Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Edge - Life on the margins

This is a post about The Edge - Life on the Margins

Permaculture Principle 11: 

Use edges & value the marginal

The Edge is a Permaculture concept

In the words of Charlie Mgee “The Edge is where it’s at”
Some words relating to this highly fertile, volatile place: Edge, fringe, border, margin, verge, periphery, outer limits
There are many benefits to life on the fringes of a habitat (or society). But it’s not a ‘safe’ place.   
The edge is the interface between two worlds it’s a place where one niche interacts with another and borders are never truly fixed, there is a constant interplay and struggle for dominance. It is also a place which has potential to support a greater diversity. This can be viewed in terms of ecological / biological interplay but can be easily translated as a social metaphor. 

A lot of wild foods can be collected from verges and edges. Blackberries are often found on marginal land close to cities in southern Australia. Here in Darwin when weather becomes dry collect Rosellas from sites where the soil has been disturbed.

Kitchener Drive at Darwin's Waterfront. There is a steep drop off between the city and the waterfront in Darwin separating what would have been an open woodland environment from what was once mangroves. There is not much left of either of these habitats any more but the cliff face is a very different environment. Along the cliff is a thin strip of Monsoon vine forest. It is lush and green and provides an amazing fringe habitat for various species in Darwin City.

Cliff edge Kitchener Drive

Where the land meets the sea is an edge which is bursting with life where both land and water creatures converge. On the weekend we visited the fish feeding at Doctor’s Gully. Fish come to the edge of the water to be fed bread by the tourists, meanwhile there are various other opportunistic species waiting to prey on the unsuspecting fish.

Water's Edge

Mangroves provide a rich source of nutrient to crabs and other crustaceans and fish; these are hunting grounds for monitor lizards, tree rats, bats, snakes and many species of fish which live predominantly in this environment. The mangroves also provide crucial shelter to baby fish of various species, without which the sea populations would be greatly reduced.

In our permanent fresh water habitats land animals all converge at the edge of the water to hunt and drink. Creeks support a unique habitat called the riparian zone which is often only a few meters wide and has a biodiversity which is far greater than the surrounding bush land.Riparian zones often remain green and lush while the vegetation just meters away is dry and sparse.

Rapid Creek - Darwin
Rapid Creek (fresh water)

In the garden environment edges provide unique growing  conditions where well designed landscapes combined with complementary planting can provide ideal growing conditions for diverse crops, improved resilience and nutrient uptake which bring about increased yields.

Here's Charlie Mgee from Formidable Vegetable Sound System singing 'The Edge Is Where It's At'

If you like this song there's plenty more where that came from. Buy the CD
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The EDGE of Society

It’s fascinating that the very place which produces the most creativity and innovation is also looked on unfavourably by society. When people get close to the edge society gets nervous.  
Throughout the ages one of the greatest punishments for social transgression has been to ‘cast out’ the offenders, condemning them to leave the shelter of their society, without which they are expected to perish. Some do, but some actually find a way to thrive outside the restrictive confines of social conformity. Society uses terms like ‘Fringe dweller’, ‘marginalize’, ‘close to the edge’ to describe people who don’t fit with the conventions of their society. However from the outer edge people can gain insightful perspective of the society they don’t quite fit into. Prophet’s and visionaries have often emerged from the shadows with important messages…
The Archetype storyline of The Hero’s Journey is a perfect example of The Edge in a social context. I believe it is actually an outline for movement from the moribund dead wood at the heart of the tree of life to living dynamic periphery of bark and sap. Close to the surface, vulnerable to attack from outside but moving and alive!
When Bilbo took off into the unknown with a band of Dwarves he ventured well beyond the safety of the Shire and journeyed at the margins interacting with all manner of other folk and creatures. Great mysteries were revealed to him, many dangers and wonders the sources of life and death. While the fate of the shire was playing out at the fringes the shire folk were oblivious, asleep. Bilbo was awake. 

Henry David Thoreau actively sought solitude in the forest. He set out to live a year by a lake, away from the company of his neighbors and the hustle and bustle of modern life. From the outer limit of his society he was able to reflect on it's value and the value of simple things. In doing this and writing about his experience he taught us not to doubt our instinct or yearning to spend time in nature simply for it's own sake. It's OK to step aside from the madness of our society. 

So much great art comes from the outsider’s perspective, but we rarely acknowledge it. Some of what we would call definitive Australian or American music and literature is produced from the children of immigrants, first generation people who have had the experience of not entirely fitting the national identity. They paint the picture, we identify with it and claim it as our own perspective but we rarely consider where the artist stood to make such observations. Jack Kerouac, Irving Berlin,
 Paul Kelly, who could have written the theme for Australia during the late 20th and early 21st century, has this perspective. Bon Scott, Jimmy Barnes and Colin Hay whose songs have expressed the Australian experience so well are Scottish by birth they and many others have contributed to the Australian identity.  Explorers at the fringes dragged into the centre when their perspective from the edge has borne fruit.
But these are the ones who have succeeded. The thing about living on the fringes is that there are few safeguards for failure.

It is often difficult to be on the fringe. Sometimes we are forced to the outside in a violent way we are rejected. It's easy to see this happening all around me today. I only have to consider the 1,000s locked up in immigration detention, or the Aboriginal people living on the streets of Darwin, rounded up constantly by the police, or looked down on by people in the street. People with disabilities are subtly denied full membership in society, I'm sure there are a thousand other examples and many of them can simply come down to one's own perception. The thing is that by being cast outside the bubble of social acceptance we are given a very special opportunity to wake up from the illusion. To break out and take a look around from outside the fish bowl. To see what those inside are incapable of seeing while they '...stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're they're used to...'  (Waterfalls by TLC)

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