Ecotone (n.)

Satellite view of Te Pātaka o Rākaihautū, or Banks Peninsula, a volcanic region on New Zealand’s south island, 2020, [courtesy of Maxar Technologies]

The following words are gathered excerpts from Strand’s forthcoming (spring 2025) book, The Body is a Doorway.

In ecology, a place that comes into being only when two other places meet, is called the ecotone. It’s the biological convergence zone that occurs when one distinct ecosystem abruptly transitions into another, creating, briefly, an intermediate and novel ecology. Our bodies, carbon-bound cellular assemblages, have a root system that stretches all the way to the sun. This porousness avails of us pollution, trauma, nonconsensual incursions, but it also opens us up to healing beyond our expectations. It refreshes us cellularly, and it also reminds us that our bodies are not islands. Our shores are molded and remolded every day by an ocean of shifting relationships. Healing is not an object or achievement that belongs to one person.

The sheer volume of diverse, different beings rubbing up against each other, mutually transforming each other, happens not in the ocean or the forest, but the shared skin between the two. The tidal pool. The estuary zone. The vibrant tension between two opposing zones, the ecotone. This boundary is not a line, but an animate thickness. A living skin that belongs, not to one body’s boundary, but to two different bodily ecosystems, acting semi-porously to translate species, water, seeds, and spores, between the two disparate zones. We are the flickering bodily shoreline between grassland savannas and boreal forests. Between the forgotten and the yet to come.

What matters is that we are neither complete nor are we just born. We are the haunted matter of prehistoric grasslands. We are ancient absences that open up the gestational space for unexpected emergence. We are all the love songs of past relationships, weathered down to minerals and sparkling dust. We are all the ecotones where vegetal translations of sunlight, minerals, pollen, and pollution converge to briefly coalesce into the constellation of a human self. We are a landscape where microbial and subatomic reunions happen that we will never be able to witness. We are the liminal realm where edge species experiment with new forms of communal living.

Life occurs in this overlap. In the floodplains. In the connective tissue that, in a human body, connects different organs and, in a living earth, connects different bioregions to weave together the dynamic homeostasis of the greater biosphere. Life experiments and changes and flourishes in the places where bodies meet and dialogue with each other, asking questions, and mutually changing each other.

Sophie Strand is a writer/compost heap based in the Hudson Valley who focuses on the intersection of spirituality, storytelling, and ecology.