coyote pup and British flag pin. . . .nEvelyn Cameron died prematurelynof complications following a routinenappendectomy. My favorite of hernphotographs is still another self-portrait.nIn this one she is standing on thenback of a gray horse, holding the reinsnin her hand. She is tanned black fromnthe sun, bareheaded, wearing a longnskirt, and grinning at someone to thenleft of the camera. Her smile is somehownAmerican; you can’t imagine antypical woman of her class in Englandnshowing her teeth like that. It is anrevealing glimpse of a woman who hadnlived the life she chose, with all itsnrewards and hardships; a woman whononce wrote in her diary: “I think ofndeath as a delightful journey that I shallntake when all my tasks are done.”nGretel Ehrlich’s The Solace ofnOpen Spaces was published in 1986,nand is without a doubt the best knownnof these memoirs. Perhaps this is becausenthe author is a contemporarynwriter from the coasts (both of them),nas well as a gifted and poetic crafter ofnwords. She knows the truths of life innthe Big Open, in the emptiest part ofnwhat the New York and L.A. sophisticatesnsneer at as “overflight country,”nand possesses the skill and knowledgento convey something of this to thenincreasingly alien dominant culture.nEhrlich was a filmmaker, originallynfrom California but based in NewnYork, who came to Wyoming in then1970’s to make a film on sheepherders.nHer lover and partner died and shenstayed on to work as a herder herself,nisolated in the enormous backcountrynwest of the Big Horn Mountains.nEventually she came to see this harshnmagnificent land as home. Much later,nshe married a rancher and (post Solace)ntook on the difficult task of defendingnranching against its newbornnlegion of faddish critics.nSolace is a book about the discoverynof landscape and the rediscovery of oldntruths, a book written with such freshneyes that I include it in any basicnpackage of Western reading for thennewly arrived or the curious. She remembersnwell when she herself was thennewcomer: “Was it a lie to be here?nWas I an impostor? My city friendsncalled and asked when I was going tonstop hiding. Wyoming hospitality wasnan extravagant blend of dry humor andnbenign neglect. One morning a couplenin a car from New York drove by. ‘Ah,’nthey must have thought, ‘a real cowgiri.’nAs the car slowed to go throughntown I found myself trotting behind it.nI wanted to pound on the windows andnexplain that I knew every subway stopnon the Seventh Avenue IRT. Theynspeeded up and drove on. I laughed atnmyself, then went inside and wrote to anfriend: ‘True solace is finding none,nwhich is to say, it is everywhere.'”nWhich touches on a lot of thenvirtues common to all these books.nThe cheerful stoicism is obvious; solacenin a world unlike that of thennarrator’s youth is always a condition ofnimmigrants’ stories. But there is somethingnelse there too: an appreciation ofnWestern character. Most reviews ofnSolace emphasized Ehrlich’s wonderfulnlandscape writing, but veered awaynfrom her comments on her friends andnon Western quirks and mores; thisndespite various chapters called “OthernLives,” “About Men,” “Friends, Foes,nand Working Animals,” “Just Married,”nand “Rules of the Game,” all ofnwhich suggest an involvement in morenthan just the landscape — or at the verynleast in a landscape where the fewnwell-adapted people achieve the dignity,nas Edward Abbey said somewhere,nof rare animals. Ehrlich has a wonderfulnear and the ability to sketch Westernncharacter, both human and animal,nwith a few quick sure lines.nThe rancher’s life and the unfashionablenparts of the West still beckon,nand good writers — many or most ofnthem female — continue to chroniclenthem. There are certainly good malenwriters in the West, but very few yet arenwriting about ranching. One of thenbest, Tom McGuane, has said wonderfulnthings about ranchers in passing,nbut has yet to focus on them, at least asnranchers. One-time novelist RalphnBeers wrote movingly about the hardshipsn’of ranch life in his novel ThenBlind Corral a few years ago, thennslipped ofiF the radar screen. But truencelebrations of the cattle culture continuento flow from women’s pens andntypewriters, even from the most unlikelynand “modernist” corners. In thensame year that Gretel Ehriich’s booknwas published, Flannery O’Connor’snold correspondent Cecil Dawkinsnwrote Charleyhorse, now reprinted as anpaperback whose publishers promote itnas a “lesbian tour-de-force.” What itnnnreally is is a celebration of the cownculture. Charlene Burden is no “gaynactivist” — she just wants to be acceptednas a cowboy and finally earns thenroaring approval of her town by succeedingnin riding a bronc at the localnrodeo.nI still don’t quite understand why sonmany ranchwomen and cowgirls write.nBut the ranchwoman’s third way —nneither that of the new-age feministnnor that of the second-rank humannbeing — may off^er the fullest and mostnsatisfactory role yet for strong womennseeking to make something of themselvesnin this peculiar era of the AmericannRepublic.nStephen Bodio is the author of AnRage for Falcons and Querencia.nLetter From Italynby Thomas FlemingnThere and Back AgainnI owe this trip to our secretary, Leann,nwho kept looking out for low airfares tonEurope. Only a few days before shendiscovered Alitalia’s summer half-pricensale, I had received another kind invitationnto spend a few days at the CentronInternazionale per Studi Lombardin(CEISLO). I bribed my wife into comingnalong by promising to visit Pompeii,nand when I told a friend of our plans, henand his wife almost immediately decidednto join us.nWe began with high hopes and illnomen — I managed to sprain my anklenonly two days before our departure —nbut the hotel I had found after four callsnto Rome {“tutto completo”) proved tonbe as pleasant as it is affordable. ThenAlbergo di Campo di Fiori is locatednright on the Campo di Fiori (not nearnthe Baths of Diocletian, where a popularnguidebook puts it. Cod bless thencabdriver who would not listen to me),nand it is hard to think of a liveliernlocation. In the lightest of drizzles, mynwriter-cattleman friend and I sat on thenroof, late at night, and watched Romenputting itself to bed. In honor of thenoccasion I even drank vodka, which Inhave not done willingly since I was 14.nI spent most of the short time I hadntrying to find people. Professor L.E.nNOVEMBER 1991/41n