Hi there,

I apologize for being a bit of a deadbeat blogger lately. I’ve had an exceptionally busy week, and I haven’t had much time to come up with a comic.  Still, I wanted to take a second and wish everyone a happy Halloween, a happy Rally to Restore Sanity/Keep Fear Alive, and/or a happy Bucknell Homecoming. If are three better reasons to wish I was back on the east coast this weekend, I can’t think of them.

Because I’m tired and I can’t think of a better idea, here’s a nostalgic look at my jack-o-lanterns over the years:

Also, a song that puts me in the Halloween spirit:
Buddy Guy and Carlos Santa perform “I Put a Spell on You”.

Have fun this weekend everyone!





Kim and I had our first visitor from our life on the east coast last week. Patty O’Malley, my fraternity brother, close friend, and certified rolling stone, showed up at our door with full-sized hiking packs draped over both his back and chest. He had just completed a backpacking and hitchhiking adventure from Skagway, Alaska, and through the Yukon Territory, British Columbia, and Washington. Pat’s hair was a shaggy red mop, a startling departure from the buzz cut I remembered. We hugged as best we could give the packs that enveloped his frame. We were two sights for two sets of sore eyes.

Along with our friend Kyle, Pat and I spent our first September after college taking part in a cycling adventure across America. Together, we teamed up with two elder Bucknell alumni and learned a great deal about ourselves and about just how much of the world we had yet to discover. Afterward, we shared a house in Washington, DC, and struggled to transition into drudgery of job-hunting, entry-level work. Pat and Kyle cut loose from the corporate career track after a year and a half, and moved to Colorado, their favorite state from our bike trip. From there, Pat’s wanderlust took him on a world tour, including stints in Ireland, Costa Rica, and most recently, Alaska, where he served as a cycling tour guide for the “Newlyweds, Half-deads, and Over-feds” that stopped in from their cruises.

My path to our reunion in Portland was slightly less dramatic. Back in DC, I weighed my restlessness against the merits of my job, then entered the nadir of a national recession and questioned the wisdom of leaving what most would consider a solid place in life. I had traveled abroad in college, which was an incredibly enriching experience, but I wondered if spending more time gallivanting to new places was tantamount to broadening my horizons, or just eluding life’s responsibilities. After all, romanticizing the importance and the joy of travel is easy. Reconciling those traits with the desire to be self-sufficient and productive is more difficult; and doing so with, while keeping in mind the dreams and desires of the person you love is harder still. In the end, Kim and I were lucky to share the same desire to explore live on the west coast, and we took the plunge together. I’d like to say we were full-fledged Portlanders by the time Pat showed up, but the truth is we probably won’t be able to make that claim until we’ve experienced the winter “blahs”.

Pretty trees on our street.

After getting Pat set up with a hot shower and a clean, warm (air mattress) bed and a good night’s sleep, Pat and I caught up on each other’s adventures over the course of a run in Forest Park and a local tour of Portland’s microbrews. Kim and were tied with work and job interviews during the week, but Pat had fun exploring our humble little city on his own.

I had Friday off, so the two of us hopped in the car and headed for the coast. The unseasonably warm and dry fall weather continued through the week and we were treated to beautiful fall colors through the passes of the coastal range along the way.  We hiked in down to the ocean at Cannon Beach and enjoyed some rare beach-side sunshine before heading south on the 101. Our brief coastal tour took us down to Tillamook (where they make the cheese!), before we turned back inland.

Pat at Crescent Beach

We took route 6 through Tillamook state forest—a new endeavor both of us—and zipped up the road while peering down to the beautiful Wilson River. I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and pulled over at a nondescript turnout so we could try and find a way down to the water. I was hoping to take some pictures and enjoy a little more time outside.  We ended up having to blaze our own trail to the water, but were rewarded by a large section of rocky shoreline along a crystal clear blue section of river.

The two of us observed thumbnail-sized toads hopping around the rocks, then amused ourselves by heaving chunks of driftwood in to the water and racing them through a section of rapids. Before long, we found ourselves immersed in outdoor games I first played in Tohickon Creek as a child in Bucks County. My mind drifted between thoughts of my hometown and the joy of the moment as we skipped stones in attempt to beat my unofficial world record of nine skips. I spied a football-sized hole in a log on the river’s far shore, and decided the final leg of our “Creek Games” would consist of a cross-water stone throwing accuracy challenge. Pat and I spent what felt like the better part of an hour throwing stones with no success. Growing up, I usually played these games my coordinated older brother, or my uber-athletic best friend, so I was conditioned to expect defeat. I was surprised to win on a lucky shot, but we both just kept on throwing for the hell of it. Back in the car, I sat in awe at the simplicity of some of life’s pleasures. I was 3,000 miles from my familiar surroundings in Pennsylvania and DC, yet I felt right at home with little more than a true friend and a pile of stones.

Wilson River

The next morning, I noticed my throwing shoulder was a little tight as Kim and I drove Pat to the airport. I wondered if I was already reaching the point were my mind was more spry than my body. Kim and I hugged our buddy before he headed off for more reunions in Colorado, then Pittsburgh, and eventually Lewisburg for Homecoming at Bucknell. In a week of sharing the life I built with Kim here in Portland with a friend that knew better than most where we were coming from and where we hope to go, I felt as if I experienced a homecoming of my own—right here in my new playground.

Song of the week: “Generator – first floor” by the Freelance Whales
This song really fit the mood of my little Oregon Coast tour with Pat. It probably should be a late addition to the fall music playlist. Check out their NPR mini-concert performance here.

Journey to the Center of the State

Quick, east coasters, name another city in Oregon aside from Portland. If you know your capitals, you might say Salem. If you’re a big enough college football fan, you might offer Eugene or Corvallis (Ducks and Beavers, respectively). I was the same way until I picked up an issue of Outside magazine a few years ago. In the magazine’s annual “America’s Best Towns” issue, I read a profile on the town of Bend, OR.  A destination for skiers, hikers, mountain bikers, trail runners, and fishermen, the article positioned Bend as the outdoor sport capital of the Northwest.

I kept that article in mind as Kim and I conducted our initial research when we decided to move west. I assumed finding a job in a smaller town like Bend would be a foolhardy endeavor, so I turned my focus toward Portland (not that the job market is flourishing here). I love Portland, and I think it’s the prefect blend of urban life and exposure to the outdoors, but I was still determined to get to Bend this weekend and finally compare my perceptions with reality. I was bent on Bend.

One of many organic coffee shops in Bend

Beyond Bend, central Oregon in general, piqued my interest. A state of contrasts, Oregon features a rugged coastline, rain-soaked temperate forests in the western Coastal and Cascade ranges, the fertile Willamette Valley, and vast, flat expanses of steppe and desert in the east and south. Central Oregon is only three hours from Portland, but the has an entirely different climate and culture. Kim and I both had Friday off, and we figured the timing and weather was right to do some exploring.

On Thursday night, we were researching possible campsites, but found out the expended low for the next evening in the Cascades was in the twenties. I’ve been too cold to sleep on past hiking trips, and I was pretty positive I never wanted to do it again. A day hike would suffice.

We filled our daypacks early Friday morning and hit the Portland highways with the morning commuters. It didn’t take long for the outlet malls to transition into farmland and vineyards. Eventually, the clouds burned off and we set our sights on our alpine destination as we turned east. Once we reached the base of the mountain, we rolled past the massive Detroit Lake and its hydro power station. Kim and I got out to take some pictures and were amazed at how cool and crisp the mountain air felt.

About a half hour later, we entered a section of Deschutes National Forest that had been scorched by a massive forest fire in 2003. The mountainside was lined with both the ashen skeleton frames of pine trees, and groves of vivid red, orange, and yellow maple saplings and bushes. It seemed as if we looking at a black and white photograph, with exaggerated color added only to the brush.

Kim and I moved right along to our destination on the eastern side of the mountains, the Tam McArthur Rim trail. The 5-mile trip started in rarified air at 6,550 feet and climbed to 8,000 feet. Along with the altitude, the dryness of the air, and the sparse pine forests reminded me of hiking in Boulder. We crossed into the Three Sisters Wilderness on the trail, and continued on to a viewpoint at the edge of the rim plateau.  From there we could see the prominent Cascade peaks to the north, as well as the strikingly green Three Creek Lake below. After doubling back down the trail, we hopped back in our Zipcar to catch a glimpse Bend before dusk.

Kim hiking with Broken Top mountain in the background

Top of the rim with Three Creek Lake below

Kim and I arrived in town just in time to enjoy a coffee in Drake Park along the Deschutes, followed by a sunset stroll down Wall Street. Bend was beautiful and quaint, as advertised. Like Colorado mountain villages, Bend sports a majestic backdrop of snow-capped mountains—only fewer of them. Three peaks, known as the Three Sisters, dominate the landscape and invite Oregonians from every corner of the state to come play outside. We only stayed in Bend for a few hours, but I was excited at the prospect of returning for an occasional escape from the wet winter doldrums once they arrive in Portland. All I have to do now is learn how to ski.

Weekends in Review

To quote the old lady at the deli counter earlier today, “the weather is upon us.”

I just endured my first weekend of near-nonstop rain in Portland. The weather had been cool but sunny all week, and next week looks great too, but unfortunately Kim and I were relegated to two days indoors and off the mountain trails. On the bright (yet boring) side, we made some headway on our important grown-up business of grad school research, studying, and job applications.

I also watched Pet Sematary for the first time. I can remember being terrified of the book jacket on the copy of Pet Sematary that sat on my mom’s bookshelf. That’s right, I was scared of a book. At least I can admit it. There was an evil hell-cat on the cover that had fluorescent green eyes. Above the cat a creepy man stood on the horizon of a graveyard.

In addition to my night terrors, this book is also responsible for my chronic misspelling of the word "cemetery".

As I grew older, I eventually read and enjoyed some of Stephen King’s books, but I always steered clear of Pet Sematary. We just had a bad history. After last night, I can finally say that the story, or at least the adapted screenplay, was pretty great. Although, it had far less to do with pets than I anticipated. Also, Kim told me the cute little toddler in the movie reminded her of my nephew Jude.  If you’ve seen the film, you know why that turned out to be one of the morbidly backhanded compliments of all time. Thanks Kim, now I’m scared of my own nephew.

Since we didn’t get to do much exploring, I figured now would be an opportune time to take a look back at some of the trips that slipped through the metaphorical blog cracks, the “crogs” if you will.

September camping trip on the coast

Kim and I joined our friend Liz for a late summer beach camping excursion on the coast. We were just south of Astoria, the port town situated at the mouth of the Columbia River, at the northwest-most tip of Oregon.  We planned on sleeping right on the beach, but ended up chickening out about breaking park rules. We settled for a nice ocean-side bonfire under the stars, after which we camped half a mile up the road. Just as good.

A sunset trip to Multnomah Falls

On the last day of Kim’s brother’s visit, the Dunlap clan and I drove out to Multnomah Falls, the signature waterfall of the Portland area. It plunges an impressive 620 feet from its origin on Larch Mountain. There’s also an iconic bridge from which you can view the falls. It’s a dream destination for nature photographers and lazy sightseers, because it’s located about 100 feet from Interstate 84.

An “In-town” hike in Forest Park.

One of Portland’s greatest virtues is its emphasis on urban parks and open spaces. I think its the main reason Portland is a great city for people who don’t like cities. The Northwest neighborhood, where Kim and I live, happens to be adjacent to Forest Park, one of the largest urban forest reserves in the United States. This translates to endless hiking, running, and mountain biking trails a mile from our doorstep. It comes in handy on weekends when Kim and I don’t get our acts together to drive out to the coast or the Cascades. Here a shot of the remnants of an old stone house just off the Wildwood Trail.

UPDATE: I just wanted to thank those that made some great suggestions for great autumn driving music.  Also, I wanted to tell anyone who was intrigued by my past post on Country Gold’s attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail: you can now make a donation to his effort via PayPal. Every little bit helps!

One of Life’s Burning Questions Answered

I grew up in rural little village. I’d say town, but I don’t think Pipersville, Pennsylvania qualifies. It has a post office, a library the size of a railroad car, an inn, and one four-way stop intersection. There couldn’t have been more than 80 people living in Pipersville when I was growing up, and I’d guess 80 percent of that population was over the age to 80.

To pass the time my brother and I played outside a lot, but we also watched a fair amount of TV. It took a long time for basic cable to reach our neck of the woods, so we usually finagled the TV antennae at the precise angles necessary to get a reception for channel 13, FOX.  The other options for after school TV included the News or Wheel of Fortune, so we opted for the line-up of Cheers, Star Trek: Next Generation, and The Simpsons.

These days my mom can appreciate intelligent satire buried beneath the crude humor of The Simpsons, but when I was a kid, I think she was wary that I’d take too many queues from Bart’s behavior. She barely tolerated me watching it. In fact, thinking back on it, I can imagine her making Marge’s signature groan/sigh of helpless disapproval. (I think it was the Halloween episode based on Edgar Allen Poe’s “ The Raven” that finally won her over. There’s no better way to win the heart of an English teacher than with an allusion to poetry.)

As a boy, I’m sure most of the insightful social commentary in The Simpsons went straight over my head while I was busy laughing at Bart’s harassment of Principal Skinner or Homer’s eating habits. Still, I enjoyed the subtle running jokes and gags that endured through the years. My favorite may have been the mystery of Springfields’s location. I thought it was brilliant that the writers never revealed where in America Springfield was set.  In the recent Simpsons movie, Lisa points out Springfield’s location on a map, but her head obscures the audience’s view of her hand.

When I moved to Portland this past summer, I suppose I was looking for a little clarity on some of life’s bigger questions; namely, what do I want to do with my life? Instead, I learned something perhaps even more significant. Springfield is set in northwest Oregon. The evidence is hard to refute. Simpsons writer Matt Groening grew up in Portland, and he drew inspiration from his surroundings. For example:

1.  The street names

  • Burns:
    • city in Oregon. {ds} [Monty Burns]
    • but FAR away from Portland. {av}
  • Lovejoy:
    • One of two founders of Portland, A.J. Lovejoy [Rev. Lovejoy]
    • street in NW Portland.
  • Montgomery:
    • street in SW Portland. [Monty Burns]
  • Quimby:
    • Street in NW Portland.
  • Seymour:
    • street in SW Portland. [Seymour Skinner]
  • Skinner:
    • pioneer Eugene Skinner founded Eugene, OR in 1853.
  • Terwilliger:
    • boulevard in SW Portland. [Sideshow Bob]
  • Van Houten:
    • street in N Portland. [Milhouse]
  • Wayland:
    • street in N Portland. [W. Smithers]

2. The Landscape

  • Springfield Gorge
    • The Columbia Gorge is only about 20 miles east of Portland. Growing up in eastern Pennsylvania, I wasn’t really sure what gorge was. In fact, I still can’t think of many gorges outside Columbia. Unless of course Springfield is actually Ithica, NY?
  • Waterfalls
    • I remember Homer and Bart hiking together through pine forests and Homer falling down a waterfall. Sounds like the Pacific Northwest to me.
  • Mount Springfield
    • The massive volcanic mountain near Springfield bears a striking resemblance to Mount Hood.
  • The Ocean
    • Multiple episodes feature the ocean, so we can only be dealing with a certain number of coastal states.

3. The Western Settlement

  • Everyone knows that Jebediah Springfield founded Springfield in the 1800s. This means that the town is likely west of the Mississippi. I also makes sense that I pioneer like Jebediah would end up somewhere near the end of the Oregon Trail.

4. The Sky

  • A neighbor recently pointed out that the clouds in Portland roll through the sky, parting and convening swiftly, in a way similar to the opening credits of The Simpsons. This might be the most convincing argument of all. As a kid, I always thought those long, lumpy clouds looked weird and unrealistic. It all makes sense to me now that I’m living under the same clouds that first inspired Matt Groening.

Of course, part of the fun of The Simpsons, and in having an animated set, is that everything is made up, and every rule can be broken to achieve the ultimate goal of sillines. That’s why the West Springfield desert can be three times the size of Texas. It’s also how New Flanders can get away with saying that Springfield’s state borders Ohio, Nevada, Maine, and Kentucky. Springfield is in Oregon, but it’s also in every other state. Springfield is Anytown, USA. Maybe that’s part of the secret to the show’s mass appeal and longevity. Plus, if Springfield was in Portland, two thirds of the episodes would take place on rainy days.

The “Autumn Drive to the Country” Playlist

Like many members of my egocentric generation, I always want to pick the music. I’m an i-pod DJ and I think I’m pretty decent at it, just like everybody else. I tend to put exorbitant amounts of time into crafting playlists. Halloween, a wine and cheese party, a drive to my hometown, a weekend with visiting college buddies; there’s an ideal playlist for these and thousands of other occasions.  Maybe I take such care when crafting playlists because I resent not knowing how to make music of my own. Who knows.  I do know that I seethe when someone unplugs my i-pod to play an entire Katy Perry album.

Last weekend, I made a playlist for my drive from Portland out to a trail head on Mount Hood.  Autumn is my favorite time of year, what with the leaves and the football and the apple cider, and I feel as if some music just fits the mood of the season. I tried to find a good balance of new music, recent favorites, and classics that I grew up with.  I omitted a bunch of “old stand-by” road trip tunes in favor of mixing things up a bit. I can only listen to “Take it Easy” so many times.

Here’s what I went with:

Wish You Well – Bernard Fanning
This Aussie hit neatly sums up the emotions of leaving folks behind to embark on a journey, or being left behind. Cool music video too, but don’t watch it as you’re driving.

Shadow People – Dr. Dog
Move along. This song plays out like it should being playing in a car as it rolls slowly through a dreary Rust-Belt town, which makes sense, because the Dr. Dog hails from Philadelphia. I just feel like leaving town whenever I hear the chorus.

Sprawl II (Mountains beyond mountains) – Arcade Fire
These days any road trip that starts in an urban area and ends in the woods takes you through an eerie moonscape of shopping malls and housing developments with ironic names that describe the very environments they’re displacing. This song encapsulates the unsettling feeling we get when we see them.

Darkness on the Edge of TownBruce Springsteen
Anyone with two parents from Jersey is required by state law to include a Springsteen album in every playlist. I don’t make the rules.  Believe it or not, the Boss is a major influence for those Canadian elves in Arcade Fire.  Plus at this point in the trip, we’re on the edge of town (Get it?). Unless you’re in LA or an east coast city. Then you’re probably stuck in traffic three miles from your apartment

Going Missing – Maximo Park
Ever feel like your head’s going to explode if you don’t stop the stressful stuff you’re doing immediately and go for a run or a hike? I hope I’m not the only one.  This up-tempo Brit rock number is great for those instances.

The Comedown – Black Gold
This song reminds me of the Beegees, then Carly Simon, and then The Beatles. Yea, I know that’s weird. Even weirder,  it works.

Got My Mojo Working – Muddy Waters
Now we’re getting somewhere. That’s some mean harmonica, Muddy. May I call you Muddy?

Just Couldn’t Tie Me Down – The Black Keys
The title says it all, though I could have picked any song from the Rubber Factory album. Every song on it rocks. Hard.  I’m proud to have discovered it back 2005, in Dunedin, New Zealand of all places. The Rubber Factory album got its name because it was in fact record in an abandoned rubber factory in Akron, OH.  The tracks are as gritty and rugged as trails I was traveling with my friends when I first fell in love with the band.

Tramping in the Southern Alps of NZ

Little Lion Man – Mumford & Sons
When I hear this song, I feel like I’m in the dingy back room of a parlor in the 19th century England, where people are betting on a bare-knuckle boxing match. The driving beat makes for excellent fast-driving music.

Miles Away – Marc Cohn
Time to settle things down a bit. Yep, he’s the guy that sings “Walking in Memphis” (not Billy Joel or Bruce Springsteen, which you might have thought if you downloaded that song off Napster in the early 2000s). My parents love him, and so do I. A little bit country, a little bit soul, Cohns’s voice is as distinctive as it is smooth. I love this song because it embodies the joy of being out of touch and off the grid, unencumbered by the responsibilities of home.

No Intention – Dirty Projectors
Dirty Projectors is just different. The guitar in this track has a sitar-like twang to it, which is strangely pacifying to me. It also makes driving on sun-dappled country roads extra serene.

This Dance is Out of Your Hands – The Steelwells
I love the opening line. I also love the chorus harmony the invites you to wail along.

Unkown Legend – Neil Young
My parents used to love playing the Harvest Moon album. As a child I think this song gave me my first lesson in the power of imagery in writing.  Every time I listen to the lyrics, I briefly consider buying a motorcycle.

Everlasting Light – The Black Keys
Because every guy needs to practice his falsetto from time to time, and there’s not better time than when you’re in a car by yourself. TBK is big-time now, with a new, sleekly produced album and songs appearing in Honda commercials and NFL telecasts. Still, their sound remains a potent mix of rock and blues. Unfortunately, they, along with industry, LeBron James, and hope, have decided to abandon Northeast Ohio.

Goin’ Down – Freddie King
Welcome to Blues School. This is Caterwauling 101.  This is Freddie King and he’ll be your instructor today.

Give Me One Reason (live) – Tracy Chapman feat. Eric Clapton
It’s impossible to resist singing along to this blues classic.  Want to make a sweet song even better? Add some Clapton.

Life is Beautiful – Keb’ Mo’
A song that makes me think, if for just one day in my life, my voice could sound any way I wanted, I think I’d want to sound like this.  Either Keb’Mo’, or lead singer of Styx.  These are also some of the most sanguine lyrics of all time.

Solsbury Hill – Peter Gabriel
Great track for drives though rolling landscapes. Also great if you’re producing a movie trailer for a heartfelt romantic comedy.

Home – Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes
Sports an “Old Western”  rhythm that makes me imagine my compact Scion Zipcar is an Ox-led covered wagon. I also like imagining what John Wayne-style cowboys would have thought of the members of this 10-person ensemble of dreadlocked hippies.

Ragged Wood – Fleet Foxes
Based on the lyrics, this song might be a better fit for the trip home, but you get the point.

Copperline – James Taylor
Ah James, the original American troubadour. Taylor’s voice is unmistakable. He could sing the Free Credit Report dot com song and I’d get choked up. Hearing Copperline puts me in a good place this time of year. Makes me think of hot apple cider.

Baylor's Lake (PA) in Autumn

Golden Autumn Day – Van Morrison
The entire album Back on Top is perfect for rural drives as the leaves come falling down.  I’m transported to my family’s cabin in Northeast Pennsylvania every time I hear it. This is an ideal track for the long meandering back roads to the trailhead. Partly because of the soothing sax and harmonica solos, and partly because it kills six minutes.

Baylor's Lake Cabin in October

And that’s about it. Now it’s your turn. Write me a comment and let me know what song you’d add.