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.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Our Collision With A Bull Moose While Driving Bill, Our VW Beetle Convertible

Due to errands and too much time on the road throughout Tuesday, we set out toward our final walk of the day around 4:00 pm. Since we no longer walk in Jackson for privacy reasons, we drive to the places we stroll. It had been a stormy day, and the dark clouds were still brooding. Sunset was coming at 4:30 and light was not at its best.  

We were nearing Story Land when I noticed a car pulled off on the right side of the road just ahead of us. It wasn’t a smart place to park; no hazard lights were flashing, no turn signal. Someone was behind the steering wheel.  Not knowing what they were doing, or about to do, I gave a wide berth and pulled around it so that I was across the middle of the road. Keeping my eye on the car as we passed, I turned my attention back to the road.

That’s when the bull moose appeared directly in front of us, his head looming enormously, his antlers fully mature and magnificent. Time stopped. Or at least it slowed. 

Don’t ask me why paperwork paralyzes me but life-threatening circumstances don’t faze me. Split seconds appear to stretch into minutes. I cannot always tell you what I’m doing when faced with danger, but at the moment I envision all sorts of things. Conversations take place in my head. Observations are noted.

We were so close, and the bull moose was right above and in front of our windshield that I felt drawn into his eye.

Did I smile? I think I did. 

“Is this how I die? I this how we die? Would Samwise and Emily be better off going with me? Or surviving to live with the people I’ve appointed as their guardians?”

I don’t remember any noise. The radio was on, but the music was not something I paid attention to. 

Now here we were, if it was possible, even closer to the moose; Bill, our little VW Beetle convertible moving at 45 mph.

How stately the moose looked. His massive presence, his long stork legs, the reach of the rack on his head. Majestic. 

I swerved quickly to the right, aware that we did not have much room before we’d hit the trees. It was too late. 

I remember the impact, but not the sound. Perhaps there was not enough room in my thoughts for noise. My head was a busy place. And yet seemingly, eerily calm. 

What I saw was how his body was crumpling toward our windshield, those antlers nearly touching the glass, his eye…

His eye. 

We were looking at each other.

And then his body ricocheted off Bill. And we were still moving.

His shoulder lowered and hit the ground. Then his head bounced on the pavement. That’s when both antlers popped off and bounced behind us. 

The next thing I knew, I was standing outside of Bill and walking to him. He was flat on the road. His enormous antlers ended up about thirty yards behind us. 

He struggled to right his head. Our eyes were married again. My heart was breaking. Shattered and sad for this grand fellow. 

“I’m sorry. So sorry. I didn’t see you.” I could taste my sadness as I spoke them. 

Our eyes were connected. I’ll remember that communion for all my years and into another lifetime if such a thing happens. It’s not unlike the night we slept by the glass door with Aragorn on the other side. Him on our little deck, Samwise and me on the floor. Bear and man's heads separated by the glass, our eyes just a couple of inches away. 


His eyes seemed to be the only thing the moose could move. We were mere feet from each other. 

He grunted. I heard that. Sound was coming back to me now. 

He reached those almost mechanical front legs out. 

“Are they broken?” I asked.

He looked at me again before testing them.

He rocked his body. Once. Twice. Slowly he climbed to his feet. He dropped his head to look at his legs. Then raised it again and looked back at me. 

“I’m sorry,” I repeated. 

He was walking, back the way he came. No limp. Just that impossible long gait all moose have that looks both fragile and powerful at once. 

It was only then that I noticed Emily was standing beside me, watching this enormous soul walking away on his stilts. I picked her up. 

“How did you get out here?”

I opened the door and put her back inside. 

That’s when I finally moved to the front of Bill. 

All that time I hadn’t thought about it. 

There’s a small reflector on the front left corner, behind the bumper. It’s about four inches by one inch. It was half in and half out like the door to a secret passageway swung open. With the heel of my hand, I popped it back in place. 

The woman who had been parked in the car was now standing beside me where Emily had been. She too looked at the front of Bill, both of us leaning around to look and see the damage. 

There was none. 

Not a scratch. Other than the reflector, there was no sign of impact. 

A white pick-up truck was coming from the other direction, and he’d seen everything. When he passed us, he quickly pulled a U-turn and pulled behind the woman’s car. I thought, “There’s something that restores my faith in human kindness. He’s pulled over to check on us.”

He hurried toward us. I waved. Called out, “Thank you but we’re amazingly fine. Not even a scratch on the car!”

He looked at me like I was a fool, before quickly picking up the antlers and racing back to his truck, and tossing them into the bed. He moved like a man who’d stolen a wallet. 

He peeled out. Seriously. A grown man. Human nature, indeed. 

The woman was a quiet sort. I could tell. And yet she looked after the white truck driving off hastily. 

“Asshole.”  That was it.

She started walking back to her car, stopped and said, “I don’t know why there’s nothing wrong with your car. Why you’re all still alive. Even the moose.”

She drove off, leaving me standing with Bill. 

We drove up the hill in the direction the moose went. The windows were down, and Emily and Samwise were scouting for him with me. We never found him. 

We drove to the woods and walked, and I thought of how those antlers popped off the great bull moose’s head. I felt terrible about that, even though they would have fallen in the forest over the next month or two.

It wasn’t until the following day I began to absorb everything. I wrote to a friend, “One inch. A split second. The tiniest difference. Things would have been disastrous.” 

It’s taken me some time to put down my thoughts, and I will tell you now what stays with me and always will. His eye. Calm and large looking into my eyes, before the impact, then when he was on the ground, and finally while standing.