Tag Archives: Atticus

RIP Atticus Finch Andrews (October 21, 2001-May 29, 2015)

He was seven days away from completing a glorious victory lap around the sun, but sadly Atticus Finch Andrews died Friday, May 29, 2015. You may remember him from Doggy Cancer, Bad Juju, and Constructive Wallowing.

Atticus was never much of a reader, but books were important in his life. Besides giving him a name, books were ultimately responsible for his living in Canada and many of his outdoors adventures.

Atticus had the kind of life that left no room for regrets at the end. He was a great dog, and he will be missed for years to come!

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Doggy Cancer, Bad Juju, and Constructive Wallowing

About a month ago, my dog Atticus was diagnosed with cancer.

Tom, one of the vet clinic staff who adores Atticus, asked me about our visit when we left the examination room. I told him the bad news. Tom expressed his sorrow and asked, “are you totally about to burst into tears?”

Of course not, I said. I talked about how we all have to die sometime, about how great of a life Atticus has had, about how my anxiety about his health would have to be right at some point.

In other words I was completely denying any feelings I had in the moment. (In hindsight, I think I was just still in serious shock about the news.)

Over the next two days I was more or less a non-functioning mess.

What if I had continued the same nonchalant approach after leaving the vet’s office? Perhaps I might have said some of the following:
He’s just a dog, not my child.
We’ve all gotta die sometime.
No big deal.
When in fact this is a huge deal. Atticus has lived with me in two countries, two states, and accompanied me on countless adventures. Friends who know me, know my dog. I have essentially structured my life around him for the last 12 1/2 years—health issues and personality quirks and all. Raising my first dog was no small feat.

A month before Atticus’ diagnosis was confirmed, Tina Gilbertson released her first book, called Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings By Letting Yourself Have Them.

In the book, Tina talks about the detrimental effects of emotional constipation—not allowing yourself to have feelings. Tina’s discoveries began when she was an aspiring actor in Los Angeles:

I was thinking about a young woman in my [acting] class who was not only a talented actress, but also smart, funny, utterly charming, and easily twice as pretty as me. She was seriously cramping my style; I wanted to be the best actress, the “phenom,” in that class…

As I drove home from class that day, I was aware of vaguely ‘icky’ emotions trying to rise up inside me. I didn’t exactly know what I was feeling, I just knew it was bad. I didn’t want to feel bothered by the situation in acting class. But I was bothered…

Spontaneously, I decided to speak my feelings aloud.

Tina then discovered that the act of speaking and acknowledging her feelings helped her feel better. When she wasn’t struggling against the feelings, they didn’t have a secret control over her. She eventually detoured from her Hollywood aspirations and ended up becoming a counselor.

Tina’s book walks readers through various obstacles that might keep them from the process of acknowledging their feelings. Perhaps you’re your own worst critic, telling yourself that other people have it way worse (#firstworldproblems!) or that whatever you might be feeling is stupid or selfish. Using insightful analogies, she walks the reader through each obstacle with kindness, and even some wit thrown in.

And anyone who may be thinking that acknowledging your own feelings will turn you into a scenery-chewing Hamlet, it turns out that acknowledging your feelings is not the same thing as choosing your behavior. If your boss has taken credit for your work, it is enough that you understand how you feel about that—this book is not advocating that you tell your boss or coworkers how you feel, or retaliate by putting rat poison in his coffee.

ConstructiveWallowingHaving feelings is quite natural, she says, and the message is even drawn out in the book design. Natural colors are used in the cover design that incorporates a rainy theme, with a raindrop-on-water motif sprinkled throughout the inside pages. Normally I’m less apt to notice book design, but the design choices in this book seemed to be supporting the overall theme.

As you can imagine, Atticus’ cancer diagnosis certainly gave me an opportunity to review and practice the book’s contents pretty quickly after I was finished reading! In the past I’ve certainly been guilty of holding things to the detriment of my own mental health, but this was one instance when it was almost a non-issue. The feelings just happened. Like Tina, I’ve found that for the most part, knowing how you feel is crucial to resolution.

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Hiking by the Book: 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I needed a new goal to tackle, ideally some sort of physical activity I could do with Atticus. It seemed pretty natural to buy a copy of William Sullivan’s classic 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon and make a goal of checking off every hike in the book. William Sullivan has a booth at Wordstock each year, so I bought my copy from the hiking guru himself a few weekends ago, which he signed for me.

Not long before our first planned hike, I did the (very easy) math. Even if we tackled one hike per week it would take nearly two years to work our way through this book. That’s quite a commitment for a “fun” goal!

Not to mention that this book includes such “hikes” as climbing Mount St. Helens. Doing that requires obtaining a permit, as only a certain number of people are admitted up per day. Mount St. Helens is only considered a difficult hike because climbers don’t usually need mountaineering equipment, but it does count as climbing a glaciated peak which will earn you entrance into Mazamas.

Another daunting hike in the book: Nesmith Point. I’ve dreamt about someday hiking to Nesmith Point, but imagining myself doing so as “just another hike” seems unrealistic. This is a route that is used by mountaineers in the off-season for training. It’s some pretty serious climbing: 3706′ in about 5 miles. YIKES.

So far I’ve done two hikes, both with Atticus. Not all of the hike locations allow dogs. Since I’m now needing to leave him alone five days a week I’ve been choosing hikes on which he can accompany me.

We went to Memaloose Lake and South Fork Mountain on Atticus’ birthday a couple of weekends ago. Hiking to the scenic lake was fairly uneventful, but the additional mile from the lake (where the snowline was) to the summit was a bit trickier. Not only was the trail unmaintained, but the snow occasionally left me puzzling where the trail went. Eventually we did make it to the top. We even managed to find the four foundation pieces for the old fire lookout despite the snow!

The following weekend we took a hike in the Columbia River Gorge that we’ve done at least a few times before: the Horsetail Falls/Oneonta Gorge loop. In the past we’ve hiked it when there was snow and ice on the ground, so this was pretty uneventful except for seeing all the gorgeous fall foliage in the gorge.

One trail I’d like to do, which parallels the Clackamas River for over seven miles, requires a buddy with a second car (or over 14 miles of hiking) which is kind of difficult for me to secure. And some of the in-town hikes, like Oaks Bottom, are positively blasé—Atticus and I could save those for the worst of Portland’s winter weather and do perfectly okay. Now and again I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t have bought Sullivan’s Hiking Oregon’s History instead.

Am I going to continue working on these hikes? I’m largely undecided. So far they’ve been a good way to get out of town and have a nice outing with Atticus once a week. Adventure, new ideas, and exercise have been the best benefits so far, and until the trail conditions outweigh those, I imagine we’ll keep up with it as much as we can.

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