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

Monday, July 07, 2014

We Walked Away from Facebook for Ten Days and Something Amazing Happened . . . We Were Happy and It Was Still Here When We Returned

“Don't underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening
to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering.” ~ A.A. Milne  
These past ten days we enjoyed a different kind of social media. 

We fed chipmunks in the backyard by hand, and let the bears come and go as they pleased.  Father fox stopped by at night and did his hoarse cough-bark until we came out and sat near him.  Blue jays came and went.  So did the cackling crows.  All three of them.  Aragorn once more walked up to our little deck and sniffed the flowers and stood with his front paws leaning against the railing watching cars go by, but once again the roar of motorcycles startled him and he was off and running.

We took long drives to small towns in the White Mountain region to imagine what it would be like to live there with a small, out of the way, and private farm.  At one point, while driving a backcountry road, Atticus and I stopped a man walking with his two dogs.  I liked him immediately because of his relaxed nature, his ease of conversation, and the fact that neither of his dogs were on leash.  I asked him about the town.  He asked me about our lives.  I returned the favor.  We chatted on for a few minutes and he invited us back to his house to sit on the front porch to talk with him and his wife and to sip lemonade.  It was somewhere around the second glass of lemonade that he figured out who we were. 

On the night of the Jackson fireworks, we didn’t climb to the ledges of Doublehead as we’ve done nearly every year we’ve been here.  Instead we watched them from our backyard.  Well, Atticus and I did.  Will was sleeping, his head flat against my chest while I sat in one of the Adirondack chairs.  I had the 1812 Overture playing in the background.  That’s about as cliché as we get around here.

On some of the warmer days we walked across the backyard, down through the tangle of trees, to the banks of the Ellis River.  Atticus took his place in the shade while I carried Will out into the gentle current.  The Ellis doesn’t run high very often.  In spring melt and during and right after major rainstorms it roars, but usually it’s quiet and peaceful.  At its deepest it comes up to Will’s belly.  He likes the water, as do I, but even though the current isn’t wild, it’s tough for him to keep his balance on the river stones beneath his feet.  So I stand with him offering a hand when he needs one.  He lets me know when he’s had enough, but more often than not, on the very hot days, he never has had enough. 

We stopped by Dutch Bloemen Winkel twice to get flowers from Carrie, then again this weekend at night to help her celebrate the tenth anniversary of her business.  As I write this, three hopeful sunflowers adorn my writing table and peer at me from their vase just behind my computer screen. 

There were a couple of wicked storms.  One at night, another lasting an entire day.  During the rain we stayed inside and I read.  Heck, I read throughout the heat of the day, too, and at night.  I’ve rarely had the television on.  Instead I’ve been re-reading Louise Penny’s mysteries getting ready for the next one, due out in August.  It’s like comfort food for me.  “Comfort reading.”  I’ve also been reading essays by Tom Robbins, George Orwell, E. B. White, Ann Patchett, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

One of my favorites was Emerson’s on his neighbor, Henry David Thoreau.  There’s no one at all like Henry David, just as there is no one like any of us, but I found myself in close kinship with him through some of Emerson’s observations.

“He resumed his endless walks and miscellaneous studies, making every day some new acquaintance with Nature, though as yet never speaking of zoology or botany, since, though very studious of natural facts, he was incurious of technical and textual science.”

“If he slighted and defied the opinions of others, it was only that he was more intent to reconcile his practice with his own belief.” 

“He declined invitations to dinner-parties, because there each was in every one’s way, and he could not meet the individuals to any purpose.”

“The men were all imitating each other, and on a small mould.  Why can they not live as far apart as possible, and each be man by himself?”

“His intimacy with animals suggested what Thomas Fuller records of Butler the apiologist, that ‘either he had told the bees things or the bees had told him.’”

People often ask me if I’d like to hang out with Thoreau and Emerson.  Or with the likes of William Wordsworth, Mary Oliver, and John Muir.  My answer is that I already do.  The best thing a writer can offer you is his or her words and I have those with me for the rest of my life.  I don’t imagine I’d get much more from them with personal interaction.

I have enjoyed all the reading of the past ten days, perhaps more than I’ve ever enjoyed reading.  There are so many more books to read and since I started late in life – around thirty – I have much catching up to do. 

I wrote letters.  All to people I care about, or have cared about in the past.  I said goodbye to a friend when it became clear our course was not as close as we had expected and it was obvious we have different priorities in friendship and life.  I did the same to a brother, a distant soul who hasn’t spoken to me (or contacted me) in years and I can imagine it will always be that way.  So I wrote him a letter to express as much and listed some of the things I value in my memories of him and congratulated him on some of the goals he’s met through life.  I wished him happiness.  While cleaning out the old, I’ve welcomed some new and continued to polish friendships I cherish.

We’ve enjoyed the fires outside at night and the way the fireflies dance like floating stars.  They often come to our bedroom screen at night and press against it to flash at us and I find a comfort in their easy manner. 

Music filled our home, as it nearly always does.  When the windows are open and the screens are down, the sounds splash out into our yard.  When the air conditioners are one, we rock to U2, Beethoven, and Billie Holiday quite privately.

Will continues to be Will.  He’s content.  No, more than that, I believe he’s happy.  We often stretch out together on the grass under the shade of the black ash tree in the middle of our backyard.   He holds his head us for as long as he can. Sometimes I rest my hand under his chin to help him out. The breeze finds us there, as does that sweet smell of summer shade.  Atticus watches from a respectful distance in his relaxed manner.  He knows he and I will soon be off visiting our local farm stands as they brim with healthy choices.  I’ve been eating watermelon, strawberries, and cherries; and drinking a new favorite juice I make myself of kale, pears, apples, and lemon.

Our Facebook break has been enjoyable and needed.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I like some of Facebook and dislike other parts of it.  Mostly, I think it can be good and the sites I visit I enjoy a great deal.  I particularly focus on those pertaining to nature, writers, vegan recipes, and spirituality.  I rarely comment or even “like” a post, but I sometimes share. 

On the Following Atticus page, I like writing about our days and what we do.  I’m not a big fan of people telling me how we should live or even thinking they’ve been invited to do so.  I’m told by those who practice these things that this is the way of social media.  They proudly say I need to expect their input.  They seem happy to educate me. 
Alas, that mindset keeps from enjoying our own page as much I used to.  So I no longer respond to most of the comments.  I let the moderators take care of all of that and I tell them the less they respond, the better.  We’re simply offering a glimpse of our simple lives and not looking for debate.  To keep our lives simple, we’re going to keep it simple.  I will make my posts and then just let them be and go on with my day.  (We have made a change to allow people to comment on other people’s comments.)  But for the most part I’m going to treat it as I treat a book I’m writing.  I write and put things out there and then let it go while moving onto something else.      

I so enjoyed our break that we will be doing more of these in the future.  It helps to put things in perspective and understand that Facebook is not life, but glimpses of it.  Our life is what we do when we’re not posting on social media. 

It’s healthy for me to remember that the most important social media is the kind that doesn’t rely as much on electronics.  It’s how we live in this world and share with each other on a more personal basis.  At least that’s what works best for me.  I like emails my friends send me, texts as well.  But phone calls where I can hear their voices, visits where I can see their faces and embrace them in my arms or shake their hands, and letters and cards that I can hold what they once held, and trace my fingers over words they have written, are more intimate to me.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me.  Atticus is reminding me that we have an appointment.  It’s getting close to two in the afternoon here and this is one of the times Aragorn has been passing through the yard on the way to somewhere else.  Atticus seems to know it’s time we sit outside to get a glimpse of him since he’s watching me with a definitive look while he sits next to the door. 

Nature calls. 

Enjoy our day and thank you for stopping by.

Onward, by all means,


Anonymous said...

Welcome back. A friend of mine is also a writer and she hires someone to take care of her Facebook page under her name. She always says it would drive her crazy. Good for you for keeping your perspective on how nice it can be, but also how silly it can be.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for staying true to yourself. Just "thanks!"

Anonymous said...

I will miss your interaction on the page... I enjoyed that. I will still check out what you guys are doing but will prolly not comment as much. I get your point though!

Lewis Green said...

Thank you, Tom. I am blessed to read your thoughts through your facebook page and your blog. I need no more than to be a reader and to enjoy your company as well as that of Will and Atticus.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to leave my name with my post (about missing your interaction)but hit return before I finished:

dawn joy

Linda said...


Barbie Perkins-Cooper said...

It is so refreshing to read your stories - not only about animals, but life, along with the appreciation of life -- of all sorts. Atticus and Sweet Will are so blessed to have you. We, your readers, are blessed to read your inspirational words. Thank you for your stories.

dcdashe said...

Perfectly stated. The social media of the outdoors can't be beat! Thanks for your inspirations!

Brooke Elaine, Clarisse, Whitley said...

Good for your life as you do! I always enjoy reading the glimpses you give us and will continue to do so! On ward by all means as you would say!

Unknown said...

So enjoyed reading this. Love the way you write. Thank you for doing what you do. :-)

Unknown said...


Karen Snyder said...

All is as it should be, and for my money you already give far more than we can ever return. Thanks for what you share.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
carolyn bonier said...

I love to read about your life! I have always liked knowing how others think and live and your life is particularly satisfying to read about.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for being you!

adie said...

Lovely posting. Very happy you all enjoyed time off. Glad you are back.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, nice to read of you 3 being at one with nature and everything around you,that's what it's all about.

Unknown said...

I admire you and the way you stay true to yourself. Thank you for your posts. They are very much appreciated. Enjoy life and all its gifts.

Elsa said...

Thank you for what you share. You inspire me!

Linda P said...

I'm so happy that you've posted another blog. I don't follow Facebook so I haven't missed you there, but I've checked at least once daily looking forward to a new blog. You are right that Will, and Atticus, too, are so happy just to share their days with you and nature. More folks should step away from social media and enjoy the beauty of the simple things around them. Thanks so much for sharing.

Unknown said...

So happy to read about your time away. The way you describe it, I am suprised that anyone would come back. After I started following Atticus and you on FB I decided to remove all the negative energy on my timeline. I did not want anything to ruin my day after reading your posts & seeing pics of Atticus & Will. Your posts, blogs, words of wisdom, humor & pics of Atticus & Will are like therapy & truth rolled up into one, at least for me and although selfish, I am thrilled to see you back! Hugs to Atticus, Will & you!

Nancy said...

Thanks for sharing your musings. It tickles me to learn that you are also re-reading the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. I couldn't hold myself back and have read all the way through, already.

Unknown said...

Another breath of fresh air. Thank you!

Sandy Zerbinopoulos said...

Sounds like you and the Ryan clan have enjoyed a restful and meaningful time away from social media - as it should be! I agree that the best interactions are in person - the touch, the eyes, the laughter are far more precious than the typed words on a public page online. Wish more folks felt the same way, Tom. Enjoy your summer evenings by the fire and joyful times with Will and Atticus!

colodreamer said...

I do thank you for writing about your precious time is inspiring to hear someone walk away from me hope that I can also do that...Thank you for the updates on the boys and I will continue to read your words with reverence.. Thanks again..

Unknown said...

I envy your peace.
Thank you for taking a break and
Thanks for coming back!


Carter W Rae said...

More than a welcome back We have had some significant life challenges and your guided tour of the special times today was truly a balm for the soul!! As in being next to woods we had as a young guy in Ohio. I found my self just letting it give my spirit wing... refreshes as well Please just keep doing what you do so wonderfully onward by all means !!! Carter & Stacy Cooper and Indy


Your artistically talented words gift many with thought, heart and cleansing of mind, body and soul~~~

Anonymous said...

I love that you live your life the way YOU want and not to conform to the norms of anyone else. But please don't stop posting as I also love to read about Atticus and Will.

Anonymous said...

As always, thank you for sharing Tom. I look forward to your next book... how is it coming along?

Candice said...

I so agree with your commentary on social media and have had similar thoughts as of late. I so much prefer nature and writing to cubicles and texting.

Pamela M. Steiner said...

I so appreciated this post...I've been thinking of doing the same thing. Hey, I used to live in Conway in the Mt. Washington Valley, and now live in the Ocala National Forest in Salt Springs Florida. We have bears walking through our yard at all hours (mostly night), foxes, coyotes, raccoons, armadillos (I bet you don't have those in NH..I KNOW you don't) and opossums. Lots of birds...I could sit and watch God's wonderful world of nature forever. Thank you for sharing your beautiful home and "family" with us. I miss the valley/mountains, but I can revisit through your stories anytime. Thank you for keeping it real.

mlaiuppa said...

I don't do Facebook, Twitter, instagram, imgr, pinterest and many of the other social media and I haven't missed them. I may after I retire but just don't feel the need now.

I find it amusing that after the surge of social media in the last decade, people are now stepping back and unplugging, downsizing and their vacations are including leaving the laptops and smartphones at home. Even traveling to places where you can't connect.

Sounds like you had a wonderful time. I envy you your wildlife. Reading your words I can almost see the bears and the fox, hear the birds and feel the sun, wind and even the creek pull my legs as if I were standing in it.

I hope that you will continue to post occasionally on your blog as many of us know you through reading your blog.

Thanks again for writing so vividly of the simple things of life.