Oh man, I don’t even know how to even begin describing how much I adore this book. I just want to climb to the top of one of Tom’s beloved mountain peaks with a bullhorn and tell the world to read Following Atticus. It’s that good, people!
This is just a beautiful story about the bond between a man and his dog, and how they both found inner peace in the enchanting New Hampshire Mountains. In defiance of what’s expected of an overweight middle-aged man and a 20-pound dog, they achieved the impossible. Not once, but twice, they conquered all 48 of the great White Mountain peaks in one winter.
I poured through this book in sheer amazement as these two adventurers hiked up and down the majestic mountains in the freezing cold—an amazing feat for even the most elite mountain climbers. They didn’t do it for fame or to break a world record. They did it to pay tribute to fallen cancer victims, and to raise money for charity. But ultimately some higher power—some inexplicable force that only the readers can decipher for themselves—drew them into the wilds.
What I love about this story is how Tom made a complete turnaround after meeting Atticus. A busy newspaper man, he was constantly running around town to get the latest scoop. There was no time for pets, no time for exercise, no time for sitting still. He seemed happy in this lifestyle until a little mini schnauzer came into his life and changed everything.
“In the mountains Atticus became more of what he’d always been, and I became less—less frantic, less stressed, less worried, and less harried. I felt comfortable letting him lead, and he seemed to know what I needed. He always chose the best route, if ever there was a question, and my only job was to follow.”
I can tell you from experience that animals have a way of making us live in the present. Like standing atop a majestic mountain and looking down at nature’s splendor, seeing the world through a dog’s eyes can allow us to take in the bigger picture. All those trivial things—the office pettiness, the family melodrama, the overloaded inbox—seem so insignificant when you can truly understand the broad scheme of things. That’s why this book really hit home. Through Tom’s lyrical prose of the gorgeous mountain scenery, I could feel his day-to-day stress ebb away. I, too, was hit by this feeling while hiking through Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s amazing how our natural surroundings—the scent of fresh evergreens, the rhythmic trickling streams, the rustling of leaves overhead—can instantly put us at ease.
“…It was like stumbling into C.S. Lewis’s magical wardrobe and pushing through the rows of clothes, knowing that there was something thrilling beyond it all. Stepping out of the trees and onto an open ridge or peak was like exiting the back of the wardrobe and entering our own special Narnia. It was a world apart, a world that belonged only to the two of us.”
And sometimes the stillness and solitude of nature can make us confront our own demons. Perhaps that’s why so many of us have to be constantly plugged into those little flat-screen devices. I’ll never forget the intense moment when the eerie winter woods forced Tom to face his darkest fears while hiking alone at night.
“It was eerie and sad, and I found myself falling into a deep malaise where all the warmth in the world had been drained away, and I thought, this must be what death is like—brittle, unyielding, frozen…The higher we climbed, the more ghostlike it felt and the heavier I sank into the night, spiraling deeper into memories that wouldn’t let go of me—the kind that haunt your subconscious, that surface ever so rarely in your dreams and wake you up in a sweat with a breathless gasp.”
There’s so much more to this book than just a feel-good pet story. Tom’s incredible transformation is truly inspiring. His story makes it hard—almost impossible—to question fate and the possibility of soul mates. The next time I climb a mountain top or set foot in a state park, I’ll always remember Tom’s spiritual epiphanies. At that, I’ll leave you with one of my most favorite quotes from the book.
“Magic is where you find it; the only thing that matters is that you take the time to look for it. It can be the wonder in a little dog’s face or the memory of an old man. People continued to ask why I’d taken to hiking alone with Atticus. It was because such thoughts come to me on a climb or at the top or walking through the thick woods on the way down under a golden sun or bright stars. When there was no one to talk to, I found myself in a walking meditation. I was not a religious man, but if I were, the woods would be my church, the mountain tops my alter.”