The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning
Trying to cope in a man’s world, writer Julene Bair reveals what it was like to be a farmer, a farmer’s daughter, a single mother, a lover and, perhaps most significantly, an advocate for the vast but fast disappearing Ogallala Aquifer.
The Aquifer feeds much of the plains that run down the middle of America, including the Kansas half-section owned by Bair’s father, a dedicated farmer who followed all the rules: grow corn, take the profits, and leave the worries about water supply and pollution from fertilizers to future generations. Bair, returning home from life in the big city to claim this inheritance, had other problems to deal with simultaneously: coming off a bad marriage, she had a beloved son who needed a dad. So she fell in with a burly, hardworking rancher who reminded her of the smells and the ethos of her upbringing, and presented the illusion of a solution: a father for her child and a man around the farm.
"Women will identify with Bair and her struggle to gain purchase in the traditionally male-dominated Southwest, and all thoughtful readers will be moved to find out more about the hidden precious resource that underlies the story."
Meanwhile, shocked by the statistics on the farm’s greedy consumption of water from the rapidly diminishing and irreplaceable Ogallala Aquifer, Bair became increasingly involved in the cause of saving the Aquifer by developing a new way of farming. Or, some would say, going back to the old, pre-industrialized method --- farming organically, using what nature offered and taking what nature gave back. When her son proved rebellious and her lover couldn’t share her idealism, Bair gradually found her own place to stand.
Composed by a skilled and sensitive participant/observer, this tender but tough memoir dishes out some big issues that will give readers a lot to chew on. Frankly anti-ethanol (because of the huge gulps taken from the Aquifer to grow corn), the advocates of water conservation in the Great Plains are small voices crying in the wilderness, while “the Ogalalla Aquifer is the mastodon in the room, being driven to extinction on the plains of east Denver.” Farmers have water rights, and they will use it --- and lose it --- if nothing is done to slow down or ration their consumption. Bair states, “It will take a reversal in state and national policy to protect what water is left.”
Part paean to American farm life, part nature walk, part love-and-loss story, part policy paper, THE OGALLALA ROAD will drive discussion wherever it is read. Women will identify with Bair and her struggle to gain purchase in the traditionally male-dominated Southwest, and all thoughtful readers will be moved to find out more about the hidden precious resource that underlies the story.
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on March 14, 2014