Life on the Cusp

Last week, I was pretty sure it was Spring.  Sunshine, blue skies, birds singing their little hearts out.  All that.

Yesterday, not so much:

It’s on the cusp of a change in season that the world – certainly its weather – feels most alive. Outside the Tropics, anyway. It’s in those days and weeks when change is running strong and urgent. But it’s seldom a simple, smooth change. There’s always a day, at the start of every season, when you wake up, step outside and instantly just know from the feel of the air that a new time of year is upon you. Each season has an unmistakable feel, which you lose the habit of while the other three are cycling through, so that when it comes back, and you feel it on your skin again, it’s instantly recognisable as different from what’s gone before. I love it when that happens.

Except sometimes things go backwards, of course. Last couple of weeks, it was unmistakably feeling like Spring. A freshness to the air, a deeper blue to the sky, a hint of genuine warmth in the sunlight. Here we are today, though, and I wake up to ice, crunchy snow left over from yesterday’s falls. And though the sky’s a luminous blue, the only thing really deep about it is the cold. I don’t mind. I like it, in fact. Two steps forward, one step back. It’s good to be kept on your toes.

It’s not just the weather, though. All things, all systems, are a their most vigorous, unpredictable, energetic, rich on the cusp. In their transitional states.

It’s true of the natural world in many profound and interesting ways. By education and inclination, I’m in large part a biologist, environmentalist, naturalist, whatever you want to call it, and it’s striking how much of that stuff is concerned with boundaries, states of change, cusps. One example: the physical spaces where one kind of habitat merges or changes into another – like woodland, say, giving way to grassland – often hold the richest, most diverse wildlife in any given area, and are often the most dynamic and changeable zones in that area. It’s such a significant effect, there’s even a special word for these transitional zones: ecotones.

Ecotones are bits of land that are physically transitional – or on the cusp, if you like – between two states. The weather’s currently in a temporal ecotone, if you ask me.

And it’s true of all things, isn’t it?  The most interesting, diverse stuff is often in the borderlands.  Fictions that combine two genres into something rich and different from either.  Communities that merge into one another (peacefully, hopefully) and in those places where they merge perhaps have the best of both worlds.  The border between town and country, where you have both the comforts and ease of the urban and the space and air of the rural.

Ecotones.  Maybe not the most comfortable, but perhaps always the most interesting places, times or states to be in.

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