THE INTERPRETIVE SIGN in Thomas and Ezekiel Jobe’s old meadow commanded my attention. In 1835, the Jobe family cleared for farmland part of a spit of sand and limestone that juts sharply into Lake Ontario. When the meadow was abandoned, the forest trees began to reassert themselves. The sign said: “Edge habitat.”
I had been journaling and reflecting for several years about the edges we lived next to in downtown Toronto. I called them margins, and the people in them “marginalized.” John V. Taylor (The Go-Between God, 2004) would say the sign on the Jobes’ woods trail “nodded” to me. It had something to say to me. I stood still and read it.
Edge habitat is the biological space between two ecosystems (in this case, the Jobes’ forest and meadow). Life is abundant in edge habitat; more species live there than in either of the adjacent ecosystems. Life is also precarious. Species from both systems can live in a fragile balance or find their sustenance suddenly gone as forest or cultivated colonizer takes over.
That epiphany “nod” about edge habitat gave me new eyes for the dispossessed people in our city neighbourhood. They were in a transitional space, vulnerable, yet there were possibilities for new growth and transformation. I felt I visited edge habitat when I was among them or heard the slowly unfolding story of a particular homeless, angry woman who often sat at my kitchen table.
Somewhere in the joys and sorrows of deaths at work and among friends, in faithfulness and betrayal, in the complexities of justice- and peace-making, I shifted from epiphany about, to a Lenten truth of edge habitat. I wasn’t living at the edge. I live in the edge.
I have come to believe edge habitat is the place we all live in these transitional times. It is an unnerving combination of possibility, risk and transformation, full of survival questions. As climate changes, we have to acknowledge we are all creatures, among many, who rely on the earth’s health and well-being and act accordingly. As economies falter we have before us opportunities to do things differently, for the good of us all. Surely, Jesus’ way to the cross is a Lenten invitation to walk in edge habitat together and choose to live in the fragile balance of abundant life.
Adele Finney is a writer and spiritual director in the diocese of Toronto.