In 1991, Gretel Ehrlich was struck by lightning while walking her dogs on her Wyoming ranch.
Before electricity carved its blue path toward me, before the negative charge shot down from cloud to ground, before “streamers” jumped the positive charge back up from ground to cloud, before air expanded and contracted producing loud pressure pulses I could not hear because I was already dead, I had been walking.
A Match to the Heart, page 5
She regains consciousness and with her dogs manages to get to the house. She is in shock, singed, disoriented, lame, plagued by furiously burning pains, her throat is paralyzed, and her nervous system is seared, broken and fragmented. Somehow she dials 911. So begins her journey from blinding light through years of shadows.
Hospitalized and severely debilitated, she begins a battle that will take more than two years for her to regain her health and a sense of confidence and autonomy. As compelling as being struck dead by lightning may be, it is Ehrlich’s narrative of her return to life that is extraordinary.
As in her other work, Ehrlich explores existence from all angles and perspectives. Even she, the victim, is not spared the Nature writer’s intense probing, research and exploration in search of understanding. She studies thunder, lightning, and storms and discovers comfort in their fierce science. She seeks out other victims of lightning strikes and finds many others who have experienced the indescribable pains that are invisible to medical specialists, impossible-to-explain personal transformations, and isolation due to society’s ignorance.
As she did in THE SOLACE OF OPEN SPACES (1985), and ISLANDS, THE UNIVERSE, HOME (1991), Ehrlich generously shares her unblinking observations along her uneven path to understanding with us.
I heard her read from MATCH and speak at the Los Angeles Public Library in December 1994. Her humility, commitment to nature, and passion for expressing the often inexpressible were moving.
A MATCH TO THE HEART, One Woman’s Story of Being Struck by Lightning. Pantheon, New York, 1994.