Ecotones

Posted by on 06.30.10 | 2 Comments
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ECOTONE: a transition zone between two adjacent ecological communities. It has some characteristics of each bordering community and often contains species not found in overlapping communities. The influence of the two bordering communities on each other is known as the edge effect. An ecotonal area often has a higher density of organisms and a greater number of species than are found in either flanking community.

I have always been drawn to ecotones. In Central Oregon, the knife-edge riparian zones, the places that hug the water, draw me in. Where cedar waxwings feed in thick stands of willow, stonefly carcasses hang from branches of red-osier dogwood that arch over the current, where deer bed down in deep grasses on the edge of aspen groves leaving bodyprint nests.

I am thinking about ecotones while I write in this room that I painted apple green and made my office soon after buying my house. Enlarged black and white photos in varying states of fade and shape are tacked on the walls and capture the bits of my life that texture me. A diagonal head shot of my childhood best friend, Amy, snuggled into a crinkled leather coach. A view from behind of my son and I, he at 18 months, walking down a windblown beach in Davenport, California. A close-up of Kellen exploring ponderosa pine bark with his fingers and pursed lips on a spring mother’s day along the Deschutes River. Self-taken headshots of Steve and I at various places- wet from a Washington river, at a music festival. Stephanie and I caught in conversation at a picnic table at Elk Lake days before my wedding in matching straw cowboy hats. My brother, drinking a glass of ice water, face lit. Steve, Mai and I drinking coffee on a raft at dawn, after floating through the night out of the Grand Canyon.

I write this as an elegy to this space. Later today, we will move this computer out to the kitchen. Soon after, the crib for the new baby will move in. And then will come onesies, stacks of cloth diapers, hoodedtowels, animal pictures.

But now there is a corkboard with smaller photos tacked up over the years: Stacy, vibrant with a long drape of red hair and rose-colored glasses on our bike ride across Wyoming. My Grandma Mary in a brown printed dress and thick shoes dancing a jig at 85. My grandpa and I sitting on a white porch swing at their cottage on the Erie Canal- me about 4, with a short red bowl cut and gap-toothed smile. Another black and white of Stacy- inspecting the remains of a hand-rolled cigarette on our Ireland bike tour, northern European sunlight caught in her wisps of hair. Me in some version of warrior pose– barefoot, green bikini top, black shorts,very start of Kellen in my belly, on a beach along the Colorado River, tan-red sand, blue sky.

A poorly-framed thrift store picture of a kokanee salmon hangs above the computer. Two shelves mounted on the wall hold a couple favorite books –Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, Rilke’s Duino Elegies, and Fournel’s Need for the Bike, a gift from Ellen. A nautilus from Cannon Beach sits on top of the shelf, and a wooden figure of a man with his head in his hands that was given to me to help take the weight of the world off of my shoulders. My wedding dress hangs in the closet along with boxes of loose photos and memories; an old Afghani ammo trunk holding journals and writings back twelve years; and my stashes of gift bags, ribbons and recycled wrapping paper.

Soon this room will belong to the baby. But before this full transition happens, I am aware now of the overlapping state, the edge effect: the one book facing out on my bookshelf- a simple baby journal by the artist Nikki McClure; a small wooden rattle in the shape of a fish I brought back from Hawaii; white curtains with green fabric birds folded on the printer, waiting to be hung. This is a space in transition, much like my body is right now, as it swells nine months pregnant.

This body, my energy, is not mine to control. It is shared,as this baby reminds me with his heaviness, his persistent kicks, the tightening and cramping of my belly. I pull up my shirt and look at my belly in the mirror. The sight of it this way makes me feel better about the heft. It is pure heft: a baby and his life-support system. I trace the blue-gray veins that are visible and thick, the branches of a tree feeding this thing. Occasionally I feel him as his singular presence, and it sinks into me that this is a real being who will be out on his own soon. But for now, we share this transition zone, this ecotonal state, and are blended in ways we will never be again.

My life has slowed down. My usual trail runs are now langurous walks, and I see more deeply. Cluttered thoughts of work and errands fall away and I sink into the world, seeing it as objects, qualities that will make up his first impressions. I try to ingest for him the clear green pools in the rapids. I want him to feel the shape of the curve of the cliff swallow’s dive above them. I want to eat beauty, the smell of the wild roses, to swallow it for him. I am reminded of writer Kim Stafford’s account of his grandmother:

With child a third time, she followed a particular belief to my mother’s making. Someone told her she must spend each day of her pregnancy looking on beautiful things. Flowers, a pleasing shadow on the lawn, sunset, the moon over water—these the child within would need. Each evening, she would put down her work and stand on the porch to help the colors of the sky nourish her child. She put the secrets of new life in her sealed book, and he secrets of beauty in her children.

In this slow presence, the weary veneer of cynicism subsides to restore wonder and a deeper perspective in my own life.

In a few days my office will be a baby’s room, but for now it is textured with my past, my present, my future. It embodies this “selfness” I try to track through time. In a month or so I will regain my body for myself. I’ll be able to slide through crowds again, do headstands, wear favorite jeans. And there will be a new boy with his own spirit and way. But at this moment I am saturated in edge effects. I am what was and is becoming. And I know that when I need to think about this, I will find myself on a trail along a river, in the fertile ribbon of green that lays through this high desert landscape, in the shade and vegetation that nurture the river as it courses through with wildness and direction.

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