A New Lease on Life from an Old Love of Nature

A New Windows to the Wild Episode Airs 1/15 at 7:30pm on NHPBS

“My recovery started because I missed this. I just missed being out here,” New Hampshire author Tom Ryan tells his friend, WINDOWS TO THE WILD host Willem Lange.  As he speaks, he marvels at the spectacular fall foliage of the Sawyer Pond Trail, near Lincoln, NH. After a series of health problems that included a stroke, a heart attack, kidney failure and lung disease, Ryan – long an avid hiker known for taking to the trails with his beloved dogs ­– worried that his best days in the outdoors were behind him. Instead, his struggles have given him a new appreciation for the richness of the wild and the healing power of nature.

Ryan didn’t begin hiking regularly until he was in his forties, but after a trip to the White Mountains with three of his brothers he says he found the quiet of nature addicting.  He tells Lange, “I never feel lonely in nature, just like I’m never lonely in a book.”

For Lange, the outdoors has also provided a salve to loneliness since losing his wife Ida in 2018. He admits that “getting out and seeing people just feels like too much trouble sometimes,” but he always makes time for a walk in the woods with his terrier mix Kiki, averaging about a mile and a half a day.

Appreciating nature, whatever limitations you might be experiencing, has long been a value shared by Lange and Ryan.  Over the years, Lange has dealt with knee replacements and Ryan has been gradually improving his health to the point where he can begin hiking New Hampshire’s 4,000 footers again. As Ryan worked on regaining his strength, he kept in mind the example of his dog Will, an elderly unwanted shelter dog. Though mostly blind and completely deaf, Will loved being surrounded by Nature, experiencing the beauty around him fully, even if he couldn’t see much of it.

On this sunny fall day, Ryan revels in every detail – the smells, the sights, and the sounds of their journey. “One of the things about my health coming back is the appreciation of this stuff,” he says, gesturing to the surrounding forest. “I find myself looking up at the foliage and it’s like seeing anew.”

You can hear more of Willem and Tom’s thoughts on the therapeutic nature of the wild as they hike Sawyer Pond Trail with their dogs Samwise, Emily and Kiki on the next WINDOWS TO THE WILD episode airing Wednesday, January 15 at 7:30 pm on New Hampshire PBS and online at nhpbs.org/windows.  

Here’s a quick promotional video of the episode.

About New Hampshire PBS: New Hampshire PBS inspires one million Granite Staters each month with engaging and trusted local and national programs and services on-air, online, via mobile, in classrooms and in communities. Beyond its award-winning television programs, New Hampshire PBS is a leader in education and community engagement. www.nhpbs.org

The Quest for Simplicity

This is our year of renewed simplicity. Although I am not big into New Year’s resolutions, a series of realizations surfaced over the latter half of 2019. January felt like a proper time to move forward by leaving some of the past behind.

Samwise basking in the afternoon’s sun is a fine image to go along with this post. It is the essence of simplify…of a basic and blessed life.

We are just back from a six-mile woodland walk, and while Emily gnaws away on her chew, Samwise is off to another world. Seeing him like this relaxes me, just as seeing Max like this twenty years ago relaxed me then, and reminds me of what is important to my life.

Part of the attempt to slow things down is this blog.

Before there was a Facebook page, I wrote a blog. It was the genesis of my newspaper columns here in New Hampshire and, ultimately, Following Atticus.

Through the past nine years, as social media has taken up more of my time, I’ve been blogging less. Recently, I realized my last post on the old blog was more than a year ago. That saddened me.

Facebook works for some folks. However, I t’s always been an uneasy dance for me. Before the Following Atticus page was born, I deleted my personal FB page at least twice. Today, the only reason I have an active personal FB page is so that I can have a business page.

A blog is more my style. It offers me an opportunity to stretch out and convey thoughts and not have to tend to the flood of comments. I can simply write.

The purpose of social media was for me to offer up more of my writing to readers, but I came to see that no matter how much a person shares on Facebook page like ours, a portion of the readership always wants more. And not so much much more writing, but more of the writer. More of the person.

While some photos and shorter posts will continue to appear on our FB page, this is where my online writing belongs. Purposefully, there is no room for comments. Call it self-preservation on my part. Setting boundaries that work for me.

Facebook grew to become the only complicated aspect of a life I am always striving to keep simple. It grew into a place of anxiety for me. My friends would tell you that it also became pretty much the only thing that ever angered me.

After much thought, and too much handwringing, this blog was born to simplify my life.

Since it’s launch earlier this week, I have been happier. My writing has been more productive. I have been more peaceful. It feels like we are back to where we belong.

In the posts to follow, you will see more long form writing. Call it mini-chapters, if you will, of adventures and simplicities. In our life, they go hand-in-hand.

More than 2,500 of you have subscribed so far, and I wanted to send out a post to test the mailing system before too much time passed.

Another plus with this form of media is that Facebook will no longer determine which of my posts you will see. Since you have signed up to receive emails, they’ll come directly to your mailbox. I promise not to overdue it, and the email list will never be made available to anyone else.

Thank you for being here.

This is a place for readers, and this writer is grateful to have you on board.

Introducing Our New Online Journal

There are several reasons I’m more excited about 2020 than I have been for another year in quite some time. Sitting here under a couple of fresh inches of the prettiest snow that’s fallen this winter, I have much to be grateful for and much to look forward to. 

The year begins with me in the best health I could hope for, considering what had befallen me in the past. I’m aware the odds of me still being here, with no end in sight, were not very good. When Samwise and Emily came to live with me, each at around six months of age, and a year-and-a-half apart, it was understood that most likely they would outlive me. Plans were made, in case that proved to be true. (Our friends Jill, Jeremy, and Jasmine have been entrusted with Samwise and Emily’s lives if mine should end.)

However, the work of the last eighteen months has me more optimistic. I’ve remade my life, my diet, and my health. Any writer worth a darn will tell you all experience is an act of constant revision. 

No longer do I take blood pressure medication or a beta-blocker. Each day my resting heart rate hovers between 50 and 58 beats per minute. My blood pressure is equally healthy at an average of about 98/68. The scale tells me I am 143 pounds less than I had been. That’s not changed for a couple of months now, but it will. There’s more to lose. It will come off over time without much effort. 

Beans, greens, and whole grains have replaced the quick fix of sugary and fat-filled foods. Yes, I’m still eating a vegan diet, albeit these days, it is healthy. Gone is the processed vegan junk food I was fooling myself with. 

Two medications I will never be able to get away from, a blood thinner and a diuretic, are lifetime sentences due to numerous blood clots and once-failed kidneys. Other than the $6,000 a year I pay for those to stay alive, I’m medication-free. 

I do take some supplements, however: Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. My food is also enhanced with daily doses of turmeric, ground flaxseed, amla powder, and black cumin, along with a wide variety of additional spices. 

The past year saw me return to the top of some favorite peaks, including a handful of 4,000-footers. This was an unexpected outcome. More mountains and longer hikes await in the year ahead. 

Suffering all that I did, I’m aware I may not live as long as once hoped, and I may or may not have added years to my life, but assuredly, I have improved the quality of my life, and probably the length of it—compared to where things stood in July of 2018. 

Eating a whole-food, plant-based diet has changed everything. Following Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease program has pushed me even further. Under his plan, I avoid all oils, nuts, seeds (other than ground flax and chia), nut butters, most processed foods, and animal products. Keeping my fat calories under 10 percent also means no avocados or coconut. I shoot to eat six servings of greens a day, with the favorites being kale, spinach, chard, mustard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus. If you had told me I would one day come to love any of these, I’d have said, “You’ve got the wrong guy.” Presently, if fewer greens are eaten on any given day, I miss them the way I used to miss Coca Cola, pastries, chocolate, and pizza. 

In a following post, I will share my favorite cookbooks. But since a few of you are curious after reading this far, an excellent place to start is watching two documentaries on Netflix: Forks Over Knives and The Game Changers. Prepare to see things differently. I certainly do.

In April, I will be turning 59, and yet each morning, I wake up feeling half of that. What’s not for me to be excited about? 

Two writing projects are coming to fruition. A writer feels happiest when writing and, in my case, being published. The memoir, a bit different than Will’s Red Coat and Following Atticus, will be sent off to my agent this month. Once that is underway, and we are locked in with my publisher, I’ll throw everything I have into completing my first novel. Those characters visit me daily, often when we are alone in the woods, away from the rush of humankind. Those personalities become more vivid each passing week. Conversations take place. I become them, and they become me. 

Those years covering the quirky characters in Newburyport is coming in handy. 

Samwise and Emily continue to grow and distinguish themselves. They are each a fresh reminder that all souls are individuals, and more than ever, I avoid what passes for social media’s take on animals. If you’ve read my work before, you understand I’m not into labels, and I see non-humans as peers. They are not my children. Nor are they babies. I’m no one’s parent. None of this is new to anyone who has been paying attention. 

Sam has just turned four. Em will turn three in March, sharing a birth month with Atticus. There is a giddy satisfaction within knowing most of their lives are ahead of them. 

We have no travel plans for this winter or spring. That’s different from the last few years, and it could change, but for now, we’re staying put.

The focus is on my writing. 

This blog is something new. It gives me a place to post longer passages away from Facebook. While the Following Atticus page will continue, this is a place for readers. You’ll notice you can even subscribe. When a post is written here, you’ll be notified. Eventually, the plan is also to create a free newsletter that will go out once or twice a week. Some posts will still go up on Facebook; some photos will as well. But most photos are going on our Instagram account (tom_samwise_emily). 

Winter is a time for quiet walks in the woods among snow-laden trees, simmering soups, reflection, writing, prayer, and meditation for this writer. It’s a new beginning. As the sun shares more of her light with us each day, I hope to share more with you as the year progresses. 

Onward, by all means. 

Thanks for reading. 

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