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The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoningby Julene Bair
Synopses & Reviews
A love affair unfolds as crisis hits a family farm on the high plains
Julene Bair has inherited part of a farming empire and fallen in love with a rancher from Kansas's beautiful Smoky Valley. She means to create a family, provide her son with the father he longs for, and preserve the Bair farm for the next generation, honoring her own father's wish and commandment, Hang on to your land!” But part of her legacy is a share of the ecological harm the Bair Farm has done: each growing season her family — like other irrigators — pumps over two hundred million gallons out of the Ogallala aquifer. The rapidly disappearing aquifer is the sole source of water on the vast western plains, and her family's role in its depletion haunts her. As traditional ways of life collide with industrial realities, Bair must dramatically change course.
Updating the territory mapped by Jane Smiley, Pam Houston, and Terry Tempest Williams, and with elements of Cheryl Strayed's Wild, The Ogallala Road tells a tale of the West today and points us toward a new way to love both the land and one another.
"Nostalgia for the family farm in arid western Kansas vies with a deep consternation about the draining of the Ogallala Aquifer by crop irrigation in Bair's (One Degree West) ardent, deliberative narrative. The work returns to fateful events in the year preceding the reluctant, yet seemingly inevitable, selling of Bair's parents' farm in 2006: then in her early 50s, Bair was raising her teenaged son, Jake, by herself in Laramie, Wyo., where she had quit her job at the university in order to write fulltime. She meets a sexy, caring Kansas rancher, Ward Allbright, an event that seemed marvelously providential despite his conservative views; the two begin to plan a future together, taking over the Bairs' 3,500-acre dryland wheat and irrigated farm. The farm was largely being managed by her Bair's brother, Bruce, and required vast, unsustainable quantities of water from the fast-draining Ogallala Aquifer (she estimated that more than 4,000 gallons of water was needed for every bushel of corn harvested). Farmers used this sole source of water without any sense of its being finite. After researching geological maps that showed its perilous depletion, Bair began to speak publicly and write about the dire situation. Bair's thoughtful work underscores the dilemma now facing farmers on the High Plains." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“In this thoughtful consideration of life at a crossroads, Bair tackles questions about single parenthood, romance, and the monumental task of determining the future of the family farm....She recounts her long concerns with the demands farming places on the land, especially the Ogallala aquifer....Bair's measured approach to her family's ultimate decision about the farm provides a thoughtful look into America's heartland. Book groups should find much to discuss here, from love to family to the big questions we all must face about how we live now.” Booklist (starred review)
“A gifted writer describes the ebbs and flows of the arc of a romantic relationship while exploring her own bond to the American heartland.” Kirkus Reviews
“The Ogallala Road is a story about love, family, and the unraveling of the earth. But more than anything it is about what it means to be shaped by a place, to love it so much its waters run in your veins like your own blood. Like Wallace Stegner, Julene Bair writes about people inseparable in every way from the land.” Peter Heller, author of The Dog Stars
“Bair elegantly weaves heart and earth, love and the place where it is born. You can taste the water in this book, and the thirst when it is gone.” Craig Childs, author of The House of Rain and Animal Dialogues
“A fierce mother, a dutiful daughter, an eager lover, Bair has plowed fields, driven tractors, and worked her father's land. She has witnessed an erosion of values that has brought the American heartlands to the brink of environmental calamity. The Ogallala Road is her moving story of love and loss, denial and reckoning, and the emergence of a new kind of hope.” Ruth Ozeki, author of A Tale for the Time Being and My Year of Meats
“Folded into an eloquent appeal for the preservation of the nation's most vital source of fresh water, this wonderful book is also the most poignant remembrance of a prairie love affair — a small and finely-crafted masterpiece.” Simon Winchester, author of The Men Who United the States and The Professor and the Madman
About the Author
Julene Bair is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program. Her essay collection, One Degree West, won several regional awards and was a finalist for the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award. She has taught at the University of Wyoming and the University of Iowa. She lives in Longmont, Colorado.
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