A MATCH TO THE HEART | Gretel Ehrlich

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.


Related Links

Gretel Ehrlich site

Gretel Ehrlich (Park Central)

Novel Opening Lines (list-in-progress)

One of the immeasurable benefits of novels is travel to other places and times with characters who begin as strangers and rapidly become part of our experience. How the author introduces us to a setting, a character, a premise, and occasionally even the designing principle of the literary work as a whole in a single sentence is a key moment.  Does the author establish a contract with us in that first line?  Or does s/he need a paragraph or a chapter to accomplish that? Here are some distinctive opening lines.  There is no possible way to fairly represent all literature.  These are from my own reading, which scarcely scratches the surface.  I'm working on catching up, and hope that you will add suggestions from books you admire.  In that way, we can assemble a reading list for us all.

Opening Lines

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.

Ernest Hemingway - The OLD MAN AND THE SEA (1952)

Call me Ishmael.

Herman Melville - MOBY DICK (1851)

A soft fall rain slips down through the trees and the smell of ocean is so strong that it can almost be licked off the air.

Sebastian Junger - The PERFECT STORM (1997)

One day in the spring of 1998, Bluma Lennon bought a secondhand copy of Emily Dickinson’s poems in a bookshop in Soho, and as she reached the second poem on the first street corner, she was knocked down by a car.

Carlos María Domínguez - The HOUSE OF PAPER (2004)

In that last winter of the war, she knew to use point blank ink.

Ivan Doig - HEART EARTH (1993)

Fedor Mikhailovich Smokovnikov, chairman of the Bureau of Fiscal Affairs, was a man who took pride in his incorruptible honesty and who was dismally liberal in his views; not only was he a freethinker, but he despised all form of religion, looking upon them as nothing but the relics of superstition.

Leo Tolstoy - The FORGED COUPON

The is the saddest story I have ever heard.

Ford Madox Ford - The GOOD SOLDIER (1915)

I started off this morning looking for a lost dog.

Gretel Ehrlich - Looking For a Lost Dog, from ISLANDS, The UNIVERSE, HOME (1991)

Floating upward through a confusion of dreams and memory, curving like a trout through the rings of previous risings, I surface.

Wallace Stegner - CROSSING TO SAFETY (1987)

"Yes, of course, if it's fine tomorrow," said Mrs. Ramsay.

Virginia Woolf - TO THE LIGHTHOUSE (1927)

Castle, ever since he had joined the firm as a young recruit more than thirty years ago, had taken his lunch in a public house behind St. James's Street, not far from the office.

Graham Greene - The HUMAN FACTOR (1978)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles Dickens - A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1859)

Grandpa William once told me: "A good hunter... that's somebody the animals come to."

Richard Nelson - THE ISLAND WITHIN (1989)

This story is unlikely.

C.S. Richardson - The END OF THE ALPHABET (2007)

When the team reached the site at five-thirty in the morning, one or two family members would be waiting for them.

Michael Ondaatje - ANIL'S GHOST (2000)

Five Samurai crept forward with a scuffle of sandals, eyes lit like opals by a late setting sun.

Martin Cruz Smith  - DECEMBER 6  (2002)