Natural Intersections

This edge between old field and young forest undulates along the vegetated corridor and has coves and peninsulas that harbor diverse plant communities and wildlife. On the old field side there are a variety of goldenrods, field asters, mullein, pokeweed, blackberry brambles, and field grasses. The woodland side has red maple, black cherry, white ash, black birch, and sugar maple in the overstory and Canada mayflower, partridge berry, clintonia, and star flower in the understory. In between these two areas the ecotone (as it is known to ecologists) has species from both plant communities. The young tree saplings have not fully shaded out the old field species within this transitional zone. This woodland expansion into the old field has created an intersection common in the natural world. It is a place where plant species are plentiful and so is the wildlife that will take advantage of the ample cover and forage that these merged areas provide.

Ecotones can form where ever two different plant communities join; adjacent forest types, forest to riverine corridor, young (usually mowed) field to old field, old field to wetland or marsh. The possibilities are nearly endless. Wherever this combination of two plant communities occurs there is are increased numbers of plant species and an abundance of wildlife habitat; nature’s oasis in the wild..

For years and years I have been fascinated by natural intersections. These occur in all facets of the natural world. They can happen botanically, biologically, geologically, atmospherically, and even personally. It is these intersections that often create new habitat, new hope, and even new species. Without them the world would have never evolved or changed.

Intersecting chemicals and intersecting conditions created the first life on this planet we call Earth. Whether you think this was caused by random selection or divine intervention matters not. The fact is that the joining of two unlike entities started the ball rolling that continues on to this day several billion years later.

As I am investigating this old field/young forest ecotone I happen upon some eastern coyote scat. The scat is full of hair and closer examination tells me it is the hair from a cottontail. The low browse found in this edge attracted the cottontail to forage. The coyote was attracted to the area because of the availability of prey and good cover from which it could stalk and hunt. As the plant community matures, and saplings turn into trees, the ecotone will find a new position in the old field.

The eastern coyote is the perfect example of natural intersection. As the western coyote needed to expand its range and moved eastward some took the northern route over the top of the Great Lakes through the Canadian Province of Ontario. This transition and expansion took years and years. Along the way some of the western coyotes bred with gray wolves. This new species moved along, with genetic adaptations and differences, to settle in eastern Canada and the northeastern United States. Today in central New England the coyotes that we see are from 20% to 80% gray wolf. This new species, called eastern coyotes by some and coy-wolves by others, are uniquely adapted to inhabit Quebec, the Maritime Provinces, northern New York State, and New England (primarily Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and western Massachusetts). Unlike the gray wolf this new species has kept its coyote ability to live close to humans. The eastern coyote is much larger than the western coyote and it has powerful jaws, much like its relative the gray wolf. It can take down white tailed deer and has made an impact on the burgeoning deer populations found in some areas of eastern North America. It is a predator to be reckoned with and has filled a niche long abandoned by larger predators extirpated by our European ancestors that resettled this part of our continent. The eastern coyote is the perfect intersection between two animal species; a wily predator that can withstand human pressure.

While pondering all of this I find a fallen tree where I can sit down and rest. The mossy surface on the horizontal trunk provides some padding that makes sitting much more comfortable. Adjacent to where I sit there is a large boulder, often referred to as a glacial erratic because it was transported by the great ice sheet some twenty thousand years ago and left behind at this location as the ice melted and retreated to the north. The rock might appear nearly lifeless to some but in fact contains a large colony of lichen, another perfect natural intersection, but this time between two different life forms. Fungus and algae (or cyanobacteria) work together symbiotically to form an composite organism that has survived for millions of years. Some believe that lichen is a mutualistic arrangement where fungus provides structure and primary nutrients from minerals and the the algae provides photosynthesis. Others believe the combination is in reality controlled parasitism where the fungal organism enslaves the algae to live on the food produced by photsynthesis. In either arrangement this convergence of two species is a wondrous example of natural intersection.

As I sit here, a fresh spring breeze recharges my batteries and a blue sky overhead brightens my spirits. My mind wanders to a more personal intersection. I think about what a personal miracle it was for me when I met my wife Maureen. Two separate lives that were channeled on two parallel paths. The odds of us meeting might seem as if they were pretty slim. And yet one evening in one of our first heart to heart talks where we held hands and gazed into each others eyes we realized that we had come close to meeting each other previously. It was at a large university where I was doing fund raising for the American Indian Movement. As I spoke to the group my wife sat amongst those attending. Most were students. At the time she thought me too serious, and certainly not a candidate for a future mate ( but she remembered me!). That opportunity was lost. We would not cross paths for several years. Even the event that actually put us together almost did not happen. Years later I had interviewed my wife and several other qualified people for a job working with disadvantaged youth. Our interviewing committee had selected Maureen. I called her to offer her the job but she declined as she had been offered another job. I was unusually disappointed and in fact could not put my finger on why I felt so let down that she did not take the job because we had several highly qualified candidates. Just as I was about to call our second choice Maureen called me back and asked if the job was still available. I wondered how she could be so indecisive but didn’t dwell on this thought and told her we would glad to have her on board if she was willing to accept the job offer. This was, without a doubt, the most critical few moments in our lives. Somehow there was a guiding force, perhaps some sort of spirit guide or universal magnetism that brought us together. To my way of thinking it was a natural intersection that led to a wonderful life, wonderful children, and lifelong love.

With the conclusion of this fond memory I stand to walk over to a brook that flows east. The waters from this stream will join three other rivers, each one larger than the previous until it eventually drains into the Connecticut River which is the largest river in New England. The Connecticut River is some four hundred miles long and drains into the Atlantic Ocean near Old Lyme Connecticut. This intersection between fresh water and salt water is one of the most glorious overlaps between two different ecoystems. It is a place where the crossover between fresh water and salt water is the host to almost countless species. This intersection provides an important gateway for salmon, striped bass, american eels, and shad to enter habitats that holds the specific elements for successful breeding. Numerous macroinvertebrates live off of the plentiful nutrients swept into the seas by this might river at the crossroads of river and ocean. These intense colonies of benthic invertebrates provide forage for larger insects, fish, and mammals. These places where rivers and ocean converge are one of Earth’s richest habitats; certainly amongst the most valuable natural intersections on this planet.

To the north of the brook there is a vernal pool. This pool is the birthing place for spotted salamanders and wood frogs. It holds fresh water fairy shrimp and caddisfly larvae.  The latter builds domociles are made of sticks and a natural glue emitted by the larvae. They are cylindrical and hollow where the larvae seeks refuge from predation. The stick homes resemble other detritus that lines the vernal pool bottom. Some of the spotted salamanders have hatched and I am reminded of a vernal pool south and east of here where Tremblay’s Salamanders can be found. The Tremblay’s Salamander is a perfect natural intersection. It is a hybrid salamander produced by blue spotted salamander and Jefferson salamanders. The results is an all female genus that when mature breeds with a male blue spotted salamander. The male chromosome from the blue spotted salamander only stimulates the Tremblay egg’s development; its genetic material does not come into play. Only new female Tremblay’s salamander are created from this natural intersection. Silvery Salamanders have a similar natural history. They are created from the same species, a different species as the result is developed, and they are all female as well. It is these oddities that make natural selection and intersection so fascinating.

The day is wearing thin. The sun in the west begins to intersect with the horizon. As it disappears below the edge where earth meets sky intense colors of orange, red, and salmon pink bleed across the sky to create the perfect canvas; a natural painting that cannot be exactly replicated or repeated . This last natural intersection of the day will remain in my mind well into the darkness of night. And tomorrow morning when the new day begins a new intersection will happen in reverse order. Darkness becomes light. The morning twilight created by the rising will sun signal the end of night and delineate the beginning of a new day. And we will start all over again as new intersections produce new hope across this planet and the universe beyond.

Written for the Heath Herald in May 2011.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AFZYFUW2CJE2CFNJ7S4EZ7TYQ4 WENDY SARNO

    Bill, what a knowledgeable and heartful depiction of “natural intersections”. I am enthralled to learn more as this captures my imagination. Having just returned from traveling thru so many natural intersections: between pre and post glacial landscapes with forest succession so evident, intertidal zones, and the lush mosses and lichens of the coastal rainforest where we can sense the early days of creation. I am also captured by the personal dimension of this concept and I think too about the intra-personal: how, as we travel along the edges of our experience we find the opportunities for new growth. I want to follow the eastern coyote hunting at the verges of my life.

  • http://fourwindshaiga.wordpress.com/ sandy

    Bill, this post answered quite a few questions for me. And, it will keep me thinking for quite a long time. I see evidence of these intersections daily, but now, will be looking for more.
    The first time I saw an eastern coyote, I was very surprised at the size of it. So you are saying, that all the coyotes in the Northeast are a wolf mix?  Does that happen with any other species? 

    I am sure that I would enjoy your classes!

  • Teresaevangeline

    When I first bought this piece of land much of it was lawn, beautiful and park-like, but something about it was unsettling. I decided this year to go native more along the edges where grass meets pine along the back and the small chunk of mostly deciduous on the other side. I am enjoying seeing the tall green grass and look forward to what will emerge within and around it.  These places of transition will be something I’ll appreciate more now. Thank you for always providing food for thought.

  • Emma Springfield

    I so love reading your blog. You take the time to reflect on the past as well as to give us information about the way things are now. 

  • http://www.landingoncloudywater.blogspot.com Emily

    Bill — I am consistently in awe of your vast stores of knowledge. You truly are a student of the earth. This was a thoughtful, insightful, pleasurable piece to read. It made me want to sit on the edge of something — woods or lake or prairie — and think about all the boundaries, the crossings, the life that moves along such intersections. Thanks for the push today to pause.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you Emily.  I’ve had a few years for the knowledge to add up.  And I enjoy learning something new everyday!  When it comes to the natural world there are endless discoveries to be uncovered.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Emma.  I’ve learned that the past, the present, and the future are all intricately intertwined and cannot be easily separated.  And I think it helps us understand perspective.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Yes!  Creating edges is so satisfying and it seems to benefit not only wildlife and plant communities, but those of us who want to observe the natural world.  Enjoy every moment, take notes, and see what it leads to in the future.  You are on an almost endless adventure now.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    It seems as though natural intersections are nearly endless, and the more we look for the more we notice. 

    Not all eastern coyotes are wolf/coyote hybrids, some in southern New England for example are related to those that migrated south of the Great Lakes.  But for those of us further north, certainly most of them are!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Your recent adventure must have been marvelous.  That you were able to experience the wild certainly contributes to how you see the natural world in and around human habitation.  We humans have the wonderful ability to consider our place in the world and choose how to live out lives.  But, even given this ability, I still admire the raw power of instinct and how things seem to work without the ability of intellect.  We are by definition a natural intersection.

  • http://nature-drunk.com Nature-Drunk

    Fascinating, these intersections you describe so mindfully. I am ecstatic to know there are others walking this planet who think this way. I once thought i was alone in my thinking…arrogant and ignorant, I was. Thank you for the inspiration. 

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I’m sure there are at least a couple million of us who think like this, a small # given the human population of 6.5 billion, but there is hope. 

    Those of us who study the natural world are fortunate and it is our responsibility to share it with all who will listen.  My mantra is keep spreading the word. 

  • http://everyday-adventurer.blogspot.com/ Ratty

    Great stuff. Natural intersecion is what is going to be on my mind the next time I go out hiking. This is an excellent way of thinking to help investigate things even further than before.

  • http://montucky.wordpress.com/ Montucky

    An interesting and informative post, Bill. Over so many, many years, my hunting experiences (which became instincts) made me acutely aware of and sensitive to ecotones even though I didn’t know the word for them, having seen so much wildlife activity specifically in those regions. Your explanation really fleshed out my understanding of them.

  • Find an Outlet

    Funny how when we ignore our instincts we usually regret it.

     

    New England was a master of
    intersections, from field to forest to river to marsh. Here in AZ we have “sky
    islands,” unconnected mountains that rise from desert scrub to grassland, seasonal
    riparian to evergreen woodlands, and finally to mixed conifer forests. There are
    also meadows among these habitats, ecotones within ecotones, right? Each rise in elevation engenders new species, and the weather gets much colder too as you climb.
     I have not explored these intersections as much as I should.
    But I have explored the San Pedro River,
    which even when just a trickle brings profuse life to the desert. Lined with
    cottonwoods, it forms a green ribbon through the scrub. It is a majestic and
    beloved intersection as plants and animals requiring constant moisture thrive
    here, and birding people come from all over. They seem respectful of the environment because I don’t see litter there.

    To think you can walk among your own woodlands and recognize the glory of each subtle ecotone is fascinating. Most of us see only the obvious ones. Many of your readers see much more. Do you ever have to research something you find to learn more about it? I think you wrote the book! This post is an absolutely beautiful look into your world…thank you. And BTW, ecotone is a new word to me, one I will use and never forget because of this lesson! 

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Ratty,

    Much of what I have read on your blog “Everyday Adventurer” has taken place at these intersections.  Your observation skills are terrific and you have been presenting information about natural intersections to your readers for years, perhaps without knowing it.  There are many who wish they had your curiosity and skills at noticing unique things in the natural world.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you.  I think that those, like you, who spend a lot of times outdoors taking photographs, hunting, birding, identifying plants have a natural sense of these intersections.  Perhaps many don’t have a word to describe these areas but appreciate them none the less.  Your wonderful photos on “Montana Outdoors” shows you are more than in tune with nature. 

    To my other readers if you haven’t seen “Montana Outdoors” do yourself a favor and visit it as soon as you can.  Photography at its finest.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I have spent a good deal of time in arid climates, mostly New Mexico and Colorado, and my take on their ecotones is that they can be subtle or dramatic.  You are absolutely correct that stream corridors that provide a corridor of green produces some dramatic ecotones, and that others on the slopes of mountains can be less noticeable but every bit as beautidul.

    Regarding your question: I have a lot of info packed in my head, but I am also constantly researching topics to keep myself abreast of new theories and ideas as well as remind myself of the things I have forgotten (Yes, I am getting to that age, plus a long bout with lyme disease took a serious toll on my brain).  I enjoy, to the point of being giddy, learning about natural systems and then finding them at work in the wild.  More importantly, I just love investigating the natural world and making casual observations. 

    I’m glad you learned a new word today.  I love expanding my vocabulary too although I often learn a new word and then a month later I will run into and have forgotten what the heck it means.

  • http://dailyonegoodthing.blogspot.com Barb

    It’s interesting to think about all the intersections in our own lives and in Nature. Many seemingly random happenings and choices each day are actually encouraged by these intersections. I learn something new every time I visit you, Bill.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I’ve had notions that these “random” events may not be as haphazard as we may think.  Perhaps an idea for another article!

  • Lbiederstadt

    That last sentence, especially, took my breath, Bill….
    -Lynn@skydiaries:disqus 

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Lynn.  Each day brings new possibilities, new mysteries, new riddles to solve.  And each day brings new hope which is meant to sustain us all.

  • Barbara

    As always, thoughtful, introspective but reaching out – this essay leaves me feeling dreamy for some reason, peaceful. Perhaps it’s the thought that new intersections give hope for the future. Like all of your readers who place comments, I too will carry this new knowledge with me when I walk, even in my own wee property where I’ve allowed the pasture now that the horses are no longer here mowing it voraciously, to “go wild.” I’ll watch for more transitions. 

    Love this essay Bill, as I did your last though I just got to read it now. You bring such personal perspectives to your writing that others are naturally drawn in wanting to be part of that world you love so dearly and who share your love of nature and our natural world. Thank you once again for sharing your knowledge and insight.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you Barbara.  I’m really happy that I can contribute to your walks.  It kind of makes me feel like I’m getting around a lot more than I do.  It will be fun to watch the natural succession of your field.  You should write about this and photograph it for your blog.  It would make for some great posts.

    I’m the lucky one to have such wonderful readers, and I enjoy sharing what each and everyone of you has to offer at your own web sites. 

  • http://alsphotographyblog.blogspot.com/ Gator

    Intersections are certainly very interesting, whether natural intersections or those of lives. I met my wife on a racquetball court!

  • Patricia Lichen

    Lovely, lovely, lovely. 
    You and your wife are fortunate to have found one another–even if it took the universe a few tries before you caught on! ;o)

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I keep thinking that these intersections go beyond random events.  As if there is some sort of intended trial and error, or order to the universe, that makes things happen.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    We have been very fortunate.  Yes, it is good that the universe is perceptive!

  • http://craftygreenpoet.blogspot.com Crafty Green Poet

    How interesting about the eastern coyotes!
     I’m always fascinated by intersections too, in nature and socially. My partner and I were at the same University at the same time but didn’t meet until years later…

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Natural intersections seem to occur in every facet of life both in the natural world and in the human social world.  Perhaps the nature of these meetings is part of the universe’s design.  I’ve thought long and hard about this.

  • http://www.beyondplumcreek.com/bpcblog Hudson Howl

    Last night I wrote this line -’children dangle their toes in the quiet cove of yellow day lilies’. Then this morning I read the first paragraph of your story and I felt an immediate connection to Natural Intersections. The partial line ‘has coves and peninsulas that harbor’ , dam Bill your good !
    Stories of hope and possibilities seem to be dwindling of late. Thanks for pointing it out, that they exist right in front of us. Perhaps were standing on it (the source of hope and possibilities) if only we learn to look down once in a while instead of gazing a far…..I leave knowing a little more ecologically than I did before, plus I got a good doze of hopefulness.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I am so pleased that you took he message of hope forward!  These intersections have much to teach us.  They are to pot where the broth is brewed.  The possibilities are endless and so is the chance for successful reformation!

    Thanks for reading,  I love your comments.  Keep ‘em coming!

  • http://colorofsand.wordpress.com/ cc

    Wonderful the places you go in this post, Bill — intersections, all kinds, and to the primordial soup itself. I think hearkening back to one’s own personal family stories makes for enjoyable read, too, making for neat juxtapositions. The touch and go nature of nature. Thank you for  sharing your unique vantage point.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    For some reason it is difficult to separate any part of my life from observations about the natural world.  I’m sure it has something to do with how I perceive the world.  My way of looking at everything involves this amazing set of networks and interconnections that are often reflected in my writing. 

    That’s just the way it is.

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