The solace of open spaces

by Gretel Ehrlich

Hardcover, 1985




New York, NY : Viking, 1985.


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).    … (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member sarah-e
An elegant memoir of a hard life. I bought this on vacation in a lonely, wild place because the title seemed to fit what I was feeling. It held up, even after I returned to the city where I live. This book feels like a gift. I wish it had been longer.
LibraryThing member mkbird
Just about completed this in 2012, its a wonder and I begin to be glad I made all these notes about things to read. Will have to change the tag to indicate those which I actually picked up and read. My sister lives in Montana and I have driven through Wyoming many times. The West is not all macho and hostile. Loved this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member manadabomb
I took this book on vacation simply because it was compact and didn't take up a lot of space. After reading it, I wonder how it could be so small when the writing and language was so large.

"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.
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LibraryThing member LaurieAE
Highly recommended on so many levels. About time for me to re-read this book.
LibraryThing member Polaris-
Some beautiful sections of prose here, the author can clearly write with some panache. Overall I was slightly disappointed as I think I was expecting something a bit more substantial. Suffice to say I'm just about intrigued enough to want to check out other books by Gretel Ehrlich.
LibraryThing member lgaikwad
A small book of essays about her life in Wyoming. She went from NYC to Wyoming to make a film on sheepherders. The man she loved was part of the film team as well, but unable to come as he had received a terminal illness diagnosis and died fairly soon thereafter. In her grief, Wyoming and ranching became her home. The essays are about the real and the nitty-gritty of Wyoming life.

“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)
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LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
Brief. Some interesting observations. Best when she stepped away from herself and just told us what she noticed, which wasn't often. Much too much was filtered through her urban literate pretensions. Everything the cowboys, Indians, sheepherders, and animals did was interpreted by her expectations and dreams.
LibraryThing member tgraettinger
I found this to be interesting reading about her time spent in Wyoming. Her prose is almost poetic at times, with an unusual ... bluntness. Easy to read, easy to enjoy.
LibraryThing member gregorybrown
A short, very evocative book about the rural west, and specifically Wyoming. It reminded me quite a bit of John Williams' Butcher's Crossing, but while that book took place near the end of buffalo hunting, this one was contemporaneous (when it was written in the 1970s). Kinda falls into the generic creative non-fiction trap towards the end as she moves from telling about her personal experiences to more reportage about some of the other, native perspectives of the land, which is the only thing that kept it from being near perfect. It's already a very short, compressed gem of a book, but it would have been well-served to be a bit shorter yet.… (more)
LibraryThing member FKarr
rambling musings on life of New York City woman who goes to live in Wyoming



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