"Out here, the land and the environment is bigger than the people in a lot of ways," said Patty Dorroh, who moved to Harney County with her husband and their two daughters a decade ago.
They live on a ranch about 30 miles outside of Burns. "It's beautiful, desolate and harsh. And 75 percent of Harney County is federally or state owned, so it's not going to grow or get developed.
“People say, oh, maybe we can get such-and-such to relocate here, but there is no customer base here, and they would have to ship in everything — it costs too much,” she said. “I'm not a pessimist, but I am a realist. It doesn't mean some day something won't change, but nothing has even begun to change yet."
Dorroh said that her two teenage daughters can't wait to go to college and explore a world beyond their small town; she's not sure whether they'll come back to live in Harney County again or not. Jobs are scarce, unless you work for the Bureau of Land Management, the local hospital, county government or the school district.
Lately, she said, she's seen some of the county's "gems," — seniors who have lived there all their lives — move out recently to live closer to children and grandchildren who settled elsewhere to find work.
Peter Maille, an economics professor at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, said the region has been losing population, particularly during the recent recession, save for what he called, "the less mobile folks, who hunkered down, got fishing licenses and firewood permits and sat it out."
Christina White, who lives with her husband and their two children just outside of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said she'd like to see more new industries open up in Eastern Oregon; instead she's seen small businesses try and fail because of "too many regulations" from the government. And while her family goes to the Oregon Coast on vacation and to Portland to see their doctor, she said the city feels unfamiliarly fast-paced.
"I can tell when I read the papers or watch the news, I have a different point of view, different priorities — I see things in a different light," said White, who works part-time in a dermatologist's office.
And yet, for all these differences, there are shared values statewide. When asked what they valued about living in Oregon, again and again, no matter their hometowns, respondents picked the sheer beauty of the state, the looming mountains, the quiet of the desert, the push and pull of coastal tides.
"That appreciation of landscape and the quality of life,” Seltzer said, “those are core values that are consistent across the state.”