A land of subtle beauty: A review of Llano Estacado

 

Llano Estacado: An Island in the Sky
Edited by Stephen Bogener and William Tydeman
192 pages, hardcover: $45. Texas Tech University Press, 2011.

The Llano Estacado is a featureless plain, punctuated by canyons, that covers much of west Texas and eastern New Mexico. In the early 19th century, this sea of grass supported millions of bison, and the Comanche ruled it as "lords of the Plains." But in just a few decades, settlers and adventurers killed off the bison, breaking the back of Comanche power. Today, the Llano is dry, ragged farmland, planted mostly in cotton, with an endless thirst for water that isn't there. It's a region defined by entropy and locked in cultural and economic struggle, a place most people hurry through on their way to anywhere else.

A new book of essays and photographs, Llano Estacado: An Island in the Sky, sees all this and something more: a land of subtle beauty, mysterious presences and a kind of quiet courage. Editors Stephen Bogener and William Tydeman asked a handful of Western writers to consider the region in light of images created by Texas and New Mexico photographers. Photos by Peter Brown, Rick Dingus and Miguel Gandert accompany essays by Rick Bass, Barry Lopez and Annick Smith, among others. The essays cover a lot of ground in form and subject. William Kittredge writes about his friendship with Texas novelist Max Crawford, while Bass responds directly to the photographs he examines. Lopez draws a longer arc, considering the Llano in light of 21st century problems, a place that may help us re-evaluate "the impact humanity has had on the Earth" so that we may "ask each other what matters."

This is not just a book of essays illustrated by photographs, or a book of photographs filled out with a few arty essays. The two elements are inseparable, much the way an opera's libretto is interwoven with its music. Stephen Graham Jones' contribution, "What You Can Remember," reads as if it's a photo album of his boyhood memories. And Peter Brown's photograph, "Storm," tells the history of the Llano without a word, in the juxtaposition of green grass and plowed field under bruised-looking skies. Bogener's excellent title essay, a history of the area, brings story and historical photos together, creating a vivid microcosm of the larger work.

This is a beautiful book, and as Tydeman writes, it summons us to "a loving recovery" of the Llano. That's a start for this landscape in need of care.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Deschutes Land Trust, based in Bend, Oregon, seeks a collaborative and strategic Executive Director to lead us in pursuing our mission: to conserve and care...
  • DEVELOPMENT MANAGER
    Job Title: Development Manager Supervisor: Senior Director of Development Effective Date: May 17, 2021 Job Status: Full-time (40 hours/week), exempt Location: Within the Colorado Plateau...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA
    - The Land, History, and People of the Bears Ears Region - The Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa region is one of the most beautiful,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Job Title: Executive Director Reports To: Board of Directors Compensation: $75,000 to $80,000, plus generous benefits and paid leave. Funding for relocation expenses available. Classification:...
  • WATER DIRECTOR
    Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. Application review will begin on April 2, 2021 and will continue until the position has been filled....
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • VIRGINIA SPENCER DAVIS FELLOWSHIP
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, is offering a fellowship for early-career journalists interested in...
  • COLORADO WILD PUBLIC LANDS VIDEO CONTEST
    Please submit your video of 30 seconds or less, taken on public lands, to [email protected] by May 15th for a chance to win in one...
  • WMAN NETWORK COORDINATOR
    WESTERN MINING ACTION NETWORK (WMAN) CONTRACT OPPORTUNITY CLOSING DATE: Feb. 19, 2021 WMAN is seeking a team member to coordinate the various network activities to...
  • FRIENDS OF THE INYO IS HIRING TRAIL AMBASSADORS FOR THE SUMMER OF 2021
    Friends of the Inyo's Trail Ambassadors (TAs) support the Inyo, Sierra, & Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests and other partners by providing positive public service, outreach, interpretation,...
  • LAND & CABIN ON CO/ UT LINE
    18 ac w/small solar ready cabin. Off grid, no well. Great RV location. Surrounded by state wildlife area and nat'l parks.
  • MANAGER PERMACULTURE LANDSCAPE CONTRACTOR
    Permaculture / Landscape Company Manager / Site Lead Red Ant Works, Inc. - 20+ year landscape construction and horticultural care company seeks manager and site...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau with lodge, river trip and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance is looking for a passionate, dynamic, organized, and technology-savvy communications professional to help grow our membership and presence in the Four...
  • ENERGY AND CLIMATE PROGRAM ASSOCIATE
    San Juan Citizens Alliance seeks an Energy and Climate Program Associate to focus on public outreach, education and organizing to advance campaigns to mitigate climate...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    This position provides professional real estate services and is responsible for managing and completing real estate projects utilizing a project management database that is designed...
  • WILDFIRE MITIGATION SPECIALIST
    The Wildfire Mitigation Specialist is responsible for delivering wildfire risk mitigation information, recommendations and programmatic resources to wildland urban interface homeowners, community members and partners....
  • DEVELOPMENT POSITIONS
    Thorne Nature Experience is hiring for a Development Director and Senior Individual Giving Manager. Individuals will work collaboratively with Thorne's Executive Director to develop and...
  • SENIOR PROGRAM MANAGER, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION & ENERGY
    The National Parks Conservation Association, a 100-year-old nonprofit advocacy organization and the nation's leading voice for national parks seeks a Senior Program Manager, Landscape Conservation...
  • BACKCOUNTRY AND FRONTCOUNTRY STEWARDSHIP CREW MEMBERS
    The San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA) is hiring a crew of ambassadors to work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to educate visitors on...