cover image The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning

The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning

Julene Bair. Viking, $26.95 (278p) ISBN 978-0-670-78604-6

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.)