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.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hello, Friends

I took this photo yesterday. It's along Black Mountain Road and we walk by it often when we are doing our 6.8 mile road walk. Atticus always wants to stop and chat and when we pass they always take some interest in him, too. I never quite let him get too close to the bulls, but when we pass the cows he's allowed to touch noses if he wishes to. (And he often wishes to.)

Friday, March 26, 2010

What A Little Moonlight Will Do

There is a cure for the malady known as writer’s block. It is called a deadline. And once the reality kicks in that time is running down all thoughts leave a clogged head and instincts take over. You write easiest this way, because it is at its purest form. There are no more filters, no giving it a lot of thought. You just put it down on paper and more often than not it turns out to be your best work. The manuscript for our book is due at the publishers by the end of May. That means our days are now filled with the barest of necessities. We take long walks or hikes and we write and that’s it. Actually, I write and when I’m typing away Atticus naps.

That’s what he’s doing as I’m writing at this moment. He’s snuggled up against me on the couch in front of the fireplace. It’s not a very cold night but the fire lends a cozy feel to our living room because it is late and we just got in.

You see, we went out for dinner. Being raised Irish Catholic I’m no food critic. If it’s edible it’s fine with me. So instead of seeking out gourmet cuisine I go in search of ambiance. I’m told there are several wonderful restaurants here in the Mount Washington Valley and yet I’ve hardly eaten at any of them. We keep returning to the same place. It’s where we were tonight. It’s a B.Y.O.B. establishment. As a matter of fact, it’s B.Y.O.F. as well. And best of all Atticus is allowed there. We had our dinner on the ledges of South Doublehead with the moon casting a mystical light from above and the stars of the village of Jackson twinkling in the valley below.

It was a perfect night for ‘eating out’. It wasn’t as warm as it will be in coming weeks and months but it’s much warmer than it was throughout the winter. It helped that there was no wind, not even a kiss of breeze. And so Atticus and I sat at the best table in the joint: right on the edge of a prominent ledge, my feet dangling over the edge while he sat Buddha-like on his plump rump next to me.

Between bites we took in our surroundings. A thin layer of clouds blocked out he stars above, but cast a ghostly pale over the mountaintops and valleys. Not too far away, their profiles defined clearly under the moonlight, were the Carters and the Wildcats and the sharp cleft of Carter Notch wedged tightly between them. To their left, standing like a pyramid was the top of Mount Madison. A bit closer to us was Washington herself. Touched by the magic of the moon, it was as if our greatest peak was alive and breathing, and with her white gown she glowed against the night.

Earlier in the week we took an early morning hike to Mount Isolation, one of the 4,000-footers, and unless snowy conditions are just right it can be very difficult to reach. So I planned that hike to take advantage of a trail broken out by a succession of hikers in the previous days. But more often than not where we find the best experiences are not in the planned hikes, but in the impromptu experiences like last minute dinner plans on South Doublehead. Earlier in the day I had no idea we’d be climbing it, but when darkness started to ease into Jackson and we were out on a walk along a wooded cross country ski trail now bare of snow and came to the end of a tunnel of trees the Doubleheads looked so inviting.

It’s like John Muir wrote in his simple, elegance: “The mountains are calling and I must go.” And so we went. We returned home, packed up the little bit we needed and drove across town.

The lower portion of the trail was easy going but before too long I took my snowshoes off my pack and put them on my feet. It’s an interesting spring. The valleys are bare but where there is the least amount of elevation there is still plenty of snow. It was a wonderful walk through the moon shadows of thousands of trees.

The trail to the saddle between North and South Doublehead is short but steep. It’s not much more than a mile but you have to work to plant yourself between the two peaks. But once there it is one of those underrated, almost primordial places you come to in the Whites when on the way to somewhere else. With the majority of the climb and the forest behind us and standing between the two peaks the trees suddenly thin and drop away and there is a grand view into Maine. What trees do stand here on the western side of the saddle are worn thin and many are scraped by the moose that congregate there.

(We’ve yet to see a moose in the saddle but I always expect to see one or two. I often imagine the forest is alive with their eyes watching us in silence. I wonder what they must think to see us nearly always at night, a party of two looking so different from one another: Me like a big-footed, hunched-back Cyclops with my snowshoes, backpack and headlamp on; Atticus like a miniature moose perhaps – sans antlers.)

It’s not too far from the saddle to the first of the ledges of South Doublehead and we made good time. The trees are denser and the trail snakes its way through rocks and roots now covered with snow. My headlamp cut through the darkness and led us to the ‘best table in town’. Once on the ledges Atticus and I sat and took in the views. We drank some water before I took out the food: chicken and apple sausages for me; raw beef for him. It was a leisurely dinner and the stars twinkling up at us from the valley below made me feel like we were higher than heaven and were keeping company with the great mountaintop spirits the Indians both revered and feared.

After a time we moved to the true summit of South Doublehead and another set of ledges. These look towards Kearsage and the Moats and the mountains beyond. It is another one of my favorite unheralded places for it shows North Conway the way it must have looked before it was North Conway. You can see the surrounding cliffs and valleys but there are no lights. It’s a perfect angle to look on Cathedral Ledge and its rocky edifice. At moments like that I often wish I had a time machine so I could go back to the days when the White Mountain Painters gathered in the mountains. I’ve seen so many of their paintings but I’ve yet to see one from this angle. How fun it would be to drag Ben Champney or Thomas Cole up there to give them a new perspective of a scene quite often painted. I’m sure they may never want to leave, which is exactly how we feel when we’re there – day or night.

And I do mean ‘we’. There are some summits Atticus doesn’t want to leave. He sits in protest, imaging that he is an anchor and I will be forced to stay if he refuses to budge. I cannot make rhyme or reason over why he favors some over others, but it is clear South Doublehead is one of his favorites. Typically when I get up to go he’s with me since we communicate in the same language without words, but not up there or on South Moat or Hedgehog. He sits, I stand; we look at each other. Sometimes I’ll give in; less seldom does he. Eventually we come to an agreement and move on, but not without him lagging behind.

That’s the way it was last night. He’s on new medication for his eyes and though the cataract surgery took place nearly three years ago they look clear and young again and I imagine he sees better than he has in a long time. Perhaps that’s why he wanted to stay up there or perhaps he wanted to converse with the moon or hang out with the great spirits.

Who knows? Even between the closest of friends there are some mysteries.

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.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tom & Atticus To Speak At Effingham Public Library

Atticus and I will be appearing at the monthly Effingham (NH) Public Library Writer's Night on Thursday, June 17th at 7:00 pm. We will be the featured duo of the night although others will be sharing their work. Our presentation will last about 40 minutes. Last night Katie McCarthy, the volunteer who heads up Writer's Night, asked me for my biography for their website.

How do you sum up your life in a paragraph or two? I took the easy way out and used the thumbnail my agent, Brian DeFiore, has on his website (and added a couple of lines). It was interesting to see my life summed up so least my life as a writer.

In reading it I think back on all those years I wrote The Undertoad and found myself questioning just what I was doing and where it would lead. Most importantly it had me writing regularly and that is something I'd never done before. But to think that a decision I made to start my own little newspaper led me here...well it's just more than a little neat. It goes to show you that you never do know what will happen in your life when you dare to dream.

During my Undertoad years I struggled to pay my bills but I refused to give up the paper because I believed in it and I loved what I was doing. It led to this. I consider my 11 Undertoad years my education as a writer

Recently, while I was bemoaning a recent loss in my life my friend Constance pointed out that there were many, many people who would gladly trade places with me. She was right and her comment and the rest of her email helped me to lift myself up, dust myself off and move forward. Not many people dream of writing and then end up getting paid to do it, especially not the sums that are coming our way from publishers here in the U.S., Italy, the U.K. and Germany.

From way back at the beginnings of the lowly 'Toad, which a friend once referred to as the "little mouse that roared", I now find myself at a very exciting time in my life. I've made my living as a writer for nearly 15 years. The only difference is now I can pay my bills and the stage is so much grander.

You could say I'm living proof of what Thoreau said, "If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."

That quote, and a few more from Thoreau, were etched into a rawhide hanging my father had in his kitchen when I was growing up. I didn't know who Henry David Thoreau was but I liked the way the guy thought and so I always held those words, and others Henry had recorded, close to my heart.

Anyway, this is a round about way of saying, "Follow your dreams". I did and it worked.

Here's the biography I sent in:

Tom Ryan was the founder and publisher of The Undertoad, a Newburyport, Massachusetts newspaper and went on to write the popular 'Adventures with Tom & Atticus' column in the NorthCountry News and Mountainside Guide.

During the winter of 2006-2007 Ryan and his dog Atticus M. Finch climbed 81 4,000-foot peaks while raising several thousand dollars for the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for the fight against cancer. Then, in the winter of 2007-2008 the duo climbed 66 4,000-foot peaks while raising thousands of dollars for Angell Animal Medical Center in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Because of their fundraising efforts Ryan and Finch were inducted into the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) Hall of Fame as the co-recipients of that organization's "Human Hero of the Year Award" at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

They were recently featured on Animal Planet's 'Dogs 101' television show.

Ryan's book 'Following Atticus' is being published by William Morrow in the spring of 2011. Foreign rights have also been sold in Germany, Italy and the UK.

Tom and Atticus now live in Jackson, New Hampshire. Their website is

Love Is The Best Medicine

Congratulations to our friend Dr. Nick Trout, a vet at Angell Animal Medical Center. His second book "Love Is The Best Medicine" just came out. We'll be picking up a copy of Nick's book down at Jabberwocky when we head to Newburyport tomorrow for a couple of days. Nick's first book, "Tell Me Where It Hurts" made the New York Times bestseller list. Let's hope he does just as well. From the bit I've seen of the book something tells me the doctor is becoming more of a writer and he should do quite well.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Enchanted Wood of Waumbek

The other night I woke up in the wee hours of the morning. It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t sleep; it was as if I wasn’t supposed to be sleeping. I had the strongest desire to be on a mountain for sunrise and before too long Atticus and I were up and getting ready.

Now most people would think we’d be headed to the summit of Madison or Moriah, Washington or Adams – all great places to watch the sun come up. But we weren’t headed for a mountaintop. From the moment I woke up I knew where I wanted to be, first in darkness under the stars then when the woods were awash in the soft pink, orange and gold of the early morning. We were headed for the space between two mountains, one of my favorite places in the White Mountains.

Most people think little of Mount Waumbek and wouldn’t bother climbing the mostly viewless mountain if it didn’t stand 4,006 feet tall and be required to finish all 48 4,000-foot peaks. I’m the exception. But it’s not the summit that draws me there. It’s the saddle of land that lies between the slightly shorter Mount Starr King (3,907 feet) and Waumbek. It’s a mile-long stretch through the most enchanted woods in the White Mountains – at least in my opinion.

That forest primeval is not all that ancient, I suppose, it just seems that way because of the way the north wind slices through the saddle and has left a wreckage of trees. It is weather beaten and scarred. Nature is not kind to its own. Old pines are torn and tattered, some are toppled over, their roots upended, and nearly all the trees – both dead and alive – are hung with a lichen called Old Man’s Beard that looks like a cross between Spanish Moss and cobwebs in a haunted house.

During our first winter hiking we were alone on the mountain and that stretch was particularly windy and bitterly cold. All life was frozen and at that moment I felt lonelier than I’ve ever felt in my entire life. And yet there was something enthralling about it even then. It’s been the same way each time I return. It’s as if you were to hang out there long enough you would see things that would cause you to question your sanity. Perhaps it would be trooping fairies, a coven of witches or the trees themselves coming to life. It is a forest straight from the pages of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and it is dark and dense and magical and frightening. And yet I love it there and was drawn there in the dark of night, the only light being my headlamp and the stars above.

After leaving the warmth and comfort of the car Atticus and I were swallowed by the forest. The only noise came from the crunch of my snowshoes (it may be mud season in the valleys but the mountains still have several feet of snow in them) and my breathing. Occasionally we’d stop so I could catch my breath and I’d look up through the bare trees and see the stars more alive than I’ve ever seen them. It was as if I could see them swirling above and we stood at the center of the universe as each constellation breathed life into the night. The further we climbed the deeper the snow became and pine trees took over the forest and eventually I needed to switch my headlamp on. We hugged the side of the mountain and then turned towards the summit of Starr King. At an opening just beyond the summit the snow was deep enough that I could see over the trees and see the Presidential Range looming black against a tapestry of stars. Then it was back into the darkness again, into the saddle that leads to Waumbek.

The light from my headlamp made the forest leap to and fro with each shadow cast. At times I was startled by their quick movements and I’d spin this way or that just to make sure we were alone. Of course Atticus would note any movement before I could and he was calm and collected and leading the way as he always does, reminding me that dogs aren’t haunted by the same fears we are.

We made our way through the saddle, occasionally stopping to touch a toppled tree or a low lying branch and let my finger feel the cold lichen. We took our time and eventually started climbing up again and reached the summit of Waumbek. The sky was beginning to lighten as night was ebbing and day was preparing to flow in. We hurried back down the trail again, Atticus confused by my hurry. But this is what drew me here. I wanted to be in the thick of the forest primeval between the two peaks when the first light day came upon it.

Eventually we stood in the middle of that tangle of trees, looking like the place had been through years of war. Darkness faded and the slightest of pales softened the night. Then, ever so quickly the show began and the day was born.

In that little stretch of woods you can see your life from beginning to end. Many trees are dead or dying, a forest is decaying; and at the same time on the forest floor, even through the thick snow, there are the tiniest pine trees just starting their lives. The contrast is stunning. Walking through that area makes me feel like I’m walking through a metaphor of my own life. There is a clear cut end to some trees and a clearly defined beginning for others. In between the two ends are all the chapters of life in its different stages played out by nature. It’s as if this place above all others I’ve ever been tells me, “This is how you began and this is how you will end up; now show me what you want to be in that space between being born and dying. How will you live your life? Will you seize the day or let it slip away?”

I’ve been there during mid morning, at noon, in the afternoon. I’ve been there at day and night and I’ve been there at sunset but I’ve never been there at dawn. All art is light and now it affects a scene and as soon as I woke up I was drawn to being in that spot between the two mountains for dawn to see its pale light tell the story from a different angle. It’s not unlike returning to a favorite book or poem at different stages of your life.

Some go to church, some to therapy, but I find myself defined time and again by how I’m touched by nature and how I'm reflected in it. For me this is one of the places where I face my truth.

I had no say about being born and in the end I’ll have no say about death. But where I have say is in is how I live my life. This enchanting and at times uncomfortable place reminds me of all of that. And at times what we all need is a little reminding.

That night, in bed and ready for a full night's sleep, I came upon a quote by Kofi Annan that reminded me of our trip to the Waumbek woods: "To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there."

Yes, I know...

...the calendar says spring doesn't start until next week, but Mother Nature doesn't always do things by the calendar. Here in the Mount Washington Valley it is already mud season. Doesn't mean there won't be another snow storm sooner or later but even if that does happen the snow won't stick around very long. The birdsong, playful chipmunks, temperatures, mud and playful little dogs getting set to take flight know that spring has indeed arrived.

Somebody turns eight tomorrow...

...and it's not me.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Hey, where's that bat?"

Yeah, the look you see above is the same one he gave me yesterday afternoon when we returned to the shrub where we had placed the bat and the glove (we're not talking baseball here) earlier in the day. The glove was still there but the bat had flown the coop.

By the time we worked the phones yesterday I had spoken to a helpful woman at the North Country Animal Hospital who told me to call the Elaine Conners Center for Wildlife who eventually told me to call Maria Colby at the Wings of Dawn who told me to call a wildlife rehabilitator located in Twin Mountain who would gladly take the bat in and help it out. But in the few minutes between when I left that wildlife rehabilitator a message and she returned my call Atticus and I went to pick up the bat but found it was gone.
I'm hoping it's a good sign that it was gone, although with all that bats are going through these days I fear it might not be the case. It's a rather tragic story.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Glove Thief

Spending as much time in the mountains as we have the past several winters I have several pair of gloves. My favorite pair comes from EMS and cost about $30. I’ve had them for four years and time has taken their toll on them. Several small holes and tears can be seen. But I am somewhat fond of them because they were the gloves I wore the winter we climbed 81 4,000-foot peaks. I wear them more than my other pairs because they are comfortable and thinner than the others. Since I don’t get very cold on my hikes I don’t need heavy gloves. They are perfect to bring along on our numerous daily walks around Jackson and they sit loyally by the door waiting for me every time Atticus and I go out.

That’s where they we were waiting for me this morning when I put on my coat, shoes and iPod for the easy 1.6 mile loop around and through Jackson Village. As always they found their way into the pocket of my coat as we headed out the door. But this morning the sun was warm and the day unseasonably pleasant so they were just along for the ride.

This morning I also brought along a few pages I’d written last night. I wanted to review them during our walk and use that review as a stepping off place for the day’s writing. Once we made the sidewalk, which is about 200 yards down busy Route 16, I turned on my iPod and started reading as Atticus and I walked slowly along – he sniffing, me reading. This has been a common practice since we’ve been together. He’s a good dog and doesn’t need me to watch him all the time. And yet we’re so connected that even if I’m reading as I walk I seem to know when to look up to check up on him.

I like these walks we share as they define us a great deal. I like to think they define most great relationships in the world. You see, while we are happy to be together, we each have our own space during that shared time. And so it was that we walked by the golf course, he doing his thing; me doing mine. Just before we crossed the covered bridge, I stopped, not looking up from what I was reading, to take a plastic bag out of my pocket. It was only then that I looked up momentarily to pick up after Atticus. Then we were on our way again.

Half way across the bridge Atticus did as he often does and stopped in front of me and nudged me with his nose. This means he wanted me to pick him up to look at the river. We stayed for a minute or two watching the sun glistening on the Wildcat River as it flowed beneath us. Then it was back to our own spaces, he in front of my some 20 feet checking this and that out, me walking and reading again.

When we got to the other side of the bridge Atticus stopped and was examining something on the edge of the sidewalk curb and I kept walking. After several seconds I realized he hadn’t caught back up and taken the lead as he does whenever he stays behind to check something out. I turned to look for him and realized he was back where I’d seen him last. He was sitting up looking expectantly at me.

I called him but he didn’t budge. I called him again. He still wasn’t budging. I’ve known him long enough to realize he wanted me to come back to him. When I got back to where he was he stood up and put his nose just an inch or two from a brown mass on the edge of the curb. At first I thought it was dog feces but then I realized this little brown mass was quivering. When I got closer Atticus sat back down and looked from me to the brown mass.

It turned out to be the tiniest bat I’ve ever seen and it was clinging to the edge of the sidewalk. It was trembling slightly. Other than that there was no movement.

I’m no naturalist but I realized it wasn’t a good thing for this little bat to be out on a March morning no matter how sunny and mild. I just wasn’t sure what to do. And so Atticus and I did what we do when we are puzzled. We sat down together, the bat between us, and I tried to figure out my next step. We sat and thought and sat some more. The little bat wasn’t going anywhere. And every time an SUV or pickup truck rolled by it shook a little more. One thing was clear; I didn’t want to leave it there.

I noticed a large stick just down the sidewalk a few paces. I tried to get the little bat to cling to it but that didn’t work. Then I remembered my gloves were in my pocket. I put one on and took the stick and gently prodded the bat onto my gloved hand. It accepted my nudges and settled in on my fingers. It stopped trembling almost immediately and I could feel it relax. Only then did it lift its head and point it in my direction.
You can just imagine what a funny scene it was to anyone driving by, or to the ladies at Debony Salon just across the way. Here was large guy crouching down like a baseball catcher holding a little brown mass in a gloved hand while a little black and white dog stood on his hind legs and rested his front paws on my knees as he peered down curiously at my glove.

Just behind where we were is a stand of shrubs and in it there is a hole where you can see inside to the network of branches. I took the bat and put it in the hollow, hoping it would grab hold of a sizable junction of branches. No matter what I did I could get the little bat off my glove. It didn’t want to leave the glove behind. I positioned him (or her) in such a way he had to let go and yet he wasn’t about to do that. And so I left one of my favorite gloves under the bat, which was now resting comfortably.

On the rare occasion someone has taken something that belonged to me I’ve comforted myself with the thought that perhaps they needed whatever was taken more than I did. In this case that was abundantly clear. It may have been half of my favorite pair of gloves, but it was this bat’s only glove and to him it was much more than just a glove. It was a bit of security.

I walked away and realized I was walking alone. I turned back to see Atticus peering into the bushes, watching that little bat settling in. When he was convinced all was well with the world Atticus walked back to me and took his place out front and we were on our way again.

When we returned home I called the good people at North Country Animal Hospital and they directed me to the Elaine Conners Center for Wildlife. I left a message with them and am awaiting a call back to tell me what I should do with my friend our friend, the bat. Until I hear back, I imagine it will be settling in for a rest on its new glove.
If you are thinking that Atticus and I are kind of sappy when it comes to seeing an animal in need you're right. I'm known to stop the car and get out to help a turtle get across the street. And on one occasion we even stopped traffic to help an prideful toad cross the Kancamagus Highway.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Ellen Snyder Is One Of Those Friends I've Never Met

Although I've never met Ellen Snyder, ours is a modern day relationship. We are bloggers, connected by the Internet and linked to one another by our shared passion in dogs and our wonder of the natural world. To the right, down a ways, you will see that she is one of three bloggers I link to. That's how much I think of this wildlife biologist. Perhaps I'm drawn to her blog because of the insight she brings to nature for a man who loves what he sees, but doesn't always know what he's looking at out there in the woods or on the seashore or in a field. But more likely I'm drawn to her because she's a rare breed: the scientist who is also a beautiful writer.

Recently she pulled on my heart strings when she wrote about having to let a troubled dog go. Her tale of Bella broke my heart. One of her latest installments is about her remaining dog, Aria. If you like good writing or if you like dogs or both,
check it out.

Early Spring Comes To Jackson, Part 2

This is the golf course, which doubles as the home base for Jackson Cross Country Skiing. People hope to ski into April here. Not this year.

Luckily, He Doesn't Read. (Not Sure It Would Change Anything If He Could Read Though.)

Early Spring Comes to Jackson

We have a woodpecker visiting us in the house today. I’ve anchored a suet feeder by suction cups to the window of the backdoor. The door is currently open, filling the house with fresh air, and the woodpecker is hanging upside down on the feeder – he’s actually in the house and doesn’t seem to mind that Atticus and I are watching him. Atti is closer, sitting on the couch; while I’m on the loveseat typing away. My camera is not within reach and I don’t want to scare him away so you’ll just have to trust me on this. Meanwhile a chickadee has landed on the birdfeeder just outside the window next to the door.
I’m seated next to another window and it’s open. Outside two chipmunks scurry about racing after each other in the most playful manner, their chitter-chatter driving Atticus crazy. It won’t be long before we spend even more time outside and he chases after them – alas, it’s always in vain. They know he cannot catch them and take abundant joy in teasing him. They sit on the rocks just outside the backdoor while he sits on the back stoop. After a while he cannot stand their audacity any longer and launches after them. They skitter in between rocks and tease him as he sniffs about the various nooks and crannies. Eventually he gives up and comes back to the stoop again. The chipmunks then reappear and the game begins anew.

By the birdsong and the laughter of the chipmunks it is clear they feel the same way about the coming of spring as we do. Here we are with a dozen days left to winter and much of the snow is gone in Jackson. That’s rare. Then again most of it has been gone for a couple of weeks. It’s a different story higher up in the mountains, especially above 3,000 feet or in places like Crawford Notch where the deep snow starts down low and makes a simple hike to a place like Mount Jackson a difficult one. Over the past week hikers have reported frustrating attempt after frustrating attempt at reach various summits. Some do reach the top but often had to get creative in the approach since many trails have been lost in the incredible snow depth.

In past years, when Atticus and I were trying to knock out a couple of rounds of the 48, we would be chomping at the bit with so little time left in winter. This year’s different, however. Due to a confluence of influences the winter plans we had changed and I'm looking forward to the new renewal of spring. But with winter still here, I’m enjoying these extra warm days and the bright sunshine. It’s usually the other way around, with winter spilling into spring. This is a rare time indeed, with spring spilling into winter.

Watching the birds I’m reminded that it won’t be long before the bears are out again. I’ll have to take down the birdfeeders for fear of attracting them into the yard. They come out of hibernation famished and if nothing else is available they’ll go for birdseed without a second thought. I don’t mind encountering a bear now and then; I’m just not keen on Atticus and me coming between a mother and her cubs.

We have had some experiences with bears; the most recent one took place here in Jackson last summer. During the hottest days of the season Atticus and I sleep not in the bedroom but on a daybed that was built into the back of the house and overhangs the yard like a shelf. There are three windows looking out into the yard. If I set up the fans just right it pulls air through the windows and creates a cool space to sleep in. The drawback is that we are always up early. Inevitably wildlife makes its way into the backyard and I’m pulled from my sleep by Atticus’ stirring to get a better look. On a couple of occasions a fox stood just outside flirting with him and Atticus couldn’t decide whether he should be waking me up to let him out or trying to communicate with her. (He may be fixed but he’s still male!) On other occasions it’s the chipmunks or squirrels or a gathering of wild turkeys. No matter what the animal of the day is they stir Atticus up and he wakes me up with the dawn.

One morning I was pulled from a deep sleep not by his gesturing or his whining but by loud snuffling. Half asleep, half awake; I heard his nose scraping against the screen as he took deep sniffs. Still not fully awake and my eyes closed I made a mental note to call Mary Erlandson, Atti’s groomer, for an appointment. He smelled more pungent than normal. The snuffling was louder than I’m used to with Atticus. I fished around for my glasses and when I put them on I was stunned to see the large face of a bear on one side of a screen sniffing at Atticus while Atticus was on the other side of the screen sniffing right back! Their noses were separated only by the thin screen.

I didn’t move but watched intently as bear and dog made each other’s acquaintance. Neither one seemed fearful nor were they aggressive. If anything they were curious about each other. This went on for a minute or two before I moved and the bear took one look at me, looked back at Atticus as if to say, “Who invited the human?” and then left.

So far this year the closest thing we’ve had to a potentially dangerous visitor – at least where Atticus is concerned – are the raccoons that come around from time to time at night. But as I sit here looking at the daybed and the windows looking out into the backyard, I wonder if we’ll have another visit or two from that bear. Just in case I’ll have a camera ready…and maybe some air freshener, too.

(I was too late to capture the woodpecker but after I retrieved my camera we were visited by a chickadee.)

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Howard Frank Mosher

Congratulations to Howard Frank Mosher for his latest novel “Walking to Gatlinburg”. It came out earlier this week.

There aren’t many writers who can make me drop what I’m doing and run to the nearest bookstore for their latest. Howard Frank Mosher is one of them. And that’s exactly what happened this past week when I learned he was out. Atticus and I drove over to White Birch Books in North Conway and picked up our copy. I also picked up a copy of his last book (“On Kingdom Mountain”) for a friend. I then called Jabberwocky down in Newburyport and bought a copy of his latest for a Newburyport and “On Kingdom Mountain” for a friend new to Mosher’s work.

If you’ve not heard of Howard Frank Mosher, you’re missing out on what of the country’s truly wonderful writers. His stories are imaginative, filled with colorful New England characters, and so gripping I make myself read slowly or else I’d finish the book in a couple of days. As a writer the one term that comes to mind about Howard Frank Mosher’s style is that it’s ‘clean’. I never read anything he’s written and say to myself, “That word doesn’t go well there.” It all flows beautifully: words into phrases, phrases into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into pages, pages into chapters. It comes with such an ease you fall deeply into the story and never give a thought to the writing - other than to marvel at it.

If you are familiar with Howard’s writing, none of this is new to you. You know of what I write. If you are not familiar with him, you are in for a treat. (Isn’t it great when you discover a writer you love and that writer has several books out?) This is his 11th book. You can see an entire list of them here.

Howard will be appearing at Jabberwocky, as he does with each book, in June. He’ll be up here at White Birch Books in May. His website has a list of his appearances.

Read “Walking to Gatlinburg”. You’ll thank me!

PS: As for you dog lovers, we have a bit of a mutual admiration society going on here. I admire his writing and he's a fan of Atticus.