A debut memoir delivers a meditation on a writer’s Texas Panhandle homeland.
Armitage (The Post-2000 Film Western, 2016, etc.), a professor emerita of English and American Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso, begins her book with a return to her family home in Vega. Located in the middle of a sprawling prairie surrounded by acres of grassland, the area was settled by folks like her father, who arrived there at age 16 in 1926 with his family after being flooded out from their Arkansas delta farm. The author fondly describes the 32,000-square-mile Llano Estacado of her homeland as one of the largest North American plateaus and a place historically cultivated primarily by private ranches. Only briefly does the writer dip into her more recent ecological efforts, using government-funded conservation resources, to restore the native grasses and the natural wildlife habitats decimated from decades of farming. She questions what the land has to say and intends on discovering just that in an expansive series of hikes, beginning at her father’s Armitage Farms ranch and spanning miles to reach the cow camp of original cowboy and area settler Ysabel to “track the arc of their stories.” In a meandering, somewhat repetitive, but no less resonant fashion, Armitage unfurls the bucolic history of her family and the land through a rather haphazardly assembled procession of convivial anecdotes from her youth. In a series of spontaneously navigated summer treks, she tracks alongside the long-dried-up Middle Alamosa creek bed to behold dramatic canyons, Native American petroglyphs, and majestic mesas, all interwoven with the often bittersweet snippets of her life growing up. Beholden to the dusty plateaus of her past and the sweeping natural beauty that remains, the author’s intent was to revisit and rediscover the bounty of the area and to share its nostalgic and environmental potential. Armitage’s language and her memories are poetically written, even when describing the prairies that have become tainted by human occupation and depleted and disfigured by “sheep, cattle, farming, strip mining, oil, gas exploration, feed lots, dairies, microwave and cell phone towers.” An engaging geographer and historian, Armitage takes the pulse of the sacred land spread out before her through luminous memories and photographs, all with an appreciative eye and a nod toward its untapped ecological splendor.
Both an intensely lyrical and intimate scrapbook of familial history and a uniquely sublime travelogue of the American Southwestern landscape.