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.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Leaning Into a New Season

April on the Will Moses calendar.
One of my favorite possessions is the calendar above my desk, illustrated by Will Moses. The scenes depict villages both rustic and charmed. They are images you can fall into through a daydream. April shows Butterfly Meadow. A spring scene glows in pastels, with people in the doorways of their cottages and barns. The grass is pale green, the trees only beginning to leaf out. Quilts are being aired on the clothesline, and children are at play in the fields, chasing butterflies. Cows and horses meander through the print as it fades into the distance with quaint houses leading to a nubble of a hill set against a flotilla of cotton ball clouds in a baby blue sky. 

Each day I visit the places Will Moses creates. I imagine the lives of the townsfolks and animals. I think about the shutters and the shingles of the picturesque homes. He captures the seasons well and invites us into another time. It is folksy and laidback, not a hint of volatility. Although the artist lives in New York, not too far from the Vermont border, the thing that comes to mind is the motto adopted by the Maine Office of Tourism, “The way life should be.”

Although the calendar does not match up to what I currently see outside my window, and butterflies are closer to two months away here in the mountains of New Hampshire, this morning’s walk through the woods was a similar visit to a world most will never see again, just because they no longer look for it. 

Ice is fading from Evermore Pond. Less than half is covered by a paper-thin counterpane.  The fields are even more uncovered, with last year’s life soggy and still sleeping. The nights still get cold, the days have yet to get warm. Daily, the thermometer stretches toward fifty as the sun luxuriates early in the afternoon sky. 

Although the trails are a combination of mud and pockmarked snow and ice, groundlings scurry about the woodland. Samwise and Emily playfully give chase. The rule is they are allowed that much, but not to kill. So far we have not had to worry about that. 

Overhead we first heard the riveting of a pileated woodpecker tapping out its territory. Then we saw his dramatic beating flight and both my young friends looked skyward when he cried out in song. Blue jays screeched to their neighbors, but even their cacophony is music to me. Chickadees flitted, coming close enough to touch. They captured Emily’s manic attention, and her head turned almost mechanically to every movement. Back in the trees surrounding the mushy field, crows called to one another. 

When a half-dozen Canada geese sang in approach to Evermore Pond, Samwise and Emily hurried along the path and stood on the water’s edge to see the uniform splash landing. 

By the time I caught up with them, the geese were equally curious about Samwise and Emily. Instead of paddling away, they drew closer. Samwise sat, as is his nature, but Emily has a way to go when it comes to just watching. It wasn’t thirty seconds before she bounded off along the pond’s edge looking for a stick to play with.

Where we are today is very different from a year ago. Back then it was only Samwise and me. “Will’s Red Coat” was nearing its launch in hardcover. Three weeks of busy touring was to be followed by two months on the road seeing the country. Of course, Emily would arrive in our home in late October, and in January we headed south for half of the winter. 

That was a lot of traveling for a fellow who had never taken a road trip before. 

Even though I long to see the bison again, and visit the places we missed out on, there are different goals for this year. Two books are underway: another memoir and my first novel. Lately, I’ve been enjoying the task of making up names of characters and places. The town I’m creating is not all that different from what one would find in a Will Moses painting.

While mostly staying put, we’ll get away to Stowe at least twice this year. I look forward to introducing Emily to the places Atticus, and I trekked throughout the years and showed to Samwise as well. They do land management well in Stowe, and there are numerous areas to let my friends run free. I’ve have come to think that while North Conway is an excellent place, Stowe is pretty close to perfection.

As Emily matures, I notice how much growth comes from osmosis. We don’t do much training. Nothing formal really. By being around Samwise and me throughout the day, she is developing and coming to terms with rights and wrongs. It may not always seem it during the more trying moments of puppyhood, yet I remind myself that this is only her six month with us. 

She realizes that no one is going to rob her of her willfulness, but at the same time, there’s no need to exercise it as often as she does. Throughout the day she reminds that what she wants most is what we all long for – to belong. Occasionally, though, she needs a nudge to help her get to that point. 

As I write this, Samwise is at his post in the bedroom, sitting up watching the birds and groundlings in the backyard from the foot of the bed. He is a keen observer. Emily is under my desk, sleeping with her head atop my foot while her front paws wrapped around my leg. I stir slightly before standing up, to give her warning. We seem to have perfected this part of it so that she does not get stepped on. 

She still hesitates each time we get into the car. I was warned about this, and I’m not sure why she takes her time, but it may have something to do with her breaking her leg as a youngster in her foster family’s van. The story is that she made to leap out of the front seat and the little boy grabbed her leg to stop her. She jumped, and the leg snapped. 

The break healed nicely, as you can tell by the way she races through forest and field. 

However, having her take her time while getting into the car on her own while off leash (which is most the time) is accounted for. We manage. If she wants to take thirty seconds to a minute deciding on when to hop into Bill, I’m okay with that. It merely reinforces the message to Emily to be herself. 

Like Samwise did at her age, she reminds me when she wants me to stop writing to give her attention. He would nudge me with his nose, letting me know he wanted me to lay with him. Emily, meanwhile, is a bit more in my face. She stands on her hind legs with her front paws on my shoulder and looks into my eyes. It’s usually enough to hoist her up and sit her on my lap for a few minutes, but occasionally she wants more so I carry her to the bedroom where we all hang together, book out, but bodies touching. Their breathing slows, eyes grow heavy, and snores rise. It is quality time not only for togetherness but for my craft. For if a writer has homework, it’s reading, always reading. 

As I tidy this up, we’re getting ready to head to the post office and mail this morning’s notes and letters written to friends and acquaintances. One is to a delightful senior woman in Tucson, Arizona. I met Rose Duracka last year when she was volunteering at a gift store in Yellowstone. We chatted warmly for so long that I returned the next day and gave her a copy of “Following Atticus.” She’d written a letter that I’ve only now responded to, and I’m sending her a copy of “Will’s Red Coat” as well. 

Before heading out, I still need to cut up the potatoes, carrots, onion, and garlic, add some broth, Italian seasoning, fennel, and caraway seeds as I dump it all into Instant Pot. When we return from our errands, it will be to a welcoming hug of a scent.

Slowly, as winter leans into spring here, we change with the passing months. Whether it’s in our search for heartening adventures, a new town to call home, in stories written, or maturity and understanding gained, onward, we move, by all means.   


Rhonda said...

As winter leans into spring... This phrase will linger. I love it. Happy day Tom, Samwise and Emily.

Linda P said...

I'm so looking forward to your new books and especially to be transported to the village in Will Moses' painting. It is wonderful that you and Samwise and Emily are enjoying the beauty around you and I hope you are finding peace these days.

Joan T. said...

Sounds like a lovely day in store. I miss the snuggles with my dog, Tia. She passed away February 28th. The house is more quiet now but my memories of her are my comfort. Enjoy this April day with your two friends. Hopefully you’ll find a place to live similar to Will Moses’s paintings. Onward!

Deb Pultorak said...

How I love to read your descriptive words...I feel as though I’m there. This glimpse into your world is such a sharing of your lives, so personal, yet so open. I thank you for that gift to us.

Anonymous said...

I can hardly wait to tell my senior friends tonight that you are working on a third memoir AND a novel! I expect they will clap at the news. You give them so much to look forward to Tom! Thank you. -Kathy C

Unknown said...

Wonderful words. Very visual.

Unknown said...

Thanks Tom for this wonderful, inspirational Blog this morning. The detail, as always, paints a splendid picture. You’ll find the perfect place for you, Samwise and Emily. It will be an exciting time...a grand new chapter. Looking forward to reading your two new books.

Unknown said...

As always reading your words is comforting and thoughtful. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your words this always both comforting and thoughtful. You paint wonderful pictures of your life with Samwise and Emily.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful Blog Tom, Spring is my favorite time of year everything comes to life and your writing makes it all the more visual. Love Will Moses art work as I had mentioned one other time we sold his work at the store. One of my favorite's The River of Life also loved Girl's Night Out. Stowe Vt. is very special indeed, great memories my Dad grew up in near by Jeffersonville. Looking forward to both your books, especially your novel. Jan & Paco

Anonymous said...

Moses print is much like I picture Three Pines in Louise Penny's novels and wish I could visit there and meet the folks who live there.

Anonymous said...

I look forward to your posts Tom. Your words paint a beautiful picture for me. I cannot wait for your next books. Onward please!

Unknown said...

Leaning into spring - such a wonderful way to phrase it. This year I focus on embracing each unfurling instead of yearning for more. I value the ease of taking the dog on a walk without all the winter gear. I watch the lone osprey perched on his/her nest watching for its mate to appear. I note the retreat of April snow across the lawn, only lingering in the shady spots. It is a season of noticing.

Unknown said...

Do you have any signings coming up? I live in Texas and would someday love to meet you, Damwise and Emily! Thank you for sharing your beautiful gift of writing!

Unknown said...

So enjoy your picturesque ramblings. They tell a beautiful story about acceptance. For me, that is.

Anonymous said...

Hello Tom, I just finished reading Following Atticus last night. The very next thing I did was dive into your F page and any other websites I could find to see if your beloved Atticus was still alive. How my heart sank into my shoes when I found out he had passed. I love dogs! I read dog stories as fast as I can find them and your story was my favorite! I was immediately transported to a place like I've never experienced. To read about that little guy trudging through the ice and snow with you was so mind boggling. I hung onto every word! You are an amazing writer and man! Thank you for sharing your story. Please continue writing and I'm on my way to a bookstore now to buy your next book about the little guy in the red coat. I live hiking too! The best to you in your searches for a new abode. Thank you for your heart for our 'best friends'.Most sincerely, Dianna

Unknown said...

My name is Barbara, and I picked up your book at the library. I grew up in Dedham, MA and yes I am a lover of all things Dog. The most perfect of the animals.
I live in Florida now, the winters were getting to difficult for me.
My Chihuahua, Curly, is now 15 yrs old, and I am thinking that soon her days will end. This makes me very sad. And so I cried my way through "Following Atticus". If they weren't so fabulous it would not hurt so much.
Thank you for the read.
Barbara and Curly

Lynners said...

I'm about halfway through "Will's Red Coat" and really enjoying it. I have not read "Following Atticus" so have now ordered that one from the library as well. I'm also a fellow introvert and I love how you enjoy your life quietly and peacefully. I agree with you when you say that each animal is an individual personality; I have never had a dog share my life, but many, many cats and they were and are quite different from each other, all individuals with their own personalities. Best wishes from New Zealand.