One Safe Place

“Everybody talks about some fateful day
And I guess that this was mine
I may be here to tell some kind of story
But I think it’s gonna take a little time”

–       Ghost Train, Marc Cohn

I spent a good portion of the week with an acute case of the birthday “blahs”. I spent the day wondering how much longer I’d be able to say I was in my “mid” twenties, and started wondering if I had accomplished enough in my first quarter century. Fortunately, I had a concert to look forward to.

Last night, Kim I went to see Marc Cohn perform at the Aladdin Theater.  I’ve mentioned him on this blog before, but for those unfamiliar, he’s best known as the guy who sings Walking in Memphis. Yes, this was our second Portland concert in which we were the youngest people in the audience by 20 years. Fine by me. There will be plenty of time to see some younger artists.

Marc was going to go with a Justin Bieber haircut, but went with this look instead.

Cohn is a talented and nostalgic songwriter with such a profound respect for the power of soul and blues music that most are surprised to learn that the man behind the voice is a white Jew from the suburbs of Cleveland. His self-titled album, his first and his best, was one of the most-played CDs in my household growing up. My dad used to accompany Marc with back-up vocals as he prepared dinner, and I distinctly remember my mom softly swaying her head to the lyrics with her eyes-closed. Every song on the album is image-laden and deeply personal.

Years later, in college, I was driving to the Lewisburg farmers market in my green Jeep Cherokee with a cute blonde in the passenger’s seat. It was the early spring of my senior year, and I had only been dating Kim for about a couple weeks. I was hyper-aware that every gesture, joke, song choice would inform her in impression of me. When Cohn’s True Companion starting coming through my speakers, I was nervous she’d find me saccharine and overly sensitive. After all, was tune about finding the love of your life. To my relief, Kim turned to me and said, “I love Marc Cohn!” It was one of the many moments that spring that I realized Kim and I would be together for a long time.

Given our long history, I had expectations for the show last night. Early on, I was worried that a letdown might be in store. Cohn began his set seated at the piano with Ghost Train, a personal favorite, then began Perfect Love, when he promptly broke his guitar. While his stage crew scurried about trying to find a replacement, the 51 year-old Cohn told us he was battling a larynx infection, and was doing his best to put on a show anyway.

Fortunately for us, Marc and his band proved to be a group of wily veterans. I should have known better, considering that five years ago, Marc survived a botched carjacking in which he was shot in the head (no I’m not kidding). A bad cold kind of pales in comparison.

The band carried on with some great covers, including Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic and The Box Tops’ The Letter. On The Letter, Cohn and band-mate Shane Fontayne (sweet name, right?) broke into a stunning guitar duel. These old guys could still wail.

My favorite part of the evening was when Cohn shared the origin story behind his calling card, Walking in Memphis. Marc was 25 years old and depressed that he hadn’t written a hit yet. He knew that James Taylor wrote Fire and Rain when he was only 20, and that most musicians’ careers were halfway over by 25. Cohn read an interview with Taylor, in which he discussed his process for overcoming writer’s block. James suggested taking a “geographic”, a trip to some place completely new.  Cohn said he immediately started booking flights to places with rich musical histories, the first of which was to Memphis. He did Graceland and other touristy things, but also visited Reverend Al Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle Church, and performed gospel music with an elderly woman named Muriel at the Hollywood Café. Cohn said that while he’s Jewish, he felt something of a spiritual awakening during his time in Tennessee. The trip provided inspiration not only for Walking in Memphis, but for most of his first hit album. Muriel didn’t live to see Marc’s success, but he did have a chance to play his songs for her. She said she liked the one in which she was mentioned the best. She wasn’t alone.

Cohn’s performance of Walking in Memphis included a novel interlude with lines from blues classics like Midnight Hour, but retained its original luster. I guess your mid-twenties isn’t too late for a big break.

An encore included a heartfelt rendition of True Companion to end the night on a sentimental note, and Kim and I ventured out into the rain in search of a bus back across the river to northwest Portland. I couldn’t help but smile thinking about Marc’s quip earlier in the evening that, “if you hear a reference to rain and a mode of transportation, you’re probably listening to a Marc Cohn song.”

This morning I woke up to delicious homemade waffles and a brand spanking new digital SLR camera: the ultimate birthday present. Maybe this will be the year I write my opus. It’s certainly off to a great start.


I can haz a job?

Mid way through October, I was concerned with mentally preparing myself for the rainy season. I was also trying to reassure myself that moving to Oregon without a job or a long-term plan was a good idea. I expected to spend 4 to 8 months looking for work in a rough job market, but I was starting question whether my expectations were more optimistic than pragmatic.

Two weeks, a visit from an old friend, four interviews, and hours of research later, I find myself with an honest-to-goodness full-time job. What’s more, I landed a job that has me genuinely excited and inspired. I’m thrilled to say that as of Friday, I’m the newest member of the International Living Building Institute! I spent my sunny Friday afternoon walking home feeling something like this. It was one of those brief, elusive moments of victory that make life so fun. I did my best to savor it.

my new office building.

Now that I’m rejoining the working ranks, I’d like to thank my parents, my bro, my friends, my former colleagues, and everyone else who has sent me love and support from the east coast since Kim and I moved out here. You guys are terrific.

With a Halloween costume party to attend Saturday night, Kim and I didn’t have much time to celebrate. Instead we drove to a crafts store to buy materials for a couple of goofy homemade costumes. I decided to be Ray Lewis from his recent Old Spice commercial (the one where he’s wearing a uniform made of soap suds and rides a mechanical raven into outer space). Kim went with a much more modest version of the phoenix from Kanye West’s “Runaway” music video.  My fake soap material turned into a fluffy, hot glue-infused mess, so I eventually had to scrap the costume in favor of an old standby. Kim’s phoenix was a success though, and we had a great time at the party.

Sadly, I couldn't keep it together.

Our friends Liz and Andy took us to their buddy’s massive house in south Portland. The house was decked out with a haunted basement, a bonfire, hay bales, a DJ, and about a hundred costumed guests. We saw a handful of Chilean miners, a few Jersey Shore cast members, Gumby & Pokey, a satyr, a chicken, Harry Potter, and even Salvador Dali, just to name a few. I wish I had pictures, but amidst the stress of trying to salvage my original costume, I forgot to pack my camera.

Ahh, another great October come and gone. I’ve had a lovely fall, but I can’t help but feel like this year shifted into overdrive at some point in September. This year, I feel as if autumn has brought more change than usual for me and for my family. There has plenty of cause for excitement, as well as trepidation (but at least it hasn’t been boring).

Now it’s November, and just like every year, I’ll be too distracted by my upcoming birthday to notice that fall has dissolved into the cold, drizzly beginning of winter. Though this year, I think November weather will stick with me through spring. Now that I know I’ll have a steady source of income, it’s time to start planning a warm weather vacation.


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!