These transcendent, lyrical essays on the West announced Gretel Ehrlich as a major American writer--"Wyoming has found its Whitman" (Annie Dillard). Poet and filmmaker Gretel Ehrlich went to Wyoming in 1975 to make the first in a series of documentaries when her partner died. Ehrlich stayed on and found she couldn't leave. The Solace of Open Spaces is a chronicle of her first years on "the planet of Wyoming," a personal journey into a place, a feeling, and a way of life. Ehrlich captures both the otherworldly beauty and cruelty of the natural forces--the harsh wind, bitter cold, and swiftly changing seasons--in the remote reaches of the American West. She brings depth, tenderness, and humor to her portraits of the peculiar souls who also call it home: hermits and ranchers, rodeo cowboys and schoolteachers, dreamers and realists. Together, these essays form an evocative and vibrant tribute to the life Ehrlich chose and the geography she loves. Originally written as journal entries addressed to a friend, The Solace of Open Spaces is raw, meditative, electrifying, and uncommonly wise. In prose "as expansive as a Wyoming vista, as charged as a bolt of prairie lightning," Ehrlich explores the magical interplay between our interior lives and the world around us (Newsday).
"Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are. We are often like rivers: careless and forceful, timid and dangerous, lucid and muddied, eddying, gleaming, still." Whether she's reflecting on nature's teachings, divulging her experiences as a cowpuncher, or painting vivid word portraits of the people she lives and works with, Gretel Ehrlich's observations are lyrical and funny, wise and authentic. After moving from the city to a vast new state, she writes of adjusting to cowboy life, boundless open spaces, and the almost incomprehensible harshness of a Wyoming winter"
Ehrlich moved to Wyoming permanently after her boyfriend passed away and became a helper on a ranch. This book, in incredibly flowing language, describes the Wyoming landscape, the ranches and all that goes on in that entirely alien world.
While I found myself skipping through some of the more descriptive passages, I did enjoy this book and wondered how I missed all this about Wyoming on my travels through that state. Anyone who chooses ranching is obviously made of tougher stuff than I am, since some of the descriptions of the work, such as sheepherding, made my skin crawl. I'm really not an outdoors girl.
“Not unlike emotional transitions—the loss of a friend or the beginning of new work—the passage of seasons is often so belabored and quixotic as to deserve separate names so the year might be divided eight ways instead of four.” (p71)
After writing of the Sun Dance and how the community supports the dancers through separation, initiation, and return, the author makes this observation:
“Sunday. Two American flags were raised over the Lodge today—both had been owned by war veterans. The dance apron of a man near me had U.S. Navy insignias sewn into the corners. Here was a war hero, but he’d earned his medal far from home. Now the ritual of separation, initiation, and return performed in Vietnam, outside the context of community, changes into separation, benumbment, and exile.” (p114)
“Leaves are verbs that conjugate the seasons.” (p130)
In Wyoming we are supplicants, waiting all spring for the water to come down, for the snow pack to melt and fill the creeks from which we irrigate. Fall and spring rains amount to less than eight inches a year, while above our ranches, the mountains hold their snows like a secret: no one knows when they will melt or how fast. When the water does come, it floods through the state as if the peaks were silver pitchers tipped forward by mistake.