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, November 27, 2017

The Fifth Week

It feels good to end our third walk of the day just after dusk, wrapped in a heavy sweater against the cold as the sun sinks behind the mountains and all fades from silver and black to black and gray, and ultimately to inevitable night. As the shadows grew, winds whipped across the meadow and swayed the treetops.  Occasionally an aged trunk groaned when asked to bend in ways it can no longer go.

“Go with it, my old friend,” I wish. For we had lost too many trees in these woods from the flood a month ago. “Bend,” I whisper, “and live in your bending.”

Between the sideways flying snow and the raucous chorus from the wind through the trees, Emily cocks her head in an almost mechanical curiosity. She is mesmerized by the snowflakes coming at her and their harmless kisses, and the way her ears catch the flow of air moving across the barren November land. She looks to me as if for explanation and I speak in a language she can understand by tilting my face into those flying bits of white. I laugh and sometimes sing aloud, which she takes for a good sign.  Then she spins and dances and takes off after Samwise, who is busy making his inspection of the land he knows like a close friend.

Eventually, this evening, I had to turn my headlamp on to make my way across sheets of ice covered by a thin white coating. I moved to the grass next to the path, but in this cold corner of the eleventh month, even the earth is hard. Above, the wind continues to sing, and I look up at the clouds flying across the waxing gibbous moon and imagine them to be witches on brooms. Enchantment abounds, even in the cold tip of my nose.

It’s dark early this time of year. All the better for time spent in the kitchen when we get home. I made a shepherd’s pie earlier using lentils instead of beef and sweet potatoes instead of white. The comforting smells are familiar and reminiscent of my childhood.

Once again, Emily, who is getting used to all her senses, stopped just inside the door and lifted her nose.

“Not for you, little one.”

Samwise is already sitting by their bowls waiting for their dinner. When she sees this, Emily joins him. Excitement bubbles up like carbonation, but she’s learning patience. This is one of her most difficult tasks to undertake. She wolfs down her food when I tell her it’s okay to eat and when finished she looks to Samwise’s dish. Before she lived here, he’d sometimes leave some food for later, but he knows not to do this now since it won’t be there when he returns for it. I’m sure the slow and methodical way in which he eats infuriates her.

In the first week, I had to sit with them so that she didn’t try to steal his food. He’s so polite; he let her.  In her fifth week, she’s better, and so is he. Reluctantly, he set up his boundaries. He’s taken to heart all his lessons about “being gentle, ” and it shows when it comes to sharing attention and food with her.

Emily is a fast learner and watches both of us to figure out what is expected. I’m happy to report that she already understands the words “Be gentle, please.” I notice it most after their last trip out into the night before we go to bed. Samwise sit’s proudly on top of the bed and delicately takes his treat from between my fingers. She watches from the floor and follows suit.

I fancy this effort on her part. One so young trying so hard to fit in, to do right, to be gentle as she’s asked.

Five weeks. Is that all?

Time spills together. Weeks and months and years. I look at the photos and drawings of Will and Atticus hanging on the walls to the red coat above my desk, and I see this two-year-old and this puppy who is only seven-months-old.

Different ages, different lives, and yet all of it stitched together with golden thread like a quilt with each patch a different scene.

We’ve been enjoying our time away from the online world. We’ve visited a few friends, one who is dying; gone for long walks; read poetry and prose; written letters and holiday cards; stocked the kitchen shelves for winter, and I’ve even decorated a little this Christmas season.

Carols fill our home. The notes and melodies nudge me until memories come and go. I think back to my mother I cannot remember but all the decorations she left behind for us, and to my early Christmases when I was just as filled with wonderment as Emily is now. Sometimes I see myself in her eyes, and this fifty-six-year-old man becomes a boy again.