Thursday, December 2, 2010




: a transition area between two adjacent ecological communities

The aspect I found most illuminating in this etymology is that the suffix -tone derives from the Greek word tonos, meaning tension. The tension often described is muscle tension (i.e.: isotonic; or simply, "Wow, he's so toned!")

In ECOTONE, the tension refers to one experienced between two rival or opposite forces.

ECOTONE immediately recalls one of the last episodes of Six Feet Under. The episode opens with the death of a man jogging on L.A.'s outskirts; he gets mauled by a mountain lion.

Without a car, it's difficult to escape the city sometimes. This past August I took the blue line Max train to the Tualatin Hills Nature Park—a wildlife reserve outside Portland. The train ride was about 40 minutes. I travelled through a tunnel, past some shopping plazas, and arrived at a fairly barren crossroads—on one side, an open field of sorts, on the other, some nondescript industrial buildings. A windy strip of pavement marked the entrance to the reserve. The park was small—I knew this going into the situation. In two hours I had traversed every main path and every subpath, moving in and out of the park's veins and arteries, following a xeroxed green map I grabbed at the entrance. At the end of one trail, I stopped and sat on a bench. A swamp stagnated just past the wooden fence in front of me. I had left the house early; it was not quite hot yet, but sunlight snuck through the dense trees and reflected off the green murkiness. A helpful plaque mounted on a post educated me on the swamp's wildlife, birds small mammals I don't recall. I pulled out my notepad and wrote about myself, what I always write about, and some or other struggle I was having. I didn't think to write about the swamp. Although, I am writing about it now, I suppose.

As I walked back toward the exit, one of the paths ran parallel to the back of a building owned by the transit authority. Only about twelve feet of wildlife separated the path from a driveway that wound around the back of the building, lined with polls draped in electrical wire. I felt like this cut my experience short. I wanted more time to forget how close I was to everything. I wanted more silence. I thought about turning back and going into the deep parts of the park again, those that were the furthest removed from everything, but that seemed contrived. It didn't matter how deep I went, I still knew I was in Tualatin. I still knew the train tracks were just beyond the woods.

ECOTONE is a state of mind. The tension between civilization and its opposite will always be in our heads, no matter how removed we think we are. ECOTONE is the precarious border between the simultaneous desires to be part of everything and removed from everything.

I didn't go back into the park. I continued walking toward the exit, listening to the birds and the hum of electricity.

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