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.

Friday, May 04, 2012

A Knock On the Door

It's a sleepy morning here in the mountains as the rain taps on the metal roof of our home. Birds sing nevertheless and their symphony tells me the weather's not a problem for them. Some mornings when it rains I welcome it, as this morning. Such mornings are cozy and cool and made for getting work done inside. There's always writing, and cooking, and cleaning. These are things that take a back seat when we are hiking. And when it rains it makes me look forward to how lush the trees and grass will look in the coming days. And, of course, on days we're inside I often trace my finger over the memory of our last hikes, and start to plan our next ones.

Atticus and I have never been up Table Mountain and it was recently suggested to me by a friend. I always enjoy a new peak, it brings with it the excitement and trepidation of being someplace for the first time, of having faith the trail will bring you where you need to go and the sights you will see will be well worth the journey. One of the pleasures of a new peak is a new angle on things.

The first 4,000-footer Atticus and I ever climbed was Mount Garfield and we saw it soon after again as we walked along the top of Franconia Ridge. But later that summer, when we came from the east and hiked over North and South Twin, I was stunned by the new angle and view of Garfield. At first I didn't know which dramatic new peak we were looking at. It's a lot like seeing a friend in a new light, an exciting light. It's his or her beauty in a way you’re completely unaccustomed to. So next week we'll do Table Mountain and see what treasures await us.

But first we'll be taking a trip up Black Cap in North Conway. It's a simple hike...an easy hike. At 2,369 feet it offers great views but the trail to the top is relatively easy since you can drive up Hurricane Mountain Road and get all but about 500 feet of elevation gain out of the way. And the walk is relatively short. It's about two and a half miles for the round trip. It's so easy that we often do it for our morning or afternoon walk without planning ahead.

So why would I be looking forward to doing Black Cap in the near future? Why would I be planning ahead for something that doesn't typically take much planning?

Well, one of the pleasures I have in being in the mountains and knowing them as well as Atticus and I do is on occasion we have the ability to introduce a stranger to them and I love to see the transformation, no matter how temporary or lasting it is, come over the face of one who has never been here. And Black Cap is a perfect introductory hike. After all, there are some who might not be able to do anything more than this and its astounding views allow that new soul to be renewed without too much effort. Sometimes it's enough to plant a seed to make someone wish for me, and at other times it's simply more beautiful than anything else they've ever seen and that’s enough in itself.

In our case, the latter is most likely true.

You see, Atticus and I are getting ready to introduce and elderly fellow to the mountains. He's from New Jersey and in all his years he's never been here. I don't think he can do much but I'm hoping we can get him to the top of Black Cap so he can look through the clouds of his cataracts and see the views he's never seen before. Now that will be a gift he'll never forget. He'll feel as though he's been born again and his world will change - as do all of ours when we see the world from the top of a mountain for the first time.

There is another reason I'm enjoying today's rain - there's much to be done to get ready for our house guest. You see, the life Atticus and I lead is about to change a great deal.

This week, on our Following Atticus Facebook page, a friend posted that since we now have 6,000 'friends' following our journey on-line on a daily basis, she wondered if someone could possibly help out another who was down on his luck and homeless. His name is William and he's a fifteen year old miniature schnauzer who was dropped off at a kill shelter in New Jersey. Now if you know shelters, a fifteen year old doesn't stand much of a chance of being adopted so William's prospects didn't look so good. Seems the gentleman that had him for all of those years could no longer take care of himself or William so I imagine he did the only thing he knew to do and dropped William off at the shelter. Not even sure if he knew William would be put to sleep if no one took him.

Fortunately for William, and for us, the New Jersey Schnauzer Rescue Network swooped in and William was given a reprieve.   

Funny how life changes, isn't it? One moment you’re doing one thing and have no plans to do anything out of the ordinary, but suddenly there's a knock on the door and everything changes. In my case it wasn’t a knock on the door so much as on my heart. Ah, but isn’t that how all great adventures begin?  

This weekend Atticus and I are driving south to pick up aged William and we're bringing him to live out his days in our home. When a friend heard what I planned to do she said, "What? Are you nuts? It will be a very sad situation, Tom. At this age all he has to look forward to is heart problems, cancer, and incontinence. It will be nothing but sadness for you."

I suppose she may be right - well, about all but the last part. I'm sure there will ultimately be sadness, but there will be many other things in between now and then as well. And one of those things will be to see old William's face when he meets the mountains of New Hampshire, when he hears the birds sing, smells the clean air, and sits atop a mountain, even if I have to carry him to the top of it.

You see, I believe it's never too late to live. And I have to believe that William, no matter what he's come from, deserves something special from this day on – just as we all do.

40 comments:

AnnO said...

William is beautiful - congratulations to all 3 of you. I have rescued senior schnauzers and you may (or may not!) be surprised how a little love and security can add a younger spring to their step. It may take a little while, but I believe within a short time you will see William's "true dog self" emerge. Have a great time and thank you for rescuing a senior dog.

Michelle said...

What an amazing thing you are doing for William and for yourself. I agree with you it is never too late to live your life as in William's case or let love in. What a lucky fellow to know unconditional love once again and at a time when he must be feeling so alone. I am glad there are people like you out there. Good luck to you, Atticus and now William!

Sue said...

Tom, I am so looking forward to William's adventures through your eyes. What a lucky fellow! Even if your time together turns out to be short, it will all be good.

Sue

Pam Hicks said...

Heart wrenching & utterly beautiful Tom. I really can't put into words how the experience of William touches me. I can say that the last two years with heart disease & especially the last four months of my beloved mini schnauzer Scooter's life were profoundly beautiful. There is no greater gift that the opportunity to care for another. I'll never forget sitting across from her (she was the independent type) & connecting through her deep beautiful eyes. Even her actual death was a beautiful experience & a gift.

Ricester61 said...

You won't be sorry to have adopted William. My wife and I have specialized in rescuing senior Schnauzers - we have 10 now - and love every one of them. Sure, there's an occasional mess to clean up, but seeing these old dogs have a happy retirement is well worth it...

Cheryl T. said...

My admiration and affection for you has reached new a new peak! You wrote a beautiful blog but more impressive is your act of compassion by welcoming sweet William to your home. Thank you, Tom, for spreading the love and for sharing the story with us. Welcome Sweet William!

Janine said...

A beautiful post Tom. You have brought tears to my eyes, again. When William's eyes become too cloudy for him to see, Atti will be there to be his eyes, and he will find new love and comfort with the two of you. I hope William enjoys his first hike and the wondrous view he is going to experience. May God bless the three of you o your new journey!

TheBookFetish said...

Tom, you've made me tear up with today's post.

I think you've given me something to think about with regards to what might be knocking on my own door.

Thank you for continuing to share your life, and Atticus' with us, and now William's, too. Your time with William may be short(er) but I know it will be filled with fun and love, and I'm glad he gets to spend his golden years with your family.

Safe travels this weekend as you go to bring him home.

penni glenz said...

Tears as my heart is so touched with what you are doing for William....He will bring so much to you and Atticus ....blessings...nothing but blessings are in store for you and your two gentlemen....

Anonymous said...

Sitting in rainy England half way through your book at the moment with my little schnauzer, Dottie, asleep at my side. You can't imagine how much I am enjoying it and how completely I understand your love for Atticus and now William. Best wishes, Jo x

Cindi Eicher said...

You have a beautiful heart to open your home to William. Thank God for those who care for the elderly. He must be so scared; but what a fantastic turn of events that are in store for him! His former human would be well pleased.

Kim Herdman Shapiro said...

Time expended on love - however short - is never a waste.

Kate B said...

What a lucky dog William is!

Colleen said...

As usual Tom, tears to my eyes. You are a wonderful writer, who really knows how to put your heart and soul into your words. Is William a candidate for cataract surgery or is he too elderly. I know you said he will be visiting Atticus's eye doctor, hopefully something can be done, if only so he can see your beloved mountains and Atticus and your faces.

Dolores said...

You have a beautiful soul and a most generous heart, Tom. Thank you for sharing yourself and Atticus, and now William, with us. Your writing is a balm to my soul. I just know that you and Atticus will be a healing influence in William's life. God bless you for all you are and all you do.

Rachel D said...

What a truly wonderful story I love old dogs and think it is so great what you are doing.

cooperhill said...

I like how you take us along (just a little bit) as you step through the wardrobe so many times. This is really great.

Another random observation - was listening to the rain myself on my umbrella at the train station this morning. Meditation in daily life. Life is good.

Chris

Tom (& Atticus) said...

Thanks, AnnO. Our story started so long ago with another unwanted dog: Maxwell Garrison Gillis. I agree with what you say - a bit of love and understand goes a long way.

Tom (& Atticus) said...

Michelle, I think William and Atticus will be fine. My job is primarily to let William be who and what he wants to be, to give him time to heal, and to grow - if he so wishes. I'm a fortunate man.

Tom (& Atticus) said...

Sue, love this line you wrote: "Even if your time together turns out to be short, it will all be good."

So very true.

By the way, I just checked out your blog. Such fabulous photos of your garden! You are a madwoman. (And I mean that in a good way.)

Tom (& Atticus) said...

Pam Hicks, you are so right when you put it this way: "There is no greater gift that the opportunity to care for another."

I feel fortunate today.

Tom (& Atticus) said...

Ricester, thank you for all you do in rescuing the unwanted and making them special again.

Tom (& Atticus) said...

Cheryl and Janine, thank you for your kind words and support. It's going to be a wonderful journey. It's going to be life and I find that affirming - no matter what form it takes.

Tom (& Atticus) said...

The Book Fetish: do so love the name of your blog. (No wonder you were bored by 50 Shades of Gray.)

Only kidding, of course.

Thanks for your comments.

I hope you find the place where you want to be and find a four legged friend to live with you. I'm probably a little biased...but it definitely adds to your life.

Thank you for your comments!

Tom (& Atticus) said...

Penni & Jo - thank you!

Tom (& Atticus) said...

Cindi Eicher, I think you are probably right. He must be scared. I know I would be. Scared and confused. We'll do our best to make him feel comfortable.

Hazel & Trusty Canine Teddy said...

Ah Tom, you're the one who has it right. Just because one grows older, does not mean he/she does not deserve to still enjoy what adventures await. Maybe it's a greater appreciation with age that this resonates even stronger. Here's to new adventures for the three of you!
Sincerely - Hazel & Teddy

jared said...

You're a good man, Charlie Brown! William doesn't know how lucky he is.

Ziggy said...

I am so excited to hear all about Sir Williams first climb up the mountain. I wish we all could see the expression on his little face when he smells the fragrant flowers and air, that he has never even imagined could be possible. You and Atti are real hero's in my book. Thank you so much for all you do and have done to help all of us have hope for a better tomorrow!!! We love you guys!!!

Hikerfamily said...

god bless you Tom - if we all took in one person/animal down on their luck the world would be a better place, don't you think?

Paula Clare said...

Dear Tom,
Your writing is truly a lens into your heart and soul...to share the rich life you and Atticus have created with one so in need is such a deeply generous thing to do...I will say a prayer that the trip home and ensuing days of transition are remarkably comfortable...that your adopted friend will feel like a long lost member of the family finally come home...

Hugs to you all!

Anonymous said...

Tom,

One of the best things I ever did was to bring home an old, arthritic animal who had never been given a name. The pet store had used him as a breeder and now, at the end of his life, they gave him to me only because the clerk felt badly about feeding him to a snake.

That's right; a snake. The little old man was an old hairless rat who could barely walk due to arthritis or feed himself due to a facial cyst, and who as far as I could tell had never left the back room of this particular pet shop.

I took him home, named him BB (for BB King), put him in a warm box with a soft blanket and some baby food, and fully expected him to pass away in a day or two.

Instead, he was with me for five months. Some cheap arthritis medicine, my vet draining the cyst that kept him from eating, a decent environment, some other rescued pet rats to play with and the chance to be a loved pet made all the difference.

One day he didn't look so good, so I picked him up and held him in my lap for about five minutes. He passed away quietly on my lap right before I had decided to call the vet (although I know what she would have recommended, and the outcome would have been the same).

He's in the garden now. He's been there for a couple of years, under the St Francis statue. Rats only live about two years, sometimes less if (like BB) they're born hairless, so some of his rat friends are in there with him. I miss him, like I miss all of them, and if I could go back in time I'd bring him home again in an instant, even if I still thought he'd die during his first night.

I guess my point is this: nobody knows how long William will be with you and Atticus if you take him in, but I know how long he'll be with you if you don't. Treasure the moments with him, and God bless you.

-Steve

(And yes, I am a 48 year old man who takes in abandoned and unwanted pet rats.)

Brooke Elaine said...

I cried when I read this...I knew about william from your FB page, but everytime I read about him I think of my beloved Candy Cane, fondly known by all as "The Cane" who was dumped in a kill shelter at the age of 10 and I adopted her (Mini Schnauzer Rescue Houston)She was as no other I have ever had and though she departed this earth 3 yrs ago this coming Aug. I still miss her...she left very firm pawprints across my heart..as I know William will do as well! You are so right the look on their faces when they experience new things-priceless!!! Bless you and Atticus and Paige!!!

Karen said...

Congrats Tom & Atticus! How lucky for William to be part if such an incredible family. I lost my beloved canine companion to old age & health issues about 15 months ago but life was changing (kids growing & leaving the nest, more travel for work) so I felt our was not fair to bring a new dog into my life right now. Having always had a dog (most all Schnauzers) since I was a child, I felt a deep loss and loneliness with the absence of the unconditional love. So I made a leap just for weeks ago and adopted a14 yr old cat who was in much the same situation as your William except she'd been bounced shelter to shelter for nearly a year. Friends warned me of the same potential heartbreaks but whatever time we will have is a gift as is she. We bonded the first night and she is nothing but a loving companion. Kudos to you and Atti for sharing your lives and opening Williams eyes to the beauty of life!

Ellen Snyder said...

What good fortune for William, that he will live out his life with you and Atticus in the Mountains and beyond. Wonderful news. Ellen

susanthe said...

It's a great honor to be part of the end of someone's journey. This is a great gift for all of you.

Heidi said...

William's a lucky man!

debbie said...

Leeza came to me in need of a home. Her owner had fallen on hard times and could no longer keep her. My plan was to get her healthy, then place her with a loving family. She's a senior girl, which would limit her options.

Having two Golden Retrievers of my own, adding one more to the mix was not in the picture. I do not need a third dog. But the thing about Leeza, the thing about a senior dog,
is their face. That expression you only see on an older dogs face. I believe that look is connected to their heart. In Leeza's case, it's a heart of pure gold.

It's been a mountainous decision. But once again, I've been inspired by Tom & Atticus. As I read your blog about William, the answer came quickly. Do I need a third dog? Maybe not, but Leeza needs us. That is what she's been telling me with her sweet face.
We are now a pack of 4, for as long as it's meant to be.

I look forward to reading about William's journey and the expression on his face, when he gets to the mountain top.

Raelyn said...

Oh. My. Goodness!! You are such a wonderful writer!! I'd only begun reading this blog post, when I had to stop and comment!! Your description skills are.... Hmmm!! As a writer myself, I can glean from your gift!! I've yet to read "Following Atticus".... But I will now!! ;op
Alright. Back to reading this blog post!! ;-}
Love, Raelyn.... And Rose, my BEAUTIFULLY UNIQUE "Mystery Dog"!!

Anonymous said...

Bless your hearts- you made my day!