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, December 13, 2012

The Long Night Calls

We woke up just before seven this morning and it was still dark out – dark and cold.  Daylight continues to dwindle while the night grows.  And yet it felt warm and bright within our  little home this morning. 

There is a comfort in getting out of bed and turning the thermostat up on these frigid mornings.  Then there’s the stove and the frying pan awaiting the blueberry pancake batter; Bing Crosby singing carols in the background; and the Christmas tree glowing in the corner of the room with its little while lights and silver and gold ornaments.  Outside in the backyard, on the other side of the picture window, stands another tree; it’s wrapped in blue lights and is our beacon in the morning drear.  The other day it looked like a greeting card dressed in a thin layer of snow and we all stood in wonder as we gathered around it. 

Then there is Will, who is nearing sixteen.  He may be deaf and see nothing more than shapes and shadows, with hips so weak they often collapse beneath him – and yet he wakes up every morning tangled in joy.  He leaps to and fro in his desire to play and if his legs were stronger and his aim truer he may actually be able to catch us as he “gallops” like a slow motion drunken horse.  His front legs are ambitious but are disconnected from the rear ones that don’t have the heart to do go very fast and they are unsure of themselves.  So he rears up to give chase and then realizes it’s not going to happen.  There are even times he topples over.  But none of it dissuades his happiness.  And yet this spectacle is nothing compared to the unmitigated celebration that explodes within him when I’m getting his breakfast.  Every morning is Madri Gras for Will here in Jackson! 

On the other end of the spectrum, Atticus waits.  He sits and watches patiently.  He also eats but neither food nor happiness has ever been withheld from him so he exhibits a stately grace compared to Will.  Besides, although he likes food, what delivers elation to Atticus can’t be found indoors.  It waits outside beyond the fraying edges of the gray morning in the trees and the paths that wind their way through them.

Later today, we’ll leave all this comfort behind.  I’ll get dressed in my hiking gear and bring my three headlamps because I know that night will fall early, and we’ll head out into the woods and up a mountain.  That’s where Atticus is in his element.  It doesn’t matter how cold it is, how much the wind is blowing, or whether we’re being watched by the sun or the stars.  What matters is that we’re out there and up there together. 

For Atticus he is most at ease with me, but he is happiest when we are together on a mountain.  But still, he takes it all in stride, as if this is what life was always supposed to be and what we were meant to be together.  When it comes to me though, I cannot tell you the pleasure I find in being out in the woods when the sun falls behind the mountains and darkness grows.  It used to unnerve me and the darkness fed on a fear that grew with the night.  But now I find comfort in the dance that leads from day to night. 

I even find comfort in the long nights in the coziness inside and the excitement outside.  I like how the wind taunts and harasses me.  I like that I’m warm in my gear with just a hint of discomfort to create an edge.  And I like that together we are far away from anyone else.  It took some time but I finally learned to appreciate that Saint-Exupery quote: “Night, the beloved. Night, when words fade and things come alive.  When the destructive analysis of day is done, an all that is truly important becomes whole and sound again.  When man reassembles his fragmentary self and grows with the calm of a tree.”   


And that’s what I feel like when we are miles away from the rushing world, especially around the holidays like now, when roads and restaurants and stores are crowded and everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere other than where they are. 
 

In recent hikes night fell on us as we travelled carefully down the icy trail along the Three Agonies as we descended Lafayette; we watched the sun dissolve behind the Tripyramids on the Sandwich Range when we were just a third of the way down the ledges of South Moat; and watched a pregnant moon with its perfectly round belly rise over the little boxes of the village of North Conway below us while we traversed Cathedral and White Horse Ledges.

I derive a delicious pleasure of being where once I feared to be and when considering those steps taken in the forest at night I thrive on the simplicity of it all.  Let the world unleash itself on us as it does from time to time and you can find us on a mountaintop in the dark where I am reassembling my “fragmentary self”.

There’s also something else that’s pleasurable about being on a mountain this time of year when it is cold and the winds are howling when darkness falls.  It makes you feel raw and utterly alive, but it also makes you appreciate a place called home.  It’s adventure that plants the seeds for later contentment. 

So tonight, long after this has been sent off at deadline, we’ll be up on mountain, cloaked in darkness, little lamps lighting our way as we trek across icy rocks leaving behind whatever troubles we’ve accumulated throughout the past days and there will be one thought on my mind – home. 

And when we return home we’ll be happy we ventured away from it, only to return to it with a renewed appreciation and greeted by a little blind and deaf dog who has redefined that term for us – and in the process discovered his own home.
      

20 comments:

Talkin' with the Animals said...

as usual, right on and loving Tom .

Carter W Rae said...

The wordsmith gives us his warm and cozy account of his beautiful life in the mountains...... Thanks Tom from our pack to yours All the best

Silvia G. Soos-Kazel said...

Tom, again you bring us to the simplicity of nature and the oh so healing factor it can be in our turbulent world of today. It is amazing, but the little simple aspects of life can give us our greatest pleasures. As to Following Atticus and now William; they truly show the value of life's true worth. Thank you as always for your mind opening and inspirational words.

pam and the ojai pack said...

Awesome Tom! Ran around today and couldn't wait to get back to Atti's Army and my Ojai Pack....onward, by all means...Love, pam

Laury said...

You captured the essence of the scene beautifully, such a grand life you've created for this precious dog. It takes a special person to love an animal with the same devotion they would bestow onto their own human family, you embody this sentiment...

~Laury

Robert Plamondon said...

Tom, I just returned home after a long day at work and your blog really was a pleasure to read. You really captured the feeling of returning home to the ones you love. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the pleasure your story brought me.

Colleen said...

Beautifully written as always. Such wonderful sentiment about your family, your home, your land and your life. I envy the simplicity of your dreams.

Anonymous said...

My last two hikes I've hurried out of the woods at dusk, even though there was a headlamp in my pack. Next time, maybe I'll linger a bit :)

Valerie Royed said...

This was beautiful! I feel so calm and peaceful after reading it, it' almost like I meditated! Thanks!

Mary Austin said...

Just finished reading your book and will now look forward to reading more of your adventures.

Anonymous said...

Loved your book. Cried a lot. Atti is awesome dog.
So how'd the date with Paige go? Is she the one?

Bobbie Phillips said...

I just finished reading "following atticus" and simply loved it! What a wonderful story, dogs are like humans and when that connection is there it is so special. This is the first time I have looked at your blog and will continued to read. Thanks for a good book.

Teresa, Essex, UK said...

Just finished your book, I hung in every word. The best I have read in a long while. Atticus is amazing, a truly remarkable dog. Certainly made me regard my two in a different light. I hope u and Atticus enjoy many more adventures and I can not wait to read about them. Best Wishes

SmolovSQ DK said...

What an interesting read. Have a great day!

Ursy Trösch said...

It's 6th of January - and I was a bit anxious to open your blog. I was afraid that Will is perhaps not so good anymore. I hope everything with you and Atticus and Will is fine, and I wish you all three a wonderful new year 2013. Sorry for my mistakes, I have read your wonderful book in German - I LOVE it.Greetings from Siwtzerland Ursy

The Geezers said...

As a lover of wilderness, the hours before dawn, and frigid climates, this one struck a chord.

I"m new to your blog, but will return often.

Carly said...

Hello. I just wanted to tell you that I finished reading your book. I, too, have an "Atticus" ... an almost six-year-old mini schnauzer named Bowser. He doesn't hike nor does he really appreciate the mile I make him walk every other day, but all of the experiences you shared in the book are experiences I have shared with my precious Bowser. The shared respect, the nonverbal communication, the making the rounds in a small community (I'm a reporter for small, weekly newspaper, so I felt a strong kinship!), I have never known someone other than myself (or my mom) to have the bond with their dogs like you do with Atticus. I was sobbing through most of the book (particularly with his surgery and the attack bit), because I know I would never be able to be strong like that. Bowser came into my life during a dark, emotional time, and I often credit him with saving me from myself. Bowser saved my life, and he takes care of me just as much as I take care of him. All of this rambling is to basically say ... I understand, I am with you, I understand the schnauzer love, and I wish you and Atticus and Will the best of luck on all of your adventures.

Chi S. (Tiffany) Chan said...

Still reading your book and cried many times. May the little bug be happy wherever he goes. He is no dog but an angel, a gift from God. I don't have to tell you to treasure him, you did already.

Maureen said...

Just finished reading your book. I have done some extensive hiking in the White Mountains in my earlier years and have loved the white mountains ever since. You have expressed everything i ever felt about the woods, God, life and love. You have a gift with words. Continue to be happy and do by all means, hike on. PS- you should try kayaking. you would love it!