She gets married, buys a ranch, tells us about the National Finals Rodeo, then held in Oklahoma City. Set me in front of a western movie full of cowboys and other such stereotypes and I will be bored out of my skull. Thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Media for the chance to read this forgotten gem. She had travelled there on assignment for her work, and stayed there after losing her loved one to cancer. 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.
. Snow returns across the field to me, and the cows, dusted with white, look like snowcapped continents drifting. Gretel Ehrlich is something of a unique author. The toughness I was learning was not a martyred doggedness, a dumb heroism, but the art of accommodation. She introduces the land and the way of life through this one statement, drawing readers in. When Gretel Ehrlich's partner died, she left her furiously paced New York life and moved to Wyoming to become a sheepherder. In 1976, Ehrlich traveled from her native California to Wyoming to start shooting the footage for the documentary.
She decided not to leave. Ehrlich falls in love with Wyoming when she comes there as a filmmaker, and decides to stay. 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. Her life journey in the open spaces, her companion dog and being struck by lightening that almost took her life. The idea is to find a park, garden or tree-filled location and let your senses be your guide.
Readers become curious as to what she is going to lead up to in the next few sentences, even the next few chapters. The author describes the loss of her partner and lover David; this loss is a fact that underlies the narrative in subtle ways. Poet and filmmaker Gretel Ehrlich went to Wyoming in 1975 to make the first in a series of documentaries when her partner died. Instead of talking, we seem to share one eye. 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.
Worth a read but definitely not my favorite in the genre. Instead of producing the numbness I thought I wanted, life on the sheep ranch woke me up. Ehrlich doesn't address that at all. A chance to individually explore the self, as well as explore new ways of living. It was an adversity and extent change investigation, implemented by a uncontrolled group. Because it is insider her, because she is one with it, her writing illuminates the landscape she loves, the way I imagine it illuminated her in her time of need and ever since. She indicated it took her more than five years to write the 130 pages that comprise the book.
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. I expect to read more of Ehrlich. When I requested this title in NetGalley, I did not realize it was an older book of essays coming up for a reprinting. Ehrlich writes about northern Wyoming, Doig about Montana. I've never understood it, myself, especially when it comes to Ralph Moody's books. Then set out to explore more of the 1,500 miles of canoe routes that criss-cross the waterways.
First of all, though this was published first, there's another very popular story about ranch hands herding sheep through the Wyoming plains. 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. Small class sizes means you get the attention you need for success. It is a lovely book and I highly recommend it. I enjoyed both the level of detail and the quality of writing. To put that number in perspective, the true bullies of the sport typically average about 230 penalty minutes in one season alone. Neither you, nor the coeditors you shared it with will be able to recover it again.
Its absolute indifference steadied me. 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 I really wanted to like this book. Perhaps, though, this movement of animals in the land is not as important as the lack of human movement away from the Wyoming land like Ehrlich and the numerous people she describes in the text. 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. While in Wyoming, Ehrlich fell in love with the wilderness of the state, its primitiveness, and wide open spaces. She is also a sheep driver. The two books were published within a few years of each other House of Sky in 1979 and Solace in 1985 , and the authors are near the same age.
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. As a result of this transformation and her introduction to the world of ranch life, Ehrlich began to write The Solace of Open Spaces in 1979. But in the end, it didn't even matter. The author has been fairly compared to Annie Dillard and Thoreau and at times her use of prose is pure poetry. The demanding and difficult weather and terrain make a unique type of society where people are often isolated for many months of the year. She tries to make her voice the open space, and if by that she means nothing, then she succeeded. Listen to the waves lapping against the shoreline and the haunting lullaby offered by local loons as you drift to sleep in one of 2,000 secluded campsites that dot the lake region.
And her essays are about Wyoming, my neighbor state and our least populated one—to me, a feature, not a bug. This book is a love letter to Wyoming and parts of it really sing to me. Familiarities can be constant reminders whether this is scenery, people, places while a wide open space is a blank canvas. If you read a whole book of essays by a person, I feel like you should know at least a little bit about them. 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. The air between people is charged.