers, greens, and candles; being touched and held and even gently wrested with; watching the shadows move about him; and most of all, he simply loves being loved and knowing he belongs. 

The best part of each day here is when Will wakes up.  He’s an old fellow and he groans in his bed as he takes inventory of his aches and pains and looks for a way to get to his feet – which isn’t easy.  When he does, he stumbles about a bit, usually bumping into a wall, and finds his balance. Then when he sees me something magnificent happens. He becomes a puppy again. He greets me by wanting to play. He’d jump on me if he could.  He spins and dances and prances about and joy flashes brightly in his eyes and overcomes the dullness of his cataracts.  It is a morning ritual we can only smile at and laugh with.  It’s pure, unmitigated elation. 

Will is my morning reminder to show gratitude.  I’m not only grateful he’s still alive and doing well, he’s grateful, too, and he shows it each morning.  What better way to start each day than by giving thanks?

With Christmas on its way, I’m happy to report that the tree will go up today and eventually there will be presents under it for a little dog we didn’t think would live long enough to see it.  But Will not only lives in our happy little home in the heart of the White Mountains, so does gratitude, peace, hope, and love.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Order Personalized Autographed and Pawtographed Copies of Following Atticus from White Birch Books for the Holidays and You May Win One of Our Following Atticus T-Shirts

We do so love independent bookstores and here in the Mount Washington Valley we’re fortunate to have a great one in White Birch Books.  It’s my favorite place to stop by in North Conway and has been since we moved to the valley.  They’ve always welcomed Atticus, and now they welcome Will, too, which makes me like them all the more. 

From the day Following Atticus first came out in hardcover Laura Lucy and her staff have been great supporters and they’ve now sold more than 2,000 copies.  Below you will see a photo of Laura and Barb with Atticus and the cake HarperCollins sent them congratulating them on 1,000 sales.) That’s an astounding number for any bookstore, but especially so for a small indie bookseller in the mountains. Every author should be so fortunate to have a place like White Birch Books in his or her corner.  And since day one they’ve handled special orders for personalize autographed and pawtographed copies of our book and sent it throughout the country, and even overseas.  

They are now busy at work doing just that with the holiday season upon us and this year we’re teaming up with them to give away our next Following Atticus t-shirt.  Between now and December 15th, anyone ordering a personalized autographed and pawtographed copy of Following Atticus from the good ladies at White Birch Books will be entered into a drawing for a Following Atticus t-shirt.  And the more special orders you make the better chance you have of winning.  For instance, if you order one book, you get one chance of having your name drawn on December 16th. If you order five, you get five chances of winning the t-shirt. 

So if you are giving Following Atticus as a gift this holiday season and want to make it extra special, call White Birch Books at (603) 356-3200 and we’ll be by the shop two or three times each week to personalize them for you.  Better yet, you could win the t-shirt they are giving away.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pieces of Heaven

Thank you.

They are perhaps the two most powerful words in the English language when you connect them.  And I find myself saying those words again and again lately, especially while remembering – fittingly enough – our Thanksgiving Day hike.
Every time we climb a mountain I understand it could turn into a savory memory, and most hikes are memorable in some way or another, but whenever we make it to Franconia Ridge and step out of the trees above treeline with the world beneath us and heaven not just above us, but by our sides as well, there’s an even greater chance it will be a day to remember. 

We haven’t been on the ridge for a year and a half and I’ve missed it.  The entire night beforehand, knowing we’d be up there soon enough, I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve.  You see, I often avoid popular routes because of the crowds and we seek them out only on off times when people are busy with their lives.  Midweek in winter is a fine time to go. So is night.  And, as it turns out, Thanksgiving Day is also a perfect time to do this hike. 

The morning air was cold but fresh as we made our way along the lower reaches of the Falling Waters Trail.   At the numerous stream crossings we had to watch our footing because of the sheen of ice on the rocks that was often hard to pick up.  Fortunately we safely made all our water crossings and then started that slow, methodical climb to the top.  It’s a steep hike, at times challenging, but it’s a beautiful walk through mythical woods and as we followed the switchbacks through the forest the sun climbed the cloudless sky and turned everything a golden-green.  That in itself would have been memory enough worth saving, but on this day there was more to come.

Just before we exited the trees near the top, we reached an ice bulge in the trail and stopped to put on our MicroSpikes.  There’s a sense of comfort and insurance whenever I feel their little metal teeth cutting into the ice.  First I hear it, then I feel it, and I’m always glad I brought them along.  And once through the icy section of the Falling Waters Trail we exited onto the ridge above treeline and there was not a cloud to be seen.  Blue skies draped themselves over the mountaintops and the faintest of breezes and the warm sun joined together to make sure we’d spend a pleasant two miles on the ridge.  But we were hungry after working so hard to get to this point and this being Thanksgiving; we stopped to have our dinner.  For me it was a first – a vegan Thanksgiving, and even though the traditional turkey dinner (and leftovers) is my favorite meal of the year, I didn’t miss it in the least bit.  Instead the three of us sat, listened to music, took in the views, and ate a meal of quinoa, sweet potatoes, avocado, black bean salsa, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds.  We talked, we laughed, we counted our blessings, and we enjoyed the shared solitude.  Our only regret was that we didn’t stay longer but there were miles to go and the day was slipping by and soon the sun would be slipping towards the horizon.

On the climb up Mount Lincoln I watched Atticus maneuvering up the rocks, between them, and around them.  I tried to remember how many times we’ve been over Lincoln and Lafayette but I couldn’t.  What I do know is that we’ve been climbing them for the last seven years and we’ve done them in all kinds of weather and in every season.  I also know that while Atticus will soon be eleven and he still moves well, he won’t be doing these hikes forever, and so I watched him closely with the same love and admiration I always do, but with the tiniest sense of bittersweet sentimentality. 

He moves in these mountains as if they are his old friends.  He’s always felt comfortable with them.  There’s an ease to him wherever he is, a self-assuredness that make me look on joy for him. But on a mountain it’s different.  I understand that somehow or someway he was made for this and each time we climb it’s like he’s coming home again.  And while I don’t think Atticus really cares whether we climb four thousand footers or other desirable peaks, he knows these places so well and has grown fond of them.  They are familiar to him.  

It’s for this reason that I have decided that over the next year or so we’ll get to each of the forty-eight at least one more time while he’s still healthy and moving well.  I understand that while that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, it could very well be our last time together on these two mountains.  But instead of looking at that day that hasn’t come, I decided to put my thoughts to the memories being made on that trip.    

On top of Lincoln I picked him up as I always do and we looked back to where we’d come from. (That stretch of rocky trail always reminds me of the Great Wall of China as it follows the jagged and narrow spine of the ridge.)  Then we turned north and looked toward Mount Lafayette, the next peak on our hike.  It’s a special place – the summit of Lincoln.  You not only get the breathtaking views of Cannon, the Kinsmans, and Moosilauke to the west, you get Garfield, the Twins, the Bonds, Owls Head, the Presidentials, Carrigain, and the Hancocks to the east.  To the south are Flume and Liberty and the east-to-west running Sandwich Range.  But on top of all that, you get the perfect view of Lafayette, which towers in front of you like some magical beast that will one day awaken. 

The climb up Lafayette is always a challenge, but it was easier because of the special views on a cloudless day.  We stopped often to appreciate everything that was special and for what we were experiencing.  Better yet, we’d seen a total of five people above treeline.  Such sweet solitude made even more special by the friendship it was wrapped in….three hikers in our own little world, in our own paradise, dancing over the mountains, making memories, and having much to be thankful for on a day made for giving thanks.

We weren’t moving all that quickly.  There was no need to for we were where we wanted to be and there was much to see and do and say.   It had become one of those days destined to be remembered.  You know the kind.  You recognize them as they unfold and notice the way you slip right into them and are then wrapped up for safe keeping so that you can always pull it back to you in a daydream for life is not always so kind and we need these pockets of special times where we can reach them. 

The poet William Stafford has a few lines in one of his poems that go like this….

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

As we left the summit of Lafayette and walked down the mountain and into the sunset before making our way through the last couple of miles under the guidance of a bright moon and starlit sky, it was clear we’d made a memory with those little pieces of heaven we’d found throughout the day and they will always be there for us when we want or need them, just as they are now. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Bare Necessities of November

There’s a charm to the November woods and it is found in their simplicity. They are the secret warmth that lasts after a long weekend when everyone else has gone home; the woman you love who is even more beautiful lying next to you at night after the day is spent and her makeup is off. The November woods are pristine in their nakedness.

In November the crowds who flock to enjoy October’s colorful flourish are gone. New Hampshire – the real New Hampshire –where wood and rock and running water meet far from the outlet stores and restaurants the true charm of our state lives like a secret.

Within the past month everything has reversed. All the decorative leaves that had burst forth overhead now form a luxurious (if at times slippery), bronze carpet underfoot. And where once there was the pleasant clutter of millions of leaves now there’s nothing but bare bark and open air. The forest has shed her clothes and stands there as stark and stunning as can be.

In the Irish fairytales of old, the Little People were always just out of sight around the next corner. They could be felt, almost imaginatively heard, but never seen, and the essence of their magic hung like a wisp of a disappearing dream. They were forever hidden because nature knew how to keep their secret, but not so much so that you couldn’t feel their presence. There was always the belief you’d come around a bend and there they would be sitting, a startling bit of enchantment looking you right in the eye, causing your heart to race, and reality to swirl. In November you see through the forest, you see the secret places, at times beyond to the great views you never knew existed. Take a turn in the trail you’ve taken ten times before but now because there are no more leaves to block the view you look up and see a mountain towering close by. It catches you by surprise in just the same way. It fills your heart with quivering excitement.

It’s these private moments on the trail before I even get to the mountaintop that draws me in this time of year. Solitude is the song that plays from tree to tree in the open spaces of the formerly dense forest.

When I was younger and less sure of myself, I found loneliness in the woods this time of year.  Now that I’m older and know who I am, it’s just the opposite. There is the murmur of the thrill that races through me as I feel myself in a place most know nothing of. It’s an escape from a hectic and drama filled world where everything is fast-paced, loud, and blaring.  At the same time it’s a coming home to a place safe and secure.

This past weekend we took the simplest of hikes – a local loop we’ve taken many times up from the shores of Pudding Pond to the small “jutting” peaks that sit like an understated backdrop to the big box stores of North Conway. I wonder, at times, how many even know they are there or even bother to look up at them. But they are forever a part of our landscape and I think even those who don’t notice them would miss them if they were to disappear.

As we trod the earthen paths that loop up over both summits affording views from the mountaintops of Middle and Peaked, it feels to me like we are visiting a familiar friend. It’s the kind of friend you can be yourself with and this is a come-as-you-are kind of hike –not so taxing or dangerous that you feel the need to plan ahead or get geared up for it. It’s more like a simple walk with backpack and water and little else needed other than a summit snack, not so much for energy, but for enjoyment. Oh, you have to work to get to the prize at the top so it’s a workout after all; it’s just not the hike one takes to get to the more challenging peaks.
But that’s the allure of such a hike.  It lies in its simplicity. 

My favorite mountain is one we can be alone on, and while we did see three people on this day, for the most part we had the trails to ourselves.  When we reached the top of Middle Mountain we sat down, shared some treats, and soaked in the sun.  It felt warmer than November and stood in contrast to the cooler, shady parts of the hike up where an inch or so of snow crunched underfoot.  The view is wonderful, but again, on this day, at this time of the year the best part for me Is how the forest allows me to feel alone but not lonely.  It’s stripped of everything that is not essential and the silver and brown trees connected the vibrant blue sky and the brown leaves on the ground. 

I’m still getting acquainted with my renewed body that weighs eighty pounds less than it used to, and the ease with I now move.  I’m amazed at how stress-free the climbs are now compared to what they used to be and as we curled up from the cleavage between the two peaks around to the northern side of Peaked and worked our way up the ledges Atticus was is in his glory pushing up toward the summit and I followed happily along.  By this time the white-capped Presidential Range came into view behind us as did views up into faraway Crawford Notch.  It was the best of all worlds. We were alone in the woods, with views far and near, dear friends doing what they like and do best – being together while the craziness and entanglements of the world were left behind. 

We took in the views from the summit of Peaked Mountain for a good long while and then I leaned back against the pine tree that stands like a sentinel , and took a nap while Atticus lay his head on my leg and did the same. 

These are the days and hikes we like best - the simple days. Put enough of them together and you get a humble but happy life.  And surprisingly, these November days have now become a favorite of mine for the same reason – their simplicity.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Will Power

Will makes his first mountaintop.

As I write this I realize that my life is now different than it was six months ago.  I’m a changed man. . . . a better man.  I’m more than I used to be and inspired in both head and heart.  Friendship and love can do that to even the hardest most dubious man.  So can helping another become who he was meant to be. 

Two weeks ago I sent out the following email to a handful of close friends.

Today, what I had grown to think of impossible became reality when my best friend and I followed Atticus as we pushed and carried Will's hiking chariot to the top of Pine Mountain. It was a very difficult journey and much harder than we expected it to be, but throughout it all Will was comfortable, safe, and even happy. We chose Pine Mountain because of the dirt access road and the relatively short, but challenging (challenging when you are carrying up a dog in a carriage) trail to the summit.  The approach on the road is long and uphill and tired us out as we took turns pushing his little chariot. When we reached the trail itself, which we had scouted out yesterday, we were challenged by rocks, roots, mud (from this weekend's rainstorms), and slippery ledges and we tired quickly as we picked up either end of the rig and carried it over the rougher sections.

We stopped often to rest our shoulders, backs, and arms, and simply to catch our breath.  At one point my friend turned to me and said, “Are you okay?”


“You’re not going to have a heart attack on me, are you?”

I assured her I was okay and we continued following the ever-patient Atticus up the mountain while carrying Will in his chariot.   

In the end we reached the mountaintop and I held Will in my arms as I have always held Atticus and that old, mostly blind and deaf dog sat there and sighed. I'm not sure what he saw, if anything, but he obviously knew it was something special because he leaned in to me, sighed, and licked my cheek - a first.

I am so proud of Will, who could have given up on life long ago. I'm proud of Atticus as well, for he's shared me with Will and didn't seem the least bit put out by Will's first mountaintop, even though it was Will in my arms and not him. And none of this would have been possible without my best friend. I first tried a backpack but Will's hips were too sore to sit in it. I gave thought to carrying him up in a sling but I didn't feel his old body could take the jostling, and I was ready to give up. But she came up with the idea of the hiking chariot and today we took turns pushing it up that mountain, and at times we carried it. In all of the mountains we’ve climbed, this was one of our most challenging.  It’s also now one of our most memorable.

Will is happily snoring at home right now and Atticus is just being Atticus. But we are worn out. But it’s a good tired that has us feeling fulfilled and happy.   

Six months ago Will was abandoned at a kill shelter by the only family he'd ever known for fifteen years. When we took him in he was broken, depressed, angry, and I didn't think he'd live very long. But not only has Will not given up on life, he's thriving and today he reached his mountaintop, and together the four of us made a memory that will last a lifetime.

There’s an old saying about taking in a shelter dog: “Who rescued who?”  But that question doesn’t apply to us.  Will, a fifteen year old partially lame (due to being put away in a crate so he wouldn’t be a bother), mostly blind, and completely deaf miniature schnauzer didn’t save us, for we didn’t need to be saved.  But he has taught us a thing or two about life and love.  He’s taught us, and everyone else who knows his story, that it’s never too late to love or to be loved; and it’s never too late to live. 

In the six months Will’s been with us he’s emerged from the shell of a dog he was to one who is aware, vibrant, and very much alive.  We’ve watched him grow and reclaim his life.  But nothing has changed him more than “climbing” Pine Mountain has.  Perhaps it’s just more of the magic of the White Mountains, but in the days that have followed he’s more self-assured and follows us from room to room.  He wants to be part of us and is so far removed from the little dog who hated to be touched, tried to bite me if I picked him up, and did his best to isolate himself in the very beginning. 

Now, as I sit here writing this, I realize how different everything is than it was in May.  Back then we took in an unwanted dog who had nothing left to live for with the idea of giving him a place to die with dignity.  I figured he’d last a month or two and that would be it and we would move on with our lives knowing we’d done a good deed. 

But as I look at him today I realize I don’t want him to go – ever.  And yet he is closing in on sixteen and the cruel truth is that the dogs we love only live a fraction of the time we do.  When I look at Will and see how alive he is I remind myself that he’s not getting younger, he just seems like he is.  And whether he lasts another year or two, or simply another month or two, it’s all too fleeting.  He’ll take a piece of me with him when he goes and there will always be a bit of Will in my heart.  (Just writing that has tears welling in my eyes for whenever we find a true friend, we never want to lose them.) 

At 2,400 feet, Pine Mountain is dwarfed by Mount Madison, the fifth highest peak in New England.  And yet on one day – a day I will always remember – it was for a little elderly once-broken and once-discarded dog, the top of the world.  We brought him there, and in turn he brought us along for the journey, a journey that will touch us forever.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Will's Choice

I believe in the magic of these mountains.  It’s what drew me here; it’s what keeps me here.  It’s where I connect with my late father, where I made peace with him when he was still alive. It’s where I followed a little dog home to myself, the self I always dreamed of being.  It’s where I finally met my best friend and the love of my life.  For me, the White Mountains are my beginning and my ending; my alpha and my omega. 

I find a certain synchronicity here – not only on the trails, by the rocky streams where mountain waters rush swiftly by, on the exposed ledges of the Presidential Range, the mysterious forests of the Sandwich Range, or on summit halfway between heaven and earth.  It’s even in the little house we live in down in the valley and it’s where things come together and life makes sense. 

No matter what we plan for, we can never be truly ready for what life will deliver to us. There’s just no way of knowing who or what is on the other side of that door we’re about to open.  It’s part of the mystery of it all.  Look at it all in the right way and you can see what Einstein meant: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.”  It’s what keeps life interesting.  It’s what makes us grow. 

Last spring I lost a friend to alcoholism.  No matter what I did or tried to do, I couldn’t help him, but as anyone who has been through a similar experience will tell you, the only one who can save an addict is the alcoholic himself. My friend didn’t die, he simply crawled further inside the bottle and I had to make a decision to go on with my life. What died was our friendship. 

Within a month we adopted Will, an elderly, mostly blind, deaf, and arthritic miniature schnauzer. Another friend had the opinion that we rescued Will because we couldn’t rescue the alcoholic in our lives.  Perhaps there is some truth to that – but I’m not really sure. 

I ran into the alcoholic in July.  He was still drinking and still sinking deeper into the bottle.  Meanwhile, I had expected Will to be dead by July.  He was in such bad shape, so angry, in so much pain when he came to live with us in May I wondered if it was cruel keeping him going.  But by July Will was doing much better. By August he was thriving.  Now here in the middle of October I look at this nearly sixteen year old dog with a sense wonder.  He’s not only joyful and fulfilled; he’s discovered a sense of self.  He knows who he is and what he wants.

Will doesn’t get around much. He’s been to some book signings with us, but people in town don’t get to see much of him because his poor stiff hips are in such bad shape – probably from being crated for far too many years – and he can’t walk very far.  Two weeks ago I shared our plan to try to get this old boy to the top of a mountaintop.  His hips have gotten better.  They’re no longer tender to the touch and he sits in the crook of my arm as Atticus always has. They are still not strong enough to allow him a long walk, never mind climb up even the easiest of mountains.  But I thought he may be ready to sit in one of the child-carrying backpacks parents put their kids into.  So we went to Eastern Mountain Sports, picked up a backpack, crossed our fingers, and gave it our best shot while sitting in the comfort of our backyard. 

I held Will as I always do, slowly slid him down into the seat and let his long lower legs poke through the openings and dangle downward.  At first he was a bit nervous by this new position.  Then he whimpered.  Then my heart broke when I heard him crying.  I pulled him out and held him for a bit.  We waited and gave him another try but it was clear he wasn’t just limited by fear, it was also pain. So I pulled him out and sat for a while as he buried his head against my chest and let me hold him.  (This is something that never would have happened in the beginning. He wouldn’t have let me hold him like this. He barely let me touch him, and I wouldn’t have let his flashing teeth so close to me.) 

Sitting there cradling this dog who was left to die in a kill shelter less than six months ago I wondered if maybe, holding him like that, letting him cry, letting him feel safe in my arms, letting him feel loved, if maybe sitting there with me was his mountaintop.  Perhaps he didn’t need to reach some summit thousands of feet in the air.

But while I was holding him I soon noticed that as soon as he calmed down and gave me a tiny flick of his tongue – a kiss perhaps? – that this mostly blind dog started casting his nose about in the air and let his eyes try to focus on shapes and movements all around us.  A gentle breeze tussled his white hair, he closed his eyes, seemed to smile, and I heard that same familiar sigh Atticus always makes on a mountaintop when he’s in my arms. 

Seeing him like that has me determined to get to a mountaintop.  I want him to experience what it is like just once in his life.  But I want him to enjoy it for if he doesn’t, and if he doesn’t feel safe and comfortable, there’s no sense in it.  And I want to do it before too much time passes.  Soon the roads with access to the easier mountains I have in mind will be closed.  Soon the snows will come and winter’s cold will keep Will and his brittle bones inside. 

I’m smart enough to know that for as far as we’ve come, and how Will finally understands what it is like to be loved and is clearly loving us back, how he’s so much healthier than he was, this redemption he’s going through will soon come to an end.  That’s the thing about adopting an older dog. Time together is dear but all too short. The reality is that he may not live to see another spring, not at this age. 

It seems rather cruel, that now that he’s found his home, he may not get to enjoy it for a long time.  We all knew this taking him in.  We did it to give him a place to die in dignity and with respect.  I just didn’t count on him living.  And it’s not that I didn’t count on him living this long, I just didn’t count on him choosing to live again and love again.  Unlike the friend we lost last April, Will chose to live when he had every reason to give up on life as life had given up on him. 

Because Will chose to live he’s made our lives richer because of it.  He fills our hearts on a daily basis and when the time comes to say goodbye, he will break them. 

So when people ask me why I would want to take an old blind and deaf dog to a mountaintop my answer is clear.  It’s because life is all too fleeting and all too dear not to. I want him to live while he still can, especially since he's chosen to live!

So this weekend, we’ll take one last shot at getting Will to a mountaintop.  An enclosed stroller made for dogs and cats is arriving tomorrow.  It’s rugged enough to take on a gentle trail and should be far more comfortable for Will to ride in than the backpack was, especially since we’ll swaddle him in padding.  Of course we’ll be following Atticus up that mountain and there will be two of us to lift the stroller when we get to the rougher parts. 

Hopefully when the weekend is done, Will would have sat on his first, and most likely, last mountaintop.  Will it all be worth it?  I believe so.  For I believe in fate and synchronicity.  I believe we come into each other’s lives for a reason. 

The translated Italian title for Following Atticus equates to “With You to the Top of the World.”  I think it’s ironic that while we’ll be helping Will get to a special place that’s not even close to being the tallest peak in our valley, never mind the White Mountains, or the world, something tells me that when all is said and done, all of us will feel as though we’ve reached the top of the world together.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Most Enjoyable Interview We've Ever Done

Okay, so I say "we" but as everyone knows, Atticus doesn't talk.  As I often say during radio interviews when the hosts asks me if Atticus is with me, "Of course he is, but he won't talk.  Just think of us as the Penn & Teller of memoirs. 

Recently "we" were approached about doing an interview for Chick Lit Is Not Dead by Liz and Lisa. How could "we" resist? I happily answered the questions, for both of us, and the interview went live today.  "We" hope you read it and enjoy it since it's not the same old - same old kind of interview.  The ladies ask some fun questions and because of it, this is part of one of the answers you will see:

"...on one of our most recent hikes, a five mile loop that wouldn’t have taken more than three hours in the past, we started out later in the afternoon, took our time, sunbathed on the summit ledges, then on another set of ledges watched the sunset and the rise of the full moon over neighboring mountains. We stayed there for quite some time, just the three of us, ate a candlelight dinner, and danced to the music piped from my iPhone under the full moon, and returned to the car nine hours later."

Yes, I talk of love....but I also touch on veganism, adopting unwanted animals, my favorite authors, and I even give advice to aspiring authors.  To read the entire interview click here, and we'd love it if you left them a comment - it could help you win a copy of Following Atticus.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ordering Autographed & Pawtographed Copies of Following Atticus for the Holidays

We woke up to a temperatures in the thirties this morning and earlier this week snow fell on the 4,000-footers throughout the White Mountains.  That means winter is on its way, as are the holidays. One of the most common questions we get is "How can I get an autographed copy of Following Atticus signed by both you and Atticus?"

There are only two ways: show up at one of our book signings, and there are only two left and they are both this weekend in Massachusetts, or call our local bookstore, White Birch Books. White Birch Books is located in North Conway and they will handle your special order with ease. They've already sold more than 2,000 copies of our story and have shipped them throughout the country and overseas. 

Each week Atticus and I stop in to visit the ladies at White Birch Books to see what is new in the book world and to pick up the latest works from our favorite authors.  (Currently on my nightstand are the latest from Louise Penny, William Martin, John Irving, Carolos Ruiz Zafon, and Katherine Howe.) While there we sign copies of our books and they are promptly mailed out by Laura Lucy and her staff. 

To place your order for hardcover, paperback, large print, or audio copies of Following Atticus, call them at (603)356-3200, which they prefer, or you can visit their website at

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Where There's a Will, There's a Way

I know, this is a hiking column and I’m sure I drive some other folks who write about hiking crazy by how I deviate from a simple, straight forward piece of writing about trail conditions and elevation gain.  I know…I should be writing about fall foliage and a hike that takes us through the bright orange, yellow, and red canopy of the season to a lofty viewpoint allowing us to drink in October’s tapestry as it spreads out below us.  After all, we are in the White Mountains, the most beautiful place in the world this time of year.  And yet this week’s column offers a different look at this season, and the autumn of one’s life.  And once again, I’m sure I will disappoint some of my peers who write about these trails we all tramp. 

Each morning, the first thing I do when I wake up is spend five minutes counting my blessings.  I start out each day with what I call an attitude for gratitude.  Over the past few years I’ve started off that list with a little black and white dog, the mountains we live in, our story that’s been published not just by this newspaper every two weeks but also by HarperCollins in book form, and more than any of that, I am thankful for this simpler more soulful existence we’ve found a way to live.  Not everyone finds their dreams in this lifetime.  And fewer still can live them on a daily basis.  That’s how fortunate I am. 

But what makes our life all the better is that from time to time we can take our passion and use it to make someone else’s life just a little better.  What could be better than doing what you love and have it impact someone else’s life? 

Through the years we’ve used our hiking as a way to raise money and awareness for the fight against cancer, for animals in need, and for literacy.  And yet nothing quite compares to those rare treks when Atticus and I take a friend to the top of a mountain and let them feel what we get to appreciate regularly. 

As anyone who knows us will tell you, Atticus and I are mostly a private pair.  Yes, we have our friends and we used to hike from time to time with others, but these days the trails and our experiences on them mean just too much for us to give them up to someone else.  The woods are where he and I bond.  It’s where our friendship is renewed time and again.  But every now and then if someone is special to us, we share this intimate corner of our lives with them. 

Over the next few days we hope to be doing just that.  We have this elderly friend…his name is Will.  He’s mostly blind to the point where he can see only shapes and shadows.  He is deaf and arthritic and when we met him in May he could barely walk and he was in such pain he didn’t liked to be touched.  Like Atticus he is a miniature schnauzer and through an inconceivable twist of fate, the family he lived with for the entire fifteen years of his life dropped him off in a kill shelter in New Jersey.  Fortunately for Will, the New Jersey Schnauzer Rescue Network swooped in and saved his life.  But they knew they had a difficult case on their hands and would have a hard time placing him in a home.  I surprised both Atticus and myself when I decided that we would take him in. 

Atticus has always been the only dog in my life.  He’s great with animals – even moose and bear – but he’s never had to share me with another four-legged creature.  Not full time anyway.  But knowing him as I do I believed he’d be fine with it.  And he’s been nothing but patient and understanding and kind from the very beginning. 

When Will first came to live with us I wondered why he was still alive.  That’s how unhealthy he was.  I wondered out loud in conversations with our vet Christine O’Connell how long I should keep him alive before relieving him of his misery.  For miserable he was.  And who wouldn’t be? Live with a family for the entirety of your life and when you are blind and deaf and in such pain all you want to do is bite someone when they try to touch you, abandoned in place where you are behind bars, unfamiliar with your surroundings, quite frightened, and left to die.  It had to be overwhelming for him.  Just the thought of such despair crushes me even today.

The only reason we took Will in was to give him a place to die in dignity.  He deserved that.  We all do.  But a funny thing happened that first month.  He didn’t die.  Nor did he die the second or third month.  And now it has been five months and Will is not only alive, he’s thriving.  He’s happy, self-assured, and he’s learned to trust again.   There are not many people who could go through what he has and come out half as well. 

Before I saw Will, I thought it would be great if we could get him up a mountain with us.  But he was in no condition to do that.  However, over time his hips have come back a bit.  He now lets me massage them, something that would have elicited a bite from him in the past.  And while he will never be able to walk up a mountain he may be ready to sit in a backpack.  Tomorrow morning, we’ll head to Eastern Mountain Sports to see if he feels comfortable sitting in one.  If all goes well, the following day my two best friends will lead Will and I up a mountain.

Over the last five months Will has developed quite a fan club.  His story resonates with many folks who gain strength from his resilience and understand that if it wasn’t too late for him to love, and be loved, and to live, then it’s not too late for them to have those gifts as well. 

Five months ago, a little blind dog was left to die alone in a shelter.  This weekend he could be sitting on top of a mountain, loved, and adored.  Some mountains take five months to climb, some journeys take a lifetime, and Will reminds us that it’s never too late to find your way home.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Answering Five Questions from Friends on our Following Atticus Facebook Page

Donna Agripino: I must ask, do you every worry about Atticus falling or slipping off a cliff? Especially in winter? (I am not trying to be funny) it's just that some of the photos of him make it look like he is so close to the edge. Thanks. A former No. Conway resident.

I don’t Donna.  Atticus knows his limitations and he’s not afraid to express them.  If there’s a stream crossing he cannot get across, he comes to me to carry him over.  If a slide in winter is unsafe, he knows to let me go first – otherwise he goes on his own; and if a stream looks frozen but isn’t, he won’t go.  I don’t know how he knows all of this, but I imagine it’s a level of trust we share, which is a byproduct of Paige having me carry him everywhere we went that first month we were together.  The only reason we took on the three winter quests we did was because I knew we had the ability to communicate our limitations to each other.    I wish was just as self-assured as he is. 

For me, it’s about trust. It’s about respecting Atticus’s right to be what he wants to be. 

Besides, I’m the one with the fear of heights, not Atticus.

Francy Roentz Martin: “Why do you hike at night? I’m not afraid of the dark, but that seems scary!”

Francy, you may not be afraid of the dark, but I am – well, kind of anyway. 

I’m not afraid of the dark in my home or walking through town, but being on top of a mountain miles away from the closest person under the cloak of darkness often scares the dickens out of me.  And yet I do it. 

I think of my fear of the night woods as an irrational one and, as is the case with my fear of heights, I like to challenge my irrational fears.  I think it’s helpful and healthy to dance with our fears from time to time to put things in perspective and stretch our comfort zone.    

I had a little bit of a breakthrough when we did some winter hikes when the days are shorter and the mileage is, at times, longer.  By necessity we’d start out in the dark or end in it – or both.  Nothing horrible every happened and I realized it was both thrilling and unnerving to challenge that fear.

In the winter it’s not as big a deal because the trees are bare and the ground is covered in snow and a bright moon can light up the forest like a photographic negative.  But just to be safe, and to keep my childhood fear of the dark at a safe distance, I always bring at least three headlamps – just in case!

Jody Riger: Where do you see yourself five years from now? (And I don't necessarily mean geographically.)

Living with my wife and Atticus in a small out-of-the-way mountain farmhouse with a wraparound porch, a double bathtub, and fieldstone fireplace; where I’d continue writing, and the three of us would take in abused, neglected, and unwanted farm animals allowing them to live out their lives with the dignity they hadn’t known up until that point. By this time I’ll have perfected the world’s best vegan muffins and we’ll spend our days appreciating nature, hiking mountains, learning from each other and the animals who live with us, and writing about it all.  Our nights will be spent by the fire or out under the stars if the weather is just right.  Pretty simple really.  Simple but laced with bliss.


Lynn Hartkemeyer Laney: What is your favorite trait of Schnauzers?

I’m probably a bad person to ask that of, Lynn.  I never think of Atticus as being a schnauzer and Paige tells me that’s part of the reason he’s turned out the way he has. 

I’m not into the entire breed specific thing and more often than not I’m turned off by it.  For me, I think considering a breed is just another limitation.  I simply like dogs.  More importantly I like animals.  Heck, if I could, I’d take in an elephant. 

I know that may sound funny since Max, Atticus and Will have all been schnauzers, but the truth is I gave Max a home because he needed one. I didn’t know anything about the schnauzer breed other than I thought they looked rather grouchy and stuffy.  Then I got Atticus because I wanted another Max; or at least an “unbroken” Max.  Paige, who bred hundreds of schnauzers (and rescued many more), has always said that Atticus isn’t much like any schnauzer she’d ever known. She felt he defied any such labels.  I liked that.  And Will came to us, not because he’s a schnauzer, but because his photo was posted on our Facebook page and he was mostly blind and deaf, old and arthritic, and needed a home but was unlikely to find one.  I could have cared less if he were a schnauzer, beagle, pug, or puggle.  What mattered to me was that he was small and he was good with other animals.

I don’t believe in limitations for myself or for my friends so I think it’s okay to allow a dog to be what he wants to be.  Nowadays lots of people think hiking with schnauzers is quite normal, but they didn’t seem to think so when we first started out, especially in winter.  Had I listened to others and what was expected of the breed, we probably wouldn’t have done much of what we’ve done and Atticus would have spent most of his life, if not all of it, with a leash on. 

The other day I noticed a few people wanted to know why Atticus and Will don’t have beards like other schnauzers.  I don’t really mind how others groom their dogs, but I think a beard on a dog makes about as much sense as a tie on a man.  I’m not really into what’s outside of a dog as much as wants inside of on.  What I want for the dogs in my life is for them to be comfortable, cared for, and confident.      

Jeff Meunier: Any regret about not being able to complete all the climbs you set out to do, and do you plan on making any further attempts?

Good question, Jeff. 

No regret.  At first there was, but that was just my ego screaming like a six year old.  The truth, as it turns out, even if I couldn’t see it way back then, was that it wasn’t about reaching 96 peaks in 90 days of winter.  It was about the journey, not the destination.  And the journey over all those mountains was the lesser of the journeys.  The more important ones had to do with my journey back to myself, and the friendship and love I share with Atticus.

It’s ironic, I think, that in some ways it’s more fitting that we didn’t reach our goals in any of the three winters we set out to reach a set number of peaks.  By not reaching 48, 96, 0r 96 peaks we failed in our numbers, but succeeded in seeing to it we were safe and knew our limitations. 

In the end, it didn’t matter that we ended up with 41, 66, or 81 peaks.  Turns out it wasn’t the accomplishment on the mountains that mattered, but where those trails took us.

You know, Tennyson has that great line at the end of his poem Ulysses: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”  That’s what matters to me.  To strive to be more human, to seek to become a better person and a better friend, and to find out what’s important.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Shared Joy

Tom & Atticus: a shared joy.
Black Cap is our fall back mountain. It’s the place we go when we don’t have time for a longer hike but want to experience a summit and soak in spectacular views.  It’s also the mountain we seek out when we are returning to the trails after a physical ailment. 

A couple of summers ago I nearly died of septic shock and was in North Conway’s Memorial Hospital for eleven days after my gall bladder blew up.  My doctors, in turn, nearly died when they discovered four weeks to the day of cutting me open Atticus and I had climbed Black Cap, even though I still had tubes sticking out of my torso and a large drainage bag.  But hey, sometimes you just need to go where you get your strength. 

Last Sunday Atticus and I returned to Black Cap, this time it was because he’s been suffering as of late.  A month ago he was detected with a tick-borne disease and was put on a serious dose of medication that appeared to take as much out of him as it did the disease.  Our vet described it in simple terms so that I could relate, “It’s like we would feel if we had mono.” 

But over the past week he’s been regaining his energy with his health and I know my friend well enough to understand he missed sitting on top of a mountain and it would be good for his health and his spirit…just as it was for mine in the summer of 2010.    

At 2,356 feet, Black Cap has a substantial height without being overpowering.  And because most of the elevation is gained in the drive in our car along Hurricane Mountain Road, it’s a perfect mountain for rehabbing on.  The trail is easy enough and the elevation gain is only about 500 feet in just over three miles, round trip.  But for the ease of the hike, the bang for the buck is incredible when you see the views.

On the way up, Atticus did what he’s been doing for the past month – and is so out of character for him – he got behind me and let me lead.  But as we reached the familiar fork in the trail and went off the right to avoid any potential crowds, at least for a little bit, the slightest bounce returned to his legs.  We kept curling around the back side of the mountain, slowly gaining elevation on this, the more gentle route to the top, and when we were within a quarter of a mile of the top he sensed it and picked up the pace even more. 

There have been times on an unfamiliar peak when we are close to the summit where I’ll say, “Do you want to go say hello to the summit?”  His response is a quicker pace, occasionally even a bouncy trot with ears happily flopping around as he runs forward with enthusiasm I haven’t seen known since I was a child.  But he’s been to Black Cap enough to know when he’s close and he took the lead and led us up over the stone ledges to the top.

And there, once we poked out of the trees as it always is, was that spectacular visage waiting for us.  North stands Kearsage looking noble and massive.  Off of Kearsage’s right shoulder stands Evans Notch and several of the Maine mountains.  Off of its left shoulder and in the background is Washington, and the rest of the Presidential Range looking stately.

When I picked up and sat him on my shoulder he was quite at home as we looked to the west towards the Moats, Cathedral and White Horse ledges, and the Pemigewasset Wilderness beyond.  And to the southwest, almost looking like a faded painting from one of the White Mountain artists of the 1800s, stood the rocky ridge of Chocorua.  Behind it was much of the Sandwich Range from Passaconaway through Whiteface, the Sleepers, and the Tripyramids.  We know all these peaks.  We’ve climbed them more than once and they are like looking into the faces of old friends for us. 

Atticus sat on my shoulder and together we gazed out at the view until I heard him sigh and felt that comforting moment when he released his weight and completely relaxed into me.  After drinking our fill of the views we turned to the camera and this is the sight you see here.  It wasn’t until we got home and I saw the photo that I noticed that great, giddy grin of his. 

Atticus is now ten years of age.  Any person who has ever lived with a dog will tell you how such a simple sentence will snake its way deep into your heart and touch a place of sadness.  And when I look at that photo I drink it in now as we drank in those views this past weekend: with hunger, appreciation, and gratitude.

When A. A. Milne penned Winnie the Pooh I cannot imagine he ever completely understood how much wisdom would last for generations from the pages of his little children’s book.  Just consider this single bittersweet sentence: “I used to believe in forever, but forever’s too good to be true.” 

Love a dog and you find yourself connected perpetually with childhood.  You feel the happiness, the carefree nature, the innocence of it – all through a link with a four-legged friend who can’t speak English.  It’s such a gift. 

Here I sit now, writing this, knowing that we are on the backside of the mountain we started climbing so many years ago, and even if Atticus lives for another nine or ten years it will simply not be enough for me.  Just as it’s not long enough for anyone who has ever known such friendship. 

When Atticus first arrived in my life I had no idea where that little puppy and I would go together.  Not even my imagination could give me the slightest hint of the endless mountains we’d climb, or that we would end up living in them, embracing a simple but joyous existence.  But this photo says so much.  It’s the love we share and the love of the mountains we both share. 

It’s for this reason that I love this photo.  The connection between us is evident; the smiles are just as connected as our bodies are.  We are two unique souls who found our way to one another.

Yes, I am haunted by the thought that "forever's too good to be true," but I’m also old enough to understand that all we really have is today…and the wagonloads of memories we’ve collected together.

Thank goodness for all those experiences. . . . and for photographs like this one.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Laura Lucy of White Birch Books Writes About Following Atticus, the Paperback

Laura and Barb of White Birch Books with Atticus and the cake sent to them
by HarperCollins for selling 1,000 copies of Following Atticus.  They have now
sold over 1,700 copies of the hardcover!
Laura Lucy of White Birch Books pens a regular column for the MountainEar in North Conway. In the latest issue she wrote about the paperback launch for Following Atticus.  I'll let her take it from here...

Although it is over a month away, we are frantically getting ready for the publication of “Following Atticus” in paperback. The Animal Rescue League- North is putting on a great evening at the Red Jacket, complete with dinner, a raffle and a discussion with author Tom Ryan. The event is on Tuesday, August 7, and starts at 6 p.m. with a little social time. Tickets are $50 and all proceeds benefit the shelter. It’s going to be a wonderful evening and we’re very happy to be a part of it.

Having an event of this magnitude to celebrate the paperback release of a book is fairly unprecedented, but let me give you a little history. When we realized this book was first coming out, we knew it was going to be big. And for those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, “Following Atticus” is the remarkable true story of a man and a dog embarking on the challenge of a lifetime. That’s the broad story. To be more specific, Tom and Atticus, a miniature schnauzer, attempted to climb all of the 4000 footers, TWICE, in one winter. Quite a feat, to be sure. The fact that they didn’t quite make it is overshadowed by the story of the bond between Tom and Atticus and their life-changing attempt.

Last September, we celebrated the release of the book with a kick off event up at the Theater in the Wood. We had a great turnout and through pre-sales of the books, we were able to donate $400 to the shelter. From there, the book was chosen as the Valley-wide read for One Book One Valley 2011. The Lutheran Church was packed to the rafters for the final presentation. And constantly, since day one, we have been getting calls from all over the country for signed and “pawtographed” copies of “Following Atticus.” These people are dog people, many of them miniature schnauzer owners. They are hikers. They are pet lovers. They were inspired by the story and want to get multiple copies to share with friends and family. It has been a wonder to us in the bookstore and not a week has gone by when we haven’t sold a copy of this book.

With the paperback release coming up, we all knew we had to do something special. Although I see Tom and Atticus on a regular basis, I know there are people still finding his story. He’s had a fairly aggressive tour schedule – and will be touring again for the paperback, but he hasn’t spoken up here since last November. We wanted an opportunity for people to hear Tom in person and to get his story first hand. He’ll also be talking about what a difference a year makes and the addition of Will, a schnauzer rescue, to his household. And best of all – the evening benefits the local shelter.

At White Birch Books, we meet a lot of authors and read a lot of books, but we don’t often get to be involved to this extent. We have enjoyed our wild ride with Tom and Atticus and are very much looking forward to celebrating this next chapter (ha!) with them.Tickets for the event need to be purchased in advance and are available at White Birch Books or at the Conway Shelter, or online at

(And remember, a portion of all pre-ordered copies of the paperback of Following Atticus goes to the Animal Rescue League North.  So give her a call to get your autographed and pawtographed copies of the paperback at 603-356-3200.)