Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

Drylands, a Rural American Saga

Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

Drylands, a Rural American Saga

Article excerpt


by Lionel Delevingne and Steve Turner

University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 2011.

Photographs. 144 pages. $27.95 cloth.

Tributes to rural America tend to romanticize life on the land and in small towns. If writer Steve Turner and photographer Lionel Delevingne, in their book Drylands, a Rural American Saga, occasionally give in to this temptation, they also show a keen understanding of the history and dynamics of farming in one small region of eastern Washington--Adams County--and an honest affection for the communities that sustain rural life.

The authors see Adams County as a perfect example of "the collective pressures of rural change" (p. xii). As such, it is the victim of several ironies. First, mechanization has led to reduced population and, with fewer people around to patronize small businesses, a depletion of services. In addition, in a climate where a new combine can cost upwards of $450,000, farmers have to "get big, or get out" (p. xx). Second, Adams County farmers initially learned to produce successful crops from underwatered soil, but then, "the onset of irrigation ... created an alternative mode that demands more of the land's liquid resources than the land can provide" (p. xxiv). All of this has been said before elsewhere, but Turner says it well, and his introduction is especially valuable for readers who are not well versed in Western agriculture. …

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