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, October 04, 2012

Where There's a Will, There's a Way

I know, this is a hiking column and I’m sure I drive some other folks who write about hiking crazy by how I deviate from a simple, straight forward piece of writing about trail conditions and elevation gain.  I know…I should be writing about fall foliage and a hike that takes us through the bright orange, yellow, and red canopy of the season to a lofty viewpoint allowing us to drink in October’s tapestry as it spreads out below us.  After all, we are in the White Mountains, the most beautiful place in the world this time of year.  And yet this week’s column offers a different look at this season, and the autumn of one’s life.  And once again, I’m sure I will disappoint some of my peers who write about these trails we all tramp. 

Each morning, the first thing I do when I wake up is spend five minutes counting my blessings.  I start out each day with what I call an attitude for gratitude.  Over the past few years I’ve started off that list with a little black and white dog, the mountains we live in, our story that’s been published not just by this newspaper every two weeks but also by HarperCollins in book form, and more than any of that, I am thankful for this simpler more soulful existence we’ve found a way to live.  Not everyone finds their dreams in this lifetime.  And fewer still can live them on a daily basis.  That’s how fortunate I am. 

But what makes our life all the better is that from time to time we can take our passion and use it to make someone else’s life just a little better.  What could be better than doing what you love and have it impact someone else’s life? 

Through the years we’ve used our hiking as a way to raise money and awareness for the fight against cancer, for animals in need, and for literacy.  And yet nothing quite compares to those rare treks when Atticus and I take a friend to the top of a mountain and let them feel what we get to appreciate regularly. 

As anyone who knows us will tell you, Atticus and I are mostly a private pair.  Yes, we have our friends and we used to hike from time to time with others, but these days the trails and our experiences on them mean just too much for us to give them up to someone else.  The woods are where he and I bond.  It’s where our friendship is renewed time and again.  But every now and then if someone is special to us, we share this intimate corner of our lives with them. 

Over the next few days we hope to be doing just that.  We have this elderly friend…his name is Will.  He’s mostly blind to the point where he can see only shapes and shadows.  He is deaf and arthritic and when we met him in May he could barely walk and he was in such pain he didn’t liked to be touched.  Like Atticus he is a miniature schnauzer and through an inconceivable twist of fate, the family he lived with for the entire fifteen years of his life dropped him off in a kill shelter in New Jersey.  Fortunately for Will, the New Jersey Schnauzer Rescue Network swooped in and saved his life.  But they knew they had a difficult case on their hands and would have a hard time placing him in a home.  I surprised both Atticus and myself when I decided that we would take him in. 

Atticus has always been the only dog in my life.  He’s great with animals – even moose and bear – but he’s never had to share me with another four-legged creature.  Not full time anyway.  But knowing him as I do I believed he’d be fine with it.  And he’s been nothing but patient and understanding and kind from the very beginning. 

When Will first came to live with us I wondered why he was still alive.  That’s how unhealthy he was.  I wondered out loud in conversations with our vet Christine O’Connell how long I should keep him alive before relieving him of his misery.  For miserable he was.  And who wouldn’t be? Live with a family for the entirety of your life and when you are blind and deaf and in such pain all you want to do is bite someone when they try to touch you, abandoned in place where you are behind bars, unfamiliar with your surroundings, quite frightened, and left to die.  It had to be overwhelming for him.  Just the thought of such despair crushes me even today.

The only reason we took Will in was to give him a place to die in dignity.  He deserved that.  We all do.  But a funny thing happened that first month.  He didn’t die.  Nor did he die the second or third month.  And now it has been five months and Will is not only alive, he’s thriving.  He’s happy, self-assured, and he’s learned to trust again.   There are not many people who could go through what he has and come out half as well. 

Before I saw Will, I thought it would be great if we could get him up a mountain with us.  But he was in no condition to do that.  However, over time his hips have come back a bit.  He now lets me massage them, something that would have elicited a bite from him in the past.  And while he will never be able to walk up a mountain he may be ready to sit in a backpack.  Tomorrow morning, we’ll head to Eastern Mountain Sports to see if he feels comfortable sitting in one.  If all goes well, the following day my two best friends will lead Will and I up a mountain.

Over the last five months Will has developed quite a fan club.  His story resonates with many folks who gain strength from his resilience and understand that if it wasn’t too late for him to love, and be loved, and to live, then it’s not too late for them to have those gifts as well. 

Five months ago, a little blind dog was left to die alone in a shelter.  This weekend he could be sitting on top of a mountain, loved, and adored.  Some mountains take five months to climb, some journeys take a lifetime, and Will reminds us that it’s never too late to find your way home.
 

22 comments:

Janet Billups said...

This brought tears to my eyes and I know that very soon, We all will see William atop a mountain with you and Atticus. I for one, can not wait.

cindidejnozka said...

OMG you have me crying for the second time today! Happy tears they are!

Ashleigh said...

How lovely to hear Will's story once again. I wish you both luck and hope you both make it up a mountain this weekend.

Karen johnson said...

My life has been enriched by your book and posts and by all the 'rescued' animals in my life. I also have a "perfect dog for me' and spend the first minutes of each day in gratitude for the life I have been given.

May I be filled with loving kindness, may I be free from suffering, may I be happy and full of peace,

Karen Johnson, Peterborough NH

TheBookFetish said...

Another poignant piece. Will's been as lucky to find you and Atticus as you have been to find him. I hope he gets to climb the mountain with you.

Scott said...

Tears here, too! Can't wait to see photos of Will on the Mountaintop! Enjoy your trip.

altar ego said...

Tom, you and your family inspire and encourage me daily. This piece is not different. Thank you for selflessly sharing the bounty of your journey with us.

meyerzone said...

I was lucky enough to meet Will and if you met him you would have no idea of his past - happy go lucky and a love bug. The beauty of a rescue animal is when they let go of the past and live for today and Will is the epitome of that. Kudos to Tom and Atticus for helping him on that journey.

Pam Hicks said...

Oh Tom, I doubt very much that you have disappointed anyone! Quite the contrary. I am just filled to the brim with hopefulness for Will & you & your two best friends tomorrow. When I was at EMS in North Conway last week, I glanced at the child carriers & thought of Will :-) Wow - what an amazing experience this hike will be, whatever the outcome. I'm so happy for all of you. "Carry on" will have a very special meaning tomorrow....

Ginny Suhr said...

more tears from me. and I, too, cannot wait (if all goes well) to see you and Will at the top of the mountain. blessings, love and peace to all of you!

mrksmrs said...

Oh my. Will reminds me of my little dog, Doc. Whatever he went through before he found had been horrific. Our other dog, Sam and 4 cats accepted him as one of the family. Through time and effort he became my closes companion. I miss him dearly to this day. God has blesses both you, Tom and Atticus. You were his chosen ones to give Will a new life. One of love, and trust. I do hope Will can make that trip and many more. You are truly a beautiful person.

Gillian said...

Will is so lucky to have found such a loving and caring family as you and Atticus.

Indiana Janie said...

Go, go, go! Blessings to all of you!

Tim said...

I can not wait to see a picture of Will on top of the mountain either! As you always so eloquently say Tom, his picture would represent so much more, some of the journeys and mountains we all are realizing it's not to late to climb to get home.

Anonymous said...

Sweet William continues to climb hills and mountains in literally, Leaps and Bounds :) He's the main reason I came to NH this year to visit...I cancelled my trip after a bad car accident in August...and rebooked the whole thing..He inspired me to pick up my spirits and painful body and Move it. :) So happy to get to meet you all...Kristyl

Sue said...

Not in a million years did I ever think Will's story would unfold as fabulously as it has. I know I've said it before Tom, but thank you for giving him a second chance making him part of your family.

XXOO to all of you!

f1nigel said...

What comes into our lives two legged or four, only make us stronger for the journey we are all on.Thank you both for given Will and all of us the knowledge and knowing of true excepting love :)

Poppy Q said...

See what love can do!! We hope you had a lovely trip.

Julie and Poppy Q
xxx

Anne said...

As usual, you brought tears to my eyes for a good reason. Thank you.

Anne

Anonymous said...

Wonderful Tom...Your heart is special, thank you for sharing. I read your book earlier in the year and you inspired me...I'm 51, have hiked quite a bit, but never tackled a 4,000 footer. The summer came and went...but this weekend, with my two sons, we climbed two, Pierce and Eishenhower...it was just awesome. THANK YOU for inspiring me, looking forward to more!

All the Best to You, Atticus and Will.
Tom K

Andi's English Attic said...

Just finished reading your book, which I loved, and looked for a blog or facebook to see if you were there. And you are!
Will is a very lucky dog to have found you and Atticus. May he have lots more time to enjoy his life.

Lesley said...

So touching and how wonderful for all three of you!