I’ve spent the morning in company of Gretel Ehrlich, or to be more precise: with her book The Solace of Open Spaces (1986).
From where I’m reading, this book is sliding beautifully into the discussion on landscape, art & writing. Listen to this:
The emptiness of the West was a geography of possibility. …
Territorial Wyoming was a boy’s world. the land was generous with everything but water. At first there was room enough, food enough, for everyone.
But this was only at first, then county cattle war started, and the West turned out not to be the egalitarian sanctuary after all –
Fencing ultimately enforces boundaries, but barbed wire abrogated space. It was stretched across the beautiful valleys, into the mountains, over deserted badlands, through buffalo grass. The “anything is possible” fever – the lure of any new place – was constricted. The integrity of the land as a geographical body, and the freedom to ride anywhere on it, were lost.
Gretel Ehrlich is, as I read her, writing about Genius Loci (the special atmosphere of a particular place). And she is showing us, her readers, how people can – and often do – change the spirit of a place, without even thinking about the space or place as a body in itself.