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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).
Amid species extinctions and disintegrating ice sheets, this stunning collection of memories, observations, and narratives is acute and lyrical, Whitmanesque in breadth, and as elegant as a Japanese teahouse. “Sentience and sunderance,” Ehrlich writes. “How we know what we know, who teaches us, how easy it is to lose it all.” As if to stave off impending loss, she embarks on strenuous adventures to Greenland, Africa, Kosovo, Japan, and an uninhabited Alaskan island, always returning to her simple Wyoming cabin at the foot of the mountains and the trail that leads into the heart of them.
After nature writer Gretel Ehrlich was struck by lightning near her Wyoming ranch and almost died, she embarked on a painstaking and visionary journey back to the land of the living. With the help of an extraordinary cardiologist and the companionship of her beloved dog Sam, she avidly explores the natural and spiritual world to make sense of what happened to her. We follow as she combs every inch of her new home on the California coast, attends a convention of lightning-strike victims, and goes on a seal watch in Alaska. Ehrlich then turns her focus inward, exploring the tiny but equally fascinating ecosystem of the human heart, and culminated in a stunningly beautiful description of open-heart surgery.
A renowned chronicler of life in the West, Gretel Ehrlich turns her talents to a moment in history when American citizens were set against each other, offering “a novel full of immense poetic feeling for the internal lives of its varied characters and the sublime high plains landscape that is its backdrop” (The New York Times Book Review).
This is the story of Kai, a graduate student reunited with his old-fashioned parents in the most painful way possible; Mariko, a gifted artist; Mariko’s husband, a political dissident; and her aging grandfather, a Noh mask carver from Kyoto. It is also the story of McKay, who runs his family farm outside the nearby town; Pinkey, an alcoholic cowboy; and Madeleine, whose soldier husband is missing in the Pacific. Most of all, Heart Mountain is about what happens when these two groups collide. Politics, loyalty, history, love—soon the bedrocks of society will seem as transient and fleeting as life itself.
Set at the real-life Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming, this powerful novel paints “a sweeping, yet finely shaded portrait of a real West unfolding in historical time” (The Christian Science Monitor).
Over the course of a year, Ehrlich experiences firsthand the myriad expressions of cold, giving us marvelous histories of wind, water, snow, and ice, of ocean currents and weather cycles. From Tierra del Fuego in the south to Spitsbergen, east of Greenland, at the very top of the world, she explores how our very consciousness is animated and enlivened by the archaic rhythms and erupting oscillations of weather. We share Ehrlich’s experience of the thrills of cold, but also her questions: What will happen to us if we are “deseasoned”? If winter ends, will we survive?
Gretel Ehrlich’s world is one of solitude and wonder, pain and beauty, and these elements give life to her stunning prose. Ever since her acclaimed debut, The Solace of Open Spaces, she has illuminated the particular qualities of nature and the self with graceful precision.
In Islands, the Universe, Home, Ehrlich expands her explorations, traveling to the remote reaches of the earth and deep into her soul. She tells of a voyage of discovery in northern Japan, where she finds her “bridge to heaven.” She captures a “light moving down a mountain slope.” She sees a ruined city in the face of a fire-scarred mountain. Above all, she recalls what a painter once told her about art when she was twelve years old, as she sat for her portrait: “You have to mix death into everything. Then you have to mix life into that.”
In this unforgettable collection, Ehrlich mixes life and death, real and sacred, to offer a stunning vision of our world that is both achingly familiar and miraculously strange. According to National Book Award–winning author Andrea Barrett, these essays are “as spare and beautiful as the landscape from which they’ve grown. . . . Each one is a pilgrimage into the secrets of the heart.”
**Kirkus Best Books of the Year (2013)**
**Kansas City Star Best Books of the Year (2013)**
A passionate student of Japanese poetry, theater, and art for much of her life, Gretel Ehrlich felt compelled to return to the earthquake-and-tsunami-devastated Tohoku coast to bear witness, listen to survivors, and experience their terror and exhilaration in villages and towns where all shelter and hope seemed lost. In an eloquent narrative that blends strong reportage, poetic observation, and deeply felt reflection, she takes us into the upside-down world of northeastern Japan, where nothing is certain and where the boundaries between living and dying have been erased by water.
The stories of rice farmers, monks, and wanderers; of fishermen who drove their boats up the steep wall of the wave; and of an eighty-four-year-old geisha who survived the tsunami to hand down a song that only she still remembered are both harrowing and inspirational. Facing death, facing life, and coming to terms with impermanence are equally compelling in a landscape of surreal desolation, as the ghostly specter of Fukushima Daiichi, the nuclear power complex, spews radiation into the ocean and air. Facing the Wave is a testament to the buoyancy, spirit, humor, and strong-mindedness of those who must find their way in a suddenly shattered world.