(Greg and Sean head to Eastern Oregon, to visit a ranch in North Powder).

When I was in my early 20s, fresh out of college and with no clue about what I would do with the rest of my life, I had this fantasy about being a rancher. Perhaps it was the lack of any discernible career direction, but the thought of living through the rhythms of land and livestock seemed grounded and real.

I’d grown up around farms and ranches in Oregon, and shared classrooms with the offspring of rugged men and women whose livelihoods were cyclical, based on weather, commodity prices, and their ability to survive tough times. As an early teenager, I’d labeled those farm kids as slow, simple, and on a dead-end path to repeat their parents’ existence. I couldn’t wait to leave rural Oregon, and had grand plans for a bright future somewhere far away from the pastures and pigs.

Flash forward ten years, and I was longing to be them.

I spent a decade from 15 to 25 thinking that the world would just be waiting to vault my aspirations of being a writer or a musician or a newscaster or a chef or a fill-in-the-blank-here into fame and fortune. You know…the whole “if I want it, I can have it” bit. But, the hard lesson was that these were just vehicles for some undefined sense of recognition and acceptance, not the product of a pure passion.

When I met Curt and Sheryl Martin on their ranch in North Powder, I learned what it means to be content and passionate about your work. They have the life I thought I wanted 20 years ago, and at times still secretly do. Their VP Ranch, located between La Grande and Baker City, spreads out over hundreds of acres bounded by the Blue and Wallowa Mountains. There, on several large plots, they grow hay, grains and beef cattle.

Curt could easily be cast as a stand-in for the Hoss character on Bonanza, and he speaks with a humble ‘ah-shucks-ness’ when talking about his life as a six-generation farm family.

“Ask anyone who does this for a living, and they’ll tell you it’s not about the monetary gain,” he says. “It’s the satisfaction that comes from doing the job.”

That job has changed since his father and grandfather toiled these same lands. Curt is a grandfather himself, and is amazed to have watched the transition from horse-drawn plows to the satellite-driven tractors that mow his wheat and oats fields into perfect rows. Even with the proliferation of iPods and the Internet, he’s managed to instill in two of his three boys a love for doing a simple job well. They’re now taking farming and ranching to the next generation. When I was there, they showed me how they now sell their cattle by posting photos and profiles on an auction website, a far cry from the days of rounding up part of the herd and heading to the auction lot. It’s a kind of MySpace for bovines.

The Martins are part of a culture that permeates Eastern Oregon, whether it’s on the farms and ranches that dot the landscape, or the quaint inns, restaurants and culinary stops that are burgeoning in these small towns. People are here because they love what they do, not because it will bring them fame, fortune and a spot on the instant “hot list”. If you want to get a taste of this region, like a small B&B in Joseph, a winemaker dinner at Baker City’s Geiser Grand Hotel on November 13 or the annual harvest festival in Hermiston on October 12 – 13, just click on the Eastern Oregon section of the map on the Oregon Bounty website and take a tour. We’ll see you tomorrow, on the road with Oregon Bounty.

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  1. Chicke Fitzgerald says…

    Enjoy your blog. Would love your feedback on the new road trip tool on Travelocity. Just launched today.

    Written on October 25th, 2007 / Flag this Comment
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