Running to the Mountain: #A-Z Challenge

“There are times in one’s life…when one simply has to stop, step out of one’s routine, and take the trouble to think. It’s not a luxury but an obligation: how else to even try to make measured, considered decisions based on deliberation and self-awareness rather than on impulse or fear?
Going to a monastery is one way to think these passages through, and running to a mountain another, but so is taking a long walk with a dog, driving to the nearest beach, or, failing all that, waking up before dawn to sit in a quiet room for an hour to consider the course of your life.”

Running to the Mountain:A Midlife Adventure by Jon Katz

I collect books like Running to the Mountain, gobble them voraciously, read and reread them. They are the true stories of women, and the occasional man, who go off by themselves for an extended period of time, often to write and reflect. They always emerge transformed by their experiences.

I have dreamt of being one of those people for as long as I can remember. I still have the bucket list I wrote forty years ago at age eighteen. Number one on the list was “Write a book in a thatched roof cottage by the sea in Wales.” That dream has taken the number one spot on every bucket list since. It is my version of running to the mountain.

Why I Won’t Be Running to the Mountain Anytime Soon

When I share my bucket list desire, most people smile indulgently. But a sales clerk in a bookstore had a very different reaction. In my ongoing search for a book about someone who has done exactly what I want to do, I asked the clerk if she knew of any such titles. She backed away from me. In a voice tinged with terror, she said, “How could you say that to me? How could you know that’s my dream?”

I didn’t, of course, but I have since come to realize that I am not alone in my romantic vision of the solitary creative, writer or artist, making art while immersed in beauty.

Unfortunately, my dream won’t be happening in the foreseeable future. Within the last year, I’ve rescued two dogs. One of them, Shylah, is a highly sensitive mixed breed from Mexico. It took her months to recover from the flight from Mexico to Canada. I wouldn’t put her through another, and I’d never leave her for an extended time.

And then there’s the little matter of creature comforts. I didn’t realize that thatch smells; that thatched roof cottages available for rent are usually old, with uncomfortable antique furniture. In Running to the Mountain, Jon Katz writes about months spent waging war against mice and blood-sucking insects. No thank you. I have no interest in that, or the Welsh version of it.

And yet, the dream refuses to die. There’s something in it that calls to me. For now, I am content with my little octagonal art studio and sun-filled library on my own gorgeous property with its view of a pond rather than the sea. Someday though, who knows?

Do you have a place, a room or a corner that is special to you? Or maybe a dream of one? 



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  1. I think, Karen, you have found the perfect compromise (for now at least) of “going Walden” in your own home one day per week. Who knows where that will take you?
    I have a (somewhat scary) dream of going on a 10 day silent meditation retreat someday. There is one relatively near to where I live. But I wouldn’t be able to read or write during that time (the scary part), so I don’t know if I could do that.
    I’m looking for one of shorter duration, but they are farther away and costly – the 10 day Vipassana retreat is free.
    So I think I will follow your lead, and “run to the mountain” in the comfort of my own home, at least for now.


  2. That is scary, Deb. I’ve often wanted to try a silent meditation retreat but not being able to read or write would, I’m afraid, send me right over the edge. And for ten days, eesh. I’m afraid they’d have to take me out in a straitjacket. A shorter duration would definitely be the way to start, at least for me.

    Heather Erickson, in her A-Z post yesterday, mentioned a hermitage she goes to in northern Minnesota every year. It’s a pay as you choose, but they recommend $115 US for the night so with our exchange rates that gets expensive. But here’s the link in case you want to check it out -

    In the meantime, yes, running to the mountain at home is a great alternative especially if you can start using that beautiful rooftop patio this weekend.

  3. Hi Karen, I didn’t know that about thatched roofs. How about substituting it for a beach house in South Carolina. The beaches are beautiful and there are plenty of recently built homes that should be free of insect takeover. My escape, as you know, is my garden house. Frequently, I go there to just stand and take in the atmosphere.

    1. Your garden house/studio/coach house is stunning and very peaceful, Fran. It inspires creativity. Note: If anyone wants to see Fran’s space, she very kindly wrote a post about it, with photos, for the Tribe Stories section of Profound Journey –

      A beach house just about anywhere would probably do the trick. I have no idea why I locked in on Wales and the thatched roof cottage. I do suspect that if I do live this dream, it will be somewhere in North America. Wales is a heck of a long way to go to sit by the ocean and when I looked up things to do in Wales, it seems a very ‘back to nature’ kind of country – a good place to go for hiking etc, but not a lot in the way of art galleries and such.

  4. Damn reality! I love dreams like that, but often, it seems, there are hidden or unforeseen “issues.” My dream was always of being on Beaver Island, living the creative, back-to-nature lifestyle. I try to relish the fact that I AM living my dream, while also dealing with all of the unforeseen realities. Nice post, Karen, thank you!

    1. You are absolutely right, Cindy. I too am already living my dream – the life of a writer in a beautiful natural setting. I love a water view, and I have my pond and streams. I’d love to be near an ocean for the sound of the water, but I don’t actually find it peaceful or interesting to stare at large expanses of water, and it depresses me when the water looks grey and cold, as the ocean so often does. I also wouldn’t want to be battling the salt damage that happens when living too close to an ocean. And I wouldn’t want to be any place where there are lots of people around – rows of beach cottages. That’s hard to avoid.

      I have no idea what’s missing in my current life that is keeping me clinging to that dream. I hope I can figure it out soon so I can let go of that one, kick it off the bucket list.

    1. It just figures, doesn’t it?
      I ‘Go Walden’ now on Sundays – no tech. I just started it this month because of spending so much time at my computer for the A-Z challenge, but am enjoying it and may continue beyond the end of April.

  5. I dream of a space. Nothing fancy, but at the moment I share the office with Heckle and Jeckle so we are cramped (Jeckle and I can’t push our chairs backwards without warning the other we are doing so) and the cupboard is full of kid board games. One day they’ll move out, though, and then the space will be all mine (and I’ll probably miss them terribly). A bitter sweet moment for sure.

    1. You write so much and so well that I would have bet you had a wonderful environment for doing so. That’s how much I believe in the power of context … and how wrong I can be.

  6. That is a wonderful dream. I applied for a writer’s conference in Kenya one year–needed the scholarship which I didn’t get. How wonderful to sit amidst that feral world (it was in the wilds) and write. I bet as comments come in on this post, you’ll find lots of people share your dream.

  7. I think my “running to the mountain” space now is my attic space. Which is slowly coming together. I made the mistake of allowing hubby to “temporarily store some things in there”… it’s been 6 months of columns of boxes stacked three high. Last week, I went through and reorganized them into fewer columns only 2 high…was trying to eliminate them completely, but it’s really hard to discard his things without feeling huge guilt. But I bought the most amazing ottoman and have a comfy chair and reading lamp in one corner…my favorite books are on the shelves and soon a craft table will be unearthed (from the columns of boxes on and around). I’m looking forward to being almost in a tree-house (windows looking out)…and hoping it stimulates my creativity! Not a thatched roof; all the comforts just one floor down. Sweet! Fun post today.

    1. Your attic retreat sounds as if it will be wonderful, Pat. I love your idea of it as “almost a tree-house.” When those boxes are gone, I hope you’ll take some photos and do a post about your creative space.

  8. I would love a to ‘run to the mountain’ room of my own. I cannot tell you how many videos I have tried to make only to have hubby come in or out the front door (and it creaks to make it even worse) the light changes on the video and sometimes he is on his phone and talking…not realizing I am shooting video. One friend actually suggested I make a blooper video out of all those times to make people laugh. I am so jealous of his studio. All his musical stuff (guitars, amps, mixer, speakers, etc) is in there along with his computer- all he does is shut the door and make his videos.
    🙁 I have to use the living room/dining room to make my videos and unfortunately, it is a major traffic area. Gaaak!!
    My dream is a room of my own that I can close the door on and make videos with a sign posted outside the door that I can flip to alternate between SHOOTING VIDEO -DO NOT DISTURB and maybe a smiley face on the other side when I am just using my computer and don’t mind being interrupted. Given the space in this apartment that we live in, this will remain a dream. :-/

    1. Using the principle of “when faced with two choices, look for the third,” is there any possibility of turning hubby’s studio into the video studio, the space where either of you go to make your videos? It’s a shame to think of you not getting your dream when both of you make videos.

      1. Sadly, no, no chance of altering the current setup. I do however have ideas brewing on how to alter space elsewhere in the apartment to use as a studio for me. Plus, when hubby is working I have some peace and quiet to get some videos done. Thanks for the suggestion though and your concern. I appreciate it, Karen. 🙂

  9. I love the idea of being in a solitary retreat for a week or so. I’m not sure what I’d do the whole time but I would imagine it would involve hikes, writing , reading, and just being. A thatched roof cottage by the sea in Wales? Nope. I prefer a warmer location with a calm, warm sea and a broad sandy beach. Pure heaven.

  10. Your artist’s studio sounds wonderful! I had no idea that thatch smelled. And I never thought about the fact that antique furniture was uncomfortable. It’s so beautiful, I always thought it would be fun to collect antiques, piece by piece, but I think I’ll stick to arthritis-friendly furniture. It’s funny how our dreams change over time. Have a wonderful weekend!

    Facing Cancer with Grace

  11. I have what I call a Zen Room, more like a corner den type area in my house, with view of the street and bookcases on each side of the desk. Quiet compared to the rest of the house. Wish I could spend more time there, but life calls often. I’ve always wanted to go to a writer’s retreat. I hear of them from writer friends — a small cabin by the river or out in Yosemite. Not yet, but like you, Karen, one day, I hope. Lovely that the store clerk had/has the same dream as you. Her reaction must’ve been priceless.

    1. The store clerk’s reaction was indeed priceless, Silvia. She looked at me as if I had six heads, none of them recognizable as human.
      Maybe someday in the distant future we’ll meet up at a writer’s retreat. Now that would be priceless.

  12. Well, it sure looks like there are more people with that dream than you – or I – thought. My version of your “Write a book in a thatched roof cottage by the sea in Wales” is “Spend a year in Hawaii writing a book in a modest house that’s off the grid.” I’ve never made a bucket list, but this item has been on my mental list for a decade or so. Now, as I”m writing my book in the midst of mental and physical chaos, I truly believe that writing in a peaceful place is much easier.

    Why couldn’t you retreat, with the dogs, to a cottage in the woods in Canada for one complete summer? Just make sure it isn’t with a wood stove and there’s plumbing and electricity. And some other creature comforts. I think that’s a feasible dream.

    1. Oooh, I could get behind a year in Hawaii or, as a Canadian, a few months in Hawaii. I’ve been to the big island and loved, loved, loved it.
      You’re absolutely right about the Canadian cottage in the woods or even beach house on the ocean, east or west. A very feasible dream. I need to start imagining that one to the same extent that I have been dreaming of the Welsh cottage. I can do that 🙂 Thanks, Liesbet.

  13. There is an island off the west coast of Scotland that I have fantasised about retreating too. I don’t think i’d last long though. You can take the girl out of the city …

    1. I don’t know if it’s off the west coast of Scotland, but I’ve read of people retreating on Iona. It’s apparently a very special place. Have you been there, Anabel?

    1. Thanks, Sue. Unfortunately, that’s the problem – I too can clearly picture myself in that darn thatched roof cottage in Wales, and since I’m usually pretty bad at visualizing, the dream is staying with me. It might happen, or I might get good at a whole new visualization. I’ll keep you posted.

  14. Karen, I think the best way to get this dream off the number one spot on your bucket list is to go and do it. There are many cottages by the sea, in Wales and elsewhere, and you can find them by looking at Airbnb or VRBO listings. I am sure you could find something just right. The dogs will be fine under someone else’s care for a week.

    I also plan to do this one day. The destination I dream of is to have one of the little writer/artist retreat cabins at Banff Centre of the Arts for a week. Banff Centre is in the mountains in a beautiful location. The little cabins are on the grounds surrounded by trees, but when you want food, you just have to walk over to a cafeteria or cafe in one of the other buildings. There are art galleries and musical events there too.

    I actually sort of did a writer’s retreat once. It was not solitary but with two friends. We rented a cabin by a river for a weekend. Although we did more talking and wine drinking than actual writing, it was an amazing weekend.


    1. Hi Jude,
      There’s no question that I eventually will do my writers retreat, although it will likely be to a place in North America where I can take my dogs. Unfortunately it’s not the case that they’d be fine with someone else for a week, at least not yet. Toffee would have no problem. Shylah would run away or, failing the opportunity, pine away. Although she is making huge leaps of progress, she is an incredibly sensitive dog who has bonded only with me. She is afraid of my mother who lives in the house with me.

      I’ve seen the Banff Centre of the Arts and photos of the Leighton Artist Colony retreat spaces on the property. It is gorgeous and would be a great place for a retreat if you only wanted to go for a week. I want at least twice that so cost would be prohibitive.

      Here’s to both of us living our writer’s retreat dream. As you say, it’s in the plans to do one day for sure so I probably shouldn’t call it a dream, maybe more a ‘vision’ defined as a dream with a plan.

  15. It’s funny how the dream and the reality don’t always mesh. We stayed in a beautiful thatched roof villa in Bali for our daughter’s wedding. But at night there were mice running around – they loved the openness of the thatch and getting up to chase a mouse that ran across your bed sheets isn’t my idea of long term bliss. I think I’d also miss my husband if I went off to a cottage by myself (though I did have a picture in my head of my dream cottage when he used to annoy me more than he does now!)

    Leanne |
    S for Stop Procrastinating

    1. I forgot about the mice. Yuck! I’d read that mice are really attracted to thatch.
      Okay, that does it, Leanne. Thank you. The thatched roof cottage dream is officially being replaced by a different sort of writer’s retreat, one where no mice are allowed.

  16. I think I already ran to the mountain – and here I am which for the most part is fine with me though sometimes …
    I have been on several retreats – the longest was 7 days of silence on a sacred mountain not far from me. the first time I did one I wondered how I would be without a book to read – that kinda makes me feel ill – so I snug one with me but found I could do without it. I could write though because journaling was deemed ok so that satisfied that part of me. I actually loved it – it felt like I had given a most precious gift to myself.

    1. That’s right. You did already run to the mountain. I find your lifestyle fascinating, Sandra, and am greedy to know more, more, more – of the good parts and the bad.
      I could do a multi-day silent retreat if journaling were allowed. If it weren’t, I think I’d go out of my mind.

  17. I dream of various places, and try to realize them via my travel. I’ve read your next post on curiosity. I think my curiosity creates my dream places and I look for ways to run to them. Does this make sense? Thank you, Karen, for these wonderful posts.

    1. Makes perfect sense, Natalie. And I’m going to suggest, as I did in response to Jude, that you don’t actually have dreams, Natalie. You have visions – dreams with plans. It’s super impressive that you regularly turn your dreams into reality.

  18. Ah Karen – I’ve done the 30-day silent retreat and an annual 8-day retreat for 12 other years. I then jumped into raising 3 wonderful children – and am now an empty nester with lots of quiet time on my hands Fri-Sun. In other words, I’ve experienced the best of both worlds. And I’d have to say that perhaps the very fact that you aren’t letting your dream make you resent your current reality is the key to embracing both until something shifts to make your dream your reality.

  19. I can’t even begin to imagine a 30 day silent retreat, Janet. Were you able to journal or read during that time? I’m sure I’d find even 8 days really challenging if I didn’t have an outlet for recording my thoughts.

  20. I love this post, because I’ve had those writer dreams, too. Not Wales per se, but an equally idyllic writer spot, preferably near the ocean. But that’s not in the cards for me right now, either. So I recently rearranged the area in my home where I try to do my “real” writing, and it feels like a very welcoming, productive space now.

    It’s so great that you are very dedicated to your dogs. That says a lot!

    1. Hi Jenny,
      Good for you for arranging your environment so that it is conducive to your ‘real’ writing. I think, at the end of the day, that’s what’s important – to have the space that supports who you are and that allows you to express the fullness of your identity in whatever way is most meaningful to you.
      Thanks for what you said about my dogs.

  21. It’s been interesting to read this post and the comments. It seems that you’ve already created an environment perfect for your needs – and then took the actions necessary to ensure you stayed there (ie Shylah) 🙂

    My thoughts of “Running to the Mountain” have never been specific – more of an undefined yearning than a specific dream. The one thing I do know for sure is that it would never be one of these quiet retreats. That would make me insane.

    1. Ooh, this is spooky, Joanne. Over the last couple of days, your second sentence has been beating a drum in my brain – and that’s before you wrote it. Thank you for pointing out and emphasizing this Aha moment. I woke at 4:00 this morning, sat up in bed with my journal, and wrote about what it is that I think somewhere else would give me that I don’t already have right here.
      It ended up having nothing to do with a water view, I actually don’t love looking at great expanses of water for extended periods of time. I love the sound of lapping water, but could buy that on a CD (and might). What I realized I’m really looking for is a time out of routine – a time to feel that I am more fully inhabiting the moment, more aware of my life while I am living it. A time without obligations or commitments to anyone. That’s an inner change, not a scenery change – and it’s achievable here and now, not in some distant future beach house.
      Thank you so much for your astute observation, Joanne.

    1. I went to Scotland when I was 12 and fell in love with all things Scottish, especially the castles. I came home wanting to be renamed Heather. Heather Hume – now there’s a mouthful 🙂
      Thanks for commenting, Cathi. I hope you have the opportunity of visiting Scotland. I’d like to see Ireland too – maybe we’ll end up being there at the same time. Stranger things have happened.

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