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.


Anonymous said...


colodreamer said...

I looked at the picture of the picture of the plate and saw Atticus walking through the forests ahead of you on the trail...memories are such nice things to have...

Anonymous said...

Reading your blog always calms me. Most of my time is spent with some type of deadline and stress is ever present most days. However, when I take a break and find that you have shared your thoughts and feelings, I find myself rushing to read your words and to get into that "zone"; I get to lose myself for a few moments. Thank you for sharing your gift of words, and moreover, parts your life with your four legged family members (past and present). I can't wait for Will's Red Coat! Onward....

Unknown said...

As always you bring a smile to my face and tears to my eyes. Sometimes they are happy tears and sometimes they are sad. I find myself in an odd place this holiday season, I am wishing 2016 away and hoping 2017 brings better things. At the same time I wish I could turn back time to have my loved ones near me again. Thank you Tom, wishing you and Samwise a happy and love New Year.

Cheryl said...

As always, this was a wonderful description of where you are in life, and where you are going next. All the surprises awaiting you with your new companion, new car, new book, new cross-country adventures with Samwise will fill the pages of book #3 easily.
Most of us hikers think of our time on the trails as soul filling adventures that end with getting in our cars and kicking off our boots. Being a KNOWN hiker with a celebrity companion made it different for you.
Bravo for your choice of license plate disposition. What a fun and special choice for lic#2 to go in Steve's store. Many a smile will be shared there. Thank you for always helping your fans spend special moments reading, hiking, and knowing of your own special thoughts of life and times! We wait in joyful anticipation, knowing of a GOOD READ coming up in 2017 and seeing more photos of Tom/Samwise adventures. Happy New Year to you both.

Unknown said...

Reading your blog always seems to make me smile and cry at the same time, and your way with words always warms my heart (I love seeing someone use a great word like "solipsistic"). I applaud your decision to honor Atticus and yet also turn the page with an eye to the future. Wishing you and Samwise a happy and healthy new year!

Newfie said...

I think I may just have to leave my comfort zone here in the South and venture to the North. I long to "feel" that mystical feeling that rises up from the pages on which you place your words. My Charleston family will be disdainful, but I believe in some strange way that the South and New England are akin. 2016 has been such a difficult year in so many respects. But, hopefully, rebirth is around the corner! I raise a glass to you, Will, Atticus & Samwise!

Noblepa said...

Onward by all means!! Turn the page , next chapter

Salem's Mom said...

For some reason, anything slightly sensitive is making me cry at the end of a mixed year and am crying now...losses and love ...Tom, I wish you and Samwise love and a wonderful new year, new ride, new book, and new friends. I wish we could unexpectedly meet...I feel as if you are a friend.

Anonymous said...

Another chapter is beginning to take shape and I am so glad that we'll be along for the ride! I too left a car at the dealership on Monday and began my own new chapter. That vehicle was associated with many painful memories. I felt lighter in spirit as I drove home, my oldest dog in the back seat. 🐕

Anonymous said...

It's wonderful knowing that "ATTI-48" will have a permanent home at The Mountain Wanderer on the Kancamagus in the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire! A great tribute to Atticus Maxwell Finch - Prince of New Hampshire & forever in our hearts!

mlaiuppa said...

New car, new adventures.

Someday, maybe you'll have a flash and christen the car with a new vanity plate. Something that speaks to your current place in life.

All the best on your new adventure. Please let us in on some of the planning process.

I've never driven across country or planned an extensive trip. The most I've done is driven from San Diego to Mesa, Arizona and now I'm planning to drive to Yosemite and back. I have been a passenger in longer drives but never in the planning and executing stage. Could use some pointers. Maybe I'll be courageous enough to drive to Yellowstone. Always wanted to see it.

Best wishes to you and Samwise as you embark on a new year and new adventures.

Robert Gibson Corder said...

Tom.... I wish that it were easy for me to let go of things past (including bad memories), but it isn't, and I have come to accept it as a part of my DNA. This year, I lost my wonderful and faithful companion ("Prancer") of 12 years, and his memory haunts me constantly. He wasn't a rugged little mountain hiker like your Atticus, but he was so special in other ways, mostly in his ability to make me smile/laugh and to bring me comfort. I am now wrestling with the decision of getting either another Miniature Pinscher(like Prancer) or a Miniature Schnauser (like Atticus). Your book has had a profound impact upon me, and I suppose that, somewhere deep inside my psyche, I want to experience a small part of what you did with Atticus. I'm looking forward to your new book and those that follow. May the new year be as wonderful as the ones you had with Atticus! Bob Corder, Richmond, VA

WeezyOneto6 said...

I help with the local dog rescue in my area. Yesterday I was visiting a dog named Rocky that had been surrendered by his owners because they were moving. He has been sitting there, in his cold, concrete kennel alone for weeks. He wasn't dropped off alone, he had his best friend Dalton with dropped off with him but Dalton took advantage of the chaos at intake and ran away from the parking lot at the shelter. I read your post today and thought of Rocky and Dalton and where their separate journeys would take them. I am hopeful that Rocky and Dalton will find loving homes like Samwise did and that their next chapter will offer them the life they deserve. So many sad endings in these shelters but there are many happy beginnings too and that is what I want for these dogs, just like Samwise. Thank you for showing us the possibility that maybe the end of one chapter can prompt the beginning of another.

Unknown said...

Spoken like a true poet!

Anonymous said...

Love your thoughts Tom. Onward by all means.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update, Tom. Glad to know that all is well and you
have your new car (not red though!). I wouldn't even find it strange
if you had bought yours at the same time the one we were eyeing

Very best wishes for your New Year!


Anonymous said...

Luckily the heart needs no license or leash to love, to keep loving and honor those in the past who taught us so sweetly how. All we need now are the lessons Atti taught us -- no certification/credentials required. Let us continue to remember Atti and live/love well. We have miles to go before we sleep and, as
one great poet said, promises to keep.

Unknown said...

Hi Tom,
I am very a very sentimental, nostalgic and emotional person. Between pragmatism and romanticism I tend to lean a bit more towards romanticism.
I love what you write. It touches my heart. I feel as if we have known each other for a long time.
My heart broke when Will died and again when Atticus died. I cried a lot when Atticus died.

Thank you for sharing so much with me ... with all of us.

Be well Tom. I wish you, Sam ... and all those you love and hold dear ... a Happy, Healthy and safe New Year.
Peace & Love <3

Brian O'Hearn said...

Hello Tom,
On September 3rd and 4th of this year, a series of unexplained events unfolded while ascending Mt. Washington by way of the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. At the same time, the events were captured in a drawing in Huntsville, Alabama. The drawing had one piece which did not fit, at least not until this past Sunday...Christmas Sunday. Most gifts were items meant to keep me safe for future hikes (wise family), while one now sends me searching for you.
Tom, I did not know of you or Atticus prior to Sunday and as odd as this may sound, I think you are both part of this story. Tonight, we weather the season’s first storm, so be safe. Once it passes, I'd welcome the opportunity to share a rather amazing story.
Brian O'Hearn
Gorham NH

Unknown said...

Your blogs are a like a meditation to the eyes, bringing an inner peace ��

Lynn and Jack said...

Just want to be part of this beautiful event when Tom posts, They lift us up to the day ahead!

kfratz said...

Excellent.........happy trails to y'all as you travel this beautiful country. What a great life you lead! I am so thankful you share your stories and life with us.