Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich (1985)

I picked this book up when we were at the Grand Teton National Park visitors center in Moose, Wyoming.  The Grand Tetons were absolutely breathtakingly beautiful - what you think of when you think of snow-topped mountains...and the visitors center was gorgeous, too!  Lots of really nice educational displays and the best national park gift shop I'd ever seen, with a huge collection of books.  It was hard to hold myself in on the books!

But I'd made a conscious choice to be very mimimal on what I would purchase on our trip.  So I circled around the book section, deciding I'd choose one, just one.  And this slim volume by Gretel Ehrlich won out.  I recently finished it, and was very glad of my choice.

Gretel Ehrlich is an American essayist, poet and travel writer.  In the late 1970's she went to Wyoming, having suffered a personal tragedy, and began to write.  This book is a collection of short essays and vignettes culled from her "raw journal entries" from that time.  It is also a portrait of Wyoming life that you don't see when you are road-tripping from Devil's Tower to Yellowstone to the Grand Tetons, and I felt privileged to get a little glimpse of it, having just criss-crossed the state a few weeks earlier with my family.  It gave me an idea of what might have been going on under the surface of the small towns and wide open plains we passed through on those long days in the car.  It made me wish we had had more time to stop and look a bit more closely.

Woven through the stories of real ranch life in Wyoming are bits and pieces of Ehrlich's personal journey through grief, finding a spot for herself in the community, friendships, and the self reliance that is such an integral part of the western ethos, and the surprising tenderness underneath the tough veneer:
The toughness I was learning was not a martyred doggedness, a dumb heroism, but the art of accomodation.  I thought: to be tough is to be fragile; to be tender is to be truly fierce.
Love that.  Loved this book.

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