Edge-Dwelling: A Social Ecology For Our Times, Part 4: Low Tide
Fourth in a series about inhabiting and acting in the edge-places of our civilization as crucial for humanity’s passage through these challenging times – and inviting you to share your personal edge-dwelling experiences
At full moon, and again at new moon, is a time of extra-low tide, when the ocean recedes further than the average twice-daily rise and fall of its waters. At these times it is my passion and practice to wander the coastline close to my home in Sonoma County, California.
Wandering these borderlands during these times of extra low tides is to enter an enchanted time and place, where a landscape that most of the time lies submerged and hidden from view becomes visible for a few precious hours.
Boulders sculpted into fanciful curves and polished to a luminescent sheen by the endless motion of waves stand sentinel to the passage of time. Mussels cluster on sides and tops of wave-polished boulders, their shells streaked in delicate shades of amber and blue, like gatherings of butterfly wings. Burgundy brown and frilly pink seaweed stretch in the sunlight. Emerald green sea-grass lies in lush swirls shaped by the temporarily receded waves. Everything is still dripping wet and sparkling with salt-water droplets as I pass through.
This is a place that brings my Edge-dwelling self fully alive.
Each time I wander this enchanted place between land and sea, it speaks to me. I listen – and sometimes speak back.
There’s an immensity to this edge where our continent meets the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. For me, it reflects the immensity of the edge times in which we live – this time of unraveling of a civilization that some say began with the industrial age and others trace back to the beginnings of agriculture, with its concurrent rise of hierarchy, patriarchy and private ownership of land.
Learning to See Beneath the Surface and Beyond the Edge
These extra low tides are a living classroom for Edge-dwellers (those people drawn to the edges of places and things, who inhabit and act in those edge spaces) – and for everyone living in these edge times. It’s a chance to see and touch what lies hidden just beyond the edge of what is normally visible. It reminds me of the many ways I, and so many others, stretch to peer beyond the boundary of what is visible, to discern the motion beneath the surface of daily life, to understand those unseen forces pushing our civilization relentlessly toward its crumbling.
The Sonoma County coastline is made up of crumbling cliffs composed of ancient rock formed under sea and pushed upward by the long-ago motion of tectonic plates. Towering rock formations, remnants of already-crumbled cliffs, jut up from the ocean, creating dramatic and picturesque views. The submerged remains of cliffs shape how the waves flow to shore, just as the waves shape these cliff remains. It’s a complex dance of co-creation here at the edge of land and sea.
Signs along the Sonoma coast warn visitors of riptides, strong undertows and steep inclines. What lies unseen beneath the surface can be dangerous, and is occasionally fatal, to those who ignore these warnings and have not taken the time to understand this landscape.
There’s something important to be learned here about the value of understanding the unseen forces shaping our lives here at the edge of our civilization’s crumbling.
There are times, like these extra low tides, when what is usually hidden from view (beyond the edge of what we know, beneath the surface of our daily lives), becomes visible. Sometimes, in a moment, something suddenly becomes clear that for most people was largely concealed (or perhaps discerned by only the most far-seeing among us). Some such moments may have been the economic meltdown of 2008, and the emergence of the Occupy movement in the fall of 2011. These are moments of clarity we can pay deep attention to, gathering valuable insights and understanding.
These extra low tides are, for me, a living lesson in cultivating the ability to peer beyond the edge and beneath the surface, understanding and learning to dance with the complex and often hidden motion just beyond the edge and beneath the surface of our daily lives.
Holding the Tension between Knowing and Certain Uncertainty
There’s something else important I’ve learned from wandering the Sonoma coast during extra low tide.
There are sections of this shoreline I’ve come to know intimately. While I know the way, I notice that it constantly changes. High tides, and especially extra high tides, shift and sometimes dramatically rearrange large rocks and boulders. Edges of cliffs erode. Old paths become blocked. New passageways emerge.
In a similar way, we can see the trajectory of our civilization, the general shape of what is emerging. We can know with some certainty that endless growth is not possible on a finite planet, that we have a finite supply of fossil fuel, that we already have more carbon in our atmosphere than at any previous time humans have lived on our planet.
At the same time, we can be fairly certain that some things will turn out differently than what we expect. Slow or sharp decline? Likely a little of both. The fact that some details are not what we anticipated does not make untrue the general shape and path we have discerned.
For example, many people (myself included) anticipated global peak oil sometime between 2005 and 2008, holding the hope that at this point the ruling powers would be forced to put a full-steam-ahead focus on renewable energy, thus slowing down global warming. The development of fracking and resulting claims (for however few years) that the world (and especially the US) is now awash is fossil fuel energy, is adding untold amounts of carbon to our already compromised atmosphere, making the possible impact more devastating. This unanticipated shift does not fundamentally change the collision course caused by our civilization’s paradigm of endless growth.
This ability to hold the tension of both knowing and not knowing is a crucial quality of Edge-dwelling. We can become deeply rooted in what we do know about the course of our civilization, and comfortable with the certain uncertainty that things will likely turn out different in some ways from what we expected.
It’s like the line in William Stafford’s poem, The Way It Is (which I experience as a meditation on soul purpose).
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
This ability to dwell within the tension of two opposite things is its own edge – a very fruitful and creative edge. It is the creativity of the paradox – some thing or situation made up of two opposite things that seem impossible but is actually possible. (In this case, that we can both know and not know what the future holds).
There’s a depth to the creativity that comes from inhabiting that place of tension between the two seemingly opposite things. The fact that we both know and don’t know is the material with which we co-create a possible future.
My Teacher, the Coastline
The coastline, that vast edge of land and sea, continues to be my teacher. Among the things I have learned:
~ The importance of seeing just beyond the edge and beneath the surface of what is generally visible and the value of those precious moments when it becomes possible to do so
~ How to remain rooted in what one knows and comfortable with uncertainty; the deep creativity that lies with the ability to hold the tension between these opposites
These abilities, to peer beyond the edge and beneath the surface of something, and to hold the tension between opposites like knowing and not knowing, are important qualities of Edge-dwelling. Like other qualities, they can be discovered, learned and cultivated.
These abilities are intertwined with the two qualities of Edge-dwelling explored in the first article of this series:
~ the ability to create something new from the place where two things meet
~ the ability to vision beyond the horizon, beginning the bridge between now and beyond
What we see and what we cannot yet see, what we know and cannot yet know, become the edge places from which we create new ways for humanity to live as part of our Earth community, weaving from the frayed edges of what we leave behind a bridge to the potential and possibilities of what we can become.
These qualities and abilities enable us to do a dance of co-creation, visioning and building the future out of and together with what exists today.
It’s an ongoing conversation between these edge places and me. These articles are an exploration, an invitation, to join with so many others in this great dance of co-creation that is the edge-times in which we live.
Are there places in nature that have become your teacher? What did they show you? Are there times in your life when you have seen beyond or beneath the surface of what is generally visible? Are there times you have followed a path even as it has changed?
Read the first three articles of this series here:
Teaser photo credit: Wikipedia/Xaven
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