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, March 04, 2015

Atticus and I Walk the Line Between Being Extroverts and Introverts

The other day a friend told me I was an extroverted introvert.  As much as those two clash, I think it’s true.  After living in the center of a small city, often being in the middle of controversy with my newspaper, and feeling like a good size fish in a small fish bowl, I changed all of that, dropped the drama, and have learned to relax into the quiet and the sorely needed decompression. 
When I think back to those days running the Undertoad I sometimes wonder if it really happened at all.  It was an exciting eleven years, one never to be forgotten.  But heck, it was it stressful.  And yet it was also the life I chose.

Has it really been seven years since we moved north? 

I am a man who loves my friends.  I love to talk and laugh and it can be at loud levels.  But a side that has grown through the years also loves the gentle quiet of this mountain life.

Years ago I wondered how I would find the money to move north.  Now I wonder how I will find the money to buy a small farm.  I’m not sure how it will happen, but I don’t doubt it will.  It’s just the way things have always been in my life.  Catch a dream, set a goal, make it a reality.  “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”  That’s Ralph Waldo Emerson talking.  From what I’ve noted in my own experiences, though, it is true. 

Farms in the Mount Washington Valley are expensive.  Too expensive for what I need and want.  So my dreams take us over toward the Vermont border just west of our tenth highest peak, Moosilauke.  They take us north to the flatter lands in Whitefield and Lancaster, with inspiring views of Waumbek and Cabot, and the jagged northern peaks of the Presidential Range.  And they take us east, to the foot of Evans Notch – the quiet notch.  The very private notch. 

In summer these are all close to ideal, but each area can be isolating in deep winter.  We’d be stepping away from the comfort zone of the North Conway area, where some of our good friends live.  We’d be out in the middle of nowhere, compared to where we live now.  This used to frighten me.  But now it’s becoming more appealing. 

This is my introverted side.  It’s the part of me that could be a monk, if I threw out the religious part and just held onto the spiritual.  It really is a world away from sitting on the third floor of a three story brick building looking smack down on the center of Newburyport and writing about it.  Back then it took us half an hour to walk to the post office and back – only a block away.  We’d stop and talk to people.  There was always information to get and to give.  The city lived in my head.  It was a constant hum of personalities and news. 

How did I spend seven years without at least one night out of Newburyport? 

Times have changed. 

My dreams take me a world away to a rustic farmhouse, a little red barn, some animals, faith that it will all work, the peace that comes from a marriage with nature.

One of the reasons my friend brought up the “introverted extrovert” thing was because we were talking about the upcoming event in Groton, Massachusetts.  There’s an eight hundred seat auditorium.  In a short time more than three quarter of the seats have been reserved.  By April twelfth there’s a good chance every seat in the place will be filled.

“How does that feel with your desire for personal privacy?” she asked.

“It feels great.  This is an event when Atticus and I will be there and it will be hectic and exciting and I’ll enjoy meeting a lot of people and seeing some familiar faces.  And when it’s done, we’ll be exhausted and more in need of solitude.  Atticus will sleep the entire three hours home in the car.”

“So you like these events?”

“Love them. That’s Tom the extrovert.  Loud, expressive, emotional.  Then it’s back to being quiet, defining boundaries, defending boundaries, and living with the rhythm of the seasons.  Atticus and I will enjoy the divinity of alone time on some of the quieter mountains.”

While reading bits and pieces of an interview with Pico Iyer the other day I came face to face with this comment and it felt like an old friend I’d just met for the first time: “The point of gathering stillness is not to enrich the sanctuary or the mountaintop but to bring that calm into motion.”  Iyer also said something that resonated with what it was like that first summer Atticus and I began hiking, “Almost instantaneously I felt that I’d stepped into a richer deeper life, a life that I’d half forgotten.” 
It was always there, but I never tended to it. 

Ten years ago, when Atticus and I did our first round of the four thousand footers we were both awakened.  It was a journey into the unknown together that led us to the known.  Such a mystery.  Together we learned and grew and discovered. 

We all grow older, and Atticus and I are doing that together.  He’s far older than I am so I pay attention to his needs, but this is something that has always been done by both of us.  As our journey continues, I’m not the only one who has changed.  These days he’s not as into the crowds and the rush and hurry world as he used to be.  Both of us have become countrified. 

As I sit here looking at a topographical map of the White Mountains hanging on the wall in front of my desk, I look at those place I spoke of before and realize that I am craving that delicious isolation that comes from finding a quiet place to lay our heads and to wake up every morning.  So what if Best Buy and Whole Foods are more than an hour’s ride away from where we are now and they’ll be further away from wherever it is we end up?  We have found a way to get by.  The quiet and peaceful life continues to call us further away.

As long as the tension between extroversion and introversion exists within me, I’ll know there are more surprises ahead for us.  That’s the part of the journey that enriches and forces us to grow through the light and the dark, through uncertainty and faith. It’s something called life.      


Stanley Wroblewski said...

How wonderful that you can nuture both of the extremes in your psyche. God Bless both of you for sharing your wonderful journey. Have a grand time in Groton. Many who love you will cherish the moments.

Unknown said...

You always make me have an "aha moment"....

Anonymous said...

Vermont's really pretty. I myself, looked to buy in other parts of the country and found a beautiful half log cabin that was quite remote, with surrounding mountains and land. In the end I decided against it due to lack of conveniences and how hard it would be in the winter. I thought of balance, and decided the suburbs would be right. Not wanting to get too lonely, too remote, too out of touch, but yet have a lot of privacy. It all seems to be such a fine line, but I'm confident you will find that special place that's right for you, Atticus, and your dreams.

Carter W Rae said...

Hi Tom I dearly wish we could get over to the event you are having as we always say truly we are with you in spirit!! This is not by choice either but life is what it is for now .. Also I have found that this journey we are all on has it's moments of teaching and goodness. Much of what you have chosen to share has been very helpful to us Stacy and me as we are navigating it all. Your choice to remain some what visible is a blessing in line with your cartoon post of the difference between sympathy and empathy. So right on the money!!! We have that same need to gear down a bit and be more detached from the turmoil that I have referred to many times before.. A real island of sanity.. It sounds very exciting to be on that quest for your space to do exactly what you are meant to do! Remember friends are always friends and I am sure you'll figure out a way to keep those important ties active and enjoyable... Maybe even by using some of the tech that can be that double edge instrument that can be like anything else for constructive or otherwise...exactly like the introvert/extrovert concept that you are describing. You and Atticus be careful out there this has been a real beast of a winter but the promise of Spring that leads us to the joys of renewal and promise.. I only hope that we get to see you at an event or "bump" into you and Atti on a trail or whatever.. We feel like friends that just have not greeted one another with smiles and a warm handshake.. The very best of blessings Tom to you and Atticus and like the Irish blessing says (paraphrased) may He hold in His hand All the best Tom Stacy and Carter

karen m said...

Hi Tom I live in Lancaster and have lived in Whitefield in the past. It can feel remote but the trade off is the pleasant rhythm of a truly small town. Family owned businesses friends and family watching out for each other. My husband passed away in October but I have what I consider his "angels" watching over me...a neighbor who drives by to see if my driveway needs plowing, another one to shovel my roof. I locked myself out of my car and the local police came to my rescue...something not done un the city. Our local movie theater even runs free movies once a week and will take a poll on Facebook asking which new movie people want to see, and it's a long way from the $50.00 I just paid to take the grandkids to Spongebob! Rural living does take some getting used to, but it's definitely worth it....come on up!!!

Marjorie Chapski said...

Love the description of extroverted introvert. Or, is it an introverted extrovert. Either way is pretty cool.

Jady said...

Awesome article.
I love your writing, it's nice to read. I really enjoyed that.