31 Days of A Sense of Place :: Day 7 ~ The Vital Edge

A sense of place(2)Welcome to Day 7 of 31 Days of A Sense of Place.

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Yesterday’s entry included some words about liminal space, thresholds between spaces. The Wikipedia entry on liminality says

“Liminal places can range from borders and frontiers to no man’s lands and disputed territories, to crossroads to perhaps airports or hotels, which people pass through but do not live in: arguably indeed all ‘romantic travel enacts the three stages that characterize liminality: separation, marginalization, and reaggregation’. … ‘Between-ness‘ defines these spaces. For a hotel worker (an insider) or a person passing by with disinterest (a total outsider), the hotel would have a very different connotation. To a traveller staying there, the hotel would function as a liminal zone, just as ‘doors and windows and hallways and gates frame…the definitively liminal condition.’ More conventionally, springs, caves, shores, rivers, volcanic calderas … fords, passes, crossroads, bridges, and marshes are all liminal: ‘”edges,” borders or faultlines between the legitimate and the illegitimate’. … Major transformations occur at crossroads and other liminal places, at least partly because liminality—being so unstable — can pave the way for access to esoteric knowledge or understanding of both sides. Liminality is sacred, alluring, and dangerous.”

Hampton Inn & Suites, Portsmouth, NH, Nov. 2014
Hampton Inn & Suites, Portsmouth, NH, Nov. 2014

Hotels are liminal places, acting as holding habitats for us between home and home-again, and they also use liminal spaces and boundaries to give us the illusion of being in our own homes, as Henry Choa writes in his essay The Comfort of Not Your Own Home (Feb. 2015) at Travel Studies: Hotels and restaurants are meant to “act as stand-ins for your most intimate human processes – sleeping and eating. Usually, we are most happy and comfortable when conducting those important activities in the privacy of our homes. Thus, part of the job for hotels and restaurants [is] to bring out a sense of comfort, even familiarity in a person. A crucial step in this process is the conception of boundaries,” which must emphasise privacy and a feeling of community, “strike a balance between private and public.”

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I have a friend who has been running the boundaries of farms in Maine and creating art from that experience. In her writing about this project, she mentions planning and mapping each run, getting lost, being unable to retrace her steps, negotiating with each piece of land how and where she will adhere to its boundaries, the dangers of stinging nettles and bees, uneven terrain, the difficulty in distinguishing between farmland and the land outside it, using fences to navigate, feeling safety within boundaries. In addition to the very real negotiation of obstacles and decision-making concerning safe and unsafe (or “legitimate and illegitimate”) territory, the metaphorical ideas of boundaries and borders, tamed land and wild land, the margins, the edges, the liminal (threshold) spaces are also likely part of her experience, and part of the experience of most of us, if not always so consciously.

Boundaries, fences, walls, borders, edges are essential elements in nature, in gardens, of built spaces (to say nothing of relationships among people and other beings). They help define purpose, create an aesthetic, Zoey looking out the fenceset aside a place, give the eye a rest or the body a reason to venture farther.

In gardens, there may be very crisp and formal borders (many shown here); there are hidden edges (like a ha-ha, whose name “derives from the unexpected (i.e., amusing) moment of discovery when, on approach, the recessed wall suddenly becomes visible”); there are all kinds of borders, boundaries, edges, and thresholds created by inorganic materials like fences, paving stones, and brick walls, and by organic materials like trees, shrubbery, grasses, creeks and streams. Most assign purpose, keep in what’s meant to be in and out what’s meant to be out (for example, dogs and livestock in and wind and weeds out), and perhaps give us navigational tools, a way to orient ourselves in space. These elements in combination — arches, hedges, walls, paths, waterways, light and dark spaces,  — can evoke emotional responses, make us feel at home, give us the illusion of order, of wilderness, of balance.

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In permaculture, the edge — where two biological communities meet and integrate (an ecotone, e.g., forest and grassland) or the margin between different landscape elements, like land and water — is the overlap “where there is greater diversity of life …. At the edge of two overlapping ecosystems, you can find species from both of these ecosystems, as well as unique species that aren’t found in either ecosystem but are specially adapted to the conditions of the transition zone between the two edges.” The Deep Green Permaculture blog describes designed boundary patterns that follow nature’s lead when it comes to edging: curving, crenelated, and spiraling lines and shapes.

Edges include some of the very “throwaway landscapes” mentioned in a recent post in this series, those degraded, discarded margins between one development and another,  between an industrial area and a field, which comprise “a broad array of adaptable plants and animals … the survivors, the colonizers, the generalists — the so-called weedy species.”

Edges can also be some of the most fertile natural spots imaginable, where fresh water meets saltwater, where forest meets field. Here fungi often thrives, birds and insects find food and cover, flora and fauna straddle two or more ecological systems in the space of a few inches.

north beach wrack line, Jekyll Island, GA, Sept. 2008
north beach wrack line, Jekyll Island, GA, Sept. 2008
Penny Lake Bog from woods, Boothbay, ME, May 2012
Penny Lake Bog from woods, Boothbay, ME, May 2012
willows in wet area in Singing Meadows, Boothbay ME, May 2014
willows and ferns in wet area in Singing Meadows, Boothbay ME, May 2014
three painted turtles on pond edge, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, May 2014
three painted turtles on pond edge, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, May 2014
tall grasses, meadow, lawn edge, St. Gaudens, Aug. 2015
tall grasses, meadow, lawn edge, St. Gaudens, Aug. 2015
edge between hayed field and woods, Concord NH trail, Oct. 2015
edge between hayed field and woods, Concord NH trail, Oct. 2015

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“Things in the margins, including humans who wander there, are often on the brink of becoming something else, or someone else.” ― Barbara Hurd, Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination

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(Top photo is a grouse, commonly seen on the edge of low vegetation between road and forest near Pittsburgh, NH.)

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Thanks for checking in. Be sure to see what the other 31 Dayers are writing about.

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a sense of place(1)This project is a bit like Wallace Stevens’ poem Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Blackbird, in that I’m writing about a sense of place from vantage points that may not obviously connect with each other. I’m not going to attempt to tie them together. In the end, these 31 days of looking at a sense of place may overlap, contradict, form a whole, or collapse like a flan in a cupboard, as Eddie Izzard would say. That remains to be seen. Thanks for stopping by.

2 Comments on “31 Days of A Sense of Place :: Day 7 ~ The Vital Edge

  1. Pingback: 31 Days of A Sense of Place :: Introduction | A Moveable Garden

  2. Pingback: 31 Days of A Sense of Place :: Day 27 ~ Casinos, Abattoirs, and Gardens | A Moveable Garden

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