Photo credit: Justin Myers
Take a Walk Portland
highlights close-to-home nature escapes in each corner of the metro area. It covers more than 75 places to walk, all under an hour away. Though I don’t listen to music when I am out researching walks with my own two feet — my goal is to plug into the landscape — I always listen to music when I sit down to write at home. With earbuds in and the volume cranked, I find a good headspace to work. I hope these 12 (mostly) walk-themed songs prime you to grab some sturdy shoes and plan a walk of your own.
1. "I’d Like to Walk Around in Your Mind" by Vashti Bunyan
Album: Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind (Singles and Demos, 1964 to 1967)
I love it when I find places to walk that feel like well-kept secrets. The same goes for hearing semi-obscure songs like this crackly gem by Vashti Bunyan.
2. "Ramblin’ Blues" by Woody Guthrie
Album: Columbia River Collection
My research began in 2016, a year that marked the 75th anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s arrival in Portland to pen songs about Columbia River hydropower for the Bonneville Power Administration. In “Ramblin’ Blues” Guthrie matter-of-factly drawls, “I walked a rocky road and see your Bonneville Dam.” (Something readers can do, on walk #53 in the book.)
3. "One Step Ahead of the Blues" by J. J. Cale
The title, and upbeat tempo, are solid reminders that a good walk can brighten your mood.
4. "Arboretum" by Vetiver
Never mind that it’s set in Seattle. This two-minute escape pod recounts a quiet morning in a city arboretum where “lawns are splashed in flowering cherries.” No wonder you’ll find Portland’s Hoyt Arboretum in my book.
5. "April Come She Will" by Simon and Garfunkel
Album: Sounds of Silence
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You might recall this one from the film The Graduate
. The words “June she’ll change your tune, in restless walks, she’ll prowl the night; July she will fly and give no warning to her flight” could be used to describe a fleeting Portland summer.
6. "Terra Ignota" by Allah-Las
Album: Calico Review
The Allah-Las’ sun-soaked '60s garage rock vibes make for great rainy-day writing tunes. The title refers to unmapped areas, and reminded me of how many park maps I had to gather to help create the ones found in the guidebook.
7. "Walken" by Wilco
Album: Sky Blue Sky
I’m a devout Wilco fan. I even know that Jeff Tweedy is really into walking, which he took up after a running injury (something I can identify with). He’s in fine bipedal form on this track. Jeff: Next time the band stops in Portland, I’d be happy to take you on a walk!
8. "Rose Parade" by Elliott Smith
A playlist for walking in Portland wouldn’t feel complete without some Elliott Smith. “Rose Parade” follows a slow-motion stumble through a crowded cityscape (“tripped over a dog in a choke chain collar,” he sings) during the Rose Festival’s Grand Floral Parade. (Thankfully, many of the walks in the book are crowd-free.)
9. "Oh February" by Y La Bamba
Album: Oh February
In “Oh February” lead singer Luz Elena Mendoza, another Portland favorite of mine, sings “Oh February, let’s take a walk, let’s take a walk.” In February, though? She has a point: parks are empty and the bird-watching is outstanding. Yes, let’s take that walk.
10. "Spring (Among the Living)" by My Morning Jacket
Album: The Waterfall
Ode to Februarys aside, Portland just endured the most brutal winter in recent memory. With “Spring” Jim James and crew offer a booming endorsement of brighter walking weather.
11. "Walking Lightly" by Junip
Nature lovers always say tread lightly, but few could do it as melodically as Swedish-Argentine folk-rocker José González.
12. "Casual Party" by Band of Horses
Album: Why Are You OK
This catchy earworm dropped during the thick of my research last spring. It immediately became my go-to jam while driving to find walks. The lyrics describe a desperate urge to escape small talk at a party. (Basically, how I feel at every party, ever.) If you find yourself in a similar pickle, just say that it’s time to take a walk!
÷ ÷ ÷
joined the editorial staff of Portland Monthly
in 2006 and has written the magazine’s Trail of the Month/Field Notes column for the last nine years. Take a Walk Portland
is his first book.