ON THE EDGE

About thirty years ago I read a novel – I can’t remember the name or author – which presented the idea that events occur mostly on the edges of things. The story followed a man whose life careened from event to event in a kind of pinball fashion. The idea that it’s all happening on the edges made sense to me. I knew that plants, birds and animals are more abundant where different habitats meet. Most ocean life exists in the narrow band where continents meet the sea, not far out in the middle. Explore the middle of a field, a forest, or a large body of water, then follow the edge where a field borders a forest. Walk the seashore, where land meets water and spend time at an estuary, where salt and fresh water mix. You’ll find an increase in biodiversity along all of those edges.

I suspect this principle can be applied to many phenomena, not just ecosystems. Think about the importance of interdisciplinary studies, or the uptick in traffic accidents at intersections. The word “liminal” comes to mind. Here are some definitions:

  • “relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.”
  • “occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.”
  • “of, relating to, or situated at a sensory threshold : barely perceptible or capable of eliciting a response.”

Two years ago I began a post about this idea of activity on the edges of things and liminal states, a concept that felt close to home. In the post, which I’ve unearthed from the drafts folder, I wrote, “I feel I’m in a liminal state these days…I’m entering new waters, with memories of another life still fresh and hovering just below consciousness.”

I had been taking photos at parks and preserves along the water’s edge and wondered if I was drawn to those liminal spaces because I felt I was on a threshold, too. I wrote, “It’s a loose place to be, this liminal space. The knots are undone, the ropes frayed, the anchor up. I’m not yet fully here, nor am I where I used to be. Maybe it’s a little like this”:

1.

It felt like the photo below: “The leaves are green and the vine looks healthy, but many leaves have fallen off. They litter the pavement with the rest of the detritus; their usefulness is past. Perhaps there’s a sorting process going on with me, too, a shedding of the old skin in preparation for a new state of being.”

The picture below resonated too. “Everything looks like it has been discarded but the objects are still kept under the roof of a roadside shed. The old wood, the tarp, and the rope no longer serve their original functions but the rope appears to be fastened under that musty shroud, anchoring into the dark unknown. Likewise, parts of my life seem to be changing their functions. I’m not sure if I’ll need them or not.”

I thought, “This liminal state is like being inside an old barn full of forgotten tools, looking at the lush, vibrant greenery just outside the door. The focus is on growing the future while I’m standing in the dim shadows of the past.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
4.

I included one more image in that post, writing, “I’m taking a picture of a photograph on display at an art festival. There are too many reflections to make a good likeness of the work but I take the picture anyway, because as the integrity of the original image disappears a new, in-between image gels – a liminal one. Perhaps it’s even more interesting. Will the figure on the left disappear into that mystical light at the end of the track?”

5.

These five photographs tell stories that I interpreted a certain way back then. Chances are good that a few of them could tell you other stories. I don’t remember what happened with my story – how were those feelings of being in-between resolved? At the time I was in the midst of planning a three-week trip through four countries, none of which I’d been to before. Part of me was home at my desk, solidifying plans while another part of me was already roaming abroad. I was on the edge. That trip sent me across it!

There’s an old therapist’s technique of replying “Why now?” when a patient brings up an event that occurred long ago. I’m asking myself why a post that sat in the drafts folder for two years resonates now. Maybe it’s not as much a personal feeling as a universal one. There’s something about the nebulous, adrift feeling we have when major transitions occur that might resonate with most of us right now, simply because of the state of the world. The assumptions about the world we live in have been turned inside out in the last year and a half. We thought we’d be “over it” by now, or at least well into the normalcy we recall from pre-Covid-19 days, but that seems to be a distant dream. Instead of returning to the solid ground of life-as-usual, we have the Delta variant, millions of people who won’t or can’t get vaccinated, virus flare-ups and up-ticks, and foreboding, all layered on top of the daily stew of melancholy news. Nothing seems certain. The rug has been pulled out from under us, only to be replaced with a tipsy magic carpet hurtling us into unknown territory.

I don’t know if there are photographs in my catalog that depict this uncertain state and right now I’m not looking for any. I think I’d rather photograph what nourishes me. Maybe you feel that way, too.

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***


34 comments

  1. I’m glad you pulled this mediation across the threshold between old draft and new post. In so doing, you’ve presented a thoughtful essay on liminal places and states of mind.

    In my first glance at picture #3, I saw the area in the lower right as a creek, some parts of which had vegetation on it and other parts of which reflected light. Could my interpretation have had something to do with the creek in my part of town where I took pictures yesterday? Plausibly. In another northwest Austin association with liminal places, it occurs to me that poison ivy tends to grow at the edges of woods, rather than in open places or deep in the woods.

    Regarding picture #7, I’ve seen plant bristles that look like some of those paintbrushes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clever, Steve, I didn’t think of that!
      Maybe you saw a creek at first because that would be a more subject to see here. Or you’re up a creek with yesterdays’ images. Poison ivy – yes, I remember. I notice that phenomenon of certain plants liking edges, which equal trails, around here, too, but happily, poison ivy isn’t one of them. Stinging nettles are though. In May, when we were in NYC, we took a walk in a small park in Queens with major amounts of poison ivy spilling over into the path. We kind of had to sashay down the trail. πŸ˜‰
      That’s a nice association with the paintbrushes. πŸ™‚ Cheers!

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  2. This is such a fantastic way of putting it. I cannot agree more. We really are in a place where there is no going back. In the last three days our world here on the southern tip of the world, everything has changed forever.
    Beautiful photos… makes me feel hopeful again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s good to read your comment, Graham…I like the word a lot, too….rabbit hole? What’s that? πŸ˜‰ How well I know the feeling! I’ll be looking at the website more tomorrow – thanks, it looks very interesting. #5 – the ski lift in the fog – I like that one. That would make an extremely minimal mandala, right?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes! There is a whole liminal wonderland calling out just asking to be explored. And, yes, the ski lift is a wonderful study in minimalism with a strong sense of the unknown. To me it seems to symbolize creation – with the chairs emerging from the generative fabric of the Tao. Or maybe I just likes it πŸ˜‰

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  3. So good to read this excellent post and see the charming photos accompanying and underlining your thoughts. I understand “on the edge” better now and I often know this feeling similar to “In transition” . It’s a state of mind corresponding to the permanent changes around or in myself.
    In times of crisis, it’s good to turn one’s face to the sun, not to the surrounding shadows all the time, to remain strong enough to solve the problems. So thanks for the refreshing photos in the second half! Cheers, Petra

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A thought-provoking narrative this morning, Lynn…and compelling images, as well. Number 10 strikes me as home-like, in my experience, when I, too, was in a transformational state that didn’t solidify in the direction that I would have chosen, but serves in memory form as hope for a future transition…like the leaves in the second image – their principal usefulness may have passed, but their future utility remains in nourishing what comes next….

    Thank you for the post, Lynn; your words and images inspire….

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s great to hear from you, Scott. I hope all is well. #10 is a beautiful spot, isn’t it? I can imagine it being in Utah, too. I took that when we went for a walk with my son, who’s in #9. He’s actually on his way to Utah right now – he’s going to do a Spartan race near SLC on Sunday. Crazy, but good for him.
      Thank you for the wise words about the cycle of life – we can all use them these days. Have a good weekend. πŸ™‚

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      • Yes, Lynn, #10 is a beautiful spot and does look very similar to a location I used to frequent in Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah. I hope your son did well in his Spartan race. It must have been a beautiful run. And yes…the cycle of life…things are never gone, just with us in a different form. Take care, friend.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Personally, I think it’s important to admit insecurities, to perceive them emotionally and not to repress them. We all have more or less the need to be able to control our lives somehow.
    However, the feeling of control increasingly fades because we register that we are “at the mercy” of a larger condition of this world.
    Some strategies are needed to avoid becoming despondent and depressed.
    I know life on the edge very well. It is important to know your sources of energy and to use them.
    Thank you for this thought provoking article!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Admitting insecurities, even perceiving them, can be hard sometimes. I agree, it’s good to express what you’re feeling, and as much as we know that’s true, we still forget. Your thoughts are wise and you express them very clearly. I really appreciate that you took the time to read and comment – thank you! Have a great weekend. πŸ™‚

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  6. Photo 11. resonates with how I feel. Recently my self has come into sharp focus again. I’m blooming and see potential for more blossoms that are budding from my current direction and choices, but I’m dangling from a vague foundation. At the moment, I’m not interested in looking back or feeling attachment to what came before. I was so captivated by a quote this week that I typed it up and taped it on my calendar: ‘The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.’ – Dan Millman. Living in that mindset liberated me suddenly from the weight of the uncertain last year and a half, and all of the revised habits and encumbrances I’d developed and been holding myself under. I’m in a time of moving forward and building again. It feels wonderful! But I do feel precariously perched.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You sure interpreted that photo in a personal way – it’s nice when we can relate to an image so well. Thank you. Your quote has a similar philosophy to what Petra Pawlo said above. It sounds like you had a great breakthrough. πŸ™‚ It’s been such a pervasively difficult time – let’s hope more people are moving forward, too, even if it doesn’t feel quite secure. Good to hear from you, Sheri!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, lots of favs this time, I’m glad! And you surprised me again with your choices – but not the owl! That one was very cooperative, letting me walk under the branch and photograph him (?) from both sides. I got some inquisitive looks, like in the photo, but the focus was much more on finding food. Thank you – have a good weekend. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Wonderful photos. As you point out, it’s not just that the world is on the edge in so many ways these days, it’s also that we are being forced to stay there trying to balance so as not to fall to one side opt the other.

    I remember a LensWork podcast years ago about the edge….that the edges of anything create tension and are where the photographic action happens.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s another good example, Howard, maybe I’ll try to look for that podcast…and just this morning there was a newsletter in my inbox about this being a liminal time…thank you!

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  8. This really resonated for me. I’m feeling very much in a liminal place – not sure if I’ll ever travel again, not knowing if I even want to or not, or at least able to be content without it. Everything feels in flux. In part I blame the pandemic, because as for many of us, it’s lead to a deeper questioning of the course of my life. Also with my blog. t’s been such a project for so long I’m not sure what I’d do with myself without it, and still derive great enjoyment from it, but I question why I’m still doing it. Liminal is the word.
    Thank you for this nourishing collection of photographs.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, sigh. Transitions can be tough even when we’re a little older and wiser, right? As for the blog, it’s yours, you know, and I think you have a following that would be happy to hear your thoughts and keep paying attention as you find your way to a different emphasis, if that’s what’s in the cards. It’s certainly interesting to me to read your thoughts. Thank you…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I continue to be impressed with your ability to make something out of nothing so to speak. Things that would never occur to the majority of us as photography subjects turn into interesting composition in your eyes. I absolutely love that third image. The colors and positioning of everything appeals.
    While not quite the same as your idea of edges, for a long time during my college years I thought of us as sort of surfing on the leading edge of time. Everything is new with each moment, never having existed in just the same way previously.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Steve – it’s that early 70s NY art world training that opened my eyes to seeing anything and everything as art, or to seeing the possibilities in everything. It was a time of great questioning and new ideas and I was just the right age to soak it in. It did surprise me that you’re drawn to that one though! πŸ˜‰ I like your notion of surfing on the leading edge of time, it sounds freeing. Especially now. Have a good weekend!

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  10. Now I read the post properly. This is because I read your contributions, because coming from the US, only around midnight and unfortunately only on the phone, while I watch political broadcasts on TV.
    This world of ours is no longer on safe feet. One has the feeling of unreality.
    In addition to COVID, environmental disasters are increasingly occurring. In Germany, flood damage that may take decades to repair.
    More and more the flimsiness of politics becomes apparent.
    (Troops were brought back from Afghanistan after 10 years of service and were not greeted by an act of welcome and appreciation. Again, such an oversight.
    They don’t build wind turbines anymore because the lignite industry is – secretely -against it.)

    I myself have been retired for three and a half years. Life has not become any easier as a result.
    You don’t know what’s around the corner. Personal illness, upheavals, new migratory flows, new disasters.
    The feeling is also simply there that the train has sailed as far as our environment is concerned.
    In that sense, the feeling of living on the edge is very clear in me.

    Liked by 1 person


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