Julene Bair
The Ogallala Road


A Viking/Penguin Book

by Julene Bair

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 House of Rain and Animal Dialogues
Bair finds herself in a time of life where she has developed an acute sense of place. She’s Kansas born and bred, comforted by the high, very blue sky of the western high plains, and the small patches of grassland that remain…These are truly a writer’s sensibilities, and Bair does not disappoint…The book is also about relationships, as so many successful books are, and the love that drives them. Love of the land, the people who are part of it, and the quiet, abiding love in familial relationships that are constant and yet broken. –Norbert O’Hare, examiner.com
The book takes on a narrative drive that goes beyond the usual environmental book. Will they fall in love? Will they find a way to keep the farm without draining the aquifer, like farmers had been doing for decades? …But that’s a reckoning that is yet to come for Julene Bair, the farmers in Kansas, or for the rest of us who live on what was once one of the greatest grasslands on Earth. –Josephine Marcotty, StarTribune
*Starred Review* 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. … 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. –Coleen Mondor, Booklist
Bair…connects her life’s journey to the larger tale of the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer in Kansas and other Great Plains states. The book beautifully blends personal and societal concerns. –Rob Cline, The Gazette
[Bair’s] loving prose on the places she’s lived and visited make this memoir worth picking up. …[H]er descriptions are made all the more lovely by a plainspoken Kansas sensibility that brings the reader back to earth in good time. –Jenn Fields, Boulder Daily Camera
Some readers of this splendid book will revel in Bair’s able descriptions of landscapes, such as Kansas wheat country, the Kansas of her imagination (unfarmed grassland), the Wyoming mountains, the Mojave Desert and Death Valley (from experiences she had while living in California). Other readers will find themselves compelled by the descriptions of relationships Bair had with men along the way. All readers will be enthralled by Bair’s descriptions of her relationships with her two brothers and of her love for her son, Jake—from birth through his teenage years. –Carolyn Johnson, Prairie Fire
A gifted writer describes the ebbs and flows of the arc of a romantic relationship while exploring her own bond to the American heartland.Kirkus Reviews
Composed by a skilled and sensitive participant/observer, this tender but tough memoir dishes out some big issues that will give readers a lot to chew on…Part paean to American farm life, part nature walk, part love-and-loss story, part policy paper, The Ogallala Road will drive discussion wherever it is read. –Barbara Bamberger Scott, Book Reporter
Bair’s thoughtful work underscores the dilemma now facing farmers on the High Plains.Publisher’s Weekly
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, Land Institute
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.Ruth Ozeki, Author of Man Booker Finalist A Tale For The Time Being
The Ogallala Road is one woman’s fiercely tender story of land and love. Julene Bair’s memoir is as wise, open-hearted, and honest as her spacious prairie homeland. Her roots and her reckoning run deep—like the water that nourishes us all.Brenda Peterson, Author of I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth
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
In this fine book, Bair explores the deepest of questions about time and place. She expertly weaves 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’s. This book is both an engaging memoir and an act of environmental advocacy.Mary Pipher, Author of Reviving Ophelia and The Green Boat
A story about what it means to be shaped by a place. Like Wallace Stegner, Julene Bair writes about people inseparable in every way from the land.Peter Heller, Author of The Dog Stars and of The Painter, out in May 2014 from Knopf
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, Bestselling Author of The Professor and the Madman
Turns out the ‘small price to pay for fifty bushel wheat,’ in Bair’s father’s words, isn’t small after all.  We are paying for our irrigated wheat with our aquifers, our streams, the sweetness of our prairie soils and the legacies of our families. Ogallala Road traces–intimately, honestly and with a beautiful balance of the personal and the historical–one woman’s road to this bittersweet understanding.Woody Tasch, Chairman of Slow Money
Astonishingly honest, deeply personal, but also wisely political, Ogallala Road is a wonderful book. I am so glad that someone who knows the region in this way is speaking the truth, namely, that our generation is wiping out the water heritage of the next. Thank you Julene! I hope many are listening.
Maude Barlow, chair of Food and Water Watch Board and author of Blue Future, Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever, coming out in the US early 2014
We all thirst for water. And we all crave love. In The Ogallala Road, Julene Bair leads us on the path toward both with the heart-tuned skills of our finest writers. This is a wise woman’s story. Read it and seek. –Alyson Hagy, Author of Boleto and Ghosts of Wyoming
No one who reads this book will remain unchanged or unaffected–Julene Bair’s story arcs from the cornfields of Kansas and Nebraska to the food on our tables and the gas in our cars. There is always a price to be paid, she reminds us, for the pleasures and comforts of this day.  If you read only one memoir this year, this is the one to read and pass along. –Jonis Agee, Author of The River Wife.
A moving and meaningful story, one that honors the connections we all feel between land and longing, women and earth, families and farms, past and future. A pivotal tale for our pivotal times.Susan Griffin, Author of Woman and Nature (Sierra Club Books)
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. –Marianne Peters, BookPage
The Ogallala Road is surely one of the most beautiful books you may ever read.

Author Julene Bair writes so evocatively of the land she loves that you can almost feel the wheat stubble under your feet and dust on your face. Her descriptions, in fact, make you want to drop everything you’re doing and go lie in the grass to savor the serene feeling she lends her readers….

For conservationists, romantics, or anyone who wants a soul-soothing read, I don’t think you can afford to pass this memoir up.
–Terri Schlichenmeyer, Marco News
Bair weaves a powerful memoir that brings alive the haunting beauty of the shortgrass prairie landscapes, and the devastating crisis {of} the Ogallala Aquifer…a lyrical tribute to a place and the human cultures that have inhabited it, as well as a thorough and personal examination of an environmental crisis that, for most of us, remains unseen. –Susan J. Tweit, Story Circle Book Review
Julene Bair has written an ecological memoir that is beautiful and brave. Her searing story is the story of the High Plains: broken, beloved, misunderstood.  One can only hope the land is as resilient as she is. –-Florence Williams, Author of LA Times Book Prize Winner Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History 
More Advance Praise »


Julene Bair has inherited part of a large farm and fallen in love with a rancher from Kansas’s beautiful Smoky Valley. A single mother, she means to 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 many 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.