LOCAL WALKS: Shifting Edges

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The idea that more action occurs along edges came up in a book of fiction I read about thirty years ago. I don’t remember the book’s title or author, or how the idea was developed. The story involved a man who kept noticing that there was more activity on the edges of things than in the middle. This idea really interested me. It made sense. I knew that ecologically, places where one habitat meets another – where a forest meets a field or where land meets water – are places where you can expect more activity, and often, more species diversity. That’s a generalization of course, but it fits my own experience. On a ship far out in the ocean, I saw few living beings – a few flying fish, a single gull – but on shorelines, I see many different life forms. Deep in the middle of a forest, it can get very quiet but on the edge of the woods, movement and variety predominate.

Edges are places where one thing turns into another, where states of being merge, mingle and mix. You could say edges are the primal dialectic. How about the trajectory of a person’s life? Transitions between life stages can be times of great turbulence; the middle periods may be less eventful. Certainly, in our imaginations edges are important – we fear dropping off the edge of the earth; we admire the edginess of current culture; we walk the razor-edge in dangerous times.

Photographer Brooks Jensen relates a conversation with another photographer who advised, “Watch out for the edges. Wherever there’s an edge, there’s energy. That’s what you want to be photographing.” Jensen expanded on the concept to include psychological edges, “where anger meets compassion, where compassion meets sorrow.” (Brooks Jensen; ‘Single Exposures’, 2008).

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My favorite ecological edge took a beating recently. What had been a fairly clear border between land and water was battered by strong winds associated with an “atmospheric river” – the same one that brought flooding, landslides, and destruction to our Canadian neighbors. Massive driftwood logs were tossed high up onto the beach, obliterating a trail and crushing vegetation. Tangled piles of Bullwhip kelp (a seaweed that can grow to 100′ long) were deposited at the bases of trees whose roots were exposed to the elements from erosion. Two small wetlands were breached: in one, a green haze lay on the surface of the water. Did it come from the bay or was it dredged from the wetland itself? I don’t know. In the other wetland, strands of Bullwhip kelp and driftwood logs floated where normally the water is clear.

This particular edge was muddled beyond belief.

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It was hard to look at. Giant-stepping over logs and ducking under a tree that fell across a trail, I told myself, “This is nature. This is what happens. It’s not a carefully tended garden.” Despite my rational explanations, it hurt to see this precious place turned upside down and inside out. I took only a few photos that day.

But I went back – of course I went back! – and things were different. I can’t say exactly why – something shifted and I found the beauty again, even amidst the destruction. A little sunlight didn’t hurt.

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4.
5. Strands of Bullwhip kelp and a driftwood log now litter the wetland. In the lower-left corner, you can see rocks from the beach that were pushed into the wetland.
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10. The view from a hill between the two beaches and wetlands.
11. Piles of Bullwhip kelp and driftwood logs landed on the beach. The wetland in #5 can be glimpsed in the middle of the photo.
12. The wetland edge with Madrone trees leaning precariously over the water. The views in #1, #2 & #5 are to the right, beyond the frame.

13. A Douglas maple leaf (Acer glabrum var. douglasii) on the forest floor after a rainy morning.

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More about the lichens seen above: The green leafy-looking structures are probably Peltigera brittanica. Lichens are composite organisms; P. brittanica includes a fungus, a green alga, and a cyanobacteria. The dark dots on the green surfaces are the cyanobacteria.

The darker leafy-looking structures are another Peltigera, probably P. neopolydactyla or P. membranacea. The red-orange tips on them are spore-bearing structures called apothecia. Unlike ferns, which also have spores, these lichens can reproduce vegetatively, by breakage or by producing propagules that contain fungal tissue and green algal cells. Talk about living on the edge – lichens appear to live on the edge of comprehension! Scientists are continually revising our understanding of lichens, so what I’ve written here could change at any time.

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A philosopher’s musings about edges:

“What I have called the edge-world is not only a world composed of intricate patterns and permutations of edges; it is also a world that is itself on edge. As a consequence, each of us is pitched on a thousand edges—edges on which we shake and tremble even as we pretend to go about our lives undisturbed. Our equanimity is only skin-deep; underneath it the abysses gape open, not just at the far edge of the known world or at the base of a precipice. We are denizens of a world on edge, and we are ourselves creatures of exposed edges. This is not just a matter of being accident-prone or vulnerable as individuals. We carry risk to others, endangering their lives as well as our own. Whole populations of human beings have been decimated by their fellow humans. Many animal and bird species have been rendered extinct because of human actions in the Anthropocene. Now we are on the verge of making ourselves extinct if humanly induced climate change takes its full vengeance. There is no way to exist on earth, no alternative path, other than to follow the edges that guide us even as they expose us to risk at every turn. We must take such exposure into account, learning how to identify those edges that are likely to lead us astray: each of us exists on a perpetual visual cliff. Some edges bring us to an unwelcome fate for which we are not adequately prepared: on these I have focused in this epilogue. Instead of trying to forget them or merely regret them, we must think on them, reflecting on what they portend. Becoming wary of certain edges, we can come to trust other edges that will configure our life-worlds in ways that are both more constructive and more creative. These more auspicious edges point the way for us, incisively even if not infallibly. Thoughtfully traversed, they are able to liberate us, indicating directions with the potential to save us from our own destructive and self-destructive ventures”

Edward S. Casey: The World on Edge. Indiana University Press, 2017.

from Phenomenological Reviews

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59 comments

  1. What you wrote at the beginning about edges is, of course, also my experience.
    We once visited a forest nature reserve where there was little to photograph as far as insects were concerned. Disappointed, I stepped out of the forest and met bushes along the way, in which there was a lot going on , so ultimately in 2, 3 square meters.

    The edge of the universe should also be highly interesting from the point of view of physics, but it has long since hurried away from us.
    One would like to know how physics would look there.

    An “edge” is also given with the Bigbang, a place where time was born.

    You also write about life in general, about breaks, and upheavals. Now, at 67, my past life flows much more obtrusively into my now. I think quite often about certain points in time, but without much bitterness, but like a calm observer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This particular edge was muddled beyond belief. …

    In the Aar valley, we recently had a real disaster in Germany.
    A crazy flood poured into the area.
    Part of the reason was the sealing of the soil, which favored such a scenario.
    Our would-be chancellor dodged the question of whether more action should be taken on climate change. He said the people on the ground should be helped instead!
    But they were hardly helped at all.
    The topic is almost out of the media, as is that with the aid workers in Afghanistan.

    We have a large group of protesters here in Germany. That’s what worries me the most.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I read about a flood in Germany recently. The news comes and goes incredibly quickly now. I hope the new chancellor will take action on climate change. As for protestors, it all depends on their activities, doesn’t it? If it’s peaceful then I think there is a place for it, an important place. When it gets violent, it’s scary, but it seems this is a time of worldwide upheaval. I don’t think the violence will be over soon, unfortunately.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I would like to comment on the photos only by small remarks. Much more could be said about them….

    1 Connection
    2 Crack
    3 Do you think this will all be cleaned up or will it stay like this?
    4 It was already dead?!
    5 Thank God there was probably no one in the area?!
    6 Torn apart
    7 Strange waveform
    8 Does not belong here
    9 Reminds me of damaged insect wings
    10 Peace has returned
    11 There is an upper half of the picture and a lower one
    12 Makes you wonder what the Madrone trees are thinking, how they act to survive.
    13 The back side paired with the front sides
    14 Wonderful spectacle, gems

    Have a nice day, Lynn 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Gerhard, I always enjoy reading your reactions. Your comment on the photos in #3 is interesting. This kind of “mess” is not cleaned up very much, for a reason. This is a state park and the idea is to leave it as natural as possible. When trees fall over trails, someone comes with a power saw and cuts away only the part that obstructs the path. The rest is left in place. The tree with its roots exposed will ultimately fall down but as long as it’s not a hazard it will not be touched. Only around the campground so they cut down trees that might fall on campers – or they just close the campground. It’s amazing to see how quickly things grow back. We don’t have much freezing weather and we have lots of rain for 9 months of the year, so plants have lots of time to grow back.
      For #4 I really don’t know. What a dramatic sight, right? And in general, if it’s a powerful storm there won’t be many people around. The park is rarely closed (but it closes at sunset every day). Most people here are used to taking a little risk and don’t worry about weather events. They can often take care of themselves – BUT – every year there are a few rescues of people in small boats in the water because we have powerful currents here.
      I see what you mean about #11 – yes, the top looks calm and the bottom shows the storm’s power.
      I like your comment about the madrone trees. They are fascinating. Here’s a post I did about Madrones:

      JUST ONE: The Pacific Madrone


      Thank you again, Gerhard, have a great week.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Good morning, dear Lynn,
    we very much like your reflections about edges. Thanks a lot for sharing.
    An edge is where a structure is changing on one hand, on the other hand we decide what we see and experience as an edge. It depends on what we are interested in, on our focus.
    You created an interesting tension between your fine pictures and your text.
    Keep healty and happy
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You four have a philosophical turn of mind so it’s great to read your comment. One could go on and on about edges. It’s a challenge to make words and images relate well but this time I felt like it worked pretty well. Thank you so much! Have a great week, OK? 🙂

      Like

    • What an interesting plant it is! It attaches on the bottom but the very top floats so that some leaf-like structures can photosynthesize. It’s an annual, growing very, very fast and dying each year. I’ve never seen so much of it washed up onshore at once – but the kelp beds looked lush this year, too, so maybe it had a good year here. Lots to learn, right? It does make some beautiful curves. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I share your optimism and rediscovered sense of beauty for that storm-tossed shoreline, partly because my own recent walk in Pacific Spirit park has me thinking about the sheer interwoven continuity of life, the endless birth/death/rebirth cycle — nurse logs show it dramatically, but your storm-tossed shoreline will surely benefit with new nutrients, new possibilities, because of all that disruption… as for energy being at the edges, oh yes! I remember being taught that innovation consistently happens much more at the periphery than at the centre — it’s the outliers who come up with sparky new ideas, and the fat-cat Big Guys who risk inertia from their own size and apparent ownership of the market

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a great example of energy being stronger on the edges – innovation, thinking outside the box, perfect! Thanks too for your positive thoughts about cycles and the benefits of each phase, even the disruptive ones, to the whole. I appreciate your input, Penny!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. There are always themes that rationally have never been properly explored by us. This one about “edges” is one of them, which I will certainly think about….
    But empirically we know that borders are boundaries for something different and just because of that, already a place of movement…
    Anyway, deep topic to analyze!

    I just know that… at the “edge of my emotions”, I loved all these images, for the aesthetic simplicity, the detail, the beauty of the chaos.
    Interestingly, it’s one of those posts where the minimalist beauty of the images doesn’t need more complex words, ideas or philosophies. By themselves they are already immense! Just for me obviously!
    I wish you an excellent week!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure you could create an interesting post about edges and their meaning, Dulce. Yes, it’s a deep topic and we could go on and on thinking about it. I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed the “aesthetic simplicity” – yes! 🙂 It can be hard to achieve that in this chaotic, crowded world. It’s also good to know that you would appreciate the images on their own. I have been feeling uninspired but this group of photos helped me feel better. Thank you, and I hope you have a wonderful week, too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Sad to see and yet so beautiful in the array of new textures and shapes across the shoreline. I’ve never heard of nor seen bullwhip kelp before. Looks like a pile of snakes writhing around the shore in #5 and #11. This is a lovely series of images to share with us today.

    I haven’t been out to check the beaches that surround Melbourne (where I live). I certainly got caught shopping in the horrific storm we had last Wednesday and couldn’t get a taxi home that day. I ended up phoning my neighbour to come and pick me up. That storm is only one of many we’ve experienced recently and the enormous (and small) fallen trees in the landscape behind my apartment building certainly witness to such destruction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, a pile of snakes, that’s funny! Big ones! 😉 I had never seen it before moving here. It’s an important part of the underwater ecosystem. So you’re having big storms, too. I’m sorry you got caught – it’s a good thing your neighbor could come and get you. Weather extremes are becoming a fact of life, right? It’s good to hear from you, Vicki – have a good week.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I remember an earlier post of yours about edges. You didn’t introduce me to the word liminal, but certainly helped me understand it better. This post is more of the liminal in nature.
    Changes. Always changes. I see it myself on the trail I walk daily – every day it’s different, especially with the wild weather we’ve been having.
    Vancouver was not that much affected by the atmospheric river, but further inland it has been pretty devastating.
    My favourite from this collection is #2 – I was drawn to look deeply into that one.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s interesting, what you say about this feeling more liminal. And thank you for remembering the earlier post about edges – of course, I meant to link to it but in the rush to finish the post last night it didn’t happen. Vicki, above, is in Australia and also talks about wild weather. It’s everywhere, isn’t it? Well, stay warm on your walks and enjoy the changes…and thanks for your thoughtful comment, Alison, they’re always interesting. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Lynn, it was so great to see this and well-timed. Your photos and essay both deserve praise, wonderful blend of art, science and philosophy.
    I’ll restrain my urge to detail my admirations at length, other than a comprehensive Wow! but have to say that bullwhip kelp in 5,9,11 creates a great war-of-the-worlds energy and vibe and that sense, that you often feel along the edges and frontiers, of encountering something far outside our usual boundaries. #13 is a quiet little scene, lovely, and for some reason, just socked me this morning with a strong desire to get out in the woods, I’ve been missing that a lot (but yesterday completed the oral for my masters thesis and whew now a couple weeks and things will ease up).
    I’ve thought a lot about edges in other contexts, the meetings & porous borders between cultures and the exchanges that take place. The vibrancy, synergy and fun that’s introduced into communities, art and languages by borrowings, loan-words and hybrids – like Chicano, Spanglish, Creole, Yiddish, or Penna. Dutch., whatever. Sometimes people can feel a bit negative and see the changes along these borders as a loss of identity, a kind of erosion, a rising tide of English, but maybe they forget, the Romance languages they want to fossilize are from Latin meeting up with other languages, and then Spanish adds all those great Moorish words like ojalá, barrio or guitarra, and then travels to the new world and all kinds of “merge, mingle and mix” goin’ on.
    Well I’ll stop, thank you for the treat, at first the scenes of downed trees were kind of upsetting, I was thinking of that 60’s protest song “Eve of Destruction” although I guess this was “Day after…” but thanks for putting it all in context so well and “putting us in the picture.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s gratifying to read your comment, Robert. The first time we easterners set eyes on Bullwhip kelp, we were astounded. Bug-eyed, even! 🙂 It’s quite an impressive plant, anchoring into the seafloor and growing fast, fast, fast to the water’s surface, where long, wavy blades photosynthesize all summer. Then it’s done until next year, when it starts all over again. This kelp ranges from Alaska to north of L.A.
      I love hearing that the modest leaf in #13 made you want to get outside.
      Cultural borders and the related things you mention (esp. Creole, Yiddish, etc.) are great examples of dynamic edges, thanks! I should have thought of languages.
      I remember that song well. It really is hard to see these changes when you’re used to things being a certain way but such is life. Come spring the plants will grow back up around any new logs that landed in odd places and eventually it will look “natural” again. And then, and then…
      Change is inevitable.
      Thanks for your presence here. 🙂

      Like

  10. I never thought of edges in this way. You opened a door for me! Interesting…I’ll keep this in mind.
    Good photos, not only because of he aesthetic but also the message your post bring us is important. This is why I say yours are good photos and not nice photos! Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Another beautiful series of photos, Lynn. A take on viewing what is around you I’ve never thought much about but yes, you describe this so well in your photos. The first photo is something else ~ seriously before I read a word I was hooked into what you later described and showed… love this photo on a level I don’t experience much. Cheers to a great holiday for you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Randall. Bullwhip kelp is a striking thing to see, in all its guises and stages. As much as I was sad to see the storm damage, I was also happy to find nice compositions like that first one. The kind of simplicity you find in desert environments is hard to come by here but there it was, and those open, graceful curves are my favorite shapes. I’m glad it resonated! Have a great weekend…

      Like

  12. Hi Lynn, I love this concept of edges…we may have discussed in a previous post. Sounds like you got walloped with rain. We await rain this week…crossing fingers. The shot with the person walking and the three images after pair so beautifully with their strong foregrounds leading the way. Absolutely love the close-ups: the kelp and feather melds such disparate textures, the leaf and drops image is right up my alley along with the gentle fern tips. Thanks for getting the creative juices flowing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, there was another post about edges. Who knows, maybe there will be more? 😉 I think Alex in San Diego said they got rain – I hope it didn’t skip over you! We are STILL having bouts of rain, PNW-style, which means that it’s a gentle rain. But the clouds, mid-40s weather just drags on and dreams of the trip to SF have to wait because of the latest corona developments. It’s nice to read your comments – though the leading lines led me into paths of destruction, they must still serve as entries to the images if you’re noticing them. 😉 Our leaf & raindrop photos (ginkgo & maple) could be a pair. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Interesting thoughts and images! I am drawn to the color story in the second image … it’s on the edge, between monochromatic and color. The Bullwhip Kelp you’ve found along the edge is an interesting subject. I imagine what you felt when seeing nature’s destruction is similar to how I feel when I see the aftermath of an avalanche.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, the second image is almost monochrome but not quite – those colors are pretty true to the reality. I don’t see avalanches here but I do see small landslides along with the tidal and wind damage. At least we’re not in tornado alley. Thanks for stopping by, Denise, have a good week!

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  14. No wonder edges are such a hot topic, isn’t it, Lynn? You and many other people have long remembered that we humans are on the edge, on the edge of self-inflicted extermination. We have known this edge since the early 1970s, when the Club of Rome published its analysis of “The Limits to Growth”, and for how long did no one think it necessary to draw conclusions from it.
    But it doesn’t help to look back; we are now standing on the edge and only see it when storms, floods or conflagrations touch our skin – the skin that forms our edge, our pain-sensitive interface with the rest of the world. And God knows, there is a lot going on at this edge!

    You can always tell how many thoughts you have moved from the long time it takes for me to react. I often have to digest what you’ve served first and find a day when I have enough peace to answer it. Your contributions here have never been a collection of pretty little pictures with a few nice words to transfer from one to the other. But in the last few months you have developed your blog into an important philosophical and environmental platform for reflection and warning. Your pictures also help to endure the hard facts more easily, but above all they are the means of transport that carries your thoughts into our hearts. Every beauty you show is a threatened gem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well said, Ule, I know I can count on you to provide well-reasoned insights. Yes, we’re on the edge, but we don’t tend to see it unless it touches us directly….and our skin is one of the most fundamental edges (at least for us!!).
      I really appreciate that you choose to take time to think about posts instead of answering as quickly as possible. Once again you are far too generous when you say this blog has any importance in philosophical or environmental terms – but I still appreciate that because philosophy and environmentalism have both always been important to me. I do try to bring bigger concerns like those into the blog. It’s great to hear that you see a shift in the last few months – I didn’t make a deliberate choice but in my own way, as I evolve, I have been trying to produce more thoughtful, worthwhile content. Thank you for noticing. What would I do without you!?!

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  15. Wherever there’s edge there’s energy … so true. Your photos my friend are divine, what a super collection. So sorry to see your favourite eco edge took a beating. Nature can be harsh. And yes, a little sunlight never hurts, does it! Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

    • All true, Julie, it sure did take a beating, but it will spring back, especially once the growing season is back on fast-track. One of the things I love about visiting your blog is the sunshine…in your photos and your spirit. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Love the images. As I started reading I said to myself….’hey remember that Brooks Jensen thing about edges’…..but you had that covered. I think he was right!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m impressed that you remembered that!. My memory’s not so great. One way or the other, we stumble along and find our way, right? 😉 Thanks for commenting and sorry about the late reply.

      Like


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