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, March 23, 2018

Before You Normalize It, Put Yourself In My Shoes

It’s called stalking, even if you think it isn’t. 

I’ve been sitting on something for a while, as my friends know. It’s been an issue since the publication of Following Atticus in 2011, but it’s become more of one this past year. It has led me to understand that it’s time I prepare to move on from this town I’ve called home for the past nine years. 

Last October, on a delightful afternoon, just before Emily arrived in our lives, Samwise and I were walking along a cross-country ski trail that gets little to no use outside of winter. It’s one of the reasons we frequent it and other trails like it. I adore being alone in the woods with my thoughts, but if you’ve read anything I’ve written you know this. 

That particular walk turned out to be different, however, when Samwise howled out in alarm that a couple was approaching us from the opposite direction. We exchanged greetings, then more warm words. There was talk of the weather and foliage, talk of Samwise, and of the area.

The couple was from Switzerland and had been visiting the White Mountains over the last few years, always in the autumn. I suggested some hiking trails they might like. 

We were chatting for more than twenty minutes before the woman paused and gave me a quizzical look. 

“Are you Tom Ryan?”


With a burst of excitement, she grabbed her husband by the arm. “Oh my gosh! Oh gosh!”

She’d read Following Atticus in German and liked it so much she read it again in Italian. She bought many copies for friends. 

They did not know about “Will’s Red Coat” but told me they’d pick it up at White Birch Books the next day.

As we parted, each of us felt richer for having this encounter. 

Over the past seven years, I have run into people visiting the White Mountains from New Zealand, Germany, Australia, Italy, England, Scotland, and numerous states. They came here after reading “Following Atticus.”

It’s one of the highest compliments I’ve received. It means something to me to share my feelings for this area and to have it move readers to the point of wanting to see it for themselves. There have been countless almost-magical interactions with folks in this manner, and they all have one thing in common. 

None of them came here seeking me out. 

They came to see the mountains and perhaps thought it would be nice if they ran into us, but it was not part of their plans. They did not go out of their way to find us.

This organic kind of meeting is the best kind. 

Alas, there is another side to interacting with readers that has never felt comfortable. It’s one of the reasons we have not walked in Jackson for the last few years and drive anywhere from 32 to 70 miles a day to take our walks where we can enjoy solitude. 

On one of the last days Atticus and I walked in Jackson, we were stopped eleven times on a mile and a half loop. People wanted photos. They wanted to hang out. They felt we were friends. 

Although this is a compliment to my writing, it isn’t my style. And it’s not in my comfort zone.

It does, however, come with the territory. I understand that. 

However, for a person who mostly stays to himself, it can be daunting.

During the last days of my Aunt Marijane’s life, she was in hospice. My cell coverage in the house was not very clear, so I talked with her as I walked with Atti. Two couples saw us and pulled over while I was saying what would turn out to be my last words with Marijane.

The tourists were extremely excited about getting a group photo. I explained to them that I was on the phone. They said they'd wait. I politely told them it was an important call and I would be on it for a while and went to walk way. They asked a third time. Once again I let them know it was not a good time.

I was stunned by their vitriol and the four-letter words. 

That’s when I understood then it was time to take most of our walks elsewhere. 

I treat our strolls as I used to handle our hikes. I have three destinations in mind. If one is crowded, we go to another. If the second is also busy, it’s off to a third location.

I do not have a problem with any of this. 

But one thing I’ll never get used to is having people stalking us.

Last year, on several occasions, folks noted Bill parked outside of our home and pulled over to take photos and/or videos of us in the backyard.

I felt exposed. I felt tracked. It seemed like so many people who had read so much of what I’d written hadn’t taken it to heart.

For years, readers have waited for us to pull up at the Jackson post office and when we have, they’ve descended upon us.

It’s always awkward when this occurs because it catches me off guard. I don’t think of myself as anyone special. I like our quiet lives, its gentle ways, and the rhythm that comes with it.

In the first chapter of Will’s Red Coat I confessed to being an introvert. A sudden in-your-face greeting from an excitable reader is always a shock, unless it takes place at a book event.

Last year, while leaving a store’s parking lot, a woman rushed up to see Samwise. When I explained we were on our way to a meeting and had to go she swore at me. Later that night she posted nasty comments on our Facebook page. 

I can list too many examples of this type, but none of it is out of the ordinary. “It is”, as Bill Belichick states, “what it is.” 

However, over the past year things have changed in a dramatic manner. But the trouble started before then.

I trace it back to the first Atticus M. Finch Walk for the Animals in September of 2016. I was moved by the number of people who showed up from around the country for the event and the subsequent book signing that followed.

Rachael Kleidon, our friend, and vet walked with us that day. We had not seen each other in months since she had her baby Silvia. What a joy it was to spend time with them both. And how important it was for Rachael to be there to honor the late Atticus. She had gone out of her way to make time to be with us that day.

As the walk was coming to an end, Rachael and I were talking when we were interrupted by one of my readers, who had come from several hours away. Both Rachael and I were taken aback, but it did not matter to this woman. She had questions for Rachael about her dog, and it was clear that my time with the good doctor was over.

I would later learn that Rachael was stuck there with little Sylvia for an incredible length of time answering questions about a dog who was in another state.  

Throughout the next hours, while I was signing books outside of White Birch Books, I saw this same woman, constantly within feet of us. 

My poor brother Eddie was at his first event for "Following Atticus" and the same woman glommed onto him. It was a big deal for him to be there since he was heroic in stepping into a public situation while suffering from PTSD from his time in the service. He'd overcome much to be there for us that day.

For two hours, she shadowed him and even when he excused himself to walk to his car she followed. 

We would later joke about how trapped he felt. 

Fast forward to last May and an event in Vermont for “Will’s Red Coat.” It was when I next saw this same woman. She’d driven several hours to be there. After the talk, she waited in line, and when I signed her books she wanted to talk endlessly, and I gently reminded her that others we were waiting.

This is not unusual, and I do my best to give as much time as possible to those in the greeting line. But this interaction was reminiscent of the previous September. 

After everyone else had left, I looked up and waiting by the door was the same woman. For the first time ever I asked a store manager to walk me out to my car and explained why.

Fast forward to this past September. Samwise and I pulled up to the post office, as we do every day, and shockingly the same woman was standing there waiting for… I won’t pretend to know.

But I recognized her immediately and instead of stopping to get my mail, I pulled in and then turned right around again and left. I have no doubt she saw us. Over the following days, I saw her standing in front of the post office repeatedly. Each time I pulled out without getting my mail.

Shortly after, I was informed by stores that I frequent, that this woman, had now moved to the Mount Washington Valley. Each of them gave me warnings. Other businesses I don’t frequent reached out to let me know she asked if we ever came there.

On the day of last September’s Atticus M. Finch Memorial Walk for the Animals, there she was again. A friend who works in a bakery warned me that the woman had moved to Jackson, not too far from our home. 


My brother Eddie made the trek to North Conway again, which is still a big deal for him. Once again he wanted to be there to honor Atticus. He and I walked together. The entire time this woman hovered near.

Alas, Eddie and I became separated, and I would later learn that she attached herself to him for the remainder of the walk.

He and I had made plans to get away to Thorne Pond for some privacy after the memorial walk, but by the time it was over he decided he’d had enough and he could not get away from the event and the stifling woman soon enough. 

Unfortunately, he drove home, and we never did get to take our quiet walk together.

I would later learn that Eddie lost his phone that day in his hurry to escape.

I apologized for what he had to endure, and he was kind about it all. But still, I knew my life had entered into a strange place where I was no longer the only one inconvenienced.

As autumn came, I received regular reports from my friends at the different shops I’ve often written about that she often lingered there and asked about us. Then it became just lingering. 

I’d continue to see her at the post office, sometimes see her driving into a business we had just pulled into, always was updated by how often she was in the various shops. She even began volunteering at an organization we raise money for. 

I told a state trooper that I do not feel in danger and she has never entered our yard, but how I now feel the need to look around before I get out of my car. Not a day goes by where I am not aware of her presence. Alas, there is nothing the authorities can do. It’s not like she’s in my face, but knowing she has pretty much insinuated herself into my life in the area has been stressful. 

She’s one of the reasons we went away for close to two months this winter. 

Physically, I continue to make peace with my kidneys, heart, blood clots, and assorted health issues. I’m bloated and overweight. I have no illusion that I’m a good catch or even the object of someone’s fantasies. And yet how strange it is to have a person impact our lives as she does. 

As friends and I talk about her impact, they realize I’ve stopped coming into their stores as I used to. Some have attempted to laugh it off, but until someone haunts your life like this one never knows what it feels like.

I understand I am an ambassador of sorts for this region. We lead a quiet but attractive life. It’s terrific that people want to come here to see what it is like for themselves. It’s grand that some have even moved here. But there’s a difference between moving to the mountains or to the Mount Washington Valley as compared to moving right down the street in our little town an adopting much of my lifestyle. 

Today, I informed friends that over the next year I will be looking to move from this part of the mountains. 

That day may have come sooner or later, but because of one specific person the time has come to start planning. 

I cannot tell you what is in this person’s head. But I can tell you that from the people who stalk us that I’ve conversed with, they feel bad that I have to put up with it, but always they think I’m talking about others when I address stalkers. It seems most stalkers do not realize what they are doing. Perhaps she doesn’t.

She is considered a pleasant enough person, I guess. Awkward and tone deaf, but not dangerous. 

As I was telling a shop owner about this today he confessed to not opening his store on time one recently when he saw her in the parking lot. Instead, he waited until she left. 

Years ago, when Atticus and I took a week each winter in Provincetown, I noted on our Facebook page that the poet Mary Oliver lived there at the time. “I wouldn’t mind running into her by chance on the beach,” I wrote.

I was surprised by the number of people who suggested I look up the poet’s address and just knock on her door. 

Just because a person writes books we read, it does not give us a right to intrude upon them.

Earlier today Eddie summed it up well. "She may not be breaking any law but what an intrusion on your life!"

I write this in hopes that people will understand that I am mostly a private person. It’s the reason I got rid of ATTI 48 license plate. I didn't enjoy exiting the woods only to have folks waiting for us.

It’s the reason we drive as many miles as we do each day to go for ordinary walks. 

What I wish for everyone is that they can find some of the peace we have worked hard to attain. But I hope in so doing that ours is also respected. 

Thank you for reading.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Appalachian Trail Name: Atticus

Years ago, when Atticus and I were hiking several times a week, I gave some thought to hiking the Appalachian Trail with him. I was excited by the endurance challenge of through-hiking the entire 2,100-plus miles in one attempt. I've always been fascinated by the A.T., even before we started hiking. 

Reality set in, though, and I decided against it. Atticus could hike in the snow, but he didn't like hiking in the rain. Because it rains so often on the A.T. during the months we'd be hiking, I decided it would not be fair to him. 

Although I've not regretted the decision, through-hiking the A.T. is something that still holds an abundance of romance for me.

This spring, however, there will be an Atticus on the trail, and the thought has me smiling while considering it. 

The following email came in this weekend, and I'm sharing it with permission. Here's wishing Jerry Wheeler success during his attempt.  

Hi Tom, 

I met you at the Will's Red Coat event at Hub City Bookstore and Press. Thank you again for coming to South Carolina. As I told you I am hiking the Appalachian Trail beginning on April 30 due in a great part to your vivid descriptions of the White Mountains and the adventures you and Atticus shared. 

Your books have changed my life in a positive and uplifting manner, and I want to honor you and Atticus. 

Because your books and one little dog inspired me to do my "soul work" as Atticus did after his eye surgery, I have taken the trail name "Atticus." With your permission, of course. 

Warmest regards,  

Jerry Wheeler