The power and mystery of untamed nature in the Wyoming wilderness is the focus of an evocative but sometimes abstruse new collection of essays by Ehrlich (Heart Mountain, 1988; The Solace of Open Spaces, 1985). A transplanted Californian, Ehrlich chronicles life on her Wyoming ranch—training horses, doctoring calves, and irrigating fields—as she seeks emotional lessons in the daily unfolding of nature's wisdom. Exploring such themes as home and isolation, birth and death, and order and chaos, she returns repeatedly to the concept of paradox. Spring brings not only rebirth but death as a sudden thaw floods fields, killing new calves. Summer means fecundity but also destructive fires, which are themselves paradoxical—the black ash left in their wake is the richest of fertilizers; the fires are not the end of a life cycle but perhaps the beginning. ``How fragile death is, how easily it opens back into life,'' writes the author. At her best, in observations like these, Ehrlich combines a naturalist's eye with a philosopher's meditations—an ability that soars in a description of her trip to visit sacred sites in Japan. Occasionally, however, she abandons the rigors of structure and analysis for murkier musings—for example, in a desultory tour of her sprawling acres: ``I search for the possible in the impossible. Nothing. Then I try for the opposite, but the yellow leaves in trees—shaped like mouths—just laugh.'' Still, a lyrical, loving appreciation of landscape and life.
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