In the great scheme of things, the milestone reached next week doesn't amount to a hill of beans.

In the great scheme of things, the milestone reached next week doesn't amount to a hill of beans.

Yet it must be noted that this Sunday column is about to turn 21 years old.

There won't be a birthday bash. No party horns will blare, no bells will ring out. At best, a few bony fingers of indignation may be raised in protest.

But it's hard for me to ignore the fact "Off the Beaten Path" has finally reached the legal age to imbibe. Considering the ordeals I've dragged it through over the years, the poor thing likely will begin drinking hard to forget.

The occasion is another reminder that I am getting longer of tooth. Yep, a regular geriatric journalist.

To put it in perspective, MT newsroom intern Shannon Houston, 19, a junior at Southern Oregon University, was born two years after this column began. Unfortunately, Friday completed the internship for the bright junior majoring in both journalism and creative writing. We wish her the best.

That I managed to finagle a lone journalism degree from the University of Oregon has long been a wonderment to me as well as the esteemed professors of the Fourth Estate.

But no more than the fact that I have written about 52 columns a year for 21 years, counting time off for approximating good behavior.

A rough, conservative count shows I have hammered out more than 1,050 columns in the past two decades and a year. That includes a six-month sabbatical I took to write a book that — geez, get off my back — is not quite finished.

Actually, I've now got two books in the hopper. But let's not digress.

You're right. It sure seems like there have been more columns. That reminds me of the old joke in which they say it's not true that married people live longer than single folks — it just feels that way.

When editor Bob Hunter approached me with the suggestion I write a weekly column in June of 1992, I had just been hired from a paper in the East Bay area of California. Knowing what it entailed, I was a bit hesitant to take on a column.

After all, I had written a column for a college newspaper for two years, and had later penned one for a weekly newspaper I edited in Junction City just north of Eugene. From experience, I knew column writing can be both a blessing and a curse, often simultaneously.

But I agreed, figuring I would do it for a year, maybe two. Tops.

Back then, Bob suggested the focus could be about local people, places and things that don't warrant news coverage but are interesting nonetheless. He figured I could periodically tap into my ancestral roots and regional contacts in southwest Oregon for added inspiration.

"I also wanted you to write a column to keep you busy and out of trouble," he quips 21 years later.

By now, you have discovered I'm an average bloke with average skills and a penchant for humor, particularly if it includes really foul puns. If I have a long suit, it is the fact I was both born into a story-rich heritage and have a knack for stumbling into fascinating people along the way.

In fact, Doug Fong, a U.S. Attorney based in Medford, once told me that I reminded him of Forrest Gump because of my off-the-wall connections with people and places in the column. At least I think he was referring to the connections, not to our man Gump's mental limitations.

However, if you sit down to write a column with no topic rattling around in your head, you are certainly Gump-like.

Yes, I have managed to do that a time or two, something readers have always been quick to observe. I thought I recognized those bony fingers of indignation pointing out the upcoming 21st anniversary.

Too many columns have come and gone for me to recall all the nouns I've written about over the years. I did set the scene back in the day by relating how my father was born in Ashland on June 17, 1906, and about my grandparents homesteading in the Applegate Valley.

I've delved into my Kerby roots, and the fact I started out as a printer's devil at the Illinois Valley News while still in high school. I've taken you along to places I've been as a journalist, from the Arctic to Vietnam, from Egypt to Ireland. We've met the President of the United States as well as a homeless veteran. I don't know about you, but I felt the latter was more interesting, by the way.

And you have been with me through a broken leg, the death of a parent, my wife's ever-growing pet herd, our happy trials and tribulations on the old place along Sterling Creek.

But the best part for me by far has been the wonderful people I've met along the way. Their names are too numerous to mention but they have made all the difference. When I become pessimistic about the human animal, they remind me there is ample reason for optimism.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or