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The Solace of Open Spaces

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A stunning collection of personal observations that uses images of the American West to probe larger concerns in lyrical, evocative prose that is a true celebration of the region.

144 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1984

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About the author

Gretel Ehrlich

47 books281 followers
Gretel Ehrlich is an American travel writer, novelist, essayist, and poet born on a horse ranch near Santa Barbara, California and educated at both Bennington College in Vermont and UCLA film school. After working in film for 10 years and following the death of a loved one, she began writing full-time in 1978 while living on a Wyoming ranch where she had been filming. Her first book, The Solace of Open Spaces, is a collection of essays describing her love of the region.

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5 stars
2,409 (41%)
4 stars
2,141 (36%)
3 stars
995 (17%)
2 stars
211 (3%)
1 star
66 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 548 reviews
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,050 followers
April 23, 2017
When I requested this title in NetGalley, I did not realize it was an older book of essays coming up for a reprinting. I actually have another book from the author on my "around the world" shelves at home - This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland. So she was on my vague periphery, but I was very happy to have had a chance to read this book, even if it isn't new.

In the late 1970s, Ehrlich travels to Wyoming on a documentary assignment. Her then-lover ends up dying, and she just stays and stays. This book collects her writings about the wide-open, the west, the prairie, and the people who live there. I understand that she first wrote these as journal entries, then as letters, and eventually revised them into a publishable form.

I loved them. I loved her insight into the sometimes elusive ranchers, sheepherders, farmhands, and cowboys. I loved her insight into herself. I loved her attention to details in nature, her ability to stop, slow down, and pay attention. I didn't include any of those quotes here since technically I have a review copy, but may return to this space once it is back out.

Thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Media for the chance to read this forgotten gem.
Profile Image for Dan.
1,105 reviews52 followers
March 30, 2018
A beautiful book with a great deal of thought put into words. The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Erlich is a collection of a dozen loosely connected chapters about the author’s experiences living and working amid Wyoming’s vast open spaces. The book was written in 1985 and still feels current.

The author has been fairly compared to Annie Dillard and Thoreau and at times her use of prose is pure poetry. She indicated it took her more than five years to write the 130 pages that comprise the book. There are four chapters in this book that I fell in love with: The Solace of Open Spaces, The Smooth Skull of Winter, On Water, and the last chapter entitled A Storm, The Cornfield and Elk.

One of my favorite paragraphs from that last chapter:

“The French call the autumn leaf feuille morte. When the leaves are finally corrupted by frost they rain down into themselves until the tree, disowning itself, goes bald. All through autumn we hear a double voice: one says everything is ripe; the other says everything is dying. The paradox is exquisite. We feel what the Japanese call “aware” - an almost untranslatable word meaning something like beauty tinged with sadness”

A solid 4.5.

Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,737 reviews1,469 followers
May 13, 2023
We are told in the preface that the author wrote what is collected here in this volume from 1979 – 1984. In assembling this book, she arranged the essays in chronological order.

Some essays are autobiographical. These mirror the circumstances shaping her life at the time. We hear of the suffering and death of a beloved partner. Both were still young at the time. She stumbles through this early experience.

The common denominator for all the essays is their focus on life in the American West. She took on a variety of jobs in Wyoming. The arid, windblown landscapes barren of trees, mantled in dust and sagebrush is the backdrop for that which we read. We see how fellow Westerners care for each other and their livestock. We have been taught to view cowboys as tough and resilient, which they are. They have a soft, gentle and caring side too. Their lives encompass working with, caring for and saving the lives of animals and on occasions human beings too. A helping hand can be the difference between life and death. The author shows us the soft as well as the hard side of those who have chosen the inhospitable environment of the West as their home. It is the character of these denizens that Gretel Ehrlich brings to the fore. Along the way we view Native American traditions and celebrations. The Sundance celebration is one example. Gretel and her husband’s honeymoon destination was that year’s champion rodeo competition. We are told of shepherding, methods of irrigation and violent thunderstorms. None of this is spoken of clinically. It is spoken of by one who has seen what she speaks of. She speaks with love and understanding of that which she knows.

The book is not about the “solace of open spaces”, as the title indicates. It is instead about the men and women who inhabit such places. Those not attuned to Wyoming’s inherent beauty may declare it to be empty and without interest. It is a matter of perspective. One’s attitude will influence one’s view of the book.

The writing reads often as prose poetry—most frequently when the landscape and its inhabitants are described. This is what I liked most about the book. I have never been out west. This was new territory for me. I am more at home om wooded, lushly vegetated, hilly terrain. Yet I do appreciate the wide open vistas at the sea. Places inhabited by few do attract me, and so I easily connect to Gretel Ehrlich’s musings. Here follow a few short quotes. See what you think:

“Space represents sanity.”

“He hung up his life on the peg of solitude.”

“The ducks flying in pairs made me feel lonely.”

“I know what the world is made of and still love all of it.”

“In a rancher’s world, courage has less to do with facing danger than with acting spontaneously, usually on behalf of an animal or another rider.”

“Tides of weather bring the days and take them away.”

Those asking, “What do you do?” then later responding “Don’t you get bored?” made me smile. There are those of us who never get bored left alone out in nature.

“A band of 1500 sheep move across the range like a single body of water.”
Do the words evoke a vivid picture in your head? They do in mine.

“Sheep graze up a slope, not down like cows do.”
Interesting, huh?

“We live in a culture that has lost its memory.”

These quotes mist suffice. Taste them. Try to determine if you think the book will speak to you.

The audiobook is read by the author. There is a slow, languorous melody to the reading. I like this. The narration works well with the prose. It’s good, so I am giving it three stars, just as I have given the book itself. I am not a big fan of essays. I prefer long over short books, but I wanted to give this a try. I am glad I did.
Profile Image for piperitapitta.
950 reviews334 followers
July 13, 2022
This Land

«La caratteristica principale del paesaggio è quella che un imprenditore edile eufemisticamente descriverebbe come «robaccia indigena fin sotto la porta di casa», ossia un misto di assetati arbusti di pianta del sale, serpenti, lepri dalla coda nera, mosche dei cervi, polvere rossa ,ciuffi di fiori selvatici, greti di fiume e totale assenza di alberi. Se sulle Grandi Pianure il panorama è una sinfonia, un inno suonato dall’erba, il Wyoming sembra piuttosto scaturito dal delirio di un architetto: un gran ruzzolare e acciottolare di pietra infusa di colori tenui, esangui, un gigante di roccia che un rumore improvviso abba strappato un sonno profondo e gettato in piena luce.»

Il Wyoming è la terra della salvia, scrive Greta Ehrilch, e io non lo immaginavo, ma anche del vento, della neve, del freddo che ti si insinua nelle ossa e ti anestetizza la mente, e qui è rispondente al mio immaginario.
Ma è soprattutto terra di cowboy veri, non quelli dei film e del nostro immaginario - il cowboy della Marlboro, per esempio - idealizzati e iconizzati - «Quando sono a New York e mi viene nostalgia del Wyoming, cerco con lo sguardo le pubblicità della Marlboro in metropolitana. […] Ma gli uomini sui poster, con i loro sguardi severi, privi di umorismo, non mi ricordano nessuno che conosca lì. Nella foga di idealizzarlo, paradossalmente abbiamo spogliato il cowboy della sua vera essenza. Se è «ombroso e taciturno» sarà perché non ha nessuno con cui parlare. Se «cavalca verso il tramonto», è perché è dalle quattro del mattino che sposta bestiame in sella al suo cavallo e dopo quindici ore di lavoro vuole solo tornare a casa dalla famiglia. Se da un lato è «un individualista convinto», è anche parte di una comunità: quello al ranch è un lavoro di squadra.» - di ranch sterminati, di isolamento da tutto e da tutti, di mandrie e pascoli sterminati, di natura che scandisce ritmi di vita in cui gli esseri umani si inseriscono adattandosi, piegandosi, resistendo.
È bello questo memoir, che nasce sotto forma di diario inviato a un'amica e la cui stesura è compresa fra il 1979 e il 1984, composto da scritti divisi per tematiche - i cowboy, appunto, i rodeo, la danza del sole - che incrociano gli incontri e gli stati d’animo dell’autrice che, californiana di nascita e newyorkese di adozione, arriva nel Wyoming per girare un documentario, resta per elaborare un lutto e finisce per non andare più via.
This Land, la collana di Black Coffee dedicata al territorio e alla natura degli Stati Uniti d’America si conferma una delle iniziative editoriali migliori di questi ultimi tempi, e per me, che da un po’ di tempo sto cercando di approfondire la storia degli stati che compongono la federazione degli USA allo scopo di identificarli e riconoscerli sempre più nella differenze e nelle loro caratteristiche e unicità, una miniera inesauribile.

Questa lettura, per esempio, mi ha portata alla visione del film “Heaven’s Gate” di Michael Cimino dopo un accenno alla ”guerra di Johnson County, che non fu una semplice sparatoria fra buoni e cattivi bensì una vera e propria lotta di classe fra la borghesia terriera e i colonie abbienti, la sconcertante riprova del fatto che dopotutto l’Ovest non fosse il santuario di egualitarismo che ripensava” e proseguirà, probabilmente, con i racconti del Wyoming di Annie Proulx.

«Il freddo ha un effetto anestetizzante: il battito cardiaco rallenta e la vista della neve che cade copiosa induce sonnolenza. […] A compensare la solennità di questo paesaggio lunare, l’aurora boreale danza sopra i Big Horn irradiando il suo pallore invernale nel cielo notturno e così ci rammenta che, mentre tutti fanno ritorno ai loro nidi e alle loro tane, la natura continua a dar sfogo all’irrefrenabile, orgasmica energia che la anima.
L’inverno ha il cranio liscio, e i nostri scivoloni sul ghiaccio nero sono scivoloni cerebrali. Quando la claustrofobia inizia a farsi sentire, il cervello preme contro le pareti del cranio e la mente, soffocata, dilaga - invade letteralmente se stessa. Migrati gli uccelli canori, restano solo i saprofagi: gazze ladre, corvi, aquile. Loro spolpano un cervo morto in mezzo alla strada, noi ci infliggiamo piccole crudeltà a vicenda.
Capita che soffriamo di cecità da neve, che perdiamo la percezione dei colori e siamo costretti a operare una scelta fra cosa vedere e cosa invece ignorare, mentre il dolore ci rende muti. Ma in cambio di tanto patire c’è una ricompensa in termini di lucidità di pensiero e rinvigorimento dello spirito e del corpo. Passiamo la stagione e pattinare sugli stagni - specchi d’acqua che d’estate sono appena sufficienti a saziare la sete del bestiame - e ad ogni spinta la mente scorge un riflesso sempre più nitido di sé sul ghiaccio. Lucenti pensieri ci solcano la mente.
D’inverno, la coscienza somiglia a un’acquaforte.»

Profile Image for Jim Ament.
47 reviews1 follower
June 11, 2011
The Solace of Open Spaces (1985), by Gretel Ehrlich

I recently discovered Gretel Ehrlich, not that she isn’t well known by others. The discovery merely reflects my ignorance...and yet, I get great joy from finding new food—someone whose words I immediately want to absorb. I found the book in a used book store. The title alone intrigued me—one who thinks that soul nurturing places, solitude and silence are the final luxuries. And her essays are about Wyoming, my neighbor state and our least populated one—to me, a feature, not a bug. Also, two of my favorite authors, Annie Dillard and Edward Abbey, who I’ve re-read multiple times, gave her high praise. I expect to read more of Ehrlich.

In the preface, she tells us that she “suffered a tragedy and made a drastic geographical and cultural move fairly baggageless,” but she wasn’t losing her grip. She added:

What I had lost (at least for a while) was my appetite for the life I had left: city surroundings, old friends, familiar comforts. It had occurred to me that comfort was only a disguise for discomfort, reference points, a disguise for what will always change...For the first time I was able to take up residence on earth with no alibis, no self-promoting schemes.

In her first essay, she writes of John, a sheep man who put her to work—extended hours of it, which she says woke her up:

The arid country was a clean slate. Its absolute indifference steadied me...Because ranch work is a physical, and these days, economic strain, being ‘at home on the range’ is a matter of vigor, self-reliance, and common sense. A person’s life is not a series of dramatic events for which he or she is applauded or exiled but a slow accumulation of days, seasons, years, fleshed out by the generational weight of one’s family and anchored by a land-bound sense of place.

Later, she quotes someone but can’t remember who, “In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are only consequences.” Yep, “absolute indifference.” And even later, “There is nothing in nature that can’t be taken as a sign of both mortality an invigoration...Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are....”

She says:

The solitude in which westerners live makes them quiet...Sentence structure is shortened. Descriptive words are dropped, even verbs...What’s behind this laconic style is shyness. There is no vocabulary for the subject of feelings. It’s not a hangdog shyness, or anything coy— always there’s a robust spirit in evidence behind the restraint...The silence is profound. Instead of talking, we seem to share one eye. Keenly observed, the world is transformed. The landscape is engorged with detail, every movement on it chillingly sharp. The air between people is charged. Days unfold, bathed in their own music. Nights become hallucinatory; dreams, prescient.

As the book continues, she writes of Wyoming’s history, the changes caused by fences and isolationist conservative people who believe that “honesty is stronger medicine than sympathy, which may console but often conceals.” She also tells us about hermits, madness, cabin fever, extended drunks, suicide, sheepherders as “outsiders,” and people so ornery that they’d “rather starve than agree on anything.”

She says, “Disfigurement is synonymous with the whole idea of a frontier. As soon as we lay our hands on it, the freedom we thought it represented is quickly gone.” She writes of some very strong women and the effects of brutal “smooth-skulled winters.”

Living well here has always been the art of making do in emotional as well as material ways. Traditionally, at least, ranch life has gone against materialism and has stood for the small achievements of the human conjoined with the animal, and the simpler pleasures...The toughness I was learning was not a martyred doggedness, a dumb heroism, but the art of accommodation. I thought: to be tough is to be fragile; to be tender is to be truly fierce.

She explains all this, and tells us about men, something other than the romanticized Marlboro man version: “If he’s ‘strong and silent’ it’s because there’s probably no one to talk to.” There is an effect of “geographical vastness,” on “emotional evolution” but also a “true vulnerability in evidence...”

Ehrlich delves into the unsentimental relationship with animals—they must produce. And:

Animals hold us to what is present: to who we are at the time, not who we’ve been or how are bank accounts describe us. What’s obvious to an animal is not the embellishment that fattens our emotional resumes but what’s bedrock and current in us...we’re transparent to them and thus exposed—we’re finally ourselves.

She writes about water, or the lack thereof: “We can drown it it or else stay buoyant, quench our thirst, stay alive.” And she tells us about “farmer’s work” of irrigation vs. ranching. She gets married, buys a ranch, tells us about the National Finals Rodeo, then held in Oklahoma City. (It’s now in Las Vegas.) She writes about her attendance the “Crow Fair” and a “Sun Dance” and ends the book as poetically as she began it—beautifully written, insightful—a wonderful book.

Profile Image for Mark.
1,373 reviews104 followers
September 2, 2017
“In the Great Plains, the vistas look like music, like Kyries of grass, but Wyoming seems to be the doing
of a mad architect- tumbled and twisted, ribboned with faded, deathbed colors, thrust up and pulled down as if the place had been startled out of a deep sleep and thrown into pure light.”

“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.”

“Ranchers are midwives, hunters, nurturers, providers, and conservationists all at once. What we’ve interpreted as toughness—weathered skin, calloused hands, a squint in the eye and a growl in the voice—only masks the tenderness inside.” 

In the late 1970s, Gretel Ehrlich traveled to Wyoming on a work assignment. She was also grieving over the death of her beloved partner. She became entranced by this wild and unruly place and decided to stay. These essays describe the wonder and the beauty that she discovered during her time there and she ended up purchasing an old, ramshackle ranch, that she fell in love with. Ehrlich is no city slicker or shrinking violet. She became a sheepherder and a cowboy, living in incredibly harsh conditions. One, tough scrappy woman. She even survives a lightning strike. She is also a very gifted writer. Fans of Terry Tempest Williams will love this excellent collection. This author is completely new to me but I think she deserves much more attention.
Profile Image for Bethany.
610 reviews55 followers
August 8, 2011
Set me in front of a western movie full of cowboys and other such stereotypes and I will be bored out of my skull. But, give me a book full of stories about real people in the real American West and I'm hooked. Whether it be stories by Bess Streeter Aldrich or Willa Cather about prairie life, or Ralph Moody's memoirs, I'm riveted. I've never understood it, myself, especially when it comes to Ralph Moody's books... but there is something about those stories that fascinate me like nothing else.
While The Solace of Open Spaces is about self, emotions, transiency, beauty, the nature and setting of the west &c., it also captures the indomitable spirit of the people who live simple but inspiring lives there. And all this is told by Gretel Ehrlich in gorgeous prose.
This book was immensely satisfying to me; that is all.
Profile Image for Ron.
169 reviews
September 2, 2007
Well written story of personal discovery. Portrayal of Wyoming is very crisp. It is a place of grand horizons, in which one's own place is clear. The American West is a great place for inspiration. A place where physical and spiritual survival are essential.
Profile Image for Matt.
526 reviews10 followers
May 12, 2019
Kerri made plenty of points more eloquently than I will (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), so I'll just say this: It could have been a good book, even a great book—if only it had been written by someone else. It just reeks of such an ugly romanticism that lacks perspective, ownership of privilege, a great deal of context...not to mention that it was poorly edited.

For all of those reasons, I'm both proud of myself for powering through this one and disappointed I didn't trust my gut enough to put it aside early on.

[2 stars for potential, promise, and open spaces, even if poorly treated here.]
Profile Image for Jakob Scherm.
44 reviews1 follower
January 16, 2022
Flott om landskap og landskapets påvirkning på person og personae og persona
Profile Image for Kerri Anne.
471 reviews37 followers
December 17, 2018
This book is a love letter to Wyoming and parts of it really sing to me. Of all the ruggedly handsome western states, Wyoming is a special place, a place set apart from most of the others in sheer wildness and expanse, and Ehrlich knows that better and more intimately than most. There's a visceral seductiveness to a life as rugged as one spent ranching, herding sheep, driving cattle, surviving the sort of winters Wyoming used to (and still sometimes) sees. There is surely and definitively a solace in open spaces, and one we would do well to heed before all of our open spaces are gone. Ehrlich acknowledges that, explores it, and I think captures the romantic and rugged essence of Wyoming beautifully. (Though I definitely won't argue with the handful of reviews that mentioned this collection of essays is more about cowboys than open spaces, because parts of it definitely felt like that to me, too.)

First published in 1985, I feel like I'd also be remiss not to mention that there are definitely parts of these essays that feel dated, and not in a serenely nostalgic way. More to the point, there are parts of these essays that center on a whitewashed and incomplete history of Wyoming, where Indigenous populations were simply "displaced" and/or gone altogether by the time the first (primarily Mormon) "pioneers" arrived on the scene. It's uncomfortable to read sentences about how this rancher or that rancher has lived and worked this land for generations, without any reference to the Native tribes that first occupied the land. It's disheartening to realize the flip side of rampant farming and ranching in Wyoming is a state so wholly transformed by Big Agriculture that it's nearly wiped out once prominent herds of buffalo, pronghorn antelope, and various other wild creatures. Ehrlich doesn't address that at all. Perhaps the most troublesome chapter to me was the essay wherein Ehrlich attends two different tribal ceremonies and writes about it as if Wyoming itself wasn't stolen out from underneath the same Plains tribes.

[Three-point-five stars for the stunning sentences describing such a stark and memorable landscape.]
Profile Image for Sarah.
739 reviews
August 1, 2012
The Solace of Open Spaces, by Gretel Ehrlich, is a beautiful little book that I happened upon in the sale bin at a used book store. In the late 1970s, Ehrlich traveled to Wyoming on assignment for her work, and stayed because it draw her in in her grief upon losing her loved one to cancer. She lived there for many years, living and working on ranches, and this book is a collection of essays describing her time there and the feeling of living there. Her writing is lyrical and almost what I would call "prose poetry" at times. She conveys effectively the wide open feeling of Wyoming, and I was easily able to imagine the scenes and sensations she described. It is a lovely book and I highly recommend it. Here is a quote, selected randomly:

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.
Profile Image for Carie.
209 reviews
February 18, 2016
This book falls into a genre of literature of which I am very fond --- personal observations and understandings of place. However, this book left me cold. I can't decide which aspect annoyed me more --- the fact that the book was clearly written by a tourist who chose to stay and now believes herself to be an expert, that the book has so little of both the author and the place in it, or the false claims of being a look at the "real" west and then providing only slight additions to the romanticized, Hollywood version of the west. Or maybe it was that the title led me to believe that the book would be filled with observations about healing and comfort found in open spaces of the American west, but aside from the fact that the author chose to live in the west after a personal tragedy, there is little in these essays that suggest that the open spaces provided the solace.

But I need not pick just one as the reason for my dislike of the book. Together, these reasons made it nearly impossible for me finish the 131 pages without tossing it aside in disgust and disappointment. We'll just say, it wasn't my favorite read.
Profile Image for Karen W.
129 reviews
January 7, 2018
I really wanted to like this book. But no matter how hard I tried to get through the whole thing it was torturous. And I love wide open spaces and solitude and nature. This book was so incredibly depressing. Bankruptcies, alcoholism, murders, and yes the stoicism of those who live in such a place was also a theme. The historic and continuing brutality of the ranchers towards anyone who gets in their way, their lack of respect for public lands, their overgrazing to fit as much cattle as possible on the land regardless of what it will do to man, beast or the land itself, made it hard to want to read more. And so I did not. I find the high rating of this book a mystery.
Profile Image for Bronson.
228 reviews9 followers
April 8, 2019
This was a beautiful book. It sits squarely in the middle of my favorite genre. I love her descriptions of the land, the weather, the people and the animals. It reads like a collection of essays, each chapter has a different theme and story and each chapter stands on it's own. It's a short book and it's one that I'll be coming back to. She talks about a part of the country that I relate to and I love. She's honest and writes from the heart. Reading her experiences touched my heart. If you like this, I'd recommend you take a look at one of the following-

This House of Sky - Ivan Doig
Where Rivers Change Direction - Mark Spragg
Claiming Ground - Laura Bell

Profile Image for Emily Crow.
1,102 reviews62 followers
April 8, 2018
Ehrlich writes poetically and conjures up a marvelous sense of place, but I never warmed up to this collection of essays about her time spent on a ranch in Wyoming. I think there was just a bit too much disconnect between the lyrical (and occasionally pretentious) writing and the harsh landscape and hardscrabble lives that she described. Worth a read but definitely not my favorite in the genre.
Profile Image for Christine.
31 reviews6 followers
September 20, 2017
What an extraordinary woman, on top of being a great writer! Rancher, explorer, journalist, nature writer... a "culture straddler "
Profile Image for El.
1,355 reviews503 followers
March 31, 2019
I picked this book up from the library at the same time as Islands, the Universe, Home, both recommended to me by my MFA mentor this semester. She has it in my mind that I will still write the travel memoir about Corsica because when I met her last year during my first semester, that was the project I was working on. And even though my project has changed and I am no longer writing specifically about place, she hasn't been able to let go of the fact that I might write about place. She suggested I read Erhlich, I think in hopes that it would convince me to return to that other project. But I can't yet.

I liked Islands, the Universe, Home and expected to like The Solace of Open Spaces just as much. Unfortunately that was not the case. It might be a matter of poor timing, but I found Ehrlich's words in this slim collection of essays frustrating in a way I didn't feel with the other one. Maybe revisiting the open planes of Wyoming just isn't what I needed right now. It left me feeling cold. I am cold.

In part I wonder if it's partly due to the organization of the slim collection. As Ehrlich wrote in her Preface: "Originally conceived as a straight-through narrative, it was instead written in fits and starts and later arranged chronologically" (ix).

As much as I can appreciate writing in "fits and starts" (I'm a bit of a fitter-and-starter myself), the later arrangement to something chronological may have ruined it for me. I wonder what it looked like before it had been rearranged. The magic might have been in the initial layout.

But I appreciate that this was also a mode of self-preservation and survival for Ehrlich. She "suffered a tragedy and made a drastic geographical and cultural move" (ix). Friends implied she should stop "hiding" in Wyoming, that she should face life. Ironically, that's exactly what she was doing. Sometimes it's the return to the earth that reminds us what we have worth living for.

What I especially like about Ehrlich is her way with words. These two books I have read by her are relatively short, and yet she manages to pack quite a punch with her writing.
Dust rises like an evening gown behind his truck. It flies free for a moment, then returns, leisurely, to the habitual road - that bruised string which leads to and from my heart.
The West has never appealed much to me. I've traveled to parts of the western US and it was fine to visit but it has never drawn me the way it draws so many people. As far as I'm concerned living in Missouri was simultaneously too far west and too far south for my tastes. Reading this collection reminded me of that more vividly than it did with Islands, the Universe, Home.

Erhlich, however, is still a great author to read, particularly for anyone interested in nature essays. She goes to surprising places in her writing and that is certainly worth experiencing.
Profile Image for b ✩.
292 reviews32 followers
November 22, 2021

“We Americans are great on fillers, as if what we have, what we are, is not enough. We have a cultural tendency toward denial, but, being affluent, we strangle ourselves with what we can buy. We have only to look at the houses we build to see how we build against space, the way we drink against pain and loneliness. We fill up space as if it were a pie shell, with things whose opacity further obstructs our ability to see what is already there.”
Profile Image for Rebecca.
25 reviews13 followers
May 4, 2007
When Gretel Ehrlich's partner died, she left her furiously paced New York life and moved to Wyoming to become a sheepherder. Even if you're not ready to drop everything and tend to animals, this book is powerful—I felt the solace that Ehrlich describes, and the city around me dropped away to reveal the clear, open, endless skies of the midwest and the relief of honest, back-breaking labor.

Profile Image for Rosamund Taylor.
Author 1 book122 followers
April 10, 2022
This is Ehrlich's first book, published in 1984, and describing the Wyoming of the late 70s and early 80s. Ehrlich loves the huge skies and mountains of Wyoming, and celebrates the harsh landscapes, where summers are arid and baking hot, and winter is almost as cold as the Arctic. She celebrates the ranchers who make their living here: the cowboys and shepherds, who earn little, work endless hours, and are always on the move. She, too, lives in a shepherd's trailer, seeing no one, spends 16-hour days in the saddle, and learns to live with extremes of temperature and loneliness. My edition of this book came out in 2019, and includes an introduction by Amy Liptrot, but it doesn't talk about how much must have changed in Wyoming in the last forty years. I imagine climate change, mining, and young people seeking to move away from this difficult life, may have lead to significant changes in the lifestyle Ehrlich is describing, but the introduction doesn't cover this.

As it stand The Solace of Open Spaces focuses on the huge ranches as a thriving industry, and explores this harshness with positivity and openness. To me, this feels like a young person's book: Ehrlich doesn't understand how it feels to be too old or sick to spend 16 hours in the saddle, and she doesn't really explore the toll this must take on the body. Though she describes deaths, injuries, loss and loneliness, she's almost too positive about this place, seeming to overlook intolerance, alienation, alcoholism, cruelty, and other problems that must be present. I didn't find this as strong as her later work, This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland, but it was interesting, engaging, and poetic.

Her most recent book is called Unsolaced and deals with climate change, and probably the changes in Wyoming. I think it will be worth looking into.
Profile Image for Margaret Galbraith.
308 reviews4 followers
November 15, 2022
I first saw this book n the TV show Yellowstone. John Dutton (Kevin Costner) was reading it at his range in Montana as his daughter walked in and she said it was the book he turned to when he was troubled as she’d read it a few times too. It’s about Gretel’s experiences in Wyoming working with sheep and cattle, from delivering calves to looking after lambs and calves and all that goes along with it. It shows the hardship especially if you’re female and the blood and guts that goes along with the life. There’s rodeos too. It touches on the Native American tribes and their customs and how she gets involved with them during their 4 day dance with no food nor water which is part of their ritual and very year. It’s a really good insight into a life I’ll never know.
Profile Image for Andy.
982 reviews36 followers
October 24, 2022
personal account of life in rural America - among ranches and livestock - living and working in Wyoming

a series of essays as she escapes her history and city living, with its tragedies and comforts for a stripped down, eked out living

very evocative, beautiful language, poetic at times
Profile Image for Laura.
820 reviews19 followers
April 5, 2020
Magnifique texte entre l'essai et le nature writing. Une merveille qui donne envie de vivre à corps perdu dans le Wyoming !
Profile Image for Aubrey Lennon.
30 reviews
August 10, 2022
An absolutely beautiful collection of essays on human nature. Thought throughout the whole book how disappointed I was in the lack of native acknowledgement but her final two essays focused on the westerners relationship with native people and it was very human in nature. Overall the language and imagery is beautiful and I loved her insights.
Profile Image for Bethany.
578 reviews
March 29, 2019
I love this genre (called what?): Beautiful prose, descriptive details. Deep thoughts, journal-like in intimacy and revelation. Absolute, pure love of a place, of nature. I love how books like this one transport me, make time slow, heighten the senses and fill me with gratitude.

I love her writing style. Her phrases are poignant, evocative. She makes Wyoming even sound romantic; the open spaces alluring rather than isolating. I enjoyed the people she writes about. Her respectful observations lend authenticity to the faces and lives of the cowboys, sheepherders and Indians. It reminded me of my time as a journalist, when assignments brought me into the details of people's lives and I became a mini-expert in a wide variety of areas. Compensated curiosity.

A short read, you only need an afternoon or two. For the best effect, I'd recommend reading outdoors, soaking up the early spring sunshine.
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