Islands, the Universe, Home
Ten essays on nature, ritual, and philosophy “that are so point-blank vital you nearly need to put the book down to settle yourself” (San Francisco Chronicle).
Gretel Ehrlich’s world is one of solitude and wonder, pain and beauty, and these elements give life to her stunning prose. Ever since her acclaimed debut, The Solace of Open Spaces, she has illuminated the particular qualities of nature and the self with graceful precision.
In Islands, the Universe, Home, Ehrlich expands her explorations, traveling to the remote reaches of the earth and deep into her soul. She tells of a voyage of discovery in northern Japan, where she finds her “bridge to heaven.” She captures a “light moving down a mountain slope.” She sees a ruined city in the face of a fire-scarred mountain. Above all, she recalls what a painter once told her about art when she was twelve years old, as she sat for her portrait: “You have to mix death into everything. Then you have to mix life into that.”
In this unforgettable collection, Ehrlich mixes life and death, real and sacred, to offer a stunning vision of our world that is both achingly familiar and miraculously strange. According to National Book Award–winning author Andrea Barrett, these essays are “as spare and beautiful as the landscape from which they’ve grown. . . . Each one is a pilgrimage into the secrets of the heart.”
Loss and recovery, isolation and connectedness are themes running through this powerful, idiosyncratic collection of naturalisticper web essays. Observing nature's rule over her Wyoming farm, Ehrlich ( The Solace of Open Spaces ) notes both predictable shifts, like the sweep of seasons, and random events, like an early thaw at calving time that brought rampant bacterial infection to her herd. Without sentimentality, she moves between external conditions and internal, comparing her recovery from a lengthy illness to spring, or seeing in the diversity among bear dens an early order of the impulse to individuate (``Architecture''). Trips to Japan (``The Bridge to Heaven'') and to a California island near her birthplace (``Home Is How Many Places'') support her subtextual investigation of islands as symbol of isolation or metaphor of an individual's being fully embraced by his or her surroundings. Ehrlich's prose, while sometimes tangled in extravagant philosophical leaps, nevertheless yields provocative images, like that of a line of tree shadows frost-white against a warmed, darkened field. She is best when descriptive, her sharp eye cast unblinking both within and without.