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.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My November Guest

I’m not sure if you are familiar with Robert Frost’s poem, “My November Guest” or not. It’s beautiful for the starkness it evokes and suited my purpose this morning while wending along a path next to the Saco River this morning in North Conway. When we lost the path we stumbled upon a rustic threadbare road, no more than tire ruts through short wet grass, bare of trees but carpeted with slick brown leaves. It was while walking along this road and following Atticus between the gray trees under gray clouds lingering after the rain (perhaps wondering if their job was done), that I thought of a few lines from the poem:

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow…

Frost, I’m told, was writing about the beauty of melancholy or loneliness. Perhaps so. But I was feeling anything but melancholy – I never do in the woods – and find those three lines to be very beautiful. They strike at my throat like a lover’s glance from across the room.

And, of course, how could I be lonely? Not while following this trotting little hobbit and his swaying fanny, his flopping ears. He is excited by the forest. Not like other dogs I’ve had or known. He does not take off in hyperactive wild loops weaving madly through trees, chasing scents and the slightest movement. Instead he stays on the trail. He’ll stop to sniff a bare branch of some forgotten shrub but then before I am on him he moves on, intent on leading the way.

We moved silently this way for a while, enjoying the morning. From time to time Atticus stopped and looked through the woods as if he saw something, but after a moment or two he’d be on his way again until one time he didn’t move. He stopped and looked to the left through a thicket. Eventually he sat and watched. It took me a little while to see the doe, not 20 feet away, as still as a statue. Ever so slowly I sat on the ground next to Atticus and we watched that deer for fifteen minutes. Our eyes never wavered from her graceful form when she began to relax. Then, as if remembering an appointment she was late for, she bound through the forest in the opposite direction, her white tale rising high with each kick.

My God, talk of how stunning nature is!

It’s hunting season here. To think that a hunter could see that doe as we did and still pull the trigger is beyond comprehension. I will never understand how propelling a bullet into such a elegant creature enriches a person more than being able to share the woods with her.

Atticus sat and watched her departure, then looked at me. We met in a glance halfway between our two species in a world we’ve grown comfortable with. I think we were thinking the same thoughts, feeling the same things, both in love with the ‘bare November days before the coming of the snow’.

My November Guest
By Robert Frost

My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She's glad the birds are gone away,
She's glad her simple worsted grey
Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a transplant to Northern New England, the one thing that I still cannot embrace is hunting season. I prefer to enjoy the fleeting moment of beauty or, if possible, shoot the wildlife with my Canon. I love this poem--I've been calling November the ugly season--missing the beautiful color of fall--and longing for the blanket of white to come soon.

Thanks for saying for beautifully what I've been thinking.