Permaculturists—folks who believe in permanent, sustainable cultures from the soil on up—speak often and with passion about edges. The edges of a space are where the action happens, they teach, where the most possibility exists, and where life experiments with itself. Our rental house sits nestled in a world of edges. There is the edge between the driveway and the house, between the driveway and the pasture, between the pasture and the douglas fir grove, between the fir grove and the blackberry borders, between the blackberry borders and more pasture.
Then, out back, there is Coyote Woods—a long stretch of trees, brush, and berries that snakes along the edge of hundreds of acres of grass pastures. We call this place Coyote Woods because we know that coyotes sing from back there, and most likely den back there. I often walk Mazel Tov back along the border of Coyote Woods in the very early spring long before the grass gets waist high, and Mazel runs fast and free there in every direction, far as my eyes can see…
Recently, I walked far enough to find where the coyotes have made entrances into the brush and thickets. In the entrance to two of their makeshift tunnels, I found old, gnawed cattle bones, most likely from some dead animal left to decay. Mazel approached the bones with caution, and had no interest in investigating any further. I peered into one dark, thorn-lined tunnel, then turned and looked into the face of the sun shining across the endless green fields, and let myself simply feel the different emotions of tunnel and open space, of dark thorn and sparkling green.
To my human heart, the dark tunnel seemed mildly ominous and the bright pastures inviting. I’ll bet the coyotes feel differently about those edges. Their tunnels offer them safety, while the pastures require them to expose themselves to anything and everything. I wonder if they smile as they weave their supple bodies through those dark places, and crouch when they come into the light of the great wide open.
At several spots along the edge of Coyote Woods, the ground has not decided whether it wants to be a marsh or a pasture or a thicket. For many yards, I walk on boggy ground studded with small patches of reeds that are clearly hoping they’ve made a good call, and this piece of real estate will soon be waterfront property. There are a few dried up cattails from last summer, and a slinking berry vine that has grabbed hold. There is also pasture grass, brown and flattened, from last summer in this mish-mash.
The permie folks clearly have it right: There is a lot going on at the edges. Craft your yard and garden, they say, to have as many edges as possible. No straight lines, when you can have curves and spirals that make more feet of edge. There is possibility, calamity, competition, hope, determination, and wildness there on the edges of things. I think of all the buzz phrases about living on the edge, or pushing oneself to the edge, walking the edge, or going over the edge, and as I throw the ball over and over again for Mazel Tov, I let myself simply feel those ideas about edges. To be honest, all of them make me a little anxious.
Flinging Mazel’s ball at the sun, I think about the edges in my own life. Right now, I live at the borderline of being a renter and being a homeowner. It is a nail-biter of an edge. My writing life has a curling edge to it, weaving between publishing, self-publishing, e-publishing, or not bothering to publish anything at all. I live between house and yard, with one foot in each, and each beckoning for the larger bulk of my time. I live at the borderland that separates me from everyone and everything else out there, and puzzle over how much of my life to give to others and how much to give to myself.
LIfe lived at the edge offers many possibilities. LIfe lived at many edges at once can make one a bit nuts. I think it was Victor Frankel who said that true freedom is fewer choices. Stand close to the edge all the time, and you certainly keep all your choices open. But for me, such a life is no longer appealing. I don’t want to keep balancing on that fine line, deciding whether I will be a marsh or a thicket or a pasture. I want—in as many areas of my life as I can—to choose and to take a step away from one edge and then another. The idea of moving away from edges right now fills me with a feeling of relief, a sense of exhale. I’ll leave the dynamic tension of the edge for another day.
This morning before dawn, Mazel Tov went outside for his morning yard tour and pee. He does this on his own, and this is the only time we don’t go outside with him. I’m not certain where he went in his few moments of alone time, but suddenly, the morning silence was shattered by the sounds of snarling and shrieking. Carter opened the door, and Mazel hurried inside, his hackles standing up like spikes. Suddenly, from the back of the yard, at the edge between a small fern glade and our grassy yard, a coyote began yip-howling in earnest. Minutes passed and she did not let up.
From the edge of the glen, she shouted and yiked and howled and yipped while Mazel paced nervously in the kitchen. Finally, when she felt her message had been soundly delivered, she melted into the woods. Mazel is keeping away from the fern glen now. He eyes it suspiciously, and his hackles rise when I call him closer to its edge, where all the commotion took place. Mazel has stepped back from that edge. He is leaving the glen and the woods to the coyote, and marking with pee all the big trees in the fir grove.
And how about you, cherished reader? Do you relish life at the edge? Do you know where your edges are? Would you like more of them? Or perhaps a few less?