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, July 10, 2018

A Confession

There are days I converse with clouds.
There are days I converse with clouds. This morning found me in deep conversation with these soaring souls flying over Mount Tremont.

“I blame it on Emily,” I told them.

Like all good interrogators, they looked at me without a word. Perhaps a trace of condescension in their eyes.

“Seriously. It’s not something I usually do.”

Did they shift to accusatory looks?

“Before she came around it only happened once. And I was young then. Young and in love and raging with hormones.”

Don’t you hate the silent treatment? When you’re guilty, it compels you to babble on.

“It took thirty years for it to happen a second time. That first time was at midnight in Lake Cochituate. Heather and I couldn’t sleep. So we drove down to the lake and jumped in.”


“Fine. We didn’t just jump in if you must know. We jumped in with nothing but the pink of our bottoms on. Stark naked. God that was fun!”

The clouds seemed critical, but I was on a roll, and confession came easily.

“The second time was down in Key West this winter. We went for a late-night walk, and the air was sultry and sweet. A gentle wind stirred memories of days gone by. The hushed ebb and flow of lazy waves were like whispers of seduction.”

A few of the clouds were now listening raptly.

“And there the three of us were, hidden from the road by a dense lengthy and towering hedge. There was no one around. Samwise was wading in the Atlantic, Emily splashed in, and I thought…well, I thought, ‘What the hell?’ so off came the clothes and in I went. Sam stood guard – did I ever tell you he’s a good guard dog? – while Emily and I swam in circles as free and unencumbered as the day we were born. It was glorious—even if it was against the law.”

Did one of the clouds snigger?

You know that feeling when you are in close quarters with someone, and they are not carrying on their end of the conversation? Uncomfortable, right? So what do you do? You talk twice as much, and sometimes hurriedly because it’s so awkward your tongue feels like a runaway locomotive.

Those massive clouds leaned over me as I stood in that field of yellow and green. I could almost feel their breath on me.

“The other day it was hot. Scorching really. We were out walking and made our way down to the river. Gosh, it felt good to wade in the Saco. Those river stones shimmering under the clear water like magic. Emily was splashing around—having a ball. Even Samwise left his feet and moved smoothly across to the other side.

“I looked around. Should I?"

By now the clouds were pressing around us, leaning in as if fearful of missing a single word.

“Yes. Yes! I know, it was broad daylight. Middle of the afternoon. But I couldn’t help it. We walked further downstream, half in the river and half along the bleached stones. When we reached a bend we’d been at a few days earlier, the place where the tree is laying across the water, almost touching it, even though it’s very much alive still…

“I realized no one would be coming from downstream and the foliage of that tree partially blocked anyone seeing us. The water was still here. It was deeper. Samwise studied me because he sensed something different about to happen. Emily watched Samwise’s reaction but also kept her eyes on me. I took my hat off, placed my Fitbit, keys, and glasses in it and hung it from a small branch. Next came my shirt. Finally, off came my shorts. I hung each neatly on a branch. I thought Samwise was going to faint. Like Atticus before him, he’s all about dignity. But that little otter Emily saw me walking into the water naked and she came splashing to meet me like she was late for a party, full of glee and happiness bubbles.

“When I took the plunge – oh, God – did that feel amazing! Next thing I know Emily and I are treading water. Samwise then left the constant reassurance of the shore and swam out to meet us. Together we frolicked. We frolicked and smiled and blew bubbles and snorted.

“For once Samwise acted his age. Emily…well I think she was about to burst with happiness. And me…?

“Hey, don’t look at me like that. Yeah, I’m talking to you, the third cloud from the right! The judgmental one.

“I didn’t hurt anyone and it was glorious! How often does a fifty-seven-year-old get to feel like a five-year-old, especially in these troubled times?”

A few of the clouds nodded in agreement. Others followed. Then came a landslide of approval. Even the tight-lipped one in the back giggled.

“See, that’s what I’m talking about. We had a ball. And yes, I still do blame it on Emily. Atticus loved mountains so we climbed thousands of them. Samwise looks skyward, so we drive with the top down even on some winter days. Emily finds joy in most anything, but nothing tickles her like swimming.

“If I’m guilty of anything, it’s of making this little dog happy and – fine, making myself happy, too!”

As we all laughed together, the clouds and me, and even Samwise (now relieved) and Emily, I struck a serious tone. “You know, everything changed two years ago. There’s no going back. Ever. Why should I wait to feel happy, especially when it is right in front of me?” 

Sunday, July 08, 2018

A Vacation Letter from Tom (& Samwise & Emily)

(Dreaming of our upcoming travels this week.)
Years ago, when I was still small and splashing around in the streams and rivers of the White Mountains with my older brothers and sisters, my father would sit at a picnic table half watching us, half putting pen to a yellow pad of paper. Too young to care and too intoxicated by the cooling water and the river play, none of us ever
asked him what he was writing. 

Jack Ryan was of the generation that still penned letters. He was prolific, and each dispatch Contained several pages, filled with his distinctive leaning script of ink on paper. It took decades to realize that is what he was doing on those lazy summer afternoons along various White Mountain waterways.
I did not appreciate the art of correspondence until a few years ago. 

These days, after an early morning walk with Samwise and Emily, I begin the rest of my day by writing letters to friends and occasionally family—mostly my brother Eddie, now that Marijane is gone.

Letters are to me similar to the gifts of books. If I am close to someone, if I care about them, I write to them. But much like books—which I love giving as presents—the moment they stop being appreciated, I move on. No hard feelings. The friendship typically survives, but letters and books stop arriving in mailboxes. 

My letters are a part of myself, given to someone who matters. There is an intimacy to them.

 Genuine affection.

The moment letters, cards or notes (or books) are taken for granted, is the moment I stop. Fortunately, I am close to many who never fail to appreciate them. And I do not expect all of them to mail things back to me. Letter writing is my thing, after all. Some respond with a text or email or phone call. 

It has become essential for me. Not only as a distinctive way to reach out but plenty of what went into my book “Will’s Red Coat” came from something I’d written to a friend. My letters are seeds planted at this old wooden desk that lead to grander things.

I know many people who miss receiving mail. Some of my friends can’t remember the last time they opened a letter other than those from me. They wax nostalgic about the days when the mailman/mailwoman arrived carrying greetings from kindred souls, news from home or from the front, or feverish professions of love. 

With this in mind we’re doing something different for the next several days at Atticus & Will’s Emporium.
(One of the best parts of summer in the Mount Washington Valley is a visit with
Betsi Edge at Weston's Farm Stand. Here's Betsi with her new Will Wisdom shirt.)
Samwise, Emily, and I are headed off on a mini adventure. Three days and two nights out of town. I’ll return to Jackson to type up our trip and anyone who orders anything from Atticus & Will’s Emporium online between now until Thursday at midnight will receive a typed letter about our summer retreat. I’m not sure of the length, but it will be more than two or three pages.

It’s a fun little promotion; one we thought some of you might appreciate, especially if you were already planning to buy a mug, cap or shirt. And wait until you see the stamps that adorn the envelope!

Anyone spending more than $80.00 on an order also receives a personalized handwritten letter from me along with the typed letter. (No guarantee on the length of the handwritten letter, but it will be an actual letter not a postcard.)

*This promotion runs on all orders between July 8, 2018, and midnight July 12, 2018.

To place your order at  Atticus & Will's Emporium click here.
(Samwise and Emily visiting with my brother Eddie,
who is wearing his new Atticus three-toed paw print hat.)