Book Review: Following AtticusPublished January 10, 2012
From "Following Atticus"
Ryan wrote, “the once unwanted dog had become a most-loved dog… when I rescued him, I didn’t realize that I was taking the first steps toward rescuing myself.” After Maxwell passed away, Ryan didn’t wait long to fill his heart and home with another Miniature Schnauzer. When little Atticus arrived from Louisiana, Ryan was advised to hold him for as long as possible to bond. And there began an extraordinary story.
To feel closer to his father who was becoming increasingly distant, Ryan started climbing the very mountains his father admired – Mt. Washington, Waumbek, Bonds, and the Presidentials. What Ryan soon realized was that his little furry friend, who was born in the South, had a thing for the mountains. He felt at home among the trees and the trails, and particularly enjoyed what Ryan endearingly called “summit sitting,” contemplating life from his little perspective from the top, taking in sweeping views of the mountain ranges in all seasons.
When a close friend passed away from cancer, Ryan set out to pay tribute to her by hiking up all 46 of the 4,000 footers in New Hampshire twice in one winter, dedicating each peak to someone who is either fighting or has fought cancer or passed on from the disease.
A lot of people discouraged him, saying “people die up there” in the winter. Middle-aged Ryan himself had his own limitations, weighing 300 pounds and never having trekked much at all in the past. He wrote,in Following Atticus, “I’d decided to challenge myself and make myself stronger, to come face-to-face with who I was in those worst of elements and in an environment I’ve always feared, with the hope I’d emerge a bit different from when I went into it.”
Ryan, however, had the most inspiring cheerleader anyone could wish for.
Black and white, with bushy eyebrows and a determined personality, 20-pound Miniature Schnauzer named Atticus M. Finch was just a few years old when he attempted to climb all 46 of the 4,000-foot mountains of New Hampshire twice in two consecutive winters.
Loyal Atticus, with a spring in his step, led the way for his friend, always 20-feet ahead of him, bravely going forward where no little dog had gone before, except when it came to streams (water scared him). Knee-high snow, bitter cold, short days and long hikes that ended in the middle of the night didn’t prevent the duo from reaching their goal. In the three winter months, they managed to complete 81 of the 96 hikes they’d intended to do, and raised thousands of dollars along the way.
But what laid ahead for Atticus and Tom was more challenging than trotting up steep snowy mountains. A health scare and a vicious dog attack left Atticus vulnerable, and threatened to take away what he has come to love--enjoying the great outdoors. This time, Atticus would need Tom more than ever. Their bond, faith and the love of the community they called home would all be tested.
The following year, they attempted the previous year’s mission again, but this time to raise money for Angell Animal Medical Center. Although they managed to climb less mountains than intended, their lives are forever changed. Ryan wrote, “Our quest was about so much more than reaching ninety-six mountains or raising money for a good cause. It was about us and what we shared and saw together and what we were becoming. It was one of those moments when you realize that this is truly the time of your life.”
Quoting John Muir, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman and other writers and philosophers, Ryan uses his spell bounding sentences to evoke the grandeur and beauty of the White Mountains, the loneliness and serenity of hiking in winter wonderlands, and the love for one little dog that beat all odds to achieve an adventurous goal because he wanted to lead the way for his friend.
Following Atticus might seem like a story solely intended for animal or nature lovers, but it is also a touching account of a man who was stuck until a homeless dog changed the course of his life forever. Together, Tom and Atticus climbed 147 peaks, stayed safe, and transformed lives. In his book trailer, he says, “finding out what made him happy, made me happy too.”
Tom Ryan sold the Undertoad and moved with Atticus near the mountains of New Hampshire, where he enjoys regular hikes with his buddy and updating his blog, The Adventures of Tom and Atticus. Ryan also writes for the North-Country News and Mountainside Guide. You can follow him and Atticus on Facebook.