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From the author of the enduring classic The Solace of Open Spaces, here is a wondrous meditation on how water, light, wind, mountain, bird, and horse have shaped her life and her understanding of a world besieged by a climate crisis. Amid species extinctions and disintegrating ice sheets, this stunning collection of memories, observations, and narratives is acute and lyric From the author of the enduring classic The Solace of Open Spaces, here is a wondrous meditation on how water, light, wind, mountain, bird, and horse have shaped her life and her understanding of a world besieged by a climate crisis. 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.


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From the author of the enduring classic The Solace of Open Spaces, here is a wondrous meditation on how water, light, wind, mountain, bird, and horse have shaped her life and her understanding of a world besieged by a climate crisis. Amid species extinctions and disintegrating ice sheets, this stunning collection of memories, observations, and narratives is acute and lyric From the author of the enduring classic The Solace of Open Spaces, here is a wondrous meditation on how water, light, wind, mountain, bird, and horse have shaped her life and her understanding of a world besieged by a climate crisis. 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.

30 review for Unsolaced: Along the Way to All That Is

  1. 5 out of 5

    Andrea McDowell

    Beautifully written, and heartbreaking personal story connected to and reflecting on heartbreaking stories of climate breakdown. Everything about this book is amazing, except for the author's (and some of her acquaintances', as told in the book) repeated assertions that the root causes of climate breakdown are loss of albedo in arctic sea ice and soil degradation. It should go without saying that this is not true; you could do everything possible to restore soils (and should anyway for a variety Beautifully written, and heartbreaking personal story connected to and reflecting on heartbreaking stories of climate breakdown. Everything about this book is amazing, except for the author's (and some of her acquaintances', as told in the book) repeated assertions that the root causes of climate breakdown are loss of albedo in arctic sea ice and soil degradation. It should go without saying that this is not true; you could do everything possible to restore soils (and should anyway for a variety of reasons) and this would not do more than briefly pause the climate crisis, and there is no earthly way to stop the loss of albedo in arctic sea ice without stopping the combustion of fossil fuels. But fossil fuels barely come up, and oil extraction--the one related anecdote that does appear in the book--is never tied to carbon emissions or the climate crisis. In all fairness, this should have docked the book more than one star, but the writing is so breathtaking and her stories of her travels are told with such compassion that I couldn't do it. Read this book for intimate, first-hand stories of what it's like to already be facing the climate apocalypse; but then, read scientists to figure out why and what we need to do about it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael Conner

    In 2019, I found a first edition copy of The Solace of Open Spaces in a used bookstore in downtown Sacramento. I had never heard of Gretel Ehrlich, but I decided to purchase the book because of Annie Dillard’s endorsement on the back cover and because I was in the beginning stages of acquainting myself with our country’s great nature writers, particularly those based in the West. I’m glad that I did. Ehrlich’s story of carrying her grief and cultivating hard-earned skills among the animals and s In 2019, I found a first edition copy of The Solace of Open Spaces in a used bookstore in downtown Sacramento. I had never heard of Gretel Ehrlich, but I decided to purchase the book because of Annie Dillard’s endorsement on the back cover and because I was in the beginning stages of acquainting myself with our country’s great nature writers, particularly those based in the West. I’m glad that I did. Ehrlich’s story of carrying her grief and cultivating hard-earned skills among the animals and small-town folk and long silences of Wyoming provided me with courage to make - in my own way and for my own reasons - a fresh start. I closed that book with the impression that Ehrlich had found her true home, had made some kind of vow of stability. I did not realize how much had changed in her circumstances between the release of Solace and my purchase of it. Published thirty-six years after that debut work, Unsolaced: Along the Way to All That Is lays bare Ehrlich’s actual lifelong restlessness, a restlessness energized by cycles of abundance and deprivation, of forming attachments only to lose them or leave them. Undoubtedly, many of these felt losses are attributable to the climate crisis. Ehrlich recounts her repeated trips to Greenland and Zimbabwe where she “kept touching the tips and spikes of climate change… [and] saw the two root causes of climate change: degraded and desertified earth caused by ineffectual rainfall, and the loss of albedo because of the disappearance of snow and ice” (193, 198). She sojourns among people losing their place-bound cultures and repeatedly calls for the establishment of “great pasture ecosystems” throughout the earth, believing that grasses and trees that absorb and store airborne Carbon in the ground are our best hope for reversing ecological damage. Even so, against this catastrophic backdrop, Ehrlich moves restlessly (though not always by choice) through homes, lovers, friendships, seasons of sickness and health, and areas of curiosity. As she recounts these movements, the central question of the book emerges: How does a person make a home in an endlessly changing world? Ehrlich, like the migrating Pronghorn of her beloved Wyoming, learned to experience place “not as a dot on the map but a long vista of land” (214). Her own “long vista of land” became the earth itself; she is a migratory creature, a creature seeking the land’s gifts wherever they are to be found. To me, the power in her appeal to address the climate crisis is found, paradoxically, in this embodied transience, this story of worldwide seeking. The world – this world, not some other – with its peoples and cultures and animals has been the place of her journey. She comes to know herself through witnessing, say, the Pronghorn family outsider her Wyoming cabin, just as one of her companions in Greenland, Dennis, a musical composer, receives his symphonies from the “polar desolation” at the top of the world (136). In contrast to industrial humanity’s posture toward nature, which is “all a form of aggression,” Ehrlich comes to the world openhanded in order to receive the gift of her creative power (171). It follows, then, that every loss of landscape and species is mirrored by a loss of cultural and creative possibility. An impoverished world can only tell impoverished stories. Thus, a writer who began her career wounded by impermanence and in search of a true home has grown into a person able to make a home within the given conditions of finitude: “Life is absurd; death waits for us; unconditional living is true. So much of our problem is our point of view. The Sanskrit word prana defines the point of view of ‘ground.’ Not soil but rootedness, knowledge inseparable from reality” (216). In the process of befriending the conditions of existence, Ehrlich has learned to distinguish the unnatural forms of impermanence wrought by human hubris from the natural contingency of all creatures, landscapes, and lives. This is a wisdom we desperately need, for Unsolaced, in the gentlest of ways, had unified spiritual questing with ethical living.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sue Spaight

    Disappointing. I love her deep descriptions of nature, but this felt like a series of disjointed thoughts and stories rather than a coherent narrative. Though it was somewhat interesting (and mostly depressing) to read her firsthand observations of climate change, I wish I would have read the tepid NYT review before I bought it and spent the time on something else.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    “Early on I saw how conventional society wanted me to be one thing only, reduced to a splinter in a reductive world, but I went the other way and kept unpeeling my mind. Sagebrush and string quartets, Buddhist practice and cowboying were all of a piece. Quantum decoherence interested me more than mapping out a firm life plan. The ground would always be spacious landscapes and animals. The sky would hold the soul-songs of Brahms and birds; the blue shawl of imagination would enfold everything els “Early on I saw how conventional society wanted me to be one thing only, reduced to a splinter in a reductive world, but I went the other way and kept unpeeling my mind. Sagebrush and string quartets, Buddhist practice and cowboying were all of a piece. Quantum decoherence interested me more than mapping out a firm life plan. The ground would always be spacious landscapes and animals. The sky would hold the soul-songs of Brahms and birds; the blue shawl of imagination would enfold everything else.” Solace is a favorite word, the sound of it said aloud and the feeling, and where it is found may be different for everyone, but I had never considered being “unsolaced.” Do you think that is even a word? I went looking, and did not realize you can also solace, that it is a verb, so you can solace others, or be solaced, or perhaps create solacement, a new word for me. Desolaced reminds me of desecrated, to make unsacred, but desolaced is not a word, but desolate is, and that is what it means, so I will float along in solacement with the gems the author writes of the natural world. Unsolaced is a word, and the author comes to the same conclusion she did in The Solace of Open Spaces, and is saying the world tries to unsolace us in its shortsightedness and waste, but there is still deep joy available every day despite it. ”Finally, the sharp lessons of impermanence I learned while writing Solace still hold true: that loss constitutes an odd kind of fullness, and despair empties out into an unquenchable appetite for life.” I have never loved her writing, but this was actually an interesting overview of some of her adventures and her life’s work as a writer; her ranching/cowboying anecdotes never appeal to me but her African, Greeenlandic, and Arctic stories are powerful. Everything is moving, but there’s so much we can’t see: how thought comes into being; how grasses and trees connect; how animals know weather, experience pleasure and love; how what’s under the soil, the deep microbial empire, can hold twenty billion tons of carbon in its hands. The mind splices fragments of sensation and language into story after story. The blood in my veins and every blade of grass is oxygen, sugar, photosynthesis, genetic expression, electrochemistry, and time. I watch clouds crush the last bit of pink sky. Breath slips even as I inhale, even as snow falls out of season and mud thaws, even as lightning ignites a late spring. Those mountains are my mind’s wall and wellspring. Down here, the light is peach colored, and as the sun shifts, one loose shadow, like thought, takes on a sharp edge. Almost daily I return to the high country. Mountain is shoulder: I rub against it and step forward. The hinge squeals, an arm lifts, a rock wall slides, and for a moment the mountain’s inner sanctum is revealed. Becoming “native to a place” doesn’t have to be about secured boundaries of blood and territory but can allude to a deep, growing knowledge of that place. The way one feasts on it and becomes nourished and gives thanks. And hands it over to be shared. The mind swims laps, memory is cantilevered over genetic turmoil, and the writing goes on as if from unseen instruction, silencing, cleaving, and destabilizing words and thoughts, while the “hum” in me, the human, pushes fragments into the semblance of story. My friend Malcolm Margolin once said, “Our responses to Earth are dug in deep and are old. We aren’t new to what we do and know. The old ways are embedded in us.” In his journal, Emerson wrote: “Everything teaches transition, transference, metamorphosis….We dive & reappear in new places.” Hunger became an ally. My metabolism changed and my understanding of this land changed with it. On the night the wind howled, our tents rattled like bones. We were camped by a string lake. Pans of ice made of bunched crystals floated by. Pale green on top, the clear sides looked like see-through rows of teeth. When the sun came, the bunched stalks disintegrated: deconstructed chandeliers. I heard music—not Dennis’s but candle-ice tinkling. The whole lake chimed. Lying on top of my sleeping bag by the water, I lost track of my body. I wasn’t floating—there was nothing mysterious going on—but something had let go inside me. The weight of my boots, my abraded heels, ankles, and toes ceased to hurt and no longer impeded my journey. I had entered a trance state. The equation was this: hunger + beauty = movement. I wanted only to keep going. “Where we are right now has nothing to do with human time. The word now is meaningless. What we call a year is a tiny framework in a huge sea of time. We are engulfed.” I lifted my arms. No words came, only images of the Japanese gardens I had once visited: Saihō-ji, Kinkaku-ji, Ryōan-ji. But this place was the font. The whole world was this, embedded in this, had issued from this. It was a place where, as Dōgen said, being and nonbeing are rolled together. Fresh, original, unvarnished, spontaneous, and old. No hinge that held or released. Some places remind you of nothing and everything at once. Cabin and cosmos, sun and home, and a garden full of radishes and Swiss chard. So much I hadn’t had for a long time, yet I missed Jens and the dogs and the feel of sea ice under me; I missed lions roaring and picking thorns from my feet in Africa. In both Africa and Greenland, I’d seen the two root causes of climate change: degraded and desertified earth caused by ineffectual rainfall, and the loss of albedo because of the disappearance of snow and ice. A Cibecue Apache elder once said, “The purpose of sacred places is to protect the place and to perfect the human mind. Wisdom sits in places.” So often we miss the whole-fabric aspect of where we live, and our own consciousness embedded within it. We are not interrelated but “intrabranched”: one branch wound around another and fused into a single embrace. Our lacelike nervations have overlapping frequencies. It’s what the Greenlanders simply call sila: consciousness, weather, and the power of nature as one. If nothing else, we are what the physicist Richard Feynman called “scattering amplitudes,” wholes within unbounded totalities. Physicists have recently discovered “quantum entanglement,” in which paradoxical and counterintuitive measurements of entangled particles result in wave function collapse, or as one scientist put it: “Seeming impossibilities occur, as when a photon that has not been born comes under the influence of one that was already dead.” That’s how those summer months felt: the boundless ways in which episodic fragments of experience and memory were torn away, sewn into a future that had not yet taken place, then conjoined. Our “always in a hurry” ways of living seemed doubly insignificant. Intimacy with weather, terrain, and pronghorn taught me to hold each foot-worn trail in my mind as it deepened. I liked to think that a “green light” glowed inside those animals, instructing them how to survive and eat well. We humans might do the same and, in the process, vernalize our minds. Half a mile from my cabin I sat on a huge boulder—a glacial erratic left behind by retreating ice—and looked out over the range, then held my head in my hands. A neurologist explained that the balance between stability and mental chaos occurs when a phalanx of neurons fires, triggering others, until across the whole brain they cascade and avalanche in sequenced, tidal rhythms. Quiescence and fever. Starvation and extinction. Joy and blight. Ecosystems kept collapsing in sight, out of sight, and I had to work hard to remember that loss and abundance co-exist, and both are true. The Salish word sumic means “sacred flow, the intertwining of nature and lifeways.” From the Tale of Genji scroll fragments I saw in Kyoto, I learned fukinuki yatai: how, if the roof is blown off, one can see down into people’s lives without entering the room; how the “sacred flow” and the “everywhere and all that is” lies shimmering inside us and all around. I pull the rope of my door tighter and stuff the window with roots and ferns. My spirit is turned to springtime. At the end of the year there is autumn in my heart. Thus, imitating cosmic changes, my cabin becomes the cosmos. —Lu Yun Since Solace was published thirty-six years ago, everything and nothing has changed. Ecosystems are crashing. Terrorism sprouts and vanishes with devastating effect. Coronavirus is on a rampage, reminding us that the roulette wheel still spins. As the pandemic spreads, animals wander through empty cities as if to say that we humans have been in the way all this time. Finally, the sharp lessons of impermanence I learned while writing Solace still hold true: that loss constitutes an odd kind of fullness, and despair empties out into an unquenchable appetite for life.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Cody

    If "climate is culture," as Ehrlich claims, then, perhaps, like her Greenlandic pals, it's time for us to choose only what we want to keep from the modern world, and forbid the rest. If "climate is culture," as Ehrlich claims, then, perhaps, like her Greenlandic pals, it's time for us to choose only what we want to keep from the modern world, and forbid the rest.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alisa Wilhelm

    I had never read anything by Gretel Ehrlich before this and I was pleased to find that her voice (audio and written) sounds a lot like Anne Lamott. California boomer women, I guess. This book is a memoir of sorts, a fractured catalog of events in her life and her personal experiences with climate change. She spent many years ranching in Wyoming as a single woman, extensive periods in remote Greenland experiencing arctic ice culture, and a long visit the backcountry of Zimbabwe learning about how I had never read anything by Gretel Ehrlich before this and I was pleased to find that her voice (audio and written) sounds a lot like Anne Lamott. California boomer women, I guess. This book is a memoir of sorts, a fractured catalog of events in her life and her personal experiences with climate change. She spent many years ranching in Wyoming as a single woman, extensive periods in remote Greenland experiencing arctic ice culture, and a long visit the backcountry of Zimbabwe learning about how rotational grazing can reverse climate change and prevent drought. She also employed rotational grazing on her Wyoming ranch to great effect: water was pulled into the ground regenerating long-lost native rye grazing pastures that were able to support a herd of wild elk in the winter and her herd of cattle in the summer. It made me wonder if this could be used in Brazil to stop greedy deforestation of the Amazon in order to grab more grazing land for cattle. It would be nice if the UN or someone could step in with grants to get ranchers the basic fencing and water tanks needed to set it up. I liked hearing about the adventurous life she led. In addition to stints in Wyoming, Greenland and Zimbabwe, she also toured Kosovo after the war, closed down a ranch on an island off the coast of California, was stuck by lightning and recovered, made movies, wrote magazine articles, learned to break horses from a horse whisperer, lost homes to divorce and wildfires, nearly starved to death while hiking a glacier, buried her parents, and had relationships with a variety of men. The problem is that the book is not arranged by any discernible logic and it comes out as stream-of-consciousness glimpses of her life. I had zero reference for what year she was talking about, which husband if any she was married to at the time, when the events happen in relation to each other, how old she is, etc etc. That was very frustrating and made my interest in the book dwindle (unbelievable, considering all that happened), so I wouldn't recommend the book unless you don't really care about that kind of thing.

  7. 4 out of 5

    James Easterson

    Near the end of this book the author quotes a Mandan elder who says, "When we know we are going to die, we dance." Well, thus, we should ever be dancing. The great Vaslav Nijinsky once said, "Now I will dance you the war.... The war which you did not prevent." In this era, my friend, that war is climate change! This book is a memoir, a smattering of tales of great individuals who fight injustice for a better world, a tale of personal tragedies, of hope and awe of the natural world, of travels to Near the end of this book the author quotes a Mandan elder who says, "When we know we are going to die, we dance." Well, thus, we should ever be dancing. The great Vaslav Nijinsky once said, "Now I will dance you the war.... The war which you did not prevent." In this era, my friend, that war is climate change! This book is a memoir, a smattering of tales of great individuals who fight injustice for a better world, a tale of personal tragedies, of hope and awe of the natural world, of travels to parts of the world where most won't go, a tale of loss of culture and place, a personal tale of global fate. At first I did not care much for this book, but it drew me in along the way. This author does not shy away from life as it is.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Megin

    There’s a sense that Ehrlich’s adventures could fill volumes (and indeed, some are explored in depth in her earlier books), but the undertone is not the excitement of discovery but the melancholy of loss. A thread of grief runs through each encounter of human and place. Full review at The Chicago Review of Books: https://chireviewofbooks.com/2021/01/... There’s a sense that Ehrlich’s adventures could fill volumes (and indeed, some are explored in depth in her earlier books), but the undertone is not the excitement of discovery but the melancholy of loss. A thread of grief runs through each encounter of human and place. Full review at The Chicago Review of Books: https://chireviewofbooks.com/2021/01/...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jnix

    Misses the boat. Forgets the biggest cause of global warming, industries, use of oil, and herself. She flies from her homes in Wyoming,California, and Hawaii in her lifetime yet blames others in less developed countries for the problems. Sadly, she needs to look in a mirror for real culprits. Nice writing about beauty of nature. Hence two stars.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Karen White

    Lyrical writing enraptures the reader. Her descriptions of nature, human relationships with the wilderness, and climate changes were instructive and enlightening. Her narrative was somewhat disjointed and at times confusing.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Denise Kruse

    I know the author has travelled extensively and has had many experiences but I found these stories to be told in a stilted, florid, disjointed manner. I do enjoy nature inspired books and this one occasionally reeled me in but not enough to rate it higher.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Katie Lawrence

    Review to follow

  13. 5 out of 5

    Danny Riordan

    The writing is beautiful, but it’s very slipshod. It feels like the stories were all just thrown together, with little connective tissue.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Laura Cohen

    Very interesting and deep book with lovely descriptions of nature. Enjoyed very much.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Thejoker4184

    Wilderness homemaker lifestyle porn. In a good way. A little uneven. Loved her western settings and a lot of the Arctic descriptions. Dragged in the last 1/3

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kerry Pickens

    Gretel Ehrlich is a nature writer similar to Barry Lopez or John McPhee. This book is more of an overview of her writing life than on a particular subject. My favorite book by this author is A Match to the Heart which describes her experience being struck by lightning wgen she was 45 and the effect it had her life. Her brain stem was injured and her sympathetic nervous stopped functioning normally. She had been living on a remote ranch and had to move in with her elderly parents until she recove Gretel Ehrlich is a nature writer similar to Barry Lopez or John McPhee. This book is more of an overview of her writing life than on a particular subject. My favorite book by this author is A Match to the Heart which describes her experience being struck by lightning wgen she was 45 and the effect it had her life. Her brain stem was injured and her sympathetic nervous stopped functioning normally. She had been living on a remote ranch and had to move in with her elderly parents until she recovered. We never plan extreme circumstances but the author is an extremely resilient person to not only survive the experience but to share the struggle with her readers. After her recovery she wrote on climate change, and I didn't find those books as interesting as that is popular topic.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Gretchen J Foster

  18. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin A. Barrera

  19. 5 out of 5

    Emma Shanti

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sue

  21. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  22. 4 out of 5

    Susan

  23. 4 out of 5

    Andy

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jan Dempsey

  25. 5 out of 5

    Susanne

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Kessler

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alesha

  29. 4 out of 5

    Fritz Bathelt

  30. 5 out of 5

    Siffy Torkildson

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