The Solace of Open Spaces Quotes
The Solace of Open Spaces is a 1985 memoir by the American author, filmmaker, and poet Gretel Ehrlich. Built from journal entries originally written in “fits and starts” for a friend in Hawaii, the book is a mosaic of Ehrlich’s experiences living and working on Wyoming ranches as she grieves for her partner, David. A celebrated memoirist and nature writer, Ehrlich has won the Whiting Award and the Henry David Thoreau Prize.
“Leaves are verbs that conjugate the seasons.”
“True solace is finding none, which is to say, it is everywhere.”
“We assimilate a little this way, and a little that way. Life is only mutation.”
“It is hard to know who suffered more – the livestock or the ranchers who fed and cared for them.”
“The lessons of impermanence taught me this: loss constitutes an odd kind of fullness; despair empties out into an unquenchable appetite for life.”
“people are blunt with one another, sometimes even cruel, believing honesty is stronger medicine than sympathy, which may console but often conceals.”
“There’s so little to do except work that people wind up in a state of idle agitation that becomes fatalistic, as if there were nothing to be done about all this untapped energy.”
“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.”
“A big ranch is a miniature society. Its demise has the impact of a bankruptcy in a small town: another hundred people off of work and a big chunk of the town’s business is suddenly gone.”
“Autumn teaches us that fruition is also death; that ripeness is a form of decay. The willows, having stood for so long near water, begin to rust. Leaves are verbs that conjugate the seasons.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
All winter we skate the small ponds – places that in summer are water holes for cattle and sheep – and here a reflection of mind appears, sharp, vigilant, precise. Thoughts, bright as frostfall, skate through our brains. In winter consciousness looks like an etching.
“The truest art I would strive for in any work would be to give the page the same qualities as earth: weather would land on it harshly, light would elucidate the most difficult truths; wind would sweep away obtuse padding. Finally, the lessons of impermanence taught me this: loss constitutes an odd kind of fullness; despair empties out into an unquenchable appetite for life.”
Lovers, farmers and artists have one thing in common, at least – a fear of “dry spells”, dormant periods in which we do no blooming, internal droughts only the waters of imagination and psychic release can civilize. All such matters are delicate of course. But a good irrigator knows this: too little water brings on the weeds while too much degrades the soil the way too much easy money can trivialize a person’s initiative.
“But ranchers who cherish the western life and its values also pray for oil wells in their calving pasture or a coal lease on prime grassland. Economics has pressed them into such a paradoxical state. For years, they’ve borrowed $100,000 for operating costs; now they can’t afford interest. 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.”
“From the clayey soil of northern Wyoming is mined bentonite, which is used as filler in candy, gum, and lipstick. 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 gave 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.”
Animals hold us to what is present: who we are at the time, not who we’ve been or how our bank accounts describe us. What is obvious to an animal is not the embellishment that fattens our emotional resumes but what;s bedrock and current in us: aggression, fear, insecurity, happiness, or equanimity. Because they have the ability to read our involuntary ticks and scents, we’re transparent to them and thus exposed – were finally ourselves.
“Instead of the macho, trigger-happy man our culture has perversely wanted him to be, the cowboy is more apt to be convivial, quirky, and softhearted. To be “tough” on a ranch has nothing to do with conquests and displays of power. More often than not, circumstances – like the colt he’s riding or an unexpected blizzard – are overpowering him. It’s not toughness but “toughing it out” that counts. In other words, this macho, cultural artifact the cowboy has become is simply a man who possesses resilience, patience, and an instinct for survival. “Cowboys are just like a pile of rocks – everything happens to them. They get climbed on, kicked, rained and snowed on, scuffed up by wind. Their job is ‘just to take it,’ ” one old-timer told me.”