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, January 12, 2012

Of Fox and Dog and Man

Neither Atticus nor I are big fans of the rain.  And when it’s freezing rain, as it is this morning, we’d rather just stay inside and wait it out.  But nature calls – in more ways than one – and we respond.  So about eight o’clock we forced ourselves out into the elements and hurried through the cathedral pines, the heavy wet drops, the hissing wind of Moseley Woods here in Newburyport for our morning constitutional. 

The old trees groaned and slick pine needles slid underfoot.  Man and dog both shivered from time to time as we walked through the storm.  Some days, no matter what you are wearing, there is no holding out the raw and the cold.  Today is such a day. 

Walking over the wet roots and hard, brown earth I was distracted by thoughts of tonight’s event at Porter Square Books.  I’ll read from the book while Atticus sleeps, then I’ll pick him up and take questions from the audience.  As is the case with every event I wonder just what I’ll say.  I never really know, and yet something always comes to me.  As soon as the introduction ends and the audience looks at me expectantly my mouth starts moving and I tell our story.  I also found myself wondering about the weather and how it would make for driving in busy Cambridge tonight.  The stop and go traffic; the icy or snowy roads; the slap-slap-slap of the windshield wipers.  Will parking be difficult?  What about the escape from the hectic city after the event? 

I pulled the zipper of my sweater a little higher to keep out the cold and shivered once again as rain drops fell inside my collar. 

Meanwhile Atticus stopped, squatted, did what he had to do, and then he turned right around and we started back the way we came.  No need to stay out in this weather longer than we have to.

As we headed towards our car I realized that we weren’t alone in the woods after all.  Sitting on the side of the trail, his hair wet and dark, sat a beautiful fox.  He was watching us.  Upon noticing him Atticus perked right up and before approaching looked back at me. 

“Hold on, Little Bug.  Let him be,” I said.  So Atticus took a seat and fox and dog and man looked at each other.  He and Atticus looked at each other with curiosity while I took in both of them with a bit wonder.

Yesterday, while moving through these same quiet woods we came to a small pond and on a log sat the tiniest baby beaver.  I’ve seen beavers before, but never one so small.  And just as happened with the fox this morning, Atticus took a seat and watched and I sat back in wonder while the beaver continued to chew and look upon us without a care in the world. 

I thought of yesterday’s beaver while we exchanged non-verbal pleasantries with Mr. Fox this morning and I thought about how fortunate we have been on two straight days to be welcomed to this forest by its residents.  I’m glad that Atticus is the gentle sort who has learned about respecting another creature’s home and that we could sit silently this morning and yet have so much conveyed .

This is not the first fox sighting we’ve had as of late.  Back in Jackson, we had a backyard Christmas tree this year and it gleamed with blue and white LED lights while a smaller varied string of colors wove and twinkled through the branches.  This tree was such a splendid gift to ourselves and was so stunning in its bright simplicity that I couldn’t help but gasp with surprised pleasure each time I encountered it.  It was as if I’d forgotten it was there and fell in love all over again whenever I’d pull into the yard or looked out the window.  One night I saw the neighboring fox who leaves her footprints in the snow for us to find each morning sitting by the tree.  When we went out into the yard she was gone.  The next night, however, when Atticus and I were outside, she appeared through the bracken ringing the yard.  She approached but didn’t get too close.  It was a safe distance for both of us and we looked on each other in the light of that wondrous tree.  After some time, Atticus and I went back into the house and when I looked out the window I saw her close to the tree again. 

On a recent hike up Peaked Mountain we were getting close to the part of the trail where the forest gives way to the ledges and we crossed paths with yet another fox.  It watched us with some interest and once again Atticus looked back at me and waited for me to pick him up and there fox, dog, and man spent a brief visit together.  It wasn’t nearly as long as this morning’s encounter nor the get-together with our backyard fox but it was enough to arouse my sense of wonder.

This morning, all the rain, the falling ice, the wind disappeared in the time of our silent communion.  Eventually I told the fox we had to go and apologized for passing too close on our way out of the woods.  It trotted slowly away and we went back to our car. 

The busy city may await us tonight, but there’s always a string that brings us to what we love the most.  Nature is everywhere, and I wrap myself in her embrace whenever I’m reminded of her beauty.    

27 comments:

John said...

It is good to see another blog. I enjoyed it for itself (as always) and for thinking that all must be well with you and Atticus.

Karl said...

Tom,

These sound like such amazing encounters to me. Each time I've seen a fox in Southern NH (similar to northern MA), it's usually running away from me as I've spooked it in the early morning hours getting into my truck. To find one watching you like this and to not be spooked when you noticed it amazes me. Same with the beaver siting.

You and Atticus certainly have a friend within nature, that is for sure. It's really a special thing. Many people will never have the opportunity to observe, enjoy and realize whats in our surrounding forests the way you two do.

Karl

AnnO said...

Thank you for sharing your morning with us. I could feel the cold as I read your words.

Drive safely tonight, after all you have a very special terrier with you.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom (and Atticus!),

Your blog post is calming, simple, but says so much...it fits the theme of seizing every moment, which is what your book helped to reinforce in me.

I wanted to share, that this past summer, I was hiking with my daughter and two sons in the whites, not a 4,000 footer, but a beautiful hike nonetheless, Nancy Pond trail to the Nancy cascades and to Norcross Pond. We sat for a while on the flat rock on the far side of Norcross Pond, soaking in the awesome view out and over the Pemi wilderness and towards the Bond Mtns. I fully appreciate your ritual with Atticus, soaking it all in, it does something special to the spirit, to stop and absorb such beauty.

During this trip, my daughter, she's so thoughtful and has an instinct for identifying "gems" in her travels, spotted your book in a coffee shop, not far from Loon mtn, on our travels through Lincoln (from Kancamangus Hwy) to visit the Flume Gorge. She didn't buy the book, but she made a mental note. Sometime in the fall, she read that you would be appearing and speaking at the Boston Public Library and she attended. She enjoyed hearing you speak, met you after the talk and she bought an autographed copy of your book for me for my recent 50th birthday. She told me about you and I was intrigued. I fully immersed myself in the book over the holiday break and it has been a pleasure to read your story.

Your description of your father kind of reminds me of me, in that I have always loved the mountains, and I have done some hiking there in the lower elevations, but never in the big mountains. The area has always called to me ever since my childhood vacations with my family at Newfound Lake, just south of Plymouth, NH. I have enjoyed taking my children on small hikes since they were little kids and as they have gotten older (now 23, 21, 16) we have hiked in some more challenging hikes, but I have never ventured on anything like a 4,000 footer. I have always felt like I would do it, but I honestly don't know why I haven't yet...I guess I drifted a bit from enjoying nature as a young man (too busy, ambitious with work) and then I was worried for my children's safety when they were young and I guess I always felt like there would be time to do it. But your story has inspired me to "seize the day" and just do it. I am looking forward to it and I thank you for that inspiration!

Thank you again for sharing your story...All the best to you and Atticus for good health and happiness in 2012 and beyond.

Take Care,
Tom
Easton, MA

Mrs A said...

Kara and I would readily trade the tropical heat and humidity to wander, even if briefly, around those magestic pine covered forests. Will have to plan a trip there soon, it sounds fabulous, hope your trip to the city went well.

Witty Prmt said...

I stumbled upon this blog by accident. And I am glad that I did. I am surely going to enjoy reading "Following Atticus." It's simply amazing how you portray the bond between you and that precious schnauzer. Keep it up!

Joyce said...

Tom, I never fail to be impressed with you and Atti's encounters with all of God's creatures. I feel like I have had the pleasure of being there and enjoying the moment. Thank you for sharing!
Joyce

1HappyHiker said...

Tom, this was another very enjoyable read. Thank you!

There are "busy cities" inhabited primarily by human creatures, and within our forests there are "busy cities" inhabited by a variety of creatures such as fox and beaver. Given the choice, I prefer the metropolitan hubbub within the forest! :)

John

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,
It was such a treat to see you and Atticus at the Porter Square Books reading last night. You have always been an inspiration to me - from the days of the 'toad - to now more than ever. I think I speak for many when I say thank you!
hugs to you and Atticus,
Maria from the high street days

Janine said...

I enjoyed your latest blog. Atticus constantly amazes me with his respect for other animals. He is like no other, a real gem!

Anonymous said...

Tom and Atti, I got busy this morning and did not have meditation time. Thanks to your blog, I just did. Atti, Max does not like the rain, either. We look for other things to do, but nothing takes the place of a walk outdoors. Maybe one day, we, too, can move to the mountains and enjoy nature's gifts every day.

vicki said...

I know it's so neat to see all those creatures. They're beautiful in their home habitats. I have that picture of your tree w/lights as my desktop til it snows here in Va. Its beautiful!

James Hunter said...

I must say I rather enjoyed this specially being a dog lover myself (I have 5 4 Hungarian Vizsla's and a Staff). Also must say Atticus is very cute

Elle Jae said...

Dear Tom and Atticus,
Thank you so much for writing your book. I have followed your column in the North Country News since you began your column. I live in Woodsville and was so pleased when my daughter gave me your book for Christmas this year. You have an amazing dog and a more amazing relationship with him. I was sad to finish the book this morning. You always bring the magesty of the Whites to your writing. I can't thank you enough for reminding me what a wonderful state I have grown up in.

Tina L. said...

Ahhhh....what an inspiring story. Tom, I always look forward to reading your blogs, your column in North Country News, listening to your interviews.... I consider YOU and ATTICUS' photos (photos-only because he cannot speak, altho can only imagine the stories he could tell :))My Chicken Soup for the Soul.....So, So, inspirational!!
Oh, WE'VE GOT SNOOOOOW!!!!! YAY!
Stay warm,
Tina L.

Tracey said...

Thank you for the journey you and Atticus have just taken me on. This is my first reading of your posts but I will definitely be back.
Cheers,
Tracey

Auntie Kim said...

Can't believe there was a beaver in the pond...they are getting as bad as CVS, taking over here in Newburyport. Recently, Ruby(my dog) was obsessing about some critter behind the debris against the wall...will be careful there, thanks!

diane herd smith said...

Ah, so refreshing to read your note. We, your readers, will just never stop saying 'thank you Tom & Atti!' Hope to hear you speak (and see Atti) again in Mt Wash Valley! so I say it again, thank you Tom for all you have given us!

Anonymous said...

Tom and Atticus, thanks so much for sharing your story, your journey, in "Following Atticus". As a lover of nature and animals, it truly touched my heart and brought about many emotions. It has also inspired me to share much of the beauty of hiking with my kids which I will begin this spring.

I didn't want the book to end and with this blog, I can continue to hear of your adventures.

Thank you.

Rich
Trumbull, CT

Anonymous said...

I have just finished reading your beautiful book. What a story I could feel the mountains around me as I read. I too have a love of the mountains and the lakes of New Hampshire having vacationed there as a child with my parents. Each year we would travel to the lakes region to enjoy the mountains and lakes. Now as an adult I travel from my home by the ocean to New Hampshire to enjoy that bit of heaven I have grown to love. So happy you could follow your dream and enjoy it with Atticus. he truely is a remarkable dog. I look forward to your future adventures and revelations.

Joe Kamphuis said...

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

"Following Atticus" is a gem of a book. I recently moved back to NH where I grew up and have started hiking, mostly the waterfall trails. I marvel at what you and Atticus did, in winter no less. I have a border terrier mix and lately, I ask him to be more like Atticus. I want him to be himself, of course, but I suggest to him that he sit and simply enjoy the view more often. Thank you for your book.

avery said...

Movie!Movie!Movie! We want a movie!
Ele (from Italy)

Alberto Laurenti said...

Hi Atticus and Tom!
I'm just finishing to read yours book and it is a pleasure to have a chance to "talk" with you through this blog.
My dog Morgana (miscellaneous between Husky and German Shepherd) also like a lot walking and rolling in the snow.
Walking/trekking in Nature with Morgana is really wonderful and amazing: I can understand you.
Have a great walk!
Ciao

Pixel Blue Eyes said...

Hi Atticus & Tom,

We (Pixel and her mom Jenny) found your blog by happy accident, and have just read several of your entries. What a glorious journey the two of you are on. You writing is very engaging. My dog and I also write a blog that is written through Pixel's joyful perspective. Atticus is a beautiful mini schnauzer. Pixel is also a mini.
I hope you continue to have wonderful and safe adventures in your neck of the woods. We will visit often, and I hope you both will visit Pixel Blue Eyes as well.

Anonymous said...

I Have just finished listened to your CD and was so sad to finish hearing about your remarkable story and now to find that I can continue to heat about your adventures thrills me! God bless you and Atticus! I have learned so much from you both...many prayers and be safe!

colleen said...

Your amazing encounters with wildlife are so beautifully written. I loved the one in the book about meeting the mouse. I used to have a fox visit my back yard, in Canada, and i loved to watch him roam around, sit and look at me in the window. It was a beautiful sight. Now I am in Florida for the winter and my cocker spaniel Casey and I walk the beach everyday chasing the birds, running in the water and just enjoying our time together. Dogs are windows to our souls. thanks again for your blog, I too was sad to finish the book, and am glad to be able to follow your journey through life, together.