In her memoir, The Ogallala Road, Julene Bair chronicles the last days of her family’s Kansas farm, as well as the bittersweet love affair that feeds her hope of saving the place her folks called home. She makes the case that modern farming practices are inexorably eroding the vast resources her ancestors took for granted, and she mourns the unraveling of the tapestry that once bound together her family, their history and the land they shared.
Twice divorced and worried about her teenage son, Jake, Bair returns to her family’s farm for a visit and meets Ward, a rancher from nearby Smoky Valley. Lonely in middle age, she is thrilled to have a man in her life again, as well as a role model for Jake. Together she and Ward dream about building a life together and working the land Bair has inherited from her parents. From the beginning, however, Bair knows that Ward does not share her passion for land preservation. She begins to wrestle with her family’s part in draining the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides the only source of water for the Western Plains. Eventually, she supports more sustainable use of this precious water source—even as she realizes that her actions will drive a wedge between her and Ward.
Bair’s memoir is a moving and honest account of a woman trying to reconcile parts of herself that seem irreconcilable—daughter, mother, lover, landowner, environmental advocate. In searching for unity within herself, she discovers what she truly values.