Monday, October 19, 2009

Essay: "The Solace of Open Spaces." Gretel Ehrlich. 1981.

One-minute review: Living in Wyoming required the author to adjust to the wide open spaces, the laconic conversations and the feeling of being sealed in by isolation. In general, space is a good thing, enabling people to welcome all kinds of ideas, whereas we in the East build obstructions against space by filling up our spaces with the things we can buy.


“It’s May and I’ve just awakened from a nap, curled against sagebrush the way my dog taught me to sleep—sheltered from the wind.”

“To live and work in this kind of open country, with its hundred-mile views, is to lose the distinction between background and foreground.”

“It’s all a bunch of nothing—wind and rattlesnakes—and so much of it you can’t tell where you’re going or where you’ve been and it don’t make much difference.”

“The arid country was a clean slate. Its absolute indifference steadied me.”

“In most parts of Wyoming, the human population is visibly outnumbered by the animal.”

“The solitude in which westerners live makes them quiet. They telegraph thoughts and feelings by the way they tilt their heads and listen.”

“Sentence structure is shortened to the skin and bones of a thought. Descriptive words are dropped, even verbs: ‘Which one needs rode?’ ”

“If anything is endemic to Wyoming, it is wind.”

“The individualism and optimism generated during those times have endured.”

“So the dark side to the grandeur of these spaces is the small-mindedness that seals people in. Men become hermits; women go mad. Cabin fever explodes into suicides or into grudges and lifelong family feuds.”

“One of our evening entertainments was to watch the night sky.”

“…being affluent, we strangle ourselves with what we can buy.”

Comment: Another model (“What Is Camp?”) of defining the indefinable. RayS.

Best American Essays of the Century. Editors: Oates and Atwan. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 2000.

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