Radio Readers Book Club

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  HPPR Radio Readers Book Club is an on-air, on-line community of readers exploring themes of common interest to those who live and work on the High Plains. 

 

The 2017 Spring Read's theme is Water and Replenishment.  You'll find the thoughts and ideas about books from Radio Readers through a series of BookBytes posted below.  Of you'd like to contribute a BookByte yourself, simply contact Kathleen Holt at kholt@hppr.org for more information.

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April Showers

9 hours ago
Janet Huelskamp - Fowler, KS

Hello, Radio Readers! Where have the books in our spring series Water and Replenishment been taking you?

Me? Well, talking about these books have made for some fantastic conversations! One example: some friends and I were noticing surprising similarities between Milagro Beanfield War and Dune. Sure, one is set in northern New Mexico almost 50 years ago while the other takes place on a desert planet 20,000 years in the future. But both show the ways that limiting access to a limited resource empowers a few and deprives many. William Ashworth’s 2006 Ogallah Blue: Water and Life on the High Plains documents the consequences of certain entrenched beliefs that some have a greater right to, a greater need of, water than others. Listen to the questions he asks: “should underground water be a public resource, as it is in six of eight High Plain states, or should it belong to the owner of the overlying earth, as in Oklahoma, or to no one, as in Texas?” He also wonders whether a standard of “beneficial use” should be applied when pumping ground water. Who defines that standard? Who resolves conflicts between competing needs?  These are the same questions at the heart of the fictional Milagro Beanfield War and of Dune, right?

Conserving Water in Hays, Kansas

Mar 22, 2017
JASON RIEGEL / City of Hays, Kansas

Ogallala Blue, Water and Life on the High Plains explains how groundwater mining of the Ogallala has become a way of life. How much water do we urban folk utilize, and what can we do to reduce groundwater usage?  Fortunately, a modal to answer this question exists in Ellis County, KS, the only KS County having more than 15,000 population, too dry to rely on surface water supplies and lacking a substantial aquifer.

For the 20,000 citizens of Hays Kansas, located in Ellis County, retaining a quality life has meant water conservation.  Comparisons by USGS of City average per capita water usage in gallons from 2009 to 2013 measures Hay’s water efficiency: Colby 294 gpc, Goodland  283, Garden City: 204, Liberal 188, Dodge City 175 and Hays 93 gpc.

Full Circle or Not

Mar 20, 2017
SUSAN STOVER

Who owns the water, who speaks for future generations’ right to water and what comes after the Ogallala aquifer is gone? William Ashworth raises these questions in his book, Ogallala Blue, the High Plains Public Radio community read, as he ponders what a “post-Ogallala economy” will look like.

We likely won’t recognize the day when the High Plains states enter a “post-Ogallala economy,” as adjustments happen continually. Some changes are triggered when individual wells fail, producers age and get out of farming, or low commodity prices force hard decisions.  Other changes are being made by people with vision and opportunities to adjust their businesses to a long-term reality of less available water.  

Honest Questions

Mar 17, 2017
JONATHAN BAKER / Canyon, Texas

I’m Jonathan Baker, a writer in Canyon, Texas, and I’ve been asked to talk a little bit about Ogallala Blue by William Ashworth, the latest selection in the HPPR Radio Readers Book Club. The book concerns the Ogallala Aquifer, the vast body of groundwater that exists beneath the feet of High Plains residents and is sometimes referred to as an “underground ocean,” though it’s more akin to a sponge made of permeable rock and silt.

What is the Right Thing?

Mar 15, 2017
KAREN MADORIN / Logan, Kansas

I’m Matthew Sanderson. Today, I’ve been asked to share a few thoughts on the book, Ogallala Blue: Water and Life on the High Plains, by William Ashworth.

I approach the issue of water in Kansas from both personal and professional angles. As a fifth-generation Kansan, I grew up hearing about the loss of groundwater in the western part of the state. As a sociologist, I apply the methods of social science to try and understand a puzzle: after nearly 40 years of policy efforts, institutional reforms, economic incentives, and technological innovations, why do we still see declining groundwater levels? It is a deceptively simple question. Ashworth takes us down the path toward answers.

Can Technology Help the Ogallala?

Mar 14, 2017
Kansas Geological Survey

Technology made it possible to develop the Ogallala aquifer and turn the High Plains region into the nation’s breadbasket. William Ashworth describes this transition in Ogallala Blue, the High Plains Public Radio community read.  Intense pumping, though, has caused many areas to have large groundwater declines.  Can technology also provide a way to extend and conserve the aquifer into the future?

That is certainly a possibility.  The state water plans for Texas, Kansas and Colorado all propose meeting future water needs, in part, by implementing technology to conserve water today.

Sihuatl - Mujer - Woman: International Women's Day

Mar 8, 2017
Xánath Caraza / Conjuro - Mammoth Publications, 2012

Sihuatl

By Xánath Caraza

Tlatoli, tlen mo nenemilia ipan to tenshipal.

Ti kamatics campa ne

kuatinijic tlayeyekapa miyotia.

Huan tlaejekapa tlamasi kama ki totomosa no tonal

Ni sasilia to teko tlen ki ajamatij no lalamikilis.

Mujer

By Xánath Caraza

Palabra que se disuelve entre los labios.

Encantamiento de los bosques

con sus aromas más exquisitos.

Viento suave que toca el alma,

susurro de dioses que encanta mi razón.

Water in Native American Ledger Art

Mar 8, 2017
Northern Cheyenne leader Wild Hog / Mandeville Library and Plains Indian Ledger Art Publishing Project

Cheyenne people, who are two nations today, Southern and Northern, live in Oklahoma and Montana. Their 19th century relatives drew glyphic images on hide and then paper, often ledger books obtained from traders. Water in a plains ledger art scenery has importance in surprising ways.

Water is essential for courtship. Young women fetched water for their families every morning and evening, so

references to water suggests trysts. George Bird Grinnell writes about courtship, a woman would appear unchaperoned, “on her way to get wood or water.” The man “stepped up beside her, and threw his arms and his blanket around her, quite covering her person with the blanket. Then he held her fast and began to talk with her.” (Grinnell 1, 132; Wild Hog-Schoyen, plate 9). In an image attributed to Northern Cheyenne leader Wild Hog, a well-dressed man, his braids wrapped in otter fur, wears a bright red blanket. He accosts a woman wearing a fancy belt and dress. Her legs and face are painted red. This is no chance meeting, as both are dressed up. In the image, a blue circle represents a spring or small lake. Dashes lead away from the blue water, which are her steps. The steps meander, indicating the leisurely walk of the courting couple. They are in no rush to part company.

Whose Rights are Right?

Mar 6, 2017
James Miller, 1999 / USGS

What do we say when we talk about the Ogallala aquifer? It’s the “life-blood” and “linchpin to the economy.”  Some farmers point out they aren’t growing crops, they’re exporting water in bushels of corn and soybean, and bales of alfalfa and cotton.   That is also true with the beef and milk produced.  What the aquifer isn’t:  it isn’t an ocean, although it held more water in its silty, sandy layers than five Lake Eries; it isn’t a river, although more water is pumped annually than flows in the Colorado River; and it isn’t inexhaustible.  

The High Plains Pubic Radio community read, Ogallala Blue by William Ashworth, describes the development of the aquifer and water laws to manage it.

Will we be here when the river returns?

Mar 3, 2017
MAX McCOY / Emporia, Kansas

I’m hiking down a dry riverbed on a cold morning in winter, and with each step my boots make a sharp sound in the gravel. This is Cimarron Crossing, where travelers along the Santa Fe Trail had a serious choice: They could continue up the Arkansas River on the mountain route, which would take them to Bent’s Old Fort and then south over the Raton pass. Or, they could choose the middle crossing. They might ford the river here, or at points nearby, and follow the Cimarron Route, which was shorter but had less water and poorer grass, often called “The Waterscrape.” Neither route was easy, and the consequences of a bad choice could mean hardship or even death.

Water & Replenishment - A Poet's View

Feb 28, 2017
Denise Low

Ogallala Aquifer

As the water table sinks

mid-range rivers falter.

The Arkansas River loses its way

to Wichita. The Smoky Hill

lapses into gravel

and long stretches of silence,

like Heraclitus, muffled,

only fragments remaining

from his distant writings.

Or Sappho—her broken

songs are beds of old lakes,

just the outlines visible

like wheel ruts

of the Oregon Trail,

almost imaginary traces

across grasslands.

The Ogallala Aquifer

Feb 27, 2017
Janet Huelskamp - Fowler, KS

Ogallala Blue: Water and Life on the High Plains, by William Ashworth, is a High Plains Public Radio community read.  The book chronicles the development, management and possible fate of the Ogallala, the largest aquifer within the High Plains aquifer system.  At its essence, the book is about the people and the place that rely on the aquifer. I am Susan Stover with the Kansas Geological Survey, University of Kansas.   

The High Plains aquifer stretches from South Dakota to Texas and New Mexico. It supplies the water for nearly a third of our nation’s irrigated crops and has transformed the region into some of the nation’s most productive acreage with fields upon fields of corn, alfalfa, soybeans, wheat, sorghum and cotton.  The aquifer also supports the cattle, dairy and hog industries, meatpacking and milk processing plants, ethanol production, and communities.  It is a vibrant economy, one that runs on water.

The Water Beneath Our Feet

Feb 24, 2017
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Welcome to High Plains Public Radio Readers Book Club, an on-air, on-line community of readers exploring themes of common interest to those who live and work on the High Plains.  In this, our third Book club series, Water and Replenishment is our theme. 

We’ve been talking about a classic 1970’s novel, John Nichols’ The Milagro Beanfield Wars, where the struggle for water highlights differences in the values and lifestyles of two groups of citizens – those who see the economic possibilities in reservoirs and those who prefer to honor natural topographies. As Nichols brings his novel to a close, offering a tenuous cease-fire in the Beanfield war over water, we readers sense the cease-fire will be short-lived.

I don’t know about you, but Nichols’ novel, for all its satiric bite and sass, really has got me thinking more about the history of water use and access not only in my part of the High Plains but in my own back yard.  Most what I’m thinking about is how shockingly uneducated I am about this.  Should I be doing a better job of conserving water? What are some of the battle lines over water in our region?

Native American Perspectives on Water

Feb 22, 2017
Frank Henderson / Metropolitan Museum Collection

Denise Low’s grandfather of Delaware Indian heritage was among the dislocated Eastern Natives who settled on the Kansas Plains of the 19th Century.  As one might guess, history and heritage both are important to her story as they are for many Native American poets and writers.

Today, Denise, a former Kansas Poet Laureate and a valued friend to the Radio Readers Book Club, explores shares the thoughts of some of her colleagues around the topic of water.

In the near desert Great Plains, waterways define the land for Native peoples.

JONATHAN BAKER / Canyon, Texas

I’m Jonathan Baker, a writer in Canyon, Texas, and I’ve been asked to talk a little about this month’s Radio Readers Book Club Read, The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols. I read this book twenty years ago, after a friend of mine got a forearm tattoo of the tequila-toting Latino skeleton illustration from the cover of the book. I figured there must be something worth investigating in Nichols’s novel if my friend, a Jewish agitator from Austin, would get permanent ink dedicated to a story of Chicanos in northern New Mexico. So I read it. And I loved it.

Water - Dividing or Connecting

Feb 17, 2017
CONNY BOGAARD, Holcomb KS

The Milagro Bean Field War by John Nichols is a story about Mexican farmers reclaiming their lost rights and their lost lands from the hands of evil land developers. The story starts with one individual and his rebellious act to tap into an irrigation system to start a bean field to sustain him and his family. This simple act, of course, is not without consequences. Seeing the farmer and his bean field inspires the neighbors to also stand up against the developers and take back what is theirs. It is a wonderful story about people coming together to fight injustice, as well as the power of one individual to inspire change. 

The story reminds me of a small village in Honduras that I visited on a mission trip not long ago. Our goal was to build a water system to provide clean running water to every household in the village. The problem these villagers had was not the absence of water, or even the loss of their land, but simply the lack of resources because they were poor.  After years of lobbying with their government these people had given up hope that their situation would ever improve. Until one individual saw an opportunity.

Donde la luz es violeta / Where the Light is Violet.

Feb 16, 2017
XANATH CARAZA / Kansas City

I am Xánath Caraza, and I today will read two bilingual poems from my book Donde la luz es violeta / Where the Light is Violet.

Susurros en la atmósfera

Polvo de oro cubre el agua de Venecia

esta mañana. Las gaviotas no se han

fijado en mí, hace frío en esta barca a

la deriva. El viento salvaje de la laguna

corre por doquier, alborota mi pelo negro.

Voy en busca de Marco Polo, su fantasma.

Los ecos de sus pasos encerrados en este

Know When to Fold 'Em

Feb 13, 2017
Russell Lee / Library of Congress

Welcome to High Plains Public Radio Readers Book Club, an on-air, on-line community of readers exploring themes of common interest to those who live and work on the High Plains.  We’ve been talking about John Nichols’ 1970’s classic, The Milagro Beanfield War, part of our 2017 Spring Read, Water and Replenishment.

You Already Know . . .

Feb 10, 2017
LYNNE HEWES

It doesn’t make any difference whether you’re reading  John Nichols’ The Milagro Beanfield War to find out why Joe Mondragon diverted a stream of water for his little bean field.  It doesn’t matter if you’re hearing the religious ritual of “No man shall ever again want for water…” in Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel Dune.    It doesn’t even count that you’ve been mesmerized by William Ashworth in his history of the Ogallala Aquifer, called Ogallala Blue.

You already knew about the importance of water.

Is This a True Story?

Feb 10, 2017
Kathleen Holt / Kansas State Historical Society

Hello, Radio Readers!  We’re talking about John Nichols’ Milagro Beanfield War as the first book in our 2017 Spring Read, Water and Replenishment.  Set in New Mexico, the novel explores the conflict between communities of haves and of have nots, who, in this story, are divided by access to water and water use.  On one side, are those who want a dam to create a lake for fishing and boating and to stimulate a business economy; on the other side are subsistence farmers who need water for irrigation.

You all may already know this, but I had to do some Googling through various sources, so bear with me here.  First of all, I hadn’t known that irrigation in New Mexico dates back to the days of Pueblo Indian farming, which makes irrigation an ancient custom, right? It’s just that traditional Hispano irrigation depended on river-fed ditches.  Farmers used shovels to divert water from one ditch to another and from ditches to fields.  Beginning in the early twentieth century,  many New Mexicans advocated for engineered solutions for irrigation, specifically large concrete dams and levees and canals.   While such water management systems are more efficient, they’re also quite expensive to construct and maintain. Conservancy, or taxing districts, were developed.  Historically, in New Mexico, many subsistence farmers, unable to afford the taxes, lost land owned by their families for generations or forfeited their rights to water access.

Desert Places and Desert People

Feb 8, 2017

Welcome to High Plains Public Radio Readers Book Club, an on-air, on-line community of readers exploring themes of common interest to those who live and work on the High Plains.  We’re talking about John Nichols’ Milagro Beanfield War, the first book in our 2017 Spring Read, Water and Replenishment

Published in the early 1970’s, the novel has since become a kind of cult classic, one revered by readers who enjoy a certain level of gritty realism, comedy, triumphs over greed and indifferent bureaucrats, and random gun fire here and there. Hmmm….sounds like fun, right?

Water Changes Lives

Feb 6, 2017
Boyd Funk / Holcomb, Kansas

I am Boyd Funk. I am a local farmer who has irrigated out of the Ogallala Aquifer all my life.  I usually think of water as a way to grow a crop, but to some people in the world, water has a different meaning. For the past 15 years, I have led a group that goes to rural areas in Central America. We build water systems that are simple and easy to maintain. We tap a spring high in the mountains, a spring that runs year-round, even in the dry seasons. The water is gravity flowed to the homes of the people. Trenches are hand dug and at least one man in the village is trained to maintain and repair the system. The water we provide is not for agriculture purposes but only for domestic use.

Is This a True Story?

Feb 3, 2017
KAREN MADORIN / Lost Dutchman Pond

Hello, Radio Readers!  We’re talking about John Nichols’ Milagro Beanfield War as the first book in our 2017 Spring Read, Water and Replenishment.  Set in New Mexico, the novel explores the conflict between communities of haves and of have nots, who, in this story, are divided by access to water and water use.  On one side, are those who want a dam to create a lake for fishing and boating and to stimulate a business economy; on the other side are subsistence farmers who need water for irrigation.

Agua - Water Poems

Feb 1, 2017
Xánath Caraza, translated by Sandra Kingery

I am Xánath Caraza, and today I will read two bilingual poems from my book Donde la luz es violeta / Where the Light is Violet.

 

Agua  

 

Agua de las fuentes brota

con cada inhalación se adhiere agua de vida estás presente en las células del cuerpo y átomos.

Agua evaporada sofocas en este momento con el sol la densa atmósfera

en la que me muevo, agua que flota.

Agua que se abre, agua que salta.

Melodías de agua suenan en mi oído susurran viento, viento que se mezcla erosiona, que merma, hiende

se mete en la piel.

Emana a borbotones.

Me estremezco agua helada, agua sólida.

Deseos perdidos, agua recia, solidificados sentimientos, agua pétrea, tremenda pérdida.

Milagros - Miracles

Jan 30, 2017
Karen Madorin / Logan, Kansas

Hello, this is Karen Madorin from Logan, Kansas, sharing her insights into John Nichols’ The Milagro Beanfield War for High Plains Radio Readers. Like any book worth reading, this one generates a gazillion not necessarily related ideas. One of those is what is a Milagro?

When Nichols wrote this novel based on his own experiences, experts in the publishing business told him he’d have to change the title so it didn’t have a foreign term in it. Naysayers explained the reading public didn’t buy such books. He didn’t follow their directions. Now plenty of people have enjoyed it and learned that Milagro means miracle.

If Only We . . .

Jan 27, 2017
Wayne Hughes, Amarillo

“Water.” Regardless who uses the word it means exactly the same thing in every language.  Without it, we perish before the sun sets on the sixth day without it.  When it is scare, hard to find, we abandon all other pretenses of civilization and seek after it with deadly determination, whether we’re alone in the middle of the desert or a mighty nation whose crops may fail in the coming spring.

Water and Replenishment

Jan 26, 2017
Karen Madorin - Logan, Kansas

Welcome to High Plains Public Radio Readers Book Club, an on-air, on-line community of readers exploring themes of common interest to those who live and work on the High Plains.  In this, our third Book club series, Water and Replenishment is our theme.   In our region, defined by low precipitation, few running rivers, and aquifers with slow rates of replenishment, water is in great demand.  Can we insure we have enough water -- for cooking and cleaning, for livestock and crops, for feedlots and plants, for reservoirs and swimming pools? for everyone?

From Sea to Desert to Today

Jan 26, 2017
Karen Madorin, 2015

What an irony that a landscape geographers and surveyors titled The Great American Desert first existed as a series of shallow inland seas. Over several geologic periods, vast waters supported varied marine life, etched inlets and beaches, while dissolving and depositing sediment. A hike through the resulting rugged hills and canyons reveals fossils that confirm this. A view of derricks and pump jacks sucking  compressed ancient life to the surface cancels any doubt about this terrain’s origin.

Studying Great Plains geology instructs that Paleozoic and Mesozoic waters deposited the region’s shale, limestone, and sandstone foundations over a period of 480 million years. Once salt waters dried, rains fell and channeled into streams and rivers that etched that soft stone landscape. It left what writer Harry Chrisman calls a ladder of rivers and streams connecting one watershed to another.

“Civilization has been a permanent dialogue between human beings and water.” – Paolo Lugari (Colombia)

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” – W.H. Auden

“Water, thou hast no taste, no color, no odor; canst not be defined, art relished while ever mysterious. Not necessary to life, but rather life itself, thou fillest us with a gratification that exceeds the delight of the senses.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery, From Wind, Sand and Stars, 1939

Featuring Kansas author Thomas Fox Averill

Thomas Fox Averill, an O. Henry Award Winner, is Writer-in-residence and Professor of English at Washburn University of Topeka, Kansas;  where he teaches courses in Creative Writing and in Kansas Literature, Folklore and Film.  He has published four novels, one of which includes A Carol Dickens Christmas (2014).  

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