- Walking the Llano: A Texas Memoir of Place by Shelley Armitage
Larger than all of New England, the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plains, sprawls some 32,000 square miles and encompasses thirty-three counties in northwestern Texas, plus four counties in northeastern New Mexico. The southern extension of the Great Plains, the Llano, a high mesa sloping at an approximate rate of ten feet per mile toward the southeast, is one of the largest tablelands on the continent.
Walking the Llano will appeal to readers who enjoy memoirs combining history, geography, and family and who want to know more about the Plains and the Texas Panhandle. Shelley Armitage's walks meander like the intermittent flow of Middle Alamosa Creek, which crosses the part of the Llano where she grew up. Raised outside of Vega, Texas, she accompanied her father, Bob Armitage, on his retreats [End Page 235] to the family farm from his job at the local bank. Later, when her mother, Dorothy Mae, struggled to keep Armitage Farms going, Shelley, by then an academic, returned during summers to help her.
The author's childhood memories blend with those summer returns. Armitage gave purpose to her summers by following the waters of Middle Alamosa Creek to the Canadian River, the largest tributary of the Arkansas River. Flowing over 750 miles from Colorado to Oklahoma, the Canadian River traverses almost 200 miles across Texas, separating the Llano Estacado from the northern High Plains.
Being a local, Armitage had the trust of neighbors who allowed her onto their lands to explore creeks and archeological sites. Accompanying her in these explorations were other Panhandle residents known to be keen observers of the Llano. Together, they deciphered the landscape through geological, archeological, and historical lenses.
With specialties in women's literary and cultural history, Armitage has taught at universities in Hawai'i, Ethiopia, and Poland. She nevertheless writes as a long-time resident of the Llano, recalling life in the Panhandle, reciting local legends, and remembering childhood friends, some of whom left while others stayed. She skillfully depicts her parents and her brother, Roy, as Llano denizens and lovingly recaptures their lives. She reads stories embedded in the land, plays witness to the layering of time on it, and studies its changes. Her close scrutiny teaches her how the Llano testifies to love and loss and how it connects nature with humankind.
Armitage is dismissive of those who live on the land but are not curious about it. Her relationship to the Llano is, by contrast, encompassing. Few writers are as familiar with this part of the Plains, and her book serves as a reminder that the earth endures no matter how many families, friends, and enemies it sustains. The wind turbines on the Llano today will no doubt also pass. Marred only slightly by repetition and relatively unconnected chapters, possibly a consequence of some of the book having previously appeared elsewhere, Walking the Llano is definitely worth the journey. [End Page 236]