Sometimes I have a great notion

No, I’m not snorting a line. Not right at that moment, anyway. …
Photo 1981 by Tom Warren | Corvallis Gazette-Times

Somehow I never thought of Oregon as a place that would burn.

I never thought it could burn.

In my mind Oregon remains a damp, dreary place where I spent a lot of time indoors, either working, hammered, or both. The only place I never owned a bicycle. Occasionally I walked, but only if I was too drunk to drive.

All my people were back in Colorado or in California, where I spent some months trapped in a Simon and Garfunkel song:

Asking only workman’s wages I come looking for a job

But I get no offers

When an offer finally came the job was in Corvallis, in Oregon’s Mid-Willamette Valley. It was good to be working again instead of sponging off friends and family, but the baggage I brought with me held more than T-shirts and jeans.

I made some friends, most of them on the job, your typical newsdog. And we had some laughs, catching Andy Irvine and Paul Brady in concert at a tiny venue downtown, or motoring to Portland to hear Johnny and the Distractions.

Occasionally I’d meet my old buddy Merrill in Seattle, a change of scenery for us both. He was trapped at a newspaper in eastern Washington, which was another sort of hell altogether.

But I spent a lot more time slouched in Squirrel’s Tavern or in my tiny apartment, huddled with my dogs next to the wood stove, or taking aimless solo drives out to the coast, places like Newport or Depoe Bay.

Mostly I remember rain, damp, the kind of cold that a Colorado winter doesn’t prepare you for, the sort that settles right down into your bones and makes itself at home. I got fat in self-defense, trying to make my bones harder to find.

If you’d told me the place would burn I’d have laughed out loud and poured another one. But I don’t drink anymore, and I’m not laughing, either.

• From Oregon Public Broadcasting: How you can help.

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25 Responses to “Sometimes I have a great notion”

  1. katholoch Says:

    I know exactly where Squirrel’s Tavern is! Does it look any different in the photos from your days? I suspect not much.

    We go to Oregon nearly every year for vacay. The problem is lots of dead tress–pine bark beetle, I think.

    We plan to move to Bend, which has a climate similar to ABQ. My husband is interested in Salem or Corvallis as well. I’ve tried to impress upon him about the constant drizzle but he thinks he doesn’t care (I’ve lived four winters in the rainy part of Oregon, so I know what it is like). On the other hand, rain in Portland didn’t seem to deter the commuters and road riders in PDX. The Scandinavians say there is no bad weather, just bad gear. I think the biggest piece of gear may be the mind?

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      If the website’s pix is recent, Squirrel’s hasn’t changed much since the early Eighties. I could navigate the joint in a coma, and often did. (On a related topic, never work for an afternoon newspaper, if there is still such a thing.)

      I didn’t think the weather would bother me either, until it did. I spent my formative years in Texas and Colorado, and came to Oregon by way of Arizona and California, so I wasn’t prepared for the Mid-Willamette Valley. It was a wake-up call as to why the O’Gradys left Ireland. No heavenly pyrotechnics, just the sort of steady drizzle common to the grocery’s produce section. Remove rust from brain-pan with liberal application of whiskey. Etc.

      Bend paints with a broader brush, climate-wise. And what a great cycling town. But yeah, the right mental gear sure helps. And I didn’t have it back then. Probably still don’t. I think I’m a confirmed desert rat.

      • katholoch Says:

        I think I went in there in 2016 when we rode the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway. I know I at least walked by. It looked the same then. Bars in college towns tend to stay the same. No need to expand their clientele with new decor as the new 21 year olds drink there for a while and then graduate and leave.

        Yes, Bend is a great cycling town. Since it is to the east of the dry line, it gets the high desert weather, which I like.

  2. Michael Pirter Says:


    I had forgotten, bad CRS, you lived in the Beaver state. Corvallis is a fun town. It doesn’t rain as hard here as other places I’ve lived. You just have to get used to the 50 shades of grey

    Yes it’s true. The Chehalem/Bald Peak Fire 🔥 is ~10miles from our house and the roads are some Michele and my favorites to ride. Our neighborhood High School is the evacuation/rallying point for those forced to flee. WTF!!

    I’m actually in Clemson, SC at the moment. It’s move in weekend for our daughter who is a Freshman Tiger 🐅 🐾 .

    It’s surreal to think that my last in-person conversation with Miche, when she dropped me off at PDX, was about an evacuation plan.

    Fortunately the easterly winds of 50 mph That we’re driving the fires 🔥 have died down but it’s left the area shrouded in smoke. The AQI is 293 (ie very hazardous) and the image shows a respirator style mask 😷

    Be well

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Oh, man, that’s some bad air up there. Breathe deep while you can out in Clemson, and bottle some to take home to Miche. And here’s hoping you folks don’t have to take it on the lam. Fingers crossed.

  3. Pat O'Brien Says:

    Bark beetle infestations, I’ve seen areas as large as 10 acres of dead trees, in Northern Arizona around Williams and Alpine while mountain biking in those areas.

    Gee, I wonder what is causing that?

    I guess the dumpster hasn’t gotten ’round to firing all the scientists yet.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      The beetles. Not my favorite group. They were rockin’ out around Weirdcliffe when we lived there, and IIRC Fanta Se lost a whole bunch of piñon to the sonsabitches some years back.

      We’re starting to see some pine die-off around here that looks very beetle-killish to me.

      Mars is going to look very familiar once we finally move there, amirite?

  4. BruceM Says:

    Oh, come on guys, what’s a little rain? Having grown up in El Paso, TX, I’ve not seen enough of the wet stuff. Besides, it is the same as riding a bicycle, there is no inclement weather, there is only inadequate apparel.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Corvallis had its charms, I’ll grant you that. Ocean a short drive away, blackberries for the picking along the Willamette River, and a very walkable community. A neighbor kept ducks, whose voices are very soothing when they’re chatting quietly among themselves. Plus I could pull in three different NPR affiliates, each with its own musical specialty.

      But man, I gots to have me about 300 days per annum of fresh sunshine, hot off the griddle. I got so depressed in that burg that once a couple of hobos bought me a beer — in Squirrel’s, naturally — because they felt sorry for me.

  5. khal spencer Says:

    I recall the Pacific NW fondly although its been a couple decades. We used to be up in Oregon every year back when we had a good friend, Hilde Cherry, in Eugene. Lotsa times we would time it for the end of the spring semester, when Meena was done teaching and I was already on the Left Coast at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, so we would meet up at SFO. We would rent a car and stay a few days in Napa with Hilde’s sister and brother in law and then head up the coast to Eugene and spend some time there after which we would do a grand loop of Oregon and Washington during the early summer and then head back to SFO for the flight back to Paradise.

    I do recall Bend. I liked it but it was not as blisteringly hot as Albuquerque which to me was a good thing. It felt very westerny.

    We were recently talking about flicking it in with the SW megadrought and moving to the Wet Northwest. Well, then this happened.

  6. John A Levy Says:

    Spent a week in Portland area in spring in early 90’s. We loved it made plans to sell in MT and go west. The spent 10 days in November in the same area. Miserable place bone chilling damp, rain, mold and a dearth of Mexican food. Loaded up the Ford Pickup and got the hell out of there. Next move is south to warmer weather and sunshine. You can the boy out of Colorado but you cant Colrado out of the boy.on. The only good thing about Oregon is the Willamette Valley and the Pinot Noir wines produced there. Ranks up with good craft beer and single malt scotch.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I honestly don’t know where I’d want to go next. We’ve been here six years (closed on El Rancho Pendejo on Sept. 8, 2014), and we like it just fine.

      Frankly, the idea of packing up and moving again gives me the ya-ya’s. I could see getting a smallish second place some’eres, a bolt hole to dash to whenever the spirit moves.

      But we’ve done the multiple-properties thing, too, and that is a huge pain in the ass. When we bought this place we still owned two houses in Bibleburg. This I do not recommend, especially if one is not a drinker.

      • khal spencer Says:

        We thought briefly of keeping the BombTowne house but that seemed like a case of “you can’t be in two places at once but you have to pay the upkeep for both”. Nah, on second thought.

        The idea of a small place to run away to is still in the works.

  7. John A Levy Says:

    mi espsosa is terribly afraid The orange dickhead is going to be in the White House for another term. She is looking at overseas or somewhere where stupidity is less prevalent, We had a house in Mesa AZ when my mother in law passed. It was hard to keep up everything and everybody wanting to vacation for free in winter. No thanks to two houses and all assorted problem.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      The Stupid would be awfully strong here after four more years of Adolf Twitler. I’m not sure there would be anything left worth saving of the Republic.

      I don’t even have a passport. I should resolve that situation. How many Micks d’ye think reverse-migrate from Americay to the auld sod? Jeezo, talk about your fine soft weather — 38.8 inches of precip’ annually in County Clare, the ancestral seat of the O’Gradys.

      • khal spencer Says:

        What part of the Great Sod is Shannon from?

        Not so sure about reverse-migrating to Sicily. Don’t know enough about my ancestors to know if I would be welcomed or be looking at the business end of a lupara..lo hanno trovato morto…con dodici lupare nella schiena

      • Pat O’Brien Says:

        The “auld sod” has its own nationalistic asshole to deal with. Yea, he has silly looking hair and is making babies he won’t see grow up to prove his manliness. It’s a fine mess they have gotten us in.

  8. MikeF Says:

    Well, I am still stuck inside and my eyes are almost closed because I,m allergic to the smoke. My home is in Beaverton OR but, My dad who was still riding his bike to work at 86 years of age was forced to start to drive there because of the pollution due to the forest fires.

    Back when I was a bit fitter(about 30 years ago) my dad and I would ride from Beaverton Oregon Down the highway till we got to Salem and then I think Highway 42 and over the pass to central Oregon. then a ride through Bend and finally up the hill to Sunriver. where he had a modest house (there modest was less than $180,000 in 1981) It had four bedrooms, It was two-story and beautifully situated next to the golf course.

    (Since I worked at a bicycle shop I always seem to get along better with the people that worked at Sunriver than the people that owned the houses there.)

    On the way, we always stopped at this beautiful Lake that was created by a dam before the summit.

    Since we always carried our own sleeping bags and tents and food it was always a good idea to have a triple chainring. I had Avocet with a 24/42/52 with an indexed Suntour six-speed freewheel with I think a 14-34 six-speed rear freewheel. Since it was easier to peddle the bike than it was to push the bike up the hill and you don’t have to lift your own body every time you take a step you save a lot of energy with a really low gear.

    The lake was called Detroit Lake. I’ve just learned from the news that the entire town of Detroit was leveled due to the fire.

    • B. L Says:

      All the best, Mike….

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Your dad should be in a bike ad, Mike — still cycling at 86 and only taking a break because the state has caught fire. Herself’s mom was still working at 82, but she wasn’t cycling anywhere.

      My family used to cycle together when we were stationed at Randolph AFB near San Antone, but it was nothing like you describe. Short, pan-flat rides around officers’ country after dinner. No sleeping bags, tents, or food (we had just eaten dinner, y’see).

      I like a triple myself, and that low end of 24×34 is just about perfect. The bike I ride the most lately, a Soma Saga, bottoms out at 24×32. I was a masher when I was younger, but in my crumbling decrepitude I am trying to become more of a spinner. I wouldn’t object to a 36.

      It’s sad to see one of your memories gone up in smoke. When the Waldo Canyon fire came to Bibleburg it swept through one of the locals’ favorite hill climbs up by the Flying W Ranch. Once things settled down a little I rode up there and holy hell, was it a sight. Reminded me of the tornado that hit Manitou Springs back in the late Seventies. Totally random destruction.

      My best to you and your dad. I’m having some eye/breathing issues myself lately but it’s just allergies. We’re not on fire here. Not yet, anyway. …

  9. Herb from Michigan Says:

    Whoa…from that picture angle, along with the accompanying story, it’s Richard Brautigan! Time to re-read Confederate General in Big Sur.
    I’d invite y’all to Michigan where the fires are primarily in our Governor Big Gretch who is THAT woman and takes zero shit from Rethuglicans. And our hurricanes come from her sidekick Dana the AG who also takes zero shit from anyone. Together they are turning the conservative majority inside out because they are smarter and tireless. I’m told on good authority they both swear like sailors and can knock back a belt or two and still speak coherently. Gotta love em…
    Oh…this is a bicycle related blog yes? Once you get out of metro areas the bicycling is mucho grande. #1 in US for rail trail miles with more coming. Alas, sunshine is optional around here some weeks but with global warming we seem to be getting more each year and less white stuff in winters.
    Downside disclosure: we had MAGA assholes long before tRump darkened the door of the White House. And when he leaves they will still be yammering and infecting us in new and innovative ways.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      “We had MAGA assholes long before tRump darkened the door of the White House. And when he leaves they will still be yammering and infecting us in new and innovative ways.”

      Alas, this is true of the rest of the nation as well. He is a symptom, not the disease. Also, moreover, furthermore, and too, “a useful idiot,” in the parlance of our times. The dummies, like the poor, will be with us always.

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