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The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning

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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 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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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 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.

30 review for The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning

  1. 5 out of 5

    Douglas

    Thanks to Goodreads and Viking for the review copy. This is an exceptional book about the largest aquifer in the U.S. and an important ecological warning about water and how it connects us all. Julene Bair weaves her family history with her obsessions for water and the lowering levels of the Ogallala Aquifer, which is a main source of water for much of the High Plains. Throughout the book, Bair wields her writing pedigree (Iowa Writer’s Workshop) and you can read the influences of Wallace Stegne Thanks to Goodreads and Viking for the review copy. This is an exceptional book about the largest aquifer in the U.S. and an important ecological warning about water and how it connects us all. Julene Bair weaves her family history with her obsessions for water and the lowering levels of the Ogallala Aquifer, which is a main source of water for much of the High Plains. Throughout the book, Bair wields her writing pedigree (Iowa Writer’s Workshop) and you can read the influences of Wallace Stegner, Marilynne Robinson, and Jane Smiley. She doesn’t always keep the same voice, but this doesn’t disappoint or confuse the story. When she talks about her family or her romantic relationship with her boyfriend, Ward, she writes with charm, candidness, and an almost self-deprecating tone. I think someone that reads lighthearted romance books would find this absorbing. I didn’t enjoy her depictions of her romantic relationships as much, but I appreciated it being included and understand that it was necessary to the story in the end. However, when she writes about her time in the dessert as a young woman, Bair is Zen-like and writes with the passion of Emerson on Walden Pond. It reminded me of the wonder I felt when I first read Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. If only McCandless had decided to partner with Julene Bair instead of going solo, he’d be alive today. Bair is tough, whip smart, and a survivor in the true sense of the word, and her passion for the natural world is exactly the type of advocate it needs right now. Here’s a sample of her striking prose: “The Smoky Valley returned me to sanity, to wild land instead of the factory land, to the winter-yellow, cougarlike pelt of the Pleistocene instead of the raw-brown, exposed flesh of the Anthropocene. When I reached the bridge, I pulled onto the shoulder, turned off the engine, and stepped into a state of anachronistic grace. The mist stood thicker in the low places, so that the blond grass glowed more brightly on the hills. Through immemorial time, this mixture of native grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and trees, and all the creates that lived in, on, or under them had coexisted…” You can’t help but feel her passion for the land in passages like this. Of course, the most important part of this book is the ecological warning. Bair wrote this book to inspire the reader to join her in protecting the land she so beautifully depicts. Millions and millions of gallons of water are being pumped from the aquifer in order to irrigate corn crops in an area of the U.S. that cannot sustain it. The area does not get enough rain to support corn, so farmers are forced to pump the water from the ground. The aquifer underneath is now being drained and in jeopardy of extinction. I grew up about 2 hours from the land described in this book and my own family also has land. The Ogallala Aquifer is the sole water source for the town I grew up in, and I have many memories of seeing the massive sprinklers during the summer months. However, as Bair points out, this is not what this land is purposed for. The land is grassland and better suited for grazing animals, not water-hogging corn crops. I hope this book causes legislative change and the land is returned back to its natural purpose. I’m not spoiling the ending because this isn’t that kind of book, but it does end with a hopeful tone. Thanks to the booming organic market, change is already occurring, but I do think Bair’s account and research is a warning cry and call to action to do more. More needs to be done to save this water source, and Bair’s book could be just what’s needed to get the ball rolling. If you’re at all interested in ecology in the U.S., this is a must read.u

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    (3.5) An unusual memoir about water conservation and romance found and lost, brooding on the fault lines between farmland and wilderness. The lyrical style and environmentalist conscience reminded me of the writings of Barbara Kingsolver, Rebecca Solnit and Wendell Berry. Bair begins by recalling the day she met Ward, a stereotypically conservative cowboy, on a visit back to her family’s Kansas farm. Ever since she learned that the Bair farm used 139 million gallons of water to irrigate crops in (3.5) An unusual memoir about water conservation and romance found and lost, brooding on the fault lines between farmland and wilderness. The lyrical style and environmentalist conscience reminded me of the writings of Barbara Kingsolver, Rebecca Solnit and Wendell Berry. Bair begins by recalling the day she met Ward, a stereotypically conservative cowboy, on a visit back to her family’s Kansas farm. Ever since she learned that the Bair farm used 139 million gallons of water to irrigate crops in one season, she had felt uneasy about their environmental impact, and doggedly pursued the truth about Midwestern water usage. She’d been out tracing local water sources, depressed by all the dry creek beds she kept finding, and worried she’d trespassed on the cowboy’s land. Instead, to her surprise, she found out that Ward knew her writing and shared her interest in local resources. A long-distance courtship sprang up between Ward’s home in Kansas and hers back in Laramie, Wyoming, where she had a teenage son from her second marriage, Jake. Despite their political and literary differences (I loved the scene in which Bair, inspecting Ward’s bookshelves, realizes with horror that he owns the complete Ayn Rand oeuvre), they developed a passionate connection. Bair memorializes their relationship in surprisingly erotic terms; she even uses their bond as a metaphor of regaining her appreciation for her homeland: “It was Kansas I’d been having sex with, melding with, re-fusing with. My love for him was my love of home.” Part II marks a jolting change of subject matter, as Bair returns to 1976 to remember her years of freedom out in the California desert. She’d married too young and now, divorced at age 26, she wasn’t going to let a second chance at independence pass her by. She lived in a tiny rock house in the Mojave National Preserve, drove around in a 1959 pickup, and went camping in the desert at every opportunity (these passages have a lot in common with Cheryl Strayed’s Wild). “For the first time since...childhood, I was at home in my body in a place that felt like home. Because I’d had to rewin that centeredness, I was not likely to lose it ever again.” However, when another ill-fated marriage left her pregnant, she decided to move back to Kansas for her family’s support. Over the next two decades, it was a struggle to decide how involved to be in the day-to-day running of the farm. Bair was troubled not only by water usage, but also by the potential health hazards of the fertilizers and pesticides her father liberally applied. Now a single mother with a young son in tow, she could no longer afford to be blasé about these threats. Almost without knowing it, she became something of an activist in the vein of Terry Tempest Williams. The text of the speech she gave at a symposium on the Ogallala Aquifer is particularly rousing; it should convince every reader that our tacit complicity in factory farming and feedlots must end. Like the road of the title, this memoir rambles at times, not always following a particularly logical thread. Some things, like Bair’s current, successful relationship, get short shrift. Yet her beautifully poetic writing sustains this narrative, and promises many more good books to come. Life may have taken her along a rather meandering track, but her engagement with nature has given her refreshment and solace along the way: “All life is wild at center. We need the natural world to know ourselves.” Recommended read-alikes: • Unremarried Widow by Artis Henderson (an unlikely romance between two people of opposite political persuasions) • Remembering, Wendell Berry (a nostalgic tribute to traditional farming methods) • Small Wonder and Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver

  3. 4 out of 5

    Beth Ann

    I won this book on a First Read Giveaway on Goodreads and was thrilled to get the advance copy. I was really not sure how much I would like to read a book about farming but let me tell you---this author drew me into her world and I thorougly enjoyed her memoir. The bonus was the author's ties to my current state of residence in Iowa. I knew nothing about the Ogallala area and the entire aquifer system and I became very interested in the entire struggle that the author had with managing the land w I won this book on a First Read Giveaway on Goodreads and was thrilled to get the advance copy. I was really not sure how much I would like to read a book about farming but let me tell you---this author drew me into her world and I thorougly enjoyed her memoir. The bonus was the author's ties to my current state of residence in Iowa. I knew nothing about the Ogallala area and the entire aquifer system and I became very interested in the entire struggle that the author had with managing the land while being true to the environment. The book reads as a journal of sorts with just enough detail to keep the reader interested in the personal parts of the author's life--her loves, her relationship with her son and her family. I learned a lot and was thrilled to be able to read this advance copy .

  4. 5 out of 5

    Charlene Intriago

    I received this book as a "first read" through Goodreads. I really liked the story of Julene. After all, it is her memoir. But, I absolutely loved what she told us about the Ogallala Aquifer, small farmers, "Big" Farming, and life in what I call the heartland of America. The author was a pretty brave gal, did a lot of stuff on her own, but always found herself drawn back to the family farm. I loved the author's descriptions of the land and her family. I received this book as a "first read" through Goodreads. I really liked the story of Julene. After all, it is her memoir. But, I absolutely loved what she told us about the Ogallala Aquifer, small farmers, "Big" Farming, and life in what I call the heartland of America. The author was a pretty brave gal, did a lot of stuff on her own, but always found herself drawn back to the family farm. I loved the author's descriptions of the land and her family.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    Memoirs are not a genre that I normally read, but this one called to me. I've lived much of my life in the Midwest and have read about the dust bowl years and the problems of drought. Also, I lived quite a few years in California, and recently read of the problems there with the lowering of the water table because of lack of rain and snow. It's even more ironic that I enjoyed this book because I have lived mostly in big cities and am not an outdoor person in the least. But reading of Julene's li Memoirs are not a genre that I normally read, but this one called to me. I've lived much of my life in the Midwest and have read about the dust bowl years and the problems of drought. Also, I lived quite a few years in California, and recently read of the problems there with the lowering of the water table because of lack of rain and snow. It's even more ironic that I enjoyed this book because I have lived mostly in big cities and am not an outdoor person in the least. But reading of Julene's life growing up on a Kansas farm and then her love of living in the desert was fascinating. Parts of this memoir reads like a novel because of the excellent writing by Julene Bair and also her life has some of the adventure that novels usually contain. It isn't a completely rosy picture that is portrayed, but there is some optimism for saving the Ogallala aquifer for future generations. I've noted about other issues that it takes a person with a zealous nature to persuade others. Julene Bair is that person for the Ogallala.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Gail Storey

    Rarely do story and conscience come together in a memoir so well as in Julene Bair’s THE OGALLA ROAD: A MEMOIR OF LOVE AND RECKONING. From its hypnotic beginning in the feel of sun, dirt, and wheat stubble, Bair draws us into the fully realized High Plains landscape of western Kansas where she was raised. In search of springs, she follows an unpredictable trail into her family’s farming past. It winds its way toward a love affair with a rancher, reconfigured relationships with her family members Rarely do story and conscience come together in a memoir so well as in Julene Bair’s THE OGALLA ROAD: A MEMOIR OF LOVE AND RECKONING. From its hypnotic beginning in the feel of sun, dirt, and wheat stubble, Bair draws us into the fully realized High Plains landscape of western Kansas where she was raised. In search of springs, she follows an unpredictable trail into her family’s farming past. It winds its way toward a love affair with a rancher, reconfigured relationships with her family members, and wholly new responsibilities to the land and its water. The beauty of THE OGALLALA ROAD is in its finely tuned resonances between personal story and vital environmental issues. With unsentimental honesty, she bares her heart, from her girlhood as a farmer’s daughter and her young adulthood in San Francisco and the Mojave Desert, through fraught relationships with men and the challenges of raising her son Jake as a single mother, to her flinty but loving relationship with her father. Falling in love with Ward promises to resolve her practical and romantic dilemmas. As she says in one of the book’s many brilliant lines, “I was thinking of my big reunification plan between Julene’s divided selves.” Bair’s strong, authentic voice, grounded in experience and well researched facts, gives her the credibility to speak out on the use of water and the future of the Ogallala Aquifer. Her address to the water district directors is a microcosm of national water politics, speaking truth to power when truth can see all sides, and even power is conflicted. She never strays into polemic, but resoundingly clarifies the relationships among water, irrigation, crops, cows, and food. At the same time, her emotional investment, through home and family, makes this story intensely readable and entertaining. She writes of sex with freshness and grace, as in “I muttered something unspellable, a cross between a moan and a sigh.” I especially liked the personal look into the domestic and agricultural life of farming families, past and present. Her characterization of her mother is at once forthright and tender, a gem of intergenerational feminist insight. Bair’s directness is well served by her gorgeous images, such as the sky as “a clear strip of cellophane blue on the horizon,” and Ward’s eyes as “Kaleidoscopic, as if filled with sunlit green stones.” THE OGALLALA ROAD elevates the memoir to eco-narrative of the most compelling. It calls to be read widely and thoughtfully, and it will.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Carol Turner

    I had a growing sense as I read this book was that it was a very important story. It's a personal tale, told quietly and with a gentle voice. The details are deceptively simple: Kansas farm girl leaves home, finds and loses love, has a son, later finds love again. But those are the surface details of Julene Bair's life. Bubbling underneath is a tough, determined woman with the gumption to live alone in an off-the-grid rock hut in the Mojave Desert, to raise a son on her own, to operate huge farm I had a growing sense as I read this book was that it was a very important story. It's a personal tale, told quietly and with a gentle voice. The details are deceptively simple: Kansas farm girl leaves home, finds and loses love, has a son, later finds love again. But those are the surface details of Julene Bair's life. Bubbling underneath is a tough, determined woman with the gumption to live alone in an off-the-grid rock hut in the Mojave Desert, to raise a son on her own, to operate huge farm machinery and labor outdoors on her parents' farm from dawn until dusk. Along with her story is the life of the Ogallala Aquifer, the book's namesake, an enormous subterranean body of water that is steadily being depleted by the farmers who take as much of it as their rights allow. Julene Bair is the daughter of such a family, and her story is one of a person who both loved her farming parents and their spread and at the same time recognized that what was happening to the aquifer was and is a tragedy. The Ogallala Road is an engrossing story, told by an accomplished writer.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Richard Gilbert

    A delicious weave of love story, land story, farming past and present, sodbusters vs. cowboys, and under it all the vast aquifer that permits crazy corn-growing on the high plains. A deft blend of scene and exposition; a rich narrative arc and many issues to ponder.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Geena

    I received an advanced reader copy of Julene Bair's "The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning" as a first read thanks to Goodreads. "The Ogallala Road" tells the story of the Bair family farm and its impact on the ever diminishing Ogallala aquifer. As a born and raised Los Angeleno, I wasn't expecting to enjoy a memoir about farm life and its ecological impact as much as I did. Julene tells the story of the Bair family legacy that her father left behind, one which fills her with constan I received an advanced reader copy of Julene Bair's "The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning" as a first read thanks to Goodreads. "The Ogallala Road" tells the story of the Bair family farm and its impact on the ever diminishing Ogallala aquifer. As a born and raised Los Angeleno, I wasn't expecting to enjoy a memoir about farm life and its ecological impact as much as I did. Julene tells the story of the Bair family legacy that her father left behind, one which fills her with constant internal turmoil. She is torn between holding onto her father's prized and cherished land, and doing right by the Ogallala aquifer, the earth, and herself. Throughout the novel, we learn not only of the Bair family farm, but of Julene's family history, love life, and personal beliefs. Julene touches upon varying aspects of her life, yet "The Ogallala Road" remains incredibly cohesive throughout, with Julene always bringing the focus back to her love of the land, and the ties that will forever bind her to it. Julene has an incredible love for the wild and this passion translates beautifully in her prose. Eloquently written, intriguing, and overall, an important read, "The Ogallala Road" is a beautifully crafted story that resonates deeply with the untamed soul.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kaleena Rheeya

    "The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning" is the first First Reads book I have ever won. Julene Bair shares her love and worry about the Ogallala Aquifer in eloquently written prose. The title of the book really has a double meaning. One meaning is specifically about the importance of creating some sort of conservation effort around the Ogallala Aquifer and other precious water sources of the world. The other is how the Ogallala seems to interweave deeply with Julene's life. The aquife "The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning" is the first First Reads book I have ever won. Julene Bair shares her love and worry about the Ogallala Aquifer in eloquently written prose. The title of the book really has a double meaning. One meaning is specifically about the importance of creating some sort of conservation effort around the Ogallala Aquifer and other precious water sources of the world. The other is how the Ogallala seems to interweave deeply with Julene's life. The aquifer has deep ties with her family's livelihood, opens her to love again in later life, and calls to her as she ventures to the Mojave Desert and Laramie, WY. This is Julene's song to the aquifer that she shares for all who would want to hear. I would recommend this book to anyone who has a love of nature or has been touched by nature in some way. It was a pleasure reading Julene's life story. Since I received an advance uncorrected proof, I am hopeful that the official release in March 2014 will include an index, recommended book list, or additional resource information for those that wish to join in on some of the activist efforts Julene mentions in her book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Linda Weber

    The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning by Julene Bair is a masterpiece. I’m proud to review it. The book is a great achievement; both for its personal storytelling and its call to arms to protect the Ogallala aquifer that is the foundation of life on the western plains, land held dear by those whose shortsighted choices are destroying it. Immaculately written, heartfelt, and most of all exquisitely down to earth, real and realistic, this book gave me insight into the complicated entan The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning by Julene Bair is a masterpiece. I’m proud to review it. The book is a great achievement; both for its personal storytelling and its call to arms to protect the Ogallala aquifer that is the foundation of life on the western plains, land held dear by those whose shortsighted choices are destroying it. Immaculately written, heartfelt, and most of all exquisitely down to earth, real and realistic, this book gave me insight into the complicated entanglement of people with place when people put their narrow interests ahead of the interests of future generations and the whole. The Ogallala Road is a modern prairie saga. It is a story of love and loss and of a woman being born unto herself. As she follows the path as it is shown to her, Bair is led down the Ogallala Road towards redemption and mastery of the truth of her life. She gives us the big picture of technological and chemical farming while not forgetting the small details of each human life caught up in what is clearly an environmental disaster in the making. The book is both a prayer and a call to arms. It is a bow to the great aquifer and an admonition to the humans who are stealing the water from future generations. It is a cry to correct a massive injustice being perpetrated against the land. I love the thread of feminism that runs through the book. It’s an essential perspective that helps shape the author’s personal empowerment and decision to step into the role of activist on her own behalf and on behalf of the land. Bair’s intimacy with farming shows us that there is no separation between the land and the people who live on, with, and from it. Bair finds her own voice and passionately gifts us with the voice of the prairie itself. She introduces us to the unending generosity of the water and suggests with alarm that it is time to give back instead of only take. She shows us just how difficult it is to change from valuing human comfort over the needs of other life forms. I found myself demanding change along with Bair, but with great compassion for her family and other families, people who are faced with choosing to let go of the only way of life they have ever known. Thought provoking and possibly life changing, Julene Bair’s The Ogallala Road belongs on the same shelf with Rachel Carson’s, Silent Spring. It is that important. Get it to your congress people and to your state legislators, especially if you live on the body of the aquifer. Bair’s message is clear: It’s not about us and them. It’s just about us—all of us— and the land from which we come, and the water on which we depend. For our lives.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Elisabeth

    Gail Storey's review says it best, and to it I will just add: this book is a major accomplishment for a hugely talented author. Bair writes elegantly of her beloved prairie, and the water that nourishes it; like the best writers, she makes you not only appreciate but begin to love a place that you previously found easy to overlook. She isn't ashamed to nail down the complicated emotions surrounding the sale of the family farm; and as for the Love part of the title, she finds it, idealizes it, t Gail Storey's review says it best, and to it I will just add: this book is a major accomplishment for a hugely talented author. Bair writes elegantly of her beloved prairie, and the water that nourishes it; like the best writers, she makes you not only appreciate but begin to love a place that you previously found easy to overlook. She isn't ashamed to nail down the complicated emotions surrounding the sale of the family farm; and as for the Love part of the title, she finds it, idealizes it, thinks she's got a way to utilize it -- then makes the painful realization that it's not what will make her life whole. What will make her life whole -- well, that's the last third of the book, which zooms along magnificently to a fully satisfying ending. This book will give you a whole new perspective on all those irrigated circles you see from 30,000 feet up while flying over the high plains. Why grow corn where it has to be irrigated? And why grow so much corn anyway? Bair raises these questions without polemic; assuming this book gets the readership it deserves, it should increase awareness of the fact that we're draining the Olgallala Aquifer for no good purpose. Yet despite the gloom, she leaves room for a lot of creative hope, and that too is what makes this book such a satisfying and enlightening read. I have to make a disclaimer here. I was in a writing group with Julene and I saw many drafts of this book. It was good then; now, in it's final, beautifully-edited version, it's great.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Melinda

    I have read, and enjoyed, a number of memoirs about farming and environmentalism. Because of that, I thought The Ogallala Road would be a book I would completely enjoy. To be fair, there were things I liked about this book. Bair has a beautiful style that well suits the landscape about which she writes. I was completely engrossed for about the first 3rd of the book, and then things started to fall apart for me. Up until that point, the book seemed to be a love story--a love story with the prairie I have read, and enjoyed, a number of memoirs about farming and environmentalism. Because of that, I thought The Ogallala Road would be a book I would completely enjoy. To be fair, there were things I liked about this book. Bair has a beautiful style that well suits the landscape about which she writes. I was completely engrossed for about the first 3rd of the book, and then things started to fall apart for me. Up until that point, the book seemed to be a love story--a love story with the prairie and a love story with Ward, the rancher she meets on a visit home to Goodland, Kansas. Then, the book takes a shift and we go back to her earlier years in the deserts of the West and then back on the family farm. And all that would have been fine, but in this shift, it seemed to me that Bair lost her focus on the book. From that point on, I wasn't sure what exactly this book was. Was it a love story? An environmental treatise? A family saga. Honestly, any of those would have been fine, as long as I knew what it was. The book improves for a while after this, but the end is just as confusing as the flashback section. I will say that this book frustrated me--there was nothing "bad" in the book, but it just needed to be streamlined and focused. Without any clear central theme, I was unable to truly enjoy this book. I received an electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I received no other compensation for this post.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sue Wang

    A beautiful story about the land, the farm, and being the farmer's daughter. Not knowing much about the Ogallala, I learned a ton about farm life in Kansas, its challenges, the moral dilemma of using the land and water to the max vs. their preservation for our future. "Gold was a color I associated with the fall, when pheasants, jackrabbits, kit foxes, and killdeer had found cover in the fields beneath a banner-blue satin sky, but their numbers had diminished drastically since this new chemical a A beautiful story about the land, the farm, and being the farmer's daughter. Not knowing much about the Ogallala, I learned a ton about farm life in Kansas, its challenges, the moral dilemma of using the land and water to the max vs. their preservation for our future. "Gold was a color I associated with the fall, when pheasants, jackrabbits, kit foxes, and killdeer had found cover in the fields beneath a banner-blue satin sky, but their numbers had diminished drastically since this new chemical approach had come along. The drabness reminded me of postapocalyptic movies in which a future poisoned world was drained of color and light." Vividly written. In a few sentences I see the life, loveliness of the land and the demise of its natural energy. Drained like the Aquifer. This book is about survival. Survival of a farm, the farmer, his family legacy, and his daughter -the author, who represents the feminine, the mother, the Land. She grew up strong, independent, she could have been 'one of the boys.' She mixed and merged with the masculine, and finds her voice, but not without heartbreaks. I wistfully finished the book and rejoice in the awakening and action of its heroine. She has such spirit. It is a book that made me think deeply about who I am as a citizen and mother in a world that is depleting in resources. I find The Ogallala Road inspiring. It's an honor to share Julene Bair's candor and rawness.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Marsella Johnson

    The complexities of family farming, love, drought, water conservation and waste, corporate farming, pesticide run off and the organic farming movement. It's all in here in a book that I enjoyed very much. This is by a local author who cherishes the land she grew up on and starts questioning the serious depletion of the once great Ogallala Aquifer that is in quick decline. It is disturbing to see the greed and denial that surrounds the wasteful watering practices and government subsidies that enc The complexities of family farming, love, drought, water conservation and waste, corporate farming, pesticide run off and the organic farming movement. It's all in here in a book that I enjoyed very much. This is by a local author who cherishes the land she grew up on and starts questioning the serious depletion of the once great Ogallala Aquifer that is in quick decline. It is disturbing to see the greed and denial that surrounds the wasteful watering practices and government subsidies that encourage the problem. At the beginning of this book, the author goes back home, exploring the water shed, many sources that have all since dried up. She meets a man she thinks is the love of her life and she interweaves her childhood memories of her farmer dad with her new romance. This book isn't really about her romance and she realizes that in the end. He is a means to her end as she struggles with accepting the end of an era. This was a well thought out book, one that doesn't gloss over the wrangling and fighting over water rights, a necessity that is quickly disappearing faster because of our mismanagement. Farming will have to change. But how? And will it be too late?

  16. 4 out of 5

    Marissa

    I received an advanced reader's copy through Elle magazine. Julene Bair's The Ogallala Road is a simple, yet beautiful, memoir. The memoir reads like a diary, but then moves into a study on the overuse of the Ogallala aquifer, and the depletion of the water. I never once thought I would be interested in the aquifers of the Midwest, but I found myself completely captivated by the overuse of water, and the dilemma Bair faced as a farmer's child while being an activist for the appropriate usage of w I received an advanced reader's copy through Elle magazine. Julene Bair's The Ogallala Road is a simple, yet beautiful, memoir. The memoir reads like a diary, but then moves into a study on the overuse of the Ogallala aquifer, and the depletion of the water. I never once thought I would be interested in the aquifers of the Midwest, but I found myself completely captivated by the overuse of water, and the dilemma Bair faced as a farmer's child while being an activist for the appropriate usage of water in farming. I felt Bair's pain when it came to the aquifer use. She contemplates her family's own usage of the aquifers on the farm, holding a tremendous guilt, but she also knows this was her family's legacy--it's a tough place. The memoir also rounds itself out with a bittersweet love story. All in all, it was a great read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rosemary

    I enjoyed reading this moving narrative by Julene Bair about her concerns about the Ogallala Aquifer which provides water for 8 Great Plains states. She also explores her family's relationships, her memories of growing up in western Kansas on a farm, and a romance. She is a sensitive, insightful writer about the issues/controversies swirling around the Ogallala these days. The aquifer is being severely depeleted by farming practices, moreso in the last 50 or 60 years than in any recorded history I enjoyed reading this moving narrative by Julene Bair about her concerns about the Ogallala Aquifer which provides water for 8 Great Plains states. She also explores her family's relationships, her memories of growing up in western Kansas on a farm, and a romance. She is a sensitive, insightful writer about the issues/controversies swirling around the Ogallala these days. The aquifer is being severely depeleted by farming practices, moreso in the last 50 or 60 years than in any recorded history. Bair writes most poignantly about selling the family farm after the deaths of her parents. She tries to sort out the tangle of old hurts, guilt, and her own persistent desires to write full time. Bair was at UI at the same time I was. I remember her only a little, but I was pleased to read her memoir and see how beautifully she writes.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    I received this book free from a GoodReads give-away. I really enjoyed this book. As a city girl, I never gave much thought to farming or the work and dedication that goes into it. I found myself drawn into her story. I was fascinated with her life on the farm and her adventures while trying to find herself. I was saddened by her break up with Ward and happy she found a true love. Even her struggles as she raised her son touched so many emotions. I think Julene Bair was trying to show the enviro I received this book free from a GoodReads give-away. I really enjoyed this book. As a city girl, I never gave much thought to farming or the work and dedication that goes into it. I found myself drawn into her story. I was fascinated with her life on the farm and her adventures while trying to find herself. I was saddened by her break up with Ward and happy she found a true love. Even her struggles as she raised her son touched so many emotions. I think Julene Bair was trying to show the environmental and political issues with the farmers and the amount of water they use and the chemicals that affect so many things. But this book was much more. It touched on so much. It was entertaining while teaching us at the same time.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Shirley

    This book was strongly recommended by a friend and we listened to it on CD while driving across Kansas, which was pretty cool. The author is wrapped up in her mind allthetime, which was on occasion annoying, but the realities of farm families and connection (or not) to the land was compelling. As we drove in September past green fields of corn in western Kansas, it was impossible not to feel the plug has been pulled and all the water draining out of the bathtub. Take-away was description of gove This book was strongly recommended by a friend and we listened to it on CD while driving across Kansas, which was pretty cool. The author is wrapped up in her mind allthetime, which was on occasion annoying, but the realities of farm families and connection (or not) to the land was compelling. As we drove in September past green fields of corn in western Kansas, it was impossible not to feel the plug has been pulled and all the water draining out of the bathtub. Take-away was description of government corn subsidies which pay farmers to use water that won't be there for their kids, and the positive work of those who are trying to change the culture of agridustry, and respect for the prairie.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Marian

    Julene Bair, author of The Ogallala Road brings us front and center into her farming and personal worlds. She carefully interweaves her many love affairs: the Kansas farmland where she grew up and the desert where she was among the rarities that blossomed; imperfect, but attractive men; Jake, the son she’s devoted to; and her family, so deeply and well-portrayed that I’d know who to talk to and what to say at a Sunday meal. Throughout the book the Ogallala Aquifer is an ever-present force that d Julene Bair, author of The Ogallala Road brings us front and center into her farming and personal worlds. She carefully interweaves her many love affairs: the Kansas farmland where she grew up and the desert where she was among the rarities that blossomed; imperfect, but attractive men; Jake, the son she’s devoted to; and her family, so deeply and well-portrayed that I’d know who to talk to and what to say at a Sunday meal. Throughout the book the Ogallala Aquifer is an ever-present force that demands our attention and warns us to pay attention, take action, and love rightly. Marian Thier, author of Listing Men

  21. 4 out of 5

    Janice

    Julene Bair grew up on a ranch in western Kansas; she and her brother continued to own and try to run the family farm for several years after their father died. In this book she examines the dilemma that many ranchers are facing: use of the water supply that is available to them from the Ogallala aquifer means depleting a resource that is disappearing much too quickly, and yet they cannot continue to run a profitable ranch with that water. This is very well written, and sheds new light (for me, Julene Bair grew up on a ranch in western Kansas; she and her brother continued to own and try to run the family farm for several years after their father died. In this book she examines the dilemma that many ranchers are facing: use of the water supply that is available to them from the Ogallala aquifer means depleting a resource that is disappearing much too quickly, and yet they cannot continue to run a profitable ranch with that water. This is very well written, and sheds new light (for me, at least) on what is happening throughout that area.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    Half memoir, half treatise on the overuse of the Ogallala aquifer due to unsustainable farming practices. I liked this more than her first memoir, One Degree West, but to some extent it shared the meandering lack of focus of that book – in this case manifested by trying to cover too many things. I enjoyed the prose itself, her love of the land, and the topic of the complexity of water conservation.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tuck

    i meditation on aquifer, modern industrial farming, single-parentedness, family, western kansas, Cheyennes, sustainability, climate change, high plains

  24. 4 out of 5

    Enchanted Prose

    High Plains “Zealot” and Water Conservationist (Western Kansas, present-day): Statistics don’t feel personal. So if you read in a newspaper a Kansas study concluded that a vast underground reservoir of water spanning eight states – The High Plains Ogallala Aquifer – will run dry in 50 years would it register? Maybe, in passing. When Julene Bair tells a similar story, it not only registers, it sinks in. For her memoir is a wake-up call about the “largest, single water-management issue concern in High Plains “Zealot” and Water Conservationist (Western Kansas, present-day): Statistics don’t feel personal. So if you read in a newspaper a Kansas study concluded that a vast underground reservoir of water spanning eight states – The High Plains Ogallala Aquifer – will run dry in 50 years would it register? Maybe, in passing. When Julene Bair tells a similar story, it not only registers, it sinks in. For her memoir is a wake-up call about the “largest, single water-management issue concern in the U.S.” The Ogallala Aquifer is among the largest in the world. It flows under sections of Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas, where Julene Bair grew up on a farm in the far western part of the state. Her town, Goodland, the biggest east of Denver, is “dying despite irrigation, and, to some extent, because of it.” Seems the only thing “farming hadn’t messed up” might be the sky. This forewarning is even more convincing when you realize Bair does not see the glass as half empty. She’s the “family idealist,” who believes in the goodness of people to “do right even if it meant going against their own self-interest.” She’s also someone who has not taken the easy road. For a transformative period in her life, after her divorce, she lived with her young son, Jake, in a “rock house” in the Mojave Desert, on what was then Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. Single parenting, remotely, in a desert, is an impressive undertaking, even for someone “yearning for wild land.” There, she “discovered the West of my imagination” and a sacred respect for the life-force of water, the “world’s purest element in its purest form.” So, when Bair says the average American uses “80 to 100 gallons of water a day” but she made do with only 500 gallons a month, she earns our respect. Bair, unlike many of us, does not take water for granted. When she describes modern agricultural practices advanced by government farm subsidies as “cowboying weeds into submission and magnificently boosting our yields, [but] they were also leaching into our groundwater and into our bloodstreams,” her call to arms about chemicals sounds like Rachel Carson’s alarms in Silent Spring. It’s one thing to write about wilderness eloquently, fictionally, but when you’ve lived it and sacrificed for it, well, it takes on a whole other authentic meaning. And Bair’s lyricism is for uncommon elements, like buffalo grass, blue gamma grass – “low growing grass stitched itself over the ground like a wooly tapestry.” It’s marvelous that she finds the smell of grasses “intoxicating, restorative,” for it helps to balance her woeful tales of farmland and water exhaustion. While we might not fully grasp the science of water tables, irrigation and agricultural systems, especially in a remote region of the country we may not know, we certainly can understand that more water is being used up than sustained. If depleted it would take 5,000 years to replenish! The Ogallala Aquifer is supposed to be “the hope and promise at the center of the nation,” Bair laments. And yet, from this source a single farm – Bair’s – pumped 200 million gallons of water in a farming season. Sounds like a lot, but Bair says not so. All this irrigation has depleted the water table. The water may run underground, invisible, but Bair can see the “land was flatter now, and the grass had vanished. The earth had been human stitched into a patchwork of monotones – squares and circles of bare dirt, corn stubble, and winter wheat.” Another area of western Kansas beautifully described – it brings a “tenderness in me because it was in danger” – is the Smoky Valley, a “paradise of unfarmed hills sloping down into cottonwood groves along the river.” Bair got close to it as the home of a rancher named Ward, a serious boyfriend for much of the memoir. Their relationship didn’t endure because he’s a “settler” and she’s a “seeker.” They met when Bair had returned to her Kansas farm from Laramie, Wyoming, where she’d been living for eight years with her son, Jake. An “exploring spirit,” on this day she was inspecting the “sandy beds of dry creeks.” Water issues have troubled her for quite some time. While Bair writes candidly about the “deliciousness of desire” in mid-life after so many years of single motherhood, it’s her romance with the “kind of low-key vista that could thrill only a native Kansan whose eye had not been jaded by mountains or the sensational” that’s most delicious. Of course, this is a memoir, so it’s peopled with Bair’s “atypical family” (older members are liberals; younger ones tattooed). Looming largest is her father, who farmed her grandparents’ land. Bair watched the progression from “intense labor that broke men’s and women’s backs to intense pillage and poison that broke the earth’s.” But her father, a rock as hard as her rock house, her “underlayment,” never gave the land up. That’s his rallying cry: “Hang on to your land!” The motto hangs over the author’s head and her brother, Bruce’s, who takes over the farm after their indomitable father dies. While the heart-wrenching decision of “what to do with the farm” causes much angst, interestingly, the author’s mother concedes whatever decision her son makes, giving us insight into the “stoicism” of Kansans. For Bair, it’s important to distinguish what losing the land means. Her father cherished it for the real estate value; Bair’s is an emotional connection. She’s convinced, and convincing, that “our sense of beauty is a survival instinct.” During Julene Bair’s early desert years, she coped with great loneliness by writing in “countless spiral notebooks that she filled by kerosene lantern light.” Presumably she kept this pattern up, which enabled her to reflect vividly on those and later years, reliving her passions, hopes, regrets, and concerns. Together, The Ogallala Road is a blend of heavyheartedness and optimism. Bair is buoyed by “wilderness on my skin” – a “plains palette” that makes her feel “on top of the world.” On the other hand, the once 30 million farms in the country have dwindled to less than 2 million. Since most are now large-scale (farmers had to “get big or get out”), they’re still causing plenty of damage to our water: “farming accounts for 70% of contamination of rivers and streams.” All this data sobering when put forth personally. The author seeks to contribute to a cause she cares passionately about. Her evocative prose – if widely read – is a step in that direction. Lorraine (EnchantedProse.com)

  25. 4 out of 5

    Peg Lotvin

    I picked this up at a library book sale for far far below the original selling price. The Ogallala acquifer tie-in caught my attention. Over half the book is devoted to Julene's love affair with a grass growing cowboy' and that goes bad. Eventually she meets a forever love, but we never find out anything about him. Maybe the next book. Her family grows corn and uses millions of gallons of water each year to sustain the corn and themselves. The Ogallala acquifer is drawing down at a terrifying ra I picked this up at a library book sale for far far below the original selling price. The Ogallala acquifer tie-in caught my attention. Over half the book is devoted to Julene's love affair with a grass growing cowboy' and that goes bad. Eventually she meets a forever love, but we never find out anything about him. Maybe the next book. Her family grows corn and uses millions of gallons of water each year to sustain the corn and themselves. The Ogallala acquifer is drawing down at a terrifying rate and no one seems to know how to stop it. The water is critical for the mid-western states to stay in agriculture. I can see clearly that letting others grow corn would be a tidy answer, but the farmers are loath to give up the big bucks growing corn for ethanol brings them. Julene's family never sees any of the ethanol money as they decide to sell their farm after the death of her father and mother and before ethanol was added to gasoling. The whole thing kind of ends with a wimper.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    First, I did enjoy the book. However, I thought the title was misleading. "The Ogallala Road-A Story of LOVE, FAMILY, and the FIGHT TO KEEP THE GREAT PLAINS from RUNNING DRY." It was a great memoir about her family and lost love and her decision to leave the farmer lifestyle. The author also introduces the subject of water law (prior appropriation) and the large aquifer under mid-Western America. I do not think there was much discussion about a "FIGHT" to keep the great plains from running dry. First, I did enjoy the book. However, I thought the title was misleading. "The Ogallala Road-A Story of LOVE, FAMILY, and the FIGHT TO KEEP THE GREAT PLAINS from RUNNING DRY." It was a great memoir about her family and lost love and her decision to leave the farmer lifestyle. The author also introduces the subject of water law (prior appropriation) and the large aquifer under mid-Western America. I do not think there was much discussion about a "FIGHT" to keep the great plains from running dry. I bought the book because I am interested in Water Law and saving the aquifers and rivers and felt disappointed that there wasn't much more about this subject matter even though it is in the topic. But as I said, the story of the farmer's life and Big Ag is a story that needs to be told.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    Bair is part owner of a highly productive farm in western Kansas that depends on the Ogallala Aquifer for its survival. But she knows the water use is not sustainable—the aquifer has been dangerously depleted for decades—which puts her between her short-term economic interests, her family, and her own environmental concerns. Along the way, she falls in love with a man who seems like a match but whose approach to the land is a sharp wedge between them. Excellent overview of what American agricult Bair is part owner of a highly productive farm in western Kansas that depends on the Ogallala Aquifer for its survival. But she knows the water use is not sustainable—the aquifer has been dangerously depleted for decades—which puts her between her short-term economic interests, her family, and her own environmental concerns. Along the way, she falls in love with a man who seems like a match but whose approach to the land is a sharp wedge between them. Excellent overview of what American agriculture has gotten wrong, how small, modern farmers are changing that, and how these changes might help save at least some of this essential aquifer.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Trish Remley

    Always read a book about Kansas in January because of Kansas Day January 29th each year. At first I thought this was going to be an Eat, Pray, Love type book which I did not care for. I did appreciate the real love for Kansas, her family, the high plains, & the concern for the environment and the Ogallala underground water reservoir. As written at the very end of the book, hopefully the author realizes that not all her stereotypes hold up for all high plains Kansans and they should be looked upo Always read a book about Kansas in January because of Kansas Day January 29th each year. At first I thought this was going to be an Eat, Pray, Love type book which I did not care for. I did appreciate the real love for Kansas, her family, the high plains, & the concern for the environment and the Ogallala underground water reservoir. As written at the very end of the book, hopefully the author realizes that not all her stereotypes hold up for all high plains Kansans and they should be looked upon as individuals.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    First 1/3 of the book is just about her falling in love? When I was hoping for more lyrical environmental imagery and understanding of why she loves the land. With a not well-written introduction to her family and the area in Kansas where she grew up (and will presumably talk more about the Ogallala aquifer)...I just didn't care about anything happening so this is a DNF. Based on the description and the reviews I should like it...so maybe this is a could not finish for now, return to another time First 1/3 of the book is just about her falling in love? When I was hoping for more lyrical environmental imagery and understanding of why she loves the land. With a not well-written introduction to her family and the area in Kansas where she grew up (and will presumably talk more about the Ogallala aquifer)...I just didn't care about anything happening so this is a DNF. Based on the description and the reviews I should like it...so maybe this is a could not finish for now, return to another time?

  30. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Tranmer

    Personal life story / love letter to the Midwest family farm / conservation of the Ogallala Aquifer Bair brings forward tension between loving your home while recognizing that current choices are destroying life both now and for years to come. Bair brings her ideas of feminism and liberal voice to conversations surrounding farming, conservation, and traditional/family values. A fascinating story of the modern high plains.

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