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, March 25, 2010

Don't You Miss Newburyport?

Yesterday we were in Newburyport to take care of a little business. As is often the case, Atticus and I ran into people who hoped we had moved back to town or asked:

“Why did you move to the mountains? Don’t you miss Newburyport?”

My answer is a constant variation of the following: “No, don’t miss it at all. It was a neat life, but I’m living a better one now.”

I don't mean to hurt their feelings when I tell them I don’t miss the red-brick downtown or the streets lined with stately Federal Style condo-ized mansions. But it's as if they take it personally when I tell them I’m never moving they are hoping I’m unhappy living far away from the town they feel so comfortable in so it will lend validation to where they call home. After all, I was centered in Newburyport for so long that many figured I’d never leave, and if I could be tempted away from that special little place anyone could...even them. And most people don't like change.

Newburyport can be bewitching. It casts its spell over you and makes you feel like there’s no other place you’d ever want to be. For many that’s the way it will stay. But Newburyport, like any town beset with the blessings and curses of gentrification, is changing faster than it ever was. Recently a couple of bank presidents told me about the alarming rate of change in the community and how a huge segment of the population has moved into the ‘Port in the last decade.

That’s one of the reasons I left. I’m a writer and the city had a story to tell when I got there. And it told it beautifully, but over the next ten years, with the passing on of locals to other places or to the Great Beyond, I found the town was losing character and characters. But the other reason for my departure was even more important: Newburyport wasn’t alone when it came to change; I was changing. I wanted something more, something that couldn’t be found or bought or taught there.

It’s hard to explain to people I once knew that I’m happy living in little Jackson, a bucolic town with a population of only 800 people – and I think that number is an exaggeration on the high side.

Of course the good people in Jackson don’t know much about my past and how active I was in Newburyport. They look at me sideways, as two different parties have done in the past couple of days, when they note I’m not socially active up here.
Oh, it’s not that I’m a hermit. Atticus and I are out and about all the time and whenever we run into people there’s typically plenty of conversation and warmth exchanged. But I don’t do the dinner party circuit, don’t go to parties at all, and I haven’t joined various organizations – things most need to do up here to get by. There are times I explain that if they’d lived the life I did in Newburyport they would appreciate the peace and the quiet I've gotten to know in the mountains. And then there are other times when I just say, “I don’t do those things.”

This morning I told a fellow that I liked not knowing what was going on in town. I like not knowing who the players are or what they are playing at. I like the fact that Atticus is no longer my sidekick, as he was known in Newburyport; I’m now his.

Just the other day Margie at the Jackson Post Office asked, “How does it feel to play second fiddle to your dog?”

“Love it,” I said. And I meant it.

But then again Margie nor any of the others up here know how intense those 11 years were when I ran the ‘Toad and sat squarely in the center of Newburyport politics. That was a special time in my life and will always be remembered that way, but this is also a special time. In some ways it’s even more so. But I’m smart enough to know I couldn’t have made it here had I not first experienced Newburyport as I did.

This morning I was riding down the road, looking up at Mount Washington coated in her white dress under a brilliant blue sky while Atticus stuck his head out the window. His ears were unfurled in the wind and his tongue was sticking happily out his mouth. One of the local radio stations was playing an old John Prine tune. I smiled when I heard the lyrics. (You can listen to it by clicking here.)

The chorus goes like this:
Blow up your TV throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try and find Jesus on your own

That sums up our move north pretty much. I don’t have a TV, I don’t bother reading the papers (and I sold my own), we moved to the country and soon enough we’ll build a home. Yes, it’s the simple life for us. But my favorite part is the last line of the chorus and my favorite part of that last line is the last three words: “…on your own.”

Newburyport is a unique place and like an old lover it will forever hold a favored place in my heart. But there are some things a man has to do if he’s going to find what he’s looking for and it helps if he goes about finding it on his own as I did. Or perhaps with a little black and white dog by his side.

1 comment:

Ellen Snyder said...

Ahh. I can picture it. Ears flapping. Smiles all around. Heading home.