Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Morning Walk Reveals A Natural Treasure In The Woods

We came upon this treasure in the forest this morning.
The heavy rains of last night and the early morning stopped, at least for a while, and offered us a window for walking in the forest.  Everything was richly colored.  Green leaves in full bloom glistened; the floor was bronze with fallen pine needles soaked through; tree bark was saturated and dark, verging on black in some cases; and the air was washed clean, wrung out, and left as welcoming as laundry hung on the line to dry.

A few mosquitos buzzed around us and I waved them away with my hat.  The only other sound in this silent world was the random plop of a vociferous raindrop leaving a higher leaf to drop onto a lower one. 

In the cool that enveloped us, Atticus trotted along happily, sniffing where other animals had been, and turning back to check on me. 

There was a scent to the forest to let me know that another season, while two months away, is coming.  That's one of the things I find most beautiful about the mountains.  Here, even in the midst of a hot summer, there are glimpses of autumn.  It could be when the evening falls and the stars rise and chilly temperatures visit us.  Or it could be on a morning like this one, when the density of July is rinsed away and the air is easy to breathe. 

After walking for thirty minutes, Atticus stopped and looked up into a tree and then he threw his glance back to me.  When I caught up to him I saw he had discovered this humble home probably four five feet off the ground. 

It was too wet for him to want to sit but it was clear he wanted to stay - so we did.  I squatted next to him and we watched as the nest coughed out inhabitants every thirty seconds.  They'd fly away and return home again.  None of them bothered us even though I could have easily reached out and touched the nest.    

I know Atticus's eyes are failing.  There have been signs of it over the past eighteen months.  It's common at his age.  But he noticed every winged creature come and go and he only took his eyes from them to look at me.  In response I'd run my hand over his head, fluff his ears, then rub his back as we took in this simple show. 

We never know what we'll see in the forest, but it's always a wonder.  And always a reminder that we are but visitors to the homes of others.  Live and leave be is easy here.  Land has been protected from developers and no one is saying "we own this".  It's share and share alike. 

It had me thinking of the way bears visit those of us who live in the mountains.  There are some who are not from around here who seem almost incensed that a bear would have the audacity to walk into a person's yard, come up on a deck, look in a window, or even open a car door.  They often say a call to the forest service is warranted to remove the bear and bring him elsewhere.    

The bears come and go here. As do fox and moose and deer. As do various birds.  And chipmunks and red squirrels.  It's part of the grand spectacle and we're fortunate enough to take it all in. 

(The bears bring with them a comic side as well.  They watch us, hidden to our eyes in the nearby brush, and learn to open car doors.  It’s especially interesting when the bears do this and somehow the door closes and they are stuck inside.  It seems to happen every year or two that someone leaves their house, locks the door, has a cup of coffee in hand for the drive to work, only to see a black bear sitting in their car.  I laugh at the specter of it.  Interestingly enough, I don't lock the car here because of people, but because of bears, even though bears appear to be more trustworthy than what the evening news reports about our own species.)

All of us, all animals, including humans, live here together.  It's easy to remember that when walking in the forest and coming upon the homes of another.  In this morning's case, we played the roles of the bears and I was grateful that we were not considered intruders and attacked because we decided to pause and watch the comings and goings of another species. 

John Muir has a great line and it pertains to way “civilized” people see the “wild” world. “How narrow we selfish conceited creatures are in our sympathies!  How blind to the rights of all the rest of creation!”

I imagine we’ll be walking by this humble forest home again and when we do we’ll stop and watch for a while, as we did this morning.  Thankfully, we’ll not be considered trespassers, just curious passersby tramping along a trail.

The world is a small place and getting smaller, thanks to human hunger for control and dominance.  We could learn some lessons from the bears, chipmunks, and (even) the wasps who find a way to live around our selfishness. 

Empathy goes a long way, if we are willing enough to put ourselves in the place of others, especially those silent souls whose lives we infringe upon.



Unknown said...

Thank you. You and Atticus always remind me of my "place" in this world. It gives us all perspective.

Anonymous said...

"How blind to the rights of all the rest of creation!" Thank you, Tom, for sharing your adventure in the forest. I am awed and humbled by the beauty and truth in what you say. I have one deaf senior dog, and one going blind. They teach me every day what it is to be in the moment and just live in gratitude, no matter what. They are my greatest teachers.

Unknown said...

Thank you, we are all "visitors" here. Well written

Debbie Fisher said...

Going to work only to find a bear locked in your car? That's incredible! I'd loved to see a picture of that. Thanks, Tom- as always a fresh and well thought out perspective!

Cissy said...

Thank you Tom and Atticus. Beautiful.

Pam Steiner said...

You have certainly painted a beautiful picture for us today of the world of the wild. I also live in a "wild place", and love to visit the realm of the world of nature. Your picture at first glance looks like a cathedral window in the background, the way the tree branches are arched across the top and then so gracefully poised among the green of the pine needles. The wasp nest is a lovely chandelier hanging in the sanctuary. I am certain that God's presence could be felt in the midst of His woodland chapel. Magnificent. Thank you for allowing us to share this sacred place.

Unknown said...

What a beautifully written post - as always Tom - I feel as though I'm standing right next to you and Atti and taking in the sights as you are.

To be able to enable us to "see" what you see is a gift and I am so happy and thankful that you choose to share with us.

Hope your walk was enjoyable and hope that Atticus too enjoyed his journey through the nature filled span.

Thank you again!

Unknown said...

Just read your thoughts on your morning walk, it,s something I have always believed, we share this earth with all the other living creatures, but I am afraid man is so arrogant he thinks he is the most important,everything has it's place, you put it wonderfully. x

Shannon said...

I love to see the interesting things you, Atticus, and Will happen upon in your daily lives up there. So many things are the same here, yet there are even more that are different. So, I greatly appreciate these glimpses.

Shirley Mulholland said...

Thanks for the walk through the woods today. I needed that.. said...

To quote signs at the national parks " Take only memories, leave only footprints".

Anonymous said...

beautifully written, as always. it felt as though i was taking the walk with you and atti. please continue sharing your world with us.

Anonymous said...

Hurrah for John Muir, Tom Ryan, and Linda Carr! Human population is ever increasing, squeezing out territory for all other creatures. We have to treasure those that are here.

Carter W Rae said...

Love this post Tom as Always capture the thought of the moment and the beauty in your world !! Blessings Tom from us

Anonymous said...

I love the way you can put into words what many of us think, but seldom can say as beautifully as you put it.

David Fournier said...

Thanks Tom, you echo my feelings perfectly!

Betty said...

Hi Tom,

Grateful for the gift we are given as visitors to view nature's beauty.

Thank you for sharing your moments.

Peace dear friends.

Mary Ward said...

Thank you for freely sharing your experiences and adventures. We are fortunate to have you, Atticus, and Will Grace our lives.

Unknown said...

Beautiful imagery. Thank you.

Elizabeth said...

As I sit here confined to my small cubicle, I take great pleasure in reading your blog and being able to see, hear, smell, and practically taste what you are writing about today. But rather than feeling sorry for myself that I'm not there where you are, I am instead thrilled that I have been there in the past and have had similar experiences which allow me to enjoy your words with all my senses. Through your words I have been able to relive these experiences - I am truly blessed. Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

I loved it in your wonderful wilderness last October and I was hoping to see the Jackson 5 in your back yard that night by the fire. I have a deal with a chipmunk that lives in my flower garden, he or she doesn't eat or dig up my flowers & I don't fill in the hole to his or her home but I'm ok with sharing my strawberries. I kind of suggested it would be ok if they pulled the weeds that grow in the flower garden but so far I'm getting no help with that. I love watching any form of wildlife and I really love your blog posts with all the great stories and photos. Thanks Tom for sharing your wonderful life.

Rosie said...

I just discovered your book,
FOLLOWING ATTICUS, and took it on our hike up Kirkland Peak, here in Arizona, this am.
What a gift of a book..I will love to keep up on your blog now, Atticus and Tom.
Thanks a million!

Anonymous said...

Well, today is 11/7/2014 so I am a little bit behind in reading your posts. Have to say how much I appreciate this post about accepting & respecting other species. We have "issues" during certain times of the year with our field mouse friends coming to visit indoors. I always think "sorry kid, you're supposed to be outside. You're a "field mouse" darn it, not a home mouse. We use no kill traps to catch our little buddies & release them in the forest preserve. It sits with me much better that we do this than just "get rid of them".