The Edge Effect

“The edge of the sea is a strange and beautiful place. – Rachel Carson

In October 2018, I left my community where I had lived, worked, and raised my family for 27 years. Feeling stuck in my comfort zone and in my life, I found myself down in the tall weeds and unable to see a clear path to move myself forward. Living in Alaska had been a life-long dream, so I made the decision to uproot myself and move to Wainwright, Alaska, a small, Inuit village wedged between the Chukchi Sea and Arctic Ocean.  In a month’s time, I purposefully shifted my life from comfortable to chaotic. With no tall weeds in the tundra, I stood exposed in a zone of transition.  Alone and thousands of miles from my home, I was resolved to step fully into my life and adapt – to the cold, the isolation, the stillness, the culture, the darkness, the solitude, and the silence. 

At the boundary of two or more biomes, there is a zone of transition, an ecotone. Ecotones can be narrow or wide, local or regional, and are areas where two or more communities meet and integrate. The transition areas shifting from field to forest, ocean to beach, and river to marsh are examples of ecotones. As one would expect, these areas of transition exhibit characteristics of both habitats. Moreover, these unique interfaces can also be home to organisms adapted solely to live in the transition space  Surprisingly, this distribution of organisms often results in a greater biodiversity, or variety of species, living within the ecotone than in either associated community. This ecological phenomenon is known as the edge effect.

Transition zones can be challenging and turbulent spaces in which to live. For example, the intertidal zone along the ocean coastline is a zone of transition between ocean and land. Species living in the intertidal zone adapt to varying, often harsh conditions in their habitat, including flood during high tide, exposure during low tide, and constant agitation by ocean waves.  The organisms that live in this this interface are adapted, resilient and tough.  The tidal marsh, or wetland, is a zone of transition between river, ocean, or estuary and land.  Wetlands have a rich diversity of unique, well-adapted flora and fauna that together with variations in tides, temperature, salinity, and storm surge create a difficult but productive community. Wetlands function to improve water quality, create a protected nursery ground for juvenile fish and crabs, provide food for migratory birds, stabilize the shoreline, and prevent erosion, establishing one of the most biodiverse and biologically productive ecosystems on the planet.  In natural systems, the edge effect is a positive product of the shift from one ecosystem to another. As humans, we often find ourselves standing in a difficult zone of transition, living in the in-between, and struggling with our uncomfortableness.

Sometimes the unsettled spaces we occupy are of our own choosing, like my move to Alaska. Sometimes they are created for us as a result of our comfort, complacency, and lack of consciousness as we move through our life. Living in the edge, the fringe, requires us to be brave and step fully back into ourselves and our life.  It exposes us to the harsh realities of our life, our patterns, our habits, and our decisions. Existence in the edge is painful and raw.  The tumultuous times of transition force us to slow down, self-evaluate, and sync ourselves to the shift in our life.  If we fully embrace the chaos and immerse ourselves in daily practices of centered self-reflection, mindful meditation, and small, sacred steps forward to positive change, we not only adapt, but grow gracefully into ourselves and build real resilience. We experience the edge effect embracing our uniqueness, creativity, diversity, and productivity in our best life.

This essay will be published in Plants and Poetry Journal’s Wildlife of the Underworld (January 2022) and on their website, http://www.plantsandpoetry.org

Published by Sarah Croscutt

I am the owner and facilitator of From the Outside, LLC, a program that connects people to the natural world, themselves, and each other through plant and nature-based activity, promoting self-awareness, healing, wholeness, and community. In addition, I am an environmental writer with essays included in several anthologies published by Plants and Poetry Journal and Wild Roof Journal (online). I would love to connect here or on Instagram @sarahc_outside.

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