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Gretel Ehrlich-‘Human Beings Have to Grow Up’
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Monday, October 4, 2021
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Gretel Erhlich looks at the 13,800-foot snowcapped peaks of the Wind River Mountains from her off-grid cabin set on a glacial moraine surrounded by kettle ponds and sees story after story.

“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,” she writes in her latest book “Unsolaced: Along the Way to All That Is.”

Then she ponders other things: A mud flow that destroyed her childhood home, a typhoon that drowned a hundred people in Japan, hurricanes that razed Caribbean islands, an avalanche that took three friends.

“What has been forgotten, gone unnoticed?” she asks. “Stacked notebooks don’t begin to frame it all, yet I page through them omnivorously, trying to catch a glimpse of myself and others, and the places we’ve lived in. How do we know anything? How do we lose it so easily?”

Since her classic “The Solace of Open Spaces” came out, Ehrlich has circled the world witnessing how climate change is affecting indigenous Arctic peoples on the top of the world, following a hunter as he watches ice in his native Greenland melt, watching regenerative agricultural practices in Zimbabwe and learning about genocide through the eyes of a trauma surgeon in Kosovo--all of which she has recounted in more than a dozen books.

Now she has a new book, “Unsolaced: Along the Way to All That Is.” And she will discuss that and her original during this week’s Trailing of the Sheep Festival with The Community Library’s Executive Director Jenny Emery Davidson at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8, at The Argyros.

“The trajectory of ‘Unsolaced’ has to do with the climate crisis—climate grief and personal grief,” Ehrlich  said. “We’re up against extinction—all of us. We always think we’re separate from everything else, but we’re like all the other animals.

“We see heating events that can destroy agriculture. Rivers dry up. Oceans can go dead. In my travels I’ve seen the way melting in the Arctic drives the climate of the world as the exposed soil becomes a heat sink rather than reflecting solar heat back into space as ice and snow does. I saw in Africa how degrading the land causes drought. We have to stop living in denial. People need to educate themselves and be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Human beings have to grow up, especially in this country.”

Ehrlich will headline the annual Sheep Tales Gathering at the 25th annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival.  Tickets are $25, available at https://trailingofthesheep.org/culture/sheeptales-gathering/ Any tickets that remain unsold will be available at the Trailing of the Sheep Festival’s headquarters at Ketchum’s Limelight Hotel on Friday. You can also check on availability at 208-720-0585.

This isn’t the first time Ehrlich has spoken at the Trailing of the Sheep Festival. And it’s certainly not the first time she’s been to the Wood River Valley.

Ehrlich has been coming to Sun Valley since she was a youngster, her parents bringing her from her childhood home in Santa Barbara, Calif., to ski and hike. More recently, she’s become good friends with Festival Co-founder Diane Josephy Peavey, inspiring Peavey to write her own book chronicling life 24-dirt road miles from the town of Carey in a book titled “Bitterbrush Country.”

“She’s someone I’ve long looked up to as one of the finest writers in the West,” said Peavey. “Her first book, ‘Solace of Open Spaces, told of moving onto the land, marrying a rancher and understanding how important the land is and the people who live on it.

“Now, ‘Unsolaced’ is a very moving book, a really important book. She returns to places she’s been in the past, goes out with scientists charting the flow of ice in Greenland and touches on the effect of the climate crisis and what we stand to lose. She addresses the amount of loss that’s already occurred and continued loss.”

While her new book laments loss, Ehrlich remains hopeful. She has, for instance, seen how aquaculture can help reverse climate change, how acres of grassland cared for properly can absorb carbon in the atmosphere.

“You can harvest water off your roof…you can use solar panels,” she said. “We live in dire times, but don’t feel hopeless--we can do things.  But we’ve got to be willing to wake up.”

 Ehrlich says she loves the way the Trailing of the Sheep Festival celebrates life on the range, helping people who don’t have livestock to understand what the life of a rancher is like.

“And all the good that grazing animals can do in the world as long as they’re managed properly,” she added. “It’s a wonderful way to live.”

Ehrlich received her introduction to life on the range when she went to Wyoming in 1975 to make a film for PBS about sheep ranchers. When her partner died, she stayed on and helped out on the ranch.

“Whenever a sheepherder was sick, I lived the life and saw how wonderful it was herding sheep in the summertime in the mountains, taking care of them, making sure predators stayed away, moving them properly so they didn’t overgraze.”

In addition to speaking at Sheep Tales, Ehrlich will conduct a book signing and walk with Festival Co-Founders John and Diane Peavey as they walk the sheep up Main Street Ketchum Sunday, Oct. 10, in the Trailing of the Sheep Parade.

The Festival is a tradition of great story telling,” she said, “And I’m honored to be part of it.”


 

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