Facing the Wave: A journey in the wake of a Tsunami

A passionate student of Japanese poetry, theater, and art for much of her life, Gretel Ehrlich felt compelled to return to the earthquake-and-tsunami-devastated Tohoku coast to bear witness, listen to survivors, and experience their terror and exhilaration in villages and towns where all shelter and hope seemed lost. In an eloquent narrative that blends strong reportage, poetic observation, and deeply felt reflection, she takes us into the upside-down world of northeastern Japan, where nothing is certain and where the boundaries between living and dying have been erased by water.

The stories of rice farmers, monks, and wanderers; of fishermen who drove their boats up the steep wall of the wave; and of an eighty-four-year-old geisha who survived the tsunami to hand down a song that only she still remembered are both harrowing and inspirational. Facing death, facing life, and coming to terms with impermanence are equally compelling in a landscape of surreal desolation, as the ghostly specter of Fukushima Daiichi, the nuclear power complex, spews radiation into the ocean and air. Facing the Wave is a testament to the buoyancy, spirit, humor, and strong-mindedness of those who must find their way in a suddenly shattered world.

IN THE EMPIRE OF ICE: Encounters in A Changing Landscape

In this gripping circumnavigation of the Arctic Circle, Gretel Ehrlich paints a vivid portrait of the indigenous cultures that inhabit the starkly beautiful boreal landscape surrounding the Arctic Ocean, an ice-bound wilderness that includes northern Siberia, northwestern Greenland, Canada’s vast Nunavut, and northern Alaska. Ehrlich’s expedition, supported by the National Geographic Society, documents what remains of these cultures, specifically the similarities and differences among them, including hunting traditions, shamanic and ceremonial practices, languages and legends—the ways in which they have survived, or have been assimilated, and how they are adapting to the impact of climate change on their ice-age cultures.

Ehrlich is fascinated by what she calls the ecology of culture—the ways in which the human presence of indigenous Arctic people is intricately interwoven with land, rock, river, sea, and ice. Depicting human-caused climate change as only the latest and most destructive of the ills and abuses first peoples have been suffering for 250 years, Ehrlich’s haunting and lovely prose portrays ancient tribes and traditions on the edge of extinction and captures the austere beauty of their various lifeways in the frozen dreamscape of the world they have always known.

Match to the Heart

A Match to the Heart: One Woman's Story of Being Struck By Lightning

After nature writer Gretel Ehrlich was struck by lightning near her Wyoming ranch and almost died, she embarked on a grueling but often exhilarating journey back to the land of the living. Here she invites readers to share that journey, as she hungrily explores the natural and spiritual world to try and make sense of what happened to her.

Solace of Open Spaces

The Solace of Open Spaces

A stunning collection of personal observations that uses images of the American West to probe larger concerns in lyrical, evocative prose that is a true celebration of the region.

The Future of Ice

The Future of Ice: A Journey Into Cold

This book was written out of Gretel Ehrlich’s love for winter–for remote and cold places, for the ways winter frees our imagination and invigorates our feet, mind, and soul–and also out of the fear that our “democracy of gratification” has irreparably altered the climate.

Over the course of a year, Ehrlich experiences firsthand the myriad expressions of cold, giving us marvelous histories of wind, water, snow, and ice, of ocean currents and weather cycles. From Tierra del Fuego in the south to Spitsbergen, east of Greenland, at the very top of the world, she explores how our very consciousness is animated and enlivened by the archaic rhythms and erupting oscillations of weather. We share Ehrlich’s experience of the thrills of cold, but also her questions: What will happen to us if we are “deseasoned”? If winter ends, will we survive?

Drinking Dry Clouds - Gretel Ehrlich

Drinking Dry Clouds: Stories From Wyoming

Drinking Dry Clouds is Gretel Ehrlich's storytelling in full swing. This inspired collection opens during World War II with the stories of cowboys, waitresses, and bartenders along with Japanese Americans interned at Wyoming’s Heart Mountain. Many of these characters were introduced in Ehrlich’s novel Heart Mountain. As she explains, “When I returned to my characters, five years after their initial appearance in my life, they seemed to want to report to me, so I let them speak in the first person.”

Heart Mountain - Gretel Ehrlich

Heart Mountain

Ehrlich explores the twin solitudes of political exile and geographic isolation in this powerful novel--the story of Japanese Americans forced into a relocation camp--set in Wyoming during World War II.

Questions of Heaven - Gretel Ehrlich

Questions of Heaven

As a practicing Buddhist, Gretel Ehrlich set out to climb Emie Shan, a sacred Buddhist mountain in China, to complete a personal spiritual quest. What she came away with was an understanding of the brutal effects of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution on China's Buddhist population, and the politics and bitter realities of the collision between modernity and monastic life. Written in a lively and thoughtful style with plenty of exciting passages, Questions of Heaven chronicles Ehrlich's journey through China and its recent turbulent history in such a personal way that it draws the reader closer to the subject. From her conversations with monks and a heartbreaking visit to a panda refuge, Ehrlich discovers that the ancient Buddhist tradition lives on, though not in the manner she anticipated. Silencing both Buddhism and Taoism changed the complexion of China in unexpected ways, and this journal exposes the subtleties of this shift from the perspective of one who is able to bridge the cultural and political differences with her spiritual attachment.

This Cold Heaven - Gretel Ehrlich

This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland

For the last decade, Gretel Ehrlich has been obsessed by an island, a terrain, a culture, and the treacherous beauty of a world that is defined by ice. In This Cold Heaven she combines the story of her travels with history and cultural anthropology to reveal a Greenland that few of us could otherwise imagine.

Ehrlich unlocks the secrets of this severe land and those who live there; a hardy people who still travel by dogsled and kayak and prefer the mystical four months a year of endless darkness to the gentler summers without night. She discovers the twenty-three words the Inuit have for ice, befriends a polar bear hunter, and comes to agree with the great Danish-Inuit explorer Knud Rasmussen that “all true wisdom is only to be found far from the dwellings of man, in great solitudes.” This Cold Heaven is at once a thrilling adventure story and a meditation on the clarity of life at the extreme edge of the world.