“True solace is finding none:” Grief Through the Seasons of Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces

Senior Capstone Experience by Rebecca Kanaskie ’21

Submitted to the Department of English

Advised by Dr. Katherine Charles

Description:  “A ‘place’ is made only by ‘slow accrual’ of births, lives, and death. A place comes about because stories and memories emerge from experience on that land” (MacDonald 501). In tandem with a research project funded by the Douglass Cater Society for Junior Fellows, this thesis combines first-hand experience and literary analysis, as I was able to travel to and photograph many of the places Gretel Ehrlich mentions in her collection of narrative essays on nature, The Solace of Open Spaces. Thus, the collection of 12 personal essays is transformed into a narrative of reconciliation through which Ehrlich reckons the grief of losing a partner to cancer by finding consolation within her new environment and then the subsequent writing about that experience. Though not organized exclusively to start the thread of essays in winter and follow straight through to fall, moments in the text describe Ehrlich as scarred and blank in winter, in bloom in spring, dust-covered in summer, overgrown and rotting in autumn. In refocusing the reading of The Solace of Open Spaces on the inclusion of seasons, I argue that the reader can find an emotional chronology that undercuts the narrative of the travelogue and reveals how specific mentions of the landscape within the text parallel the emotions ebbing and flowing inside of Ehrlich. In completing this sort of pilgrimage around Northern Wyoming, my aim was to see if experiencing these places in person affected my comprehension or identification with The Solace of Open Spaces, thus the photographs included add an additional level of analysis to the text and highlight the connection I make between Ehrlich’s grieving process and the seasons she experiences in Wyoming.

Read Rebecca’s SCE below:

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