Thursday, February 17, 2011

Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces

Wyoming Week continues with this collection of essays about the Cowboy State, first published in 1985. Reading it 20 years ago, I got hooked on the West and haven't lost interest yet. Ehrlich, from California, was a documentary filmmaker and saw Wyoming with an outsider's eye for detail. Writing about it, she clearly fell in love with her subject.

Her portrayal of the men who work in this environment is very different from the stereotypes of fiction, TV, and movies. She finds cowboys often tender-hearted, quirky, and curiously courtly. Not to be outdone by the men in this world of extremes and hard work, the women she meets and befriends are tough-minded and independent.

Completing her picture are the Native Americans. She portrays them respectfully and with some irony, as they both recover and reinvent a lost heritage.

Autumn in the Bighorn Mountains
Hers is also a personal story. Beginning with the wrenching death of a close male friend, it recounts in her growing love for Wyoming and its people the discovery of a new life. And while her book is no heart-on-the-sleeve display of pain and recovery, one senses at almost every step the healing process that underlies the words.

As slender as a book of poems, this volume of essays calls out to be read slowly and savored, word for word. Meanwhile, the visual imagery calls to mind the sweeping landscapes of John Ford movies. Finally, I don't think there's ever been a book about the West with a more evocative title.

Picture credit:

Coming up: James Galvin, The Meadow


  1. I enjoyed this book; it's beautiful. Have you read her book on being struck by lightning in Wyoming?

  2. That title is very evocative. Definitely makes me want to read it. Gonna put this one on my list.

  3. I liked it, but think it might be a better read for city folk than people from Wyoming. It is a big great place out here - we often wonder why more people would not want this life.

  4. Sage, I know what book you are talking about, but I've never read it.

    Charles, Ehrlich developed something of a love affair for cowboys, too, and writes about them from some degree of intimacy we can only imagine. She also married a rancher.

    OGR, when you say that, I think of Chris Ledoux, who would not leave his ranch for Nashville.