Ogallala Siren

Ogallala Siren
Ogallala Siren

  • Oil on Canvas
  • 72″ x 24″ diptych
  • $7900
  • 30″ x 10″ image size digital prints – $395 plus shipping
  • Contact the artist.

My neighbor was writing a play about water in western Kansas beginning with the Mennonite settlements in the 1800. Most of the water in western Kansas is underground in the Ogallala Aquifer. The play’s first readings offered inspiration and this painting developed. One of several veins of story found in this work is the Homer’s Greek tale, The Odyssey, in which Odysseus plugged his sailors’ ears with wax and had himself tied to the ship’s mast so he could hear the deadly Siren’s song.  This Ogallala Siren‘s lure is so powerful that there is nothing for it, you must have what she offers. It is your only truth. She is giving you what you need now, to hell with the price that might be paid.  In the painting, she is presenting you with an empty glass of water while holding a cheeseburger on a plate of golden corn. Water is so cheap that we use the aquifer to grow corn in country suited to prairie or dry land farming. The western Kansas farm likely raises genetically modified corn for biofuel or to feed to beef, which the cattle have difficulty digesting.  Many farmers will need help transitioning to more sustainable farming practices. The Land Institute’s 50 year farm plan could hold one answer. The mythical siren has the moon nimbus behind her head and crop circles in the background. A seemingly endless supply of water flows from her robes. There is no blame placed on ancestors who took advantage of the aquifer’s resource. But now we know much more about the tenuous nature of the aquifer and the value of it. Flying over western Kansas and eastern Colorado the  ubiquitous crop circles dot the land horizon to horizon. Irrigation techniques have improved, but the Ogallala Aquifer’s limited supply of water should cause us to think critically about how the Aquifer’s water  is used. Genetically modified crops and mono-cultures are also important topics for discussion.

A Water Story: In 1985 my family attended a Wilderness Society Camp in and around Rocky Mountain National Park. I signed up for the water program, which began in the tundra and followed water down the mountain to Estes Park, CO’s water treatment plant. During the program we were asked how much water we used in a day. Only two people in the group of 20 could answer. One gentleman lived in northern California and carried in his water to a secluded forest home. The other gentleman was an eastern CO farmer who used more water in a day than the city of Estes Park used in a year.

Writer, Julene Bair, has a book out about the Ogallala Aquifer titled “The Ogallala Road”. Viking Penguin Press is the publisher.

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