|Chapter 1:||Historical Erasure and Recovery in Gretel Ehrlich’s“The Solace of Open Spaces” and Janet Campbell Hale’S “Bloodlines”: “Odyssey of a Native Daughter”|
Ehrlich reinscribes this tendency by relocating to Wyoming as an isolated “outsider” with no apparent traditions or ties to the past. At the same time, the text’s focus on a female’s acceptance into a ranching community inverts gendered associations of both ranching and autobiographical selfhood with male figures. The Solace of Open Spaces contests Ehrlich’s subordination as a woman by placing her in a racially dominant and curiously non-gendered position, though the text refuses to explicitly identify it as such.
Ehrlich’s privileged social position is symptomatically unmarked by gendered limitations. Upon arriving in Wyoming from New York City, Ehrlich believes that “[f]or the first time I was able to take up residence on earth with no alibis, no self-promoting schemes” (ix). Ehrlich naturalizes the emergence of herself as “native” to the land. At first dislocated and isolated, Ehrlich establishes a sense of “belonging” and self-renewal through identification with a mythical version of western culture. The Solace of Open Spaces facilitates this self-discovery as it depicts the personal experiences of an autonomous protagonist, free of familial and cultural ties. Thus, Ehrlich notes that there is such an abundance of “Wyoming’s openness…[that] you can’t tell where you’re going or where you’ve been and it don’t make much difference” (2). Casting off the shadows of the past, the text reproduces the classic regression from a “civilized” to a “primitive” state. Wyoming’s harsh winter climate “strips what is ornamental in us” (72) with the discovery that “inherent in space is a curative quality” (Morris, Gretel Ehrlich 38). Ehrlich seeks to renew herself in what she considers to be “new and unpopulated territory” (3-4).
Ehrlich’s reproduction of Owen Wister’s formula in The Virginian is founded upon the same vision of a regenerative western landscape. Like Wister’s seminal Western novel, Ehrlich’s text focuses on Wyoming’s geologic history to the exclusion of its cultural history, to emphasize the primitive and pure conditions that enable personal transformation. Ehrlich imagines “the sea that once covered this state” (2), recalling the ways in which water and wind originally shaped Wyoming.