A friend of mine who is not into mountains or nature or the simple blissful feeling that comes from wind in your face once asked me, ” What’s the big deal? You get to a mountaintop and you see the same view you did from the last mountaintop. I don’t get it.”
While I was looking out on . . . the forty-eight [mountains] we’d encountered. . . I had my answer. How many times can you look upon the face of God? Tom Ryan, Following Atticus
FORTY-EIGHT HIGH PEAKS, ONE LITTLE DOG,
AND AN EXTRAORDINARY FRIENDSHIP
Much like a good country western song packs as many red-neck images as possible in the lyrics, Tom Ryan in Following Atticus reveals a full life packed with heart-wrenching drama complemented by the discovery of the healing nature of the natural world and the power of friendship.
This memoir of an out-of-shape newspaper reporter and his dog, Atticus, is a love story. A love story that opens as Tom Ryan, eleven-years into a one-man community newspaper operation, has grown weary of gathering gossip and political dander in his adopted small town. He struggles with a fractious relationship with his father and yearns to find a source of peace and harmony within himself to counterbalance all the stress in his life.
The story begins when Tom is asked to help find someone willing to adopt an elderly dog no longer wanted by its family. After failing to find anyone else, he reluctantly agrees to adopt the dog himself.
For days we stared at one another thinking, “What the hell have I gotten myself into?”
Although Max was with Tom for a short time, it was time enough for Tom and Max to bond; to share a friendship and to experience love. Tom was ready to take the leap into the next chapter of his life.
Maxwell Garrison Gillis had opened a door,
and Atticus Maxwell Finch was about to walk through it.
Together, Atticus and Tom would take the world by storm. The tiny Miniature Schnauzer with an independent streak and the dispirited out-of-shape human became bonded by respect and an intuitive language known and understood only to them.
A serendipitous opportunity to hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire opened a new window in the lives of this oddly paired couple. Day after day, year after year, this unlikely duo forged ahead climbing unimaginably difficult summits in the most extreme winter weather. Their adventures are accurately and vividly described. I’ve been there.
[A friend asked me if the winter climbs were actually as arduous as depicted – I assured her they were. See me on Mount Washington with my husband, grasping the summit sign to avoid being blown over.]
Tom found he had deep personal reserves both mentally and physically. He learned he was capable of achieving the nearly impossible. It never got physically easy for him. But he never quit. Plagued by life’s sorrows and unfair burdens, Tom found the strength to overcome emotional defeat while alone with his thoughts in the isolation. His lifelong fear of the dark traveled with him in the stark dark of night surrounded by things that go bump in the night. He survived these terrors because he wasn’t alone – he had Atticus for company and comfort.
For Atticus, his role changed in the mountains. In town, he played by civilization’s rules; he allowed Tom to be his guide. Surrounded by the natural world, Atticus took charge, roles reversed. Puffed-up proud, the “Little Giant” strode ever onward, stepping instinctively toward each summit, seemly oblivious to the possibility of failure. With one eye on Tom and the other on the way ahead he led Tom ever on and ever upward in more ways than one.
Off the mountain, the emotional rifts and causalities continue in Tom’s life. Life is a line graph and not every point on the grid is an uptick. There are some seriously Debbie-downer moments; this is true life not fiction. You can’t write away reality. Have tissues nearby.
I was awed by the compassion and affection of strangers when life hands the “guys” a life-altering blow. I was gripped with a sense of Déjà vu over Tom’s dysfunctional childhood. And I share the need to become one with the universe; to be part of a bigger picture.
In conclusion, I found this book fabulous for so many reasons. There’s something for everyone – small community dynamics, dealing with aging parents, child abuse, puppy farms, mountain climbing, geography, weather . . . et al.
Thank you, Tom and Atticus.