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What Running Out Means To Me

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 18th Century
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 18th Century

Hi, I am Holly Mercer, Library Director at Dodge City Community College. The title of the book, Running Out - in Search of Water on the High Plains, implies the focus of the book will be on water. However, this book highlights the interconnectedness of the world. The author of the book, Lucas Bessire, spent his childhood in Meade County, an area of southwest Kansas. He is now an anthropologist, working at the University of Oklahoma. In the book, he reconnects with his family members and their shared history. The epicenter of the book is the "Little Rock House" that his father lives in. From the Little Rock House the story expands into the Southwest region, into meetings, talking with farmers, and talking with community members.

The author explains that the aquifer Southwest Kansas uses for farming is part of the Ogallala Aquifer, a 174,000 mile system that is part of eight great plains states. This system produces around 1/6 of the world's annual grain product. This aquifer is being depleted at a rapid rate and in some areas has already dried up. The drying up of the aquifer affects all of us.

He explores this situation from the viewpoint of farmers, families, legislators, and their communities. This research leads to the question of where the responsibility to preserve the aquifer lays. This theme is interspersed throughout the book. The author reflects on the responsibility that his family members had for their actions and comes to understand that their actions are connected to their story. He concludes that the responsibility to preserve the aquifer does not stand with one person or a single company, just as one action will not save the aquifer.

Through the collective effort of many and through forgiveness of past indiscretions and choices, there is an opportunity to save the aquifer. "It is difficult to accept obligations to others. And it may be even more challenging to embrace mutual responsibility in the places where our original scar tissues are formed. Yet searching for ways to save the water means searching for kinship, real or imagined."

He continues "Yet for me, intimacy is where it begins and ends. Aquifer loss is not abstract. On the plains, people do not have the luxury of confronting it piecemeal. The immense scale of depletion can be grasped only in the intimate registers by which people are forced to inhabit all of its contradictory elements at once. It runs through the connective tissues of everyday life, for some more than others. Reckoning with depletion requires more than critical analysis of other people's mistakes. It means reflecting on the collusions that allow me to keep running out, too"

As I read the book and saw how the author reflected on what running out signifies for him, I contemplated what running out signifies for me, a person who did not grow up in southwest Kansas, but a person who has come to call it home. The words that kept coming to my mind is an adaptation of the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge - Water, Water everywhere, but not a drop to spare.

This is Holly Mercer for High Plains Radio Readers Book Club.

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