The Solace of Open Spaces

by Gretel Ehrlich

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.


The Solace of Open Spaces is a 1986 collection of twelve short essays written by American travel writer, poet, essayist, and filmmaker Gretel Ehrlich. She began writing the book in 1979, originally planning to publish it as a journal, and finished it in 1985. In The Solace of Open Spaces, Ehrlich explains how she coped with her husband's sickness and untimely death; namely, she tells readers how she found "solace" in the "open spaces" and natural world of Wyoming. Ehrlich poetically explains what life is like when one loses a loved one and how nature helps her find happiness again.

Plot Summary

Ehrlich travels to Wyoming in order to film a documentary about sheep herders. Unfortunately, as she goes to meet with the sheep herders, she learns that her husband is dying. Despite this, Ehrlich decides to stay in Wyoming and finish the film, and she begins to write about her daily experiences on the ranches. Her choice to stay helps her to better cope with her husband's death, and she thinks that the natural landscapes and wilderness around her help to alleviate her grief. Soon, she realizes that she might have discovered her true calling.

Ehrlich spends much of her time admiring nature and interacting with animals—she even becomes a rancher herself. The physical work grounds her and brings back her "appetite for life." She explains that there is a special connection between all living creatures of Wyoming: the people know and respect both each other and the animals. The ranchers, both men and women, are kind, sweet, loyal and friendly—and, at the same time, strong, hardworking, and resilient. Together, Ehrlich and the ranchers learn how to adapt to the environment and overcome the various difficulties that the weather and wilderness of Wyoming can cause.

After finding her "solace," Ehrlich decides that it's time for her to start traveling again, but she always returns to Wyoming and continues to help the ranchers when she can.

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