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  • Walking the Llano: A Texas Memoir of Place by Shelley Armitage
  • Dennis Cooley
Walking the Llano: A Texas Memoir of Place. By Shelley Armitage. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017. ix + 199 pp. Illustrations, map. $24.95 cloth.

Walking the Alamo is a meditation on relatedness. Its understanding of the Llano region within the Texas Panhandle emerges from Armitage's many field trips when she dips into the landscape. Those journeys on foot lead to an intimate appreciation for the region. Though often seen as an empty desert, it emerges for her as a rich network of flora, fauna, and people. Her readings of the Llano are informed by extensive research in archaeology, geology, cartography, explorers' records, old newspapers, expeditionary reports, literature, and history. The book splices those readings with personal experiences of growing up in Vegas, Texas.

Armitage realizes that, though memory is crucial to her apprehension of place, it is plastic, myriad, and as constantly reforming as is the water that flows under the region. She quotes others as saying "'Land becomes landscape once humans have touched it' (86)" and "'We are nothing without the stories' (26)." The acts of imagination produce a "membrane" of emotional truths that shape continuities of place. They enable a cherishing which for Armitage continues to be violated by shortsightedness and disrespect. She notes, for example, that native pictographs are "badly damaged from use: by picnickers, skinny-dippers, even someone who chalked over the drawings (70)." The opening of oil fields and wind farms have produced their own incursions. A distancing attitude and a noisy impatience beset the landscape.

Armitage speculates that a lack of poetry in the Llano stems from a belief in utility and from the hastiness of those passing through it. From the outset newcomers sought opportunity. They were inclined to see the land as commodity and as impediment to elsewhere. Many hoped for better things, allowing little time to tend the place and scant inclination to attend upon it. The lateness of their arrival didn't help, she argues. Stories of the kind Armitage is thinking need a living "within"; they depend on a growing intimacy with a place, "looking caringly" at it and immersing oneself in it. Her own experience of the terrain emerges as amazed, humbled, blessed.

Armitage draws on powerful and sometimes funny memories of her mother, father, and brother as one way of anchoring the book, and it is the filial passages that mark some of its strongest moments, as do her touching stories of the fox, rooster, horse, crane, badger, deer, and porcupine she greets in fellow creatureliness. She seeks a larger memory, too, one that is historical, archaeological, and even geological in registering the vast expanse of changing land forms up to the recent drought-stricken decades. Ultimately the book is ecological. It is reverent, like the indigenous attitudes it invokes.

Even as the book laments the damaging abuse of the land, it takes a long view that positions the Llano as a landscape that is fluent and forever changing.

Dennis Cooley
Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture University of Manitoba


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