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.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Our Big Trip, Six Weeks In

I have lost track of time. However, studying the calendar and adding up the days tells me we are now on Day 42. The original plan was 60 days, and I think we’ll come close to meeting that mark. We’re not quite at the three-quarter mark and yet time is running out on us. We need to be in La Grange, Illinois for a book event on July 13 and Andyville, Kentucky on July 15. I’m looking forward to both those events, but I also realize they’ll serve as a reality check that the daydreaming part of this odyssey will be over.

This has me doing something I haven’t done much of. I need to plan our days out carefully between now and Chicago to maximize what I want to see and do in the west. 

This evening, Samwise and I took a leisurely walk, then drove through the temperate air over to Whitefish, a few towns away, to visit their remarkable dog park. He is a social animal, more so than I am, and I see to his needs. I find plenty to talk about with those I meet, but I can also last days without conversation, especially when I am at home.

We met a genial fellow there who is originally from New Hampshire but has lived out here for more than a decade. Turns out he’s on the dog park committee and was justifiably proud that the New York Times listed their park as one of the ten best in the country recently. As Samwise played with his dogs we talked about New Hampshire and, before we left, I gave him copies of Following Atticus and Will’s Red Coat.

I don’t do that often, but it seemed the right fit and, he was quite pleased.

As we drove back to our hotel, the top down on Bill, Jackson Browne playing, and the golden light bathing us, I thought of something a friend recently asked.

“How are you going to handle returning home after seeing what you’ve seen while on the road?”

I replay that question in my head often because I like the answer.

“We live in New Hampshire, which has its own charms.”

Home is home.

I can imagine there will be a transition, to being still again, but we’ll be returning home just before August, the beginning of my favorite four months of the year in Jackson. There will be photographs and memories to think catalog. I have writing to catch up on. I like the routine of our simple life, as you can tell by reading about it in “Will’s Red Coat.”

Before we go home, however, there is still much to see, not to mention figuring out the way back to Jackson from Andyville when we do finally leave Kentucky. It will be a sweet route and one that is tempered in a gentler kind of beauty to the land. Already I’m considering a couple of days in a cottage or cabin if we can find one near the Finger Lakes in New York. A night in Cooperstown is also a possibility, and that always is a thrill for me.

Yesterday, we saw a deer, some long horn sheep, and several bison. The wonder of it all is still with me. We’ll be seeing more in the upcoming week, and hopefully some grizzly and moose, too.

I swear, watching that buffalo approach us yesterday was a thrill. I was ready to put Bill in gear in a hurry if need be, but the gigantic fellow’s tail was swishing back and forth casually. He appeared to be more curious that anything else as he approached, and then passed right behind us. 

Samwise has matured throughout the trip, even from that moment when he saw his that elk at the Grand Canyon and was excited by the idea of playing with it. With all the animals he’s seen since, he’s taken them in stride and remained a still and studious observer. I’m proud of him.

Even at the dog park, while he was racing and romping with others, whenever I called him to me he was attentive as he pulled himself away from the pack.

I look forward to seeing how this translates to the trails back home. Before, not only was his body too immature to hike, his mind was as well. He’s ready now, though. It appears I may be, too. 

Teaching Samwise to approach quietly so we can watch the ducks and heron. 
Over the next several days we’ll be back to rising before the sun to have the parks to ourselves, not to mention the best lighting for photographs. It feels weird to have the alarm go off at four in the morning while we are away from home, but when we get to linger in the solitude of places that will be crowded a few hours later, it’s well worth it.

As I sit here writing tonight, I realize that the full scope of this adventure will not hit me until long after we are home. However, I still make it a point to give thanks and take quiet moments to reflect on our good fortune, especially compared to where we each were just over a year ago.