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 familylike other irrigatorspumps 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.
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.
Praise for The Ogallala Road
“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)
“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 ardent, deliberative narrative. . . . Her thoughtful work underscores the dilemma now facing farmers on the High Plains.”
“A gifted writer describes the ebbs and flows of the arc of a romantic relationship while exploring her own bond to the American heartland.”
“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
“Bair explores the deepest of questions about time and place, expertly weaving together her family story, the history of the land and water, and her own struggles as a parent, daughter, and lover. In the end she makes a plea for integration of our personal lives with the life of the earth. This book is both an engaging memoir and an act of environmental advocacy.”
—Mary Pipher, author of The Green Boat and The Shelter of Each Other
“Read this book carefully. Ponder Alfred North Whitehead’s insight: ‘The essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness. It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things.’ Ask yourself what you would do if you were a farmer on the High Plains of Kansas. Julene Bair has given us a profound account of a dramatic tragedy.”
—Wes Jackson, founder and president of The Land Institute
“Absorbing and keenly intelligent, The Ogallala Road is a brave, unflinching examination of identity, home, and, as Bair aptly observes, ‘the price the land paid for our comfort.’”
—Maryanne O’Hara, author of Cascade