The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning
By Julene Bair
Reflections by David Nelson
I really enjoy love stories. I grew up listening to love stories from my father. He loved my mother. He loved his children. He also loved his childhood home and his college in Central Kansas. One of his very special loves was for the land. I mean the dirt, grass, crops, trees, and little stream (too often dry) of his Dry Creek Farm in the Southwest corner of Saline County, Kansas. He had inherited this small quarter section along with his brother and sisters and eventually bought them out. When both Mom and Dad died I bought the land from my brother and sister. This little bit of dirt and sky now belongs to me. That sounds strange to my ears because I embrace the Native American idea that land, water, and sky cannot be owned. The land owns us.
Julene Bair grew up on land in Western Kansas near Goodland. She worked the land with her Father and had a love-hate relationship into her adult years. As a writer she is able to describe the land and encounter with land in language that draws this reader into closer intimacy with both her land and my own. Paragraphs would drip from my lips as I read her descriptions to myself. I would love to hear her read some passages out loud.
Life does not stand still. Stagnant means death. As Julene grows up and leaves the land to discover herself and her future the farm keeps calling her back for visits. She has other loves in her life as well. Men enter and exit. She becomes a loving mother to a son who lives out the mysteries of his humanness, which challenge and educate her. Each encounter molds her a bit and leaves a lasting imprint, but none of them seem to have as lasting an impact as the land in Western Kansas. As she matures she also becomes more aware of the cost of the massive irrigation that is making the land capable of producing enormous crops of corn and other grains. This land that is made for grazing and dry land farming has been transformed by the magic of the Ogallala Aquifer. The only problem is that the Aquifer is being destroyed by its overuse by the farmers, including her own family. She flirts with becoming an activist and at times in my reading I felt like I was experiencing a contemporary vision like Rachel Carson in Silent Spring. But that is not her future. She remains a writer who will offer her gifts through the magic of words on a page.
Love stories have characters, plots, surprises, and hopefully happy endings. This love story is no exception. It engaged me to feel my love for the land and for the people around me deeper. It invited me to walk the precious farm that I am a part of we call Dry Creek. It encourages me to become more aware of modern technology that always has a price, too often much larger than originally anticipated. Most of all this entire book nurtures my spirit. Thanks for the love stories my Dad told me. I understand them even better now and I hope someday my children and grandchildren will understand why I can’t talk too long about my parents and the land without tears and getting a little chocked up in the telling.