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Blog

Edge Effect

Tom Sturch

beach above Here I came to the very edge where nothing at all needs saying, ~ Pablo Neruda

Life liquefies at the shore. The apparent boundaries of unique eco-systems collide in powerful, beneficial exchange. In landscape architecture we call it edge effect. It is primordial. In Genesis, it happens in three acts of separation: dark from light, water from water, and the lower waters gathered from the ground. The waters are called sea, and the dry ground, land, and it was good. It was good. The dynamic shore. Edge effect.

My wife and I are an it. We are in our thirtieth year of it-ness and will celebrate this year in Booth Bay Harbor, Maine, and with thanks and hope, we will contemplate the mysterious lobster. Blessing and prospect are clearer at the shore. A few Saturdays ago we went to Indian Rocks Beach. As we walked from the public parking lot and crested the dunes I was astonished by the hundreds and hundreds of us already gathered, sunning, running, sheltering ourselves from the bright sun. We all looked helplessly bipedal ambling north and south on the shore. The birds and breezes moved where they would. But we were fixed within a ribbon of sand and shallows as far as we could see. The flat, wet land accentuated our lengths, walking foot to foot with our reflections posted beneath us as if on the sky. We walk for a time, though we'd swim like fish if we had gills, fly like birds, given wings. Edge effect attends to prospects.

Pelicans are the ungainly gods of Indian Rocks. Everything about them is other. Clumsy on land they are made for water, and there they are lightly buoyed, bill to breast, resembling some sea-born monk, bobbing. Then convulsing, thrashing the water with fearful wings, they break with physics and glide the currents. The one I watched saw beneath the water to fish, folded itself and scissored violently into the gray waves, rose to the surface, clapped its bill and swallowed, bobbing again. I made some frantic notes. How shall we be convinced of a transformation we can taste except in the desire exposed by a force of limits? How shall we imagine it without strange beings that transgress those boundaries before our eyes? Edge effect glimpses the imagined place.

The Spanish word for pelican is alcatraz. Alcatraz Island was named for its pelicans. In 1827 a French Captain wrote "...running past Alcatraz's Island [it is] covered with a countless number of these birds. A gun fired over the feathered legions caused them to fly up in a great cloud and with a noise like a hurricane." The eponymous prison would have been the right place for a penitentiary, but it was a prison with windowless cells. It housed the least penitent of those in the Federal prison system. As was said, “If you break the rules, you go to prison. If you break the prison rules, you go to Alcatraz.”Inmates lost their names to a number. The last inmate to leave when it closed was AZ-1576, Frank Weatherman. He said, “It’s mighty good to get up and leave. This Rock ain’t good for nobody.”Today, even the pelicans are gone. Edge effect has its limits.

As Saturday ends the earth hurtles eastward toward the dark. Gulls chide in last flights and the tide licks our feet. We sit quietly on the sand, listening, and watch the western sky.