So often we seek comfort and ease when it’s the struggle that brings life into focus. When Tom Ryan, a self-described overweight newspaperman, and his 20-pound Schnauzer Atticus take to hiking the White Mountains of New Hampshire one winter, the response is “People die up there.” Tom persists and Atticus takes joy in the climb. While it would have been easier to sit by fire and relax, where’s the adventure in that? Tom has since followed Atticus up hundreds of peaks.
Climbing does not come naturally to Tom. “That first climb of the day, of any day, was always the worst part. My body was not made for going uphill. I was too heavy. And yet it was often during those moments of oxygen debt, when I was forced to stop and just breathe, that I’d hear nothing but my own breath, the beating of my heart, and the forest. In winter, on a windless day, the forest is silent, and that minute of duress turns into a halcyon moment. That’s when the world comes around. It’s where clarity is found. Aches, pains, and breathless panting begat epiphanies.”
One winter Tom and Atticus climbed peak after peak to raise money for cancer. Tom writes, “I watched that little dog sitting placidly on a mountaintop in winter, miles away from the life we’d come to know, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to be doing, and that’s when it struck me: Our quest was about so much more than reaching 96 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.”
Adventures include battling illness (both Tom and Atticus) and an attack by a vicious dog that leaves Atticus barely breathing and Tom frantically racing for help. In his grief and worry, Tom is overwhelmed by the kindness of the community that rallies to help Atticus.
Eventually Tom decides to leave his job to devote even more of his days to following Atticus up the mountains. Now he writes and climbs and savors life. Tom believes each mountain has lessons to teach, stories to tell. He speaks of “how grand it feels to be swallowed whole in the woods.” When you figure out your passion, rearrange your life to pursue it.
The story continues. Following Atticus on Facebook, you can read about new hikes, new mountaintops, new adventures, and a new family member. Tom learned of William, a senior Terrier in poor health who had been left at a shelter. He’s taken him in his home and heart; he plays music for him and brings him flowers and tucks him in gently each night.
You see, when you learn — when you really see — how love can transform, you want to experience more and more. And that’s where clarity is found and that’s when the world comes around.