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, December 28, 2016

ATTI - 48

I am a strange bird in that I toe the line between pragmatism and romanticism. This occurred to me last night as I looked back on what transpired at our town clerk’s office in the morning. Karen Burton, I must say, is the kind of clerk every small town should have. She runs everything cleanly and with a smile. And, if you are friendly, as we are, she gives grand hugs at just the right time.

I registered our new car with her by filling out the forms and writing two checks – one to the State of New Hampshire; the other to the Town of Jackson. Then she brought forth a set of new license plates.

That’s when I paused.

It hit me that I wouldn’t be carrying my old license plate with me and I thought about another vanity plate which would update the latest chapter in my life.

Stumbling for a bit, I decided to go with the anonymous numbers she handed me.

“Anonymous is good,” I told myself. “Yes, that’s the way to go.”

I thought about the times over the past nine years since we moved to New Hampshire where we’d be parked at a trailhead while hiking or merely walking in the woods and Atticus and I would return to our car to find people waiting for us.

The license plate gave us away.


It seemed harmless enough when we moved north from Newburyport, and it summed up our lives nicely enough. We were haunting the forty-eight four-thousand-footers religiously. But when I ordered them we were known only to the hiking community.

Times have changed.

Whenever Atticus and I shared the woods together, it was mostly just Nature and us. The soft sighing of the breeze through the trees, or the bellowing of winds above treeline. The murmur of streams, the rush of rivers. The challenge of a steep, rocky trail where every footstep was managed carefully, the comforting flat path through a flat forest. No matter what we faced, it was Atticus and me – and the elements.

So peaceful.

Although it was kind of people to sit by our car and wait for us to say hello, after miles in the forest my introverted self takes over. For however long we were in the woods introspection and reflection took over and to be jarred back to having to be “on stage” once back at the car always felt awkward to me.

Saying goodbye to the Atti-48 plates was the right thing to do.

Still, as the day wore on and night fell, and stars took flight, I thought of what those old license plates mean to me. Atticus never had a collar (until the very end when he was deaf), and he never had tags. There was nothing left behind for me to memorialize since, like me, he wasn’t into things as much as experiences.

However, as I sit here looking at Will’s red coat hanging on the hook above my desk, it now feels comfortable to have ATTI-48 right next to it.

As for the other plate (for there are two of them), it’s going to a very special place and the only other person I’d want to have it. It will soon be taking up residence in Steve Smith’s store, The Mountain Wanderer. Steve was our first friend up here, and his books fed our curiosity as two unlikely hikers took to these enchanted mountains. His guide books led us to where we needed to go.

His store is located along the Kancamagus Highway in Lincoln, and it is a gathering place for hikers looking for maps, books, advice, and conversation. It is the heart and soul of our hiking community, and its humble ways stand in stark contrast to the solipsistic hiking sites that now are filled with selfies instead of photos of mountains. Steve, and The Mountain Wanderer harken back to what is most important: the mountains, their lore, and their history.

I like knowing that Steve will have ATTI-48 with some of his other memorabilia. And he tells me people will enjoy seeing it in the window and fans of Atticus will smile knowing it is there.

As I wrote to a friend last night, I’m at a very tender place these days, halfway between Christmas and New Year’s Day. I stand on the threshold of an exciting new year where our second book will be published, and a third one will be written. I don’t linger too long with nostalgia, but occasionally it catches up to me and whispers in my ear, it’s gentle lips brushing against my cheek.

It’s been quite the year and switching that license plate out and replacing it with something completely different is just one more step away from a past that was fertile and unforgettable.

And yes, I understand a 2017 black on black VW convertible will stand out in a region known for “hiking vehicles,” but at least it won’t be quite the advertisement our old vanity plates were. But as I write this I cannot help but think of it as another page being turned. A page from a very extraordinary story in my life.