Jon Katz, a respected journalist, father, and husband, was turning fifty. His writing career had taken a dubious turn, his wife had a demanding career of her own, his daughter was preparing to leave home for college, and he had become used to a sedentary lifestyle. Wonderfully witty and insightful,Running to the Mountainchronicles Katz's hunger for change and his search for renewed purpose and meaning in his familiar world. Armed with the writings of Thomas Merton and his two faithful Labradors, Katz trades in his suburban carpool-driving and escapes to the mountains of upstate New York. There, as he restores a dilapidated cabin, learns self-reliance in a lightning storm, shares a bottle of Glenlivet with unexpected ghosts, and helps a friend prepare for fatherhood, he confronts his lifelong questions about spirituality, mortality, and his own self-worth. He ultimately rediscovers a profound appreciation for his work, his family, and the beauty of everyday life--and provides a glorious lesson for us all.
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January 01, 2000
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Excerpt from Running to the Mountain by Jon Katz
Orphan in the Promised Land
We are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds, and join in the general dance.
--Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
The house sits like an orphan in the promised land, abandoned and forlorn, right at the peak of a mountain that looks from New York State, across a rural valley carpeted with farms, into the green hills of Vermont.
It is sly, revealing itself slowly, like a stripper in a cheap bar. It lies well off a country road, down a dirt drive. Each step of the way, you feel swallowed up a bit more by the forest; the world gets left further behind.
The first thing I saw was an odd tide of almost eerie debris--decaying benches, rotting wagon wheels, a sign that said THE LAST RESORT hanging askew on a pole. The lawn was baked and dusty, half dead, the gardens overgrown and untended.
Here and there posts that had once supported birdhouses stuck up from the ground. I counted half a dozen stacks of firewood, enough for three or four winters, scattered around. A tall plastic swimming pool full of scum and slime sat by the side door, and something--a frog, maybe a snake--slid out of it as I came near. My two Labradors and I jumped.
"Jesus, welcome to Dogpatch," I said to my friend Jeff, who lived in a nearby town. Jeff had scouted the house and had strongly urged me to drive north and take a look.
"Wait," he said.
Disappointed, I wondered what he had been thinking, urging me to rush upstate and look at this decrepit, charmless place, a tiny cabin built in 1965. A truck driver and his father had constructed it board by board, all 846 square feet of it, and couldn't have been any prouder if it were the Taj Mahal. I was also relieved to be underwhelmed; I couldn't afford a second house, anyway.
Georgette, the real-estate agent, watching me sag, was murmuring about the possibilities, trying to spark my imagination. "I'd take down the dark paneling," she suggested. "Open it up a bit."
But the interior was even more dispiriting, murky and tomblike, with thick shag carpeting in hideous colors and fake-wood ceiling beams made of plastic. The small kitchen was festooned with ceramic tiles and plaques offering sayings like KISSIN' DON'T LAST, COOKIN' DO.
While showing me how dry the basement was, Georgette asked me to pick up a couple of decomposing mice and toss them out into the woods. My dogs looked unnerved.
Then Jeff took me by the arm, led me past the swampy pool to the front of the house, and rotated me eastward. The sight hit me like a hammer blow; I almost reeled. The view was as spectacular and uplifting as the approach from the rear was cheesy and disheartening.