The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning

( 2 )

Overview

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...

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The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Mark Bittman
A story of land, water, relationships and love, The Ogallala Road is…polished, touching and engaging…Bair's mournful tale is told with resignation, honesty and heartbreak, but also with strength and joy as she shares memories of her experiences with a lover, two husbands…her parents, her brothers and her son…this is a book by a tough, restless, energetic, admirable, principled Kansan who also happens to be a fine writer. Her voice is a welcome one.
Publishers Weekly
12/02/2013
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. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
2014-01-09
A gifted writer describes the ebbs and flows of the arc of a romantic relationship while exploring her own bond to the American heartland. Bair (One Degree West: Reflections of a Plainsdaughter, 2000) explores her inner emotional life in this spare memoir that eventually becomes equal parts Robert James Waller romance novel, William Least Heat-Moon road show and agricultural exposé memorializing the painful legacy of the independent American farmer. The author begins with her memories of a childhood on the farm in remote Kansas. Returning home after years in metropolitan San Francisco, Bair felt like a stranger in a strange land until she met Ward, a laconic, closeted intellectual rancher who ignited a fire in this single mother. In subsequent sections, we experience Bair's combative relationship with her son, Jake, to whom Ward represented a potential last chance at a father figure. Coming home, Bair worked with her family to preserve the large industrial farm that had become their family legacy but was faced with the harsh reality that their livelihood contributes to the rapid depletion of the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies over a quarter of America's irrigated land with water—not to mention the fact that the farm's fate was being decided on the eve of the ethanol boom. Bair offers an unblinking look at a woman's place in a patriarchal culture. "A father for Jake, a farmer for Dad," the author laments. "That's why the time I'd spend helping Dad during Jake's toddlerhood had seemed so healing. I had proven I could be that farmer if I wanted to, and Dad had accepted that I could. I rejected all those sexist implications, asserted my own truths, became equal in my own right, but look at me now." A lyrical but somewhat distracted narrative that can't decide whether it's a love story, a meditation on our lives on this planet or an attempt to follow Upton Sinclair into the depths.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670786046
  • Publisher: Viking Adult
  • Publication date: 3/6/2014
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 150,464
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet 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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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 21, 2014

    Julene Bair takes on the difficult task of honoring and explorin

    Julene Bair takes on the difficult task of honoring and exploring the debt owed to the Ogallala Aquifer by her farming family. Her memoir moves from poetic, personal experience to clear-sighted environmental concern, with the search for old waterways linking the stories that make up the book. It's not without heartbreak, but beautifully written and deeply felt. You'll be shaken. 


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    Posted June 19, 2014

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