Walking the Llano: Excerpt and Giveaway!

WALKING THE LLANO
  A TEXAS MEMOIR OF PLACE
by
Shelley Armitage

Genre: Eco-Memoir / Nature

Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Date of Publication: February 15, 2016
Number of Pages: 216
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When American explorers arrived in the Texas Panhandle, they dubbed the region the “Great American Desert.” Its rough terrain appeared flat, dry, uninhabitable. Later, cell phone towers, oil rigs, and wind turbines added to this stereotype. Yet in this lyrical ecomemoir, Shelley Armitage charts a unique rediscovery of an unknown land, a journey at once deeply personal and far-reaching in its exploration of the connections between memory, spirit, and place.
Armitage begins her walk by following the Middle Alamosa Creek thirty meandering miles from her family farm to the Canadian River. Growing up in the small llano town of Vega, Texas, she finds the act of walking inseparable from the act of listening and writing. “What does the land say to us?” she asks as she witnesses human alterations to the landscape—perhaps most catastrophic the drainage of the land’s most precious water source, the Ogallala Aquifer.
But the llano’s wonders persist: colorful mesas and canyons, vast flora and fauna, diverse wildlife. While meditating on the region’s history, Armitage recovers the voices of ancient, Native, and Hispano peoples as interwoven with her own: her father’s legacy, her mother’s decline, a brother’s love.  The llano holds not only the beauty of ecological surprises but a renewed kinship in a world ever-changing.
Reminiscent of the work of memoirists Terry Tempest Williams and John McPhee, Walking the Llano is a soaring testimony to the power of landscape to draw us into greater understanding of ourselves and deeper connection with the places we inhabit.

 

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 PRAISE FOR WALKING THE LLANO

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Both an intensely lyrical and intimate scrapbook of familial history and a uniquely sublime travelogue of the American Southwestern landscape” A Starred review from Kirkus

 

 

“. . .an enticing mix of memoir, nature study and the hunting of ghosts. [ Walking The Llano] is a testament to the value of slowing down and watching where you are going.” Ollie Reed, The Albuquerque Journal

 

 

“. . .[Armitage] is an explorer, and from her book we learn much about people who settled [the llano] and those who must now make gutwrenching decisions about modern methods of energy extraction. . .a perfectly balanced memoir.” Kimberly Burk, The Oklahoman

 

 

“With a cleareyed appreciation for landscape and our place in it combined with uncluttered flowing writing, Armitage establishes her place in the tradition of the best American nature writing.” Mark Pendleton, INK

 

 

“Once you’ve ambled into the lyrical, evocative pages of Shelley Armitage’s ‘Walking the Llano’, the Plains will never seem plain again.” William deBuys , Author of A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest

 

 

“Shelley Armitage’s prose is as poetic as it is intelligent. She masterfully weaves together her personal story with the narrative of the Llano, and she does so in a way that begs the question of what lies ahead for the people and the land she loves. If literature is a study of the human heart—and it is—then Walking the Llano is a quiet masterpiece.” BK Loren, Author of T heft:A Novel and Animal, Mineral, Radical: Essays

 

 

“In Walking the Llano, Shelley Armitage does for the Staked Plains what John McPhee did for the Northern Plains in Rising from the Plains. She carefully mines the history, character, and geology of the Llano Estacado and combines it with a compelling personal narrative to create an account that flows with lyricism, authenticity, and wisdom. A splendid and cleareyed book.” Nancy Curtis – Coeditor of Leaning into the Wind: Women Write from the Heart of the West

  

A Habit of Landscape: The Draws

Excerpt: Part II

This explained the cracked concrete one-lane overpass near that highway. Parallel to what is now the interstate was a one-lane road called the Ozark Trail, starting in St. Louis and running to California, a precursor of Route 66. The overpass must have served as a water crossing. Earlier it had been an Indian trail, the Indians originating the best overland routes. I occasionally found flint from the Alibates Flint Quarry, northeast of Amarillo, suggesting this was a trade route—the red, white, and purple-streaked dolomite highly valued for its strength and beauty. The Ozark Trail was built and used primarily in the l920s. The prehistoric and historic Indians traded from as early as the Clovis period (1500 B.C.E.) to the l880s. Likely the Armitages traveled the Ozark Highway when it was the only roadway from Arkansas west into Vega. On one walk there I leaned over the pipe barrier on top and checked the swallows’ nests underneath. After rains cattle liked to stomp around in the shaded pooling underneath; tracks of antelope and skunk suggested other visitors. I liked to imagine what went on here at night when no one was looking.

Downstream, now that I could imagine it as one, the creek widened and a Civilian Conservation Corps dam, concrete and native stone, hung perilously over eroded banks. Some corpsman had scratched “l936” into the concrete on top. I liked to swab up the Triops that slew in the muddy areas below. Their date of origin: circa 300 million years ago to the present, Jurassic survivors. Dinosaur shrimp some people call them. A living fossil, they hardly have changed since the Jurassic period. Their eggs remain dormant for years, hatching only when there is sufficient water and proper temperature. Pentimento, you remind us that something always lives below, contemporary life a remnant in your twirling tentacles.

Catching and keeping: that’s what folks tried to do with the water. My dad built yet another dam more recently behind the aging CCC one. Part of the reason was conservation for watering cattle, but he also stocked the pond with catfish, building a feeder he could send into the waters, like Moses’s basket into the bulrushes. After my dad’s death, the rusting of the feeder, and droughts that dried the pond for years, I had forgotten the catfish. But after a rain, Triops-like, I saw them flopping over the check dam, resurfacing in a wet season. I tried to catch them with an old fishnet rummaged out of the garage to return them to the now-full pond. When most of them got away, I realized you can’t stop the flow.

And yet the settlers had tried. Dams and fences and corrals and railroads and country roads. I, too, wanted to save something of my father, the emblem of his love of this place, by keeping the catfish from escaping with the water downstream. Tom Green, on the ranch just north, had a one-room camp where he used to escape to nap and read Paris Match. He had cookouts there and sometimes invited us out. The iron cook stove was a beauty and so heavy it took three men to wrestle it into its place. During one of the high rises—Tom’s retreat is on the Middle Alamosa—the iron stove was washed away, later discovered mired in the muddy banks of the Canadian. Water will have its way.

When my father died our family’s relationship to the land shifted. I still ran the roads but touched ground like a worry stone. My mother and I looked at each other and wondered how we would run the farm. My brother was in Omaha and later Houston, far away, and already removed from the necessary knowledge of farm programs, grazing leases, and grain prices. I had only indirect experience. Mother had driven a grain truck during the first harvests in the l930s, grinding the gears in such a way that Dad said she took two inches off the roadway.

Hers was a mostly rosy view of the particulars—sun-baked skin, cow piss, and broken machinery—of running a small farm. When a PBS film crew came to record interviews with local survivors of the Dust Bowl, my mom’s story was not the expected page out of The Grapes of Wrath. Rather than remember dust pneumonia, jack rabbit roundups, and Black Sundays, she told love stories. Her favorite (and mine): to get the farm work done Dad had to plow by the tractor lights late at night, after he had gotten off work from the bank. She lovingly wound herself around his feet on the tractor platform, behind the pedals, to keep him company, sleeping as he wheeled through the dust into the night.

To keep reading and get the full excerpt, click here.

“A Habit of Landscape: The Draws” is an excerpt of Walking the Llano: A Texas Memoir of Place, by Shelley Armitage (University of Oklahoma Press, 2016). It is reprinted by permission of the author and press.

 

 

 

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Dr. Shelley Armitage is Professor Emerita from University of Texas at El Paso where she taught courses in literature of the environment, women’s studies, and American Studies.  She is author of eight award winning books and 50 scholarly articles.  She resides in Las Cruces, New Mexico but still manages her family farm outside of Vega, Texas.
Armitage grew up in the northwest Texas Panhandle in Oldham County.  She owns and operates the family farm, 1200 acres of native grass—once part wheat and milo—bordering
Interstate 40 on the south and near the Canadian River breaks on the north.  Armitage shared this landscape from her childhood on, riding with her father and grandfather to check crops and cattle and later jogging and more recently walking the farm roads.  Though most of her adult life has been spent away from the Panhandle as a university professor, Armitage has always returned to the “farm” which offered until recently a 360-degree view of earth and sky.  Wind energy farms, oil and gas, microwave towers, and strip mining have greatly altered her childhood landscape.
Throughout her distinguished university career, Armitage’s professional life offered her a connection with landscape. Because of senior Fulbright teaching grants in Portugal and Finland, a Distinguished Fulbright Chair in American Literature in Warsaw, a Distinguished Fulbright Chair in American Studies in Budapest as well as research, writing, and teaching in Ethiopia, the American Southwest, and Hawai’i, place has taken on special meanings.  As the Dorrance Roderick Professor at University of Texas at El Paso and a Distinguished Senior Professor in Cincinnati, she decided in her most recent book to write about the meaning of home place as connected to the land’s own ecological and human stories.  
As the holder of three National Endowment for the Humanities grants, a National Endowment of the Arts grant, and a Rockefeller grant, Armitage nevertheless prizes a recent recognition from the United States Department of Agriculture most highly.  Commended for her “commitment to the spirit, principles, and practices” of the Conservation Reserve Program, Armitage has restored the farm to grassland in an effort to heal fragmented landscapes by recreating wildlife corridors and habitat.  Like the fragmented narratives of stories lost, she says: “If we could read the land like a poem, we might more intimately learn from it, understand what it says of natural and human cycles—and that sometimes uneasy relationship between them.”

 

—————————————

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2 Winners Each Win a Signed Copy of the Book
(US ONLY)
December 12 – December 21, 2016

 

CHECK OUT THE OTHER GREAT BLOGS ON THE TOUR:
12/12
Excerpt 1
12/13
Review
12/14
Author Interview 1
12/15
Scrapbook Page 1
12/16
Review
12/17
Excerpt 2
12/18
Author Interview 2
12/19
Review
12/20
Scrapbook Page 2
12/21
Review
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