What’s Your Ecotone?

What’s Your Ecotone?: The Porous Border

This What’s Your Ecotone comes from Karen Linehan, winner of this year’s Rose Post essay contest from the North Carolina Writers Network. It describes the ecotone around her home in Carolina Beach, NC.

An ecotone surrounds my one-story brick house. It’s a porous border where the indoors and outdoors converge—more structural than ecological. Throughout the year, I share this space with a variety of animal residents. Mud daubers create earthen nurseries under the eaves. Green anoles scamper across the screened porch. Cockroaches cruise the kitchen and millipedes ramble the bathroom tiles. Chimney swift nestlings chitter inside the chimney. Squirrel tree frogs rasp from the gutters.

Earlier this spring, a queen paper wasp discovered a hole in an exterior window screen. Between the screen and the glass panes of a bedroom window, the wasp began constructing her nest. By the time I noticed the small funnel hanging by a stalk in the window, she had already fashioned the first hexagonal cells. Using flakes of bark she had chewed and softened with saliva, the wasp had sculpted wavy layers of gray and beige. In the base of each cell, she had deposited a single egg, like a miniature white sausage.

Through the early weeks of May, I watched the wasp at her nest. She fed her developing larvae a gooey mixture of nectar and the chewed parts of caterpillars she had harvested from my yard. In about a month’s time, the larvae transformed from pupae into sterile female workers. Soon the nest began to look more like an upside down umbrella pocked with dozens of cells.

Sometimes I pressed my face against the glass. On the other side of the window, the wasps raised their smoky black wings in a threat display. My simple eyes gazed into the wasps’ compound eyes. There was nothing between us except the narrow pane of glass.
Now it is late August. Soon reproductive male and female wasps will mate and depart the nest. Only the fertilized queens will survive the winter months. They’ll hibernate beneath loose bark or inside the wooden walls of my old shed, waiting for the warmth of spring.

The ecotone around my home changes through the seasons. As the nights become cooler, black rats will move from the nearby woods into my attic. The chimney swifts will depart for Peru. As for me, I’ll remain in my habitat through the winter, stoking the fire and reading Tinbergen’s The Animal in its World.

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Karen Smith Linehan is a lifelong naturalist with a deep love for the flora and fauna of North Carolina. She teaches first and second grade at Friends School of Wilmington where she shares her love of nature with her students. Karen is currently pursuing an MFA in creative nonfiction through Chatham University’s low residency program. She plays guitar and sings with her father in the Raleigh-based band, Bloomsbury. Karen and her husband, Terry, live in Carolina Beach. They have two grown daughters, Kelsey and Dylan.

What’s Your Ecotone?: We are not subtle in our stay here

This What’s Your Ecotone? comes from Tracy Winn.

We make this hill our stand. We watch for life, for spring, with the cold sky waiting. Nothing happens. Maybe a raven knocks its hollow voice down the ravine. At most, a flock of grosbeaks upend themselves in the birches bordering woods and open field, tasting last year’s catkins, twittering into the silence. That’s it. Unless a plane from a Unknownfar-off base practices mountain maneuvers, that raven’s tock or grosbeak’s thin whistle is the only sound punctuating the wind or stillness of the day.

Walking downhill along the one lane dirt road that would lead us out to larger roads and busier places, we see no evidence of anyone but ourselves. Turning back, we make an awful din on the crusty snow.

We are not subtle in our stay here. Smoke pours from our stove’s chimney. The glow from our gas lamps competes with the moon. A trim line of fox prints circles wide.

Tracy Winn is the author of the award-winning Mrs. Somebody Somebody, available as a Random House reader’s circle selection. Her recent work has appeared in the Harvard Review and Fifth Wednesday Journal, and is now up on Waxwing. She sends this post from Granville, Vermont.

What’s Your Ecotone?: I once more feel like a wanderer

This week’s What’s Your Ecotone? comes from Maggie Glover.

I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and educated in Ohio and West Virginia, but have lived for the past six years in California—first in San Francisco, and now in the Los Angeles area. I’m the only person in my family to ever wander so far away from PGH, and then to stay away. One of my sisters briefly moved to a few other places on the East Coast during her twenties, but now lives within thirty minutes of the rest of the Glover family.

Despite this proximity, my family is not as close as you might think. Financial problems, alcoholism, mental illness, verbal abuse, and years’ worth of unresolved conflicts have always made going home less than idyllic. To be honest, when I was living in San Francisco with my fiance (who became my husband and then ex-husband two years later), I felt more comfortable than I ever had in Pittsburgh.

However, now that I’ve relocated again, just last spring, to the LA area, I once more feel like a wanderer. But I’m not complaining. I have finally realized that living in ecotones suits me—that it is during these periods of transition that I am most happy. Each morning, I jog on the shore of Alamitos Beach, watching the waves wash against the sand, and witnessing the special beauty of ocean and land coming together again and again, before gracefully pulling apart.


Maggie Glover is originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, though she has also lived in Ohio, West Virginia, and San Francisco. This year, she found a home in Long Beach, California. You can read more of her work at www.maggieglover.com.

What’s Your Ecotone?: “What a privilege it was to get to fly back”

This week our What’s Your Ecotone? comes from Cecilia Llompart, who has spent much time in Puerto Rico in the past year, and will soon move to Paris. You can hear the coquís she mentions in this video.

Puerto Rico (map)My first memory of Puerto Rico must have been a song. Either my grandmother singing “Palomita Blanca”—a lullaby about a little white dove—as she rocked me to sleep in the bright and open air of the balcony of the house that my grandfather himself designed, or the jingles on the enormous old television that the three spinster sisters and two dozen cats who watched over me after daycare always left on, or my father crooning “En Mi Viejo San Juan”—a melancholy song about leaving your beloved island for the shores of a strange new nation—while washing dishes in the kitchen of our new house in Florida.

Because leave we did.

I grew up stateside, where my accent was promptly flattened, where I straightened my curly hair, and where I fit in because of my white skin but felt so different beyond that. Every summer we flew back, and those summers were full of coconut ice cream and darting iguanas and hammock vendors and untamed beach hair and mangos right out of the neighbor’s yard and fried plantains and octopus salad and falling asleep to the sound of countless coquís—still the most soul-soothing sound in the whole entire world to me.

I realize now what a privilege it was to get to fly back, summer after summer. How many desperate young parents leave their homes behind forever and how many children never learn their native language, never see the churches their grandparents took their vows in, never taste a fresh coconut after watching a man with a machete lob the top clean off in one blow before gently placing a straw into it. I also realize, only now, what a privilege it would have been not to have been forced to leave in the first place—due to a crumbling public school system, due to a poverty rate that doubles that of the most impoverished of any of the states, along with a per capita murder rate six times higher than America’s.

That doesn’t really hit home until you remember that Puerto Rico is part of America.

Not that I—entirely—hated growing up in the clean and pastel and sun-bleached suburbs, and not that I haven’t benefited from opportunities over here. But I haven’t given up on my island, either. Not by a long shot. Not even when so much of its fertile soil—some of the richest in all the world—is under concrete. Not even as it is being sold off, beach by beach, to foreign millionaires. I don’t yet know what I can do—as a poet, as a millennial with nothing but debt to my name, as part of the vastly larger percentage of Puerto Ricans living stateside than on the island. But I hope we all find our way. I hope we never forget where we came from. And I hope we find a way to make the place shine hard once again.

author photoCecilia Llompart was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Florida. She received her BA from Florida State University, and her MFA from the University of Virginia. Her first collection, The Wingless, was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in the spring of 2014. She is the recipient of two awards from the Academy of American Poets, and her work has been included or is forthcoming in many anthologies and journals. In 2015, she founded the nonprofit New Wanderers, a nomadic poetry collective.​ More at www.ceciliallompart.com.

What’s Your Ecotone?: “Pulled between urbanness and wilderness”

This week’s What’s Your Ecotone? comes from Stephen Siperstein.

I grew up in the suburbs of a large East Coast metropolis, and, in a rather clichéd move, fled to the mountains of Colorado immediately after college. I wasn’t running away from anything, but rather felt I needed to run toward something I had only ever really seen in John Wayne movies, on Sierra Club calendars, and on occasional vacations to Yosemite or the Grand Tetons. Eventually I felt a pull back—to family, and to urbanity—and returned to the East Coast to pursue a graduate degree. However, once back in the city, I felt anew the pull of the mountains, the pull of wildness. And so, soon after I finished my degree, I said goodbye to my family once again and headed West, but this time I continued all the way to the damp and verdant mountains of the Pacific Northwest.

It has always been like this—whether it’s my brain or my soul or my heart calling the shots, I am constantly pulled between urbanness and wilderness, between the human and the more-than-human world. While I could certainly do without the suburbs (and believe that the world could too), I am in love with both the wildness of the city and the wildness of the mountains, the forests, and the coastlines. My own ecotone is someplace between these two loves, and over time, I have learned that I don’t need to fret over the contradiction or untangle the paradox. I am lucky enough to now have access to both landscapes, and am hoping to establish an urban homestead in a small Pacific Northwest city where wildness lives in my own backyard in the form of chickens, opossums, hawks, ferns, and crabbed apple trees. Of course there’s that bigger wildness too—the one that resides in our collective backyard. It is that vast wildness that comes up to the doors of our human homes—be they in cities or suburbs or wild lands—and calls us out to play.

DSC_0393_2Stephen Siperstein is a poet, literary scholar, and environmental educator, and is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of English at the University of Oregon.  He is co-editing the forthcoming volume Teaching Climate Change in the Humanities with Stephanie LeMenager and Shane Hall, and his poetry has appeared most recently in ISLE and Poecology.  Follow him on Twitter: @ssiperstein.


What’s Your Ecotone?: “Our eighty-mile stretch of river”

This week’s What’s Your Ecotone? comes from Jennifer Clark, who lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

MI(1)I live near the Kalamazoo River. In 1848, before she became polluted—before she was deemed a superfund site, and we all fell into a stupor waiting for the giant, sleepy paws of the Environmental Protection Agency to save her—author James Fenimore Cooper noted this about our eighty-mile stretch of river: “The woods around them were the unpeopled forest of Michigan and the small winding reach of placid water that was just visible in the distance as an elbow of the Kalamazoo, a beautiful little river that flows westward, emptying its tribute into the vast expanse of Lake Michigan.”

headshotJennifer Clark is director of community relations for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and a founding board member of the Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition. Shabda Press published her first book of poems, Necessary Clearings, in 2014. Her work has been published in failbetter, Concho River Review, Nimrod, Fiction Fix, Midwest Quarterly Review, and elsewhere.

What’s Your Ecotone?: “I am drawn to any place near a large body of water”

This week, we hear from Tegan Nia Swanson, whose story “The Memory of Bones” appeared in Ecotone 15, and who currently lives in Lyon, France.

I am drawn to any place near a large body of water—the Pacific coast or the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador; the coral atolls of the Marshall Islands; the Boundary Waters between Minnesota and Canada; Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin; the Mississippi River all the way from the headwaters to the Gulf. A kind of subliminal pressure pushes down on my soul when I spend too long away—like right now, when I am living in a city apartment building that’s surrounded by cement—and it happens so slowly that it’s almost unnoticeable at first. But as soon as I get near the water again, I realize how much less I had been in its absence. It might be clichéd or romanticized to think of this circumstance as stemming from some intrinsic biospiritual need, but I can’t explain it any other way.

maskTegan Nia Swanson is a graduate of the MFA Program in Creative Writing & Environment Program at Iowa State University, where she was the 2011 Pearl Hogrefe Fellow. Her fiction appears in Ecotone, Bellingham Review, Connu, and in the Black Earth Institute’s About Place Journal. Her novel-in-artifacts Things We Found When the Water Went Down won the 2014 Horatio Nelson Award for Fiction, and is forthcoming from Black Balloon Publishing/Catapult Co.

What’s Your Ecotone?: “I see the courage it takes to speak up”

This week’s What’s Your Ecotone? comes from Judi Campbell, who now calls Massachusetts home.

I am fascinated by people who can make a good life for themselves outside of their comfort zones. As a retired corporate technology executive who is a heterosexual female, and as a mother of two who has lived several lives—some in parallel—I now work with immigrants and refugees who seek to improve their conversational English. More significantly, these are people who put themselves in a position to meet others who are not necessarily like them. Watching and listening as they interact and find similarities and differences, I witness how a conversation about a bunch of grapes, or ice fishing, can turn into a cultural exploration. I see the courage it takes to speak up even if you know you will make mistakes. Many of these students are experienced professionals who now work menial jobs. But they have found ways to belong and contribute to their new community. This makes me appreciate their courage all the more. It also makes me appreciate the privilege of having lived a life that has allowed me to be in this place and to make a difference.

About Judi:

unnamedI moved to Peabody, Massachusetts this year, embarking on yet another change. My physical worlds over time have included New York City, South Texas, England, upstate New York, and Northern Virginia. I find there are always new things to learn, and interesting people to meet. Curiosity and a sense of humor are my most invaluable life tools.

What’s Your Ecotone?: “Unending swells of hills”

The shape of the state of Pennsylvania, in white on a blue backgroundFor Ecotone’s anniversary survey, in addition to asking about folks’ ecotones, we asked a seemingly more straightforward question: Where do you call home? Jackson Connor had this expansive answer: “United States, Oil City, PA; Venango County; Oil Region, Steel Belt, Snow Belt; ‘The Valley That Changed the World’; Appalachia, the hills, the woods, the heart of some part of the country; North of Pittsburgh; home, always already no matter what else, home.” Read on for his What’s Your Ecotone?, the second in our series.

In his book Petrolia: The Landscape of America’s First Oil Boom, Brian Black writes of what will always be my home like this: “A landscape is constructed of geology, hydrology, and biology; yet it also includes the creations of the humans or other beings that inhabit and change the environment,” and that’s nice, but every time I look at the unending swells of hills in my Northwest Pennsylvania, all I see are the backs of my Grandmother Ruby’s hands, her crocheting needles in her lap, as she dozes in front of the television. Her house is always warm and smells like onions cooking in butter.

The shape of the state of Ohio, in white on a blue backgroundJackson Connor writes in Southeastern Ohio, smushed up between the westernmost hints of Appalachia and the rolling wide open of the Great Plains. He’s married with four kids. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in Appalachian Heritage, North American Review, Cimarron Review, Sugar House Review, Passages North, and other places.

What’s Your Ecotone?: “What I know now are little things”

In celebration of Ecotone’s tenth anniversary, the first entry in a new series! Earlier this year we asked Ecotone readers and contributors to respond to a survey. One of the questions we asked was, What’s your ecotone? We wanted to know about the landscapes, bodies, cultures you inhabit—about your places of overlap and complication in the world. The answers we received surprised us, made us think, and made us look more closely at our own places. We published a few of them in our anniversary issue. In this new series, we’ll run additional selected responses from the survey and beyond. We’re lucky to begin with poet and former Ecotone managing editor Sally J. Johnson!

Here are just some of the ecotones I live in or that live in me:

1. I’m a Midwesterner living in the South; I say “y’all” now since I hear it so often but also because it’s more inclusive than my original “you guys.” I still say “pop,” even though most people around here would understand me better if I said “soda.” More than my home state and its glorious lakes, I miss how my family used to be all in one place. As my baby brother says, “We used to be so little.” I know he means young but he also means we were together then, taking up a smaller space than we do now, flung out across the country.

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