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Edge-Dwelling: A Social Ecology For Our Time, By Dianne Monroe

First in a series about inhabiting and acting in the edge-places of our civilization as crucial for humanity’s passage through these challenging times – and inviting you to share your personal edge-dwelling experiences



I’m an Edge-dweller. It’s not something I signed up for, or studied. It’s simply what I am. Over the past several years, I’ve begun to understand this as a specific way of being – and that this way of being may be intertwined with these edge times in which we live.


There must be other Edge-dwellers – lots and lots of us. Perhaps the times invite us or shape us into being. Perhaps we have something important to offer these times. Perhaps people can choose or learn to be Edge-dwellers.


This is the first of a series of articles on Edge-dwelling. I’m writing as an exploration, to invite a conversation, to seek connection with others.


We live in a time when our civilization (which some say began with the industrial age and others trace back to the dawn of agriculture some 10,000 years ago) is crumbling. We live in a time when our consumer culture is literally consuming our planet – a time that writer/activist Bill McKibben (among others) says has already passed from the 11,000 year Holocene period of climate stability to what is being called the Anthropocene, a time of climate instability brought about by mankind’s own actions. That’s a huge edge to be living on. In one sense everyone alive today may be an Edge-dweller.


By Edge-dwelling, I am not talking about the often used phrase “living on the edge” as partaking in extreme sports or being one paycheck away from homelessness. I’m talking about a way of being with, experiencing, and moving in this world.


I use Edge-dwelling to mean those people drawn to the edges of places and things; people who inhabit and act in those edge spaces.


I’ve always felt drawn and called by the edges of things; the place where two things meet, connect, bump, collide, blend, interweave, join and create something new; places where land joins ocean (or lake or river or stream); where forest meets meadow, where hills become plains; those bridge places that stretch from one thing to another.


These are not comfortable places. Sometimes they are harsh or unpredictable. There are plants and animals that inhabit those environments, flourish in them, know them as home. There are people drawn to these kinds of places. Such people may have qualities that can be crucial for our times. For some, these qualities may come naturally. For others, they can be nurtured, cultivated, grown, learned.  Either way, naming it, exploring it, being aware of its potential and importance, can clarify, magnify, make visible what is hidden.


And so I write to offer an invitation and begin a conversation.




Standing at the ocean’s edge, along the Northern California coast, I notice a small piece of burgundy-brown seaweed. At first it appears to be a living being, its shape so sculpted by the tides that it seems to dance and swim, leap and glide naturally and effortlessly, graceful and joyful in the turbulence, a being at peace with constant change, at home within the incessant motion of the tides.


There are people who seek the natural and social landscape where two (or more) distinct things join, for whom it is their natural home, who dance joyfully and gracefully among the constant change. There are others who dance less naturally, yet still recognize this place as home.


In part, this is an ability to be comfortable with this transition place between two things. The other aspect is knowing as home the potential and possibility that come from fluidity and motion, shifting and change, uncertainty and unpredictability – the understanding that this is exactly the best place to create something new.


Much has been written about resilience, about cultivating the qualities needed to survive, or even thrive, within the uncertainties of our times. This can perhaps be briefly summarized as the ability to cope with stress and tolerate anxiety, to be comfortable with rapid and unexpected change. These qualities are certainly part of Edge-dwelling.


Less discussed is the other aspect of Edge-dwelling – those qualities that will contribute to and shape the regeneration that can arise from the crumbling of our civilization; those qualities that can enable us as individuals and as a species, to not only survive this great dissolution, but participate fully in the rebirthing.


I believe this less-discussed aspect of Edge-dwelling may be key for humanity and our Earth in these edge times. This less-discussed aspect of Edge-dwelling, and the qualities connected with it, will be the focus of this article series. As a beginning, I offer an introduction to two of these qualities, with the intention of exploring these and other qualities more deeply in future articles.

Creating something new from the place where two things meet


Who could imagine that hydrogen and oxygen combined in a ration of two to one become water, something so very different, and fundamental to life on our planet. Who could imagine that blue and yellow combined become green, a color so different from the two of its origin.


In ecology there’s something called the edge effect. This means that where very different ecological systems meet there is an area of greater abundance. For example, birds are more plentiful in places where forests meet meadows than in completely forested areas. The coast, where land meets sea, is especially rich and offers a large percentage of animal and human needs.


Think about the many places in our culture where something new is created in the spaces where two distinct things meet.


There is the rich cross blending that happens along national borders, where different cultures meet. Tex-Mex, for example, is a culture, a style of art, a distinct cuisine, a form of music, and more. Jazz began among African-American communities in the Southern US by blending African musical themes with certain European harmony and form elements. Rock and Roll is a combination of blues, jazz, gospel (African American musical forms) with Western swing and country music. In Academia, Interdisciplinary Studies involves combining two or more academic disciplines or schools of thought to create something new – the field of Eco-psychology, for example.


Edge-dwellers seek those places where two distinct things meet, collide, connect, blend and interweave exactly because that is the best place to create something new.


Visioning beyond the horizon, beginning the bridge between now and beyond


Imagine our long-ago ancestors as they first set sail toward the horizon, guided only by their understanding of the stars and their visions of what they might find on the far side of the horizon. Imagine Noah as he began building his arc (and what his neighbors must have said). Or Moses leading the Children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, the moment they began to cross the desert, uncertain of what lay on the other side. (I’m not at all biblical, yet these ancient stories speak of themes universal to the experience of being human.)


Edge-dwelling encompasses the ability to peer beyond the horizon of what is known, vision the possibilities of what might lie beyond, and begin to create structures that could carry us there.


An example of this is the often quoted Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy, “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.”


To be an Edge-dweller today means to consciously stand at the edge of our crumbling civilization, hold the heart-break of our endangered planet, embrace the magnitude of what the future may hold, and from that place, vision the potential and set to work to make it possible, with no guarantee of success. It means to build pathways, dig tunnels, construct bridges across deserts, floodwaters, oceans, crumbling civilizations – so that others, perhaps not yet born, can add to what we have begun, and arrive on the far side.


One example of this kind of vision is the TransitionTown movement (, an international network of grassroots communities building “resilience in response to peak oil, climate destruction and economic instability”, and through this creating a more “vibrant and abundant future”.


Another example is Bioneers (, an organization that “highlights breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet” that “has served as a fertile hub of social and scientific innovators with nature-inspired approaches to the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges”.


There are lots of other examples, both large and small. Do you know some you can share?




This great work has already begun. We have only to add our part.


Already there are scientists, psychologists, cosmologists, educators and more offering their voices and visions to this great crossing of our times. There are new fields, like permaculture and biomimicry – all more numerous than I can name. This time of climate change, melting ice caps and extinctions opens a flowering of new ways of thinking, being and doing.


The edge is a place where what is crumbling makes space for the new to arise. In this way, the edge becomes a seam, bringing two distinct things together – and a pathway to walk, a bridge to cross.


Perhaps the times are asking, inviting, calling on each of us to become Edge-dwellers – to offer the best of what lies within us toward visioning and shaping a future that lies just beyond imagination’s edge.


Perhaps the qualities of Edge-dwelling lie within our DNA, part of a constellation of adaptive skills that has helped our species survive and thrive through millennia of changing times. Perhaps it is something we can consciously reclaim within us.


Are you an Edge-dweller? In what ways? Be in touch and let me know ( This article is an invitation to begin a conversation.


About Dianne Monroe

Dianne Monroe embraces edges in Sonoma County, California. She is a Life Mentor and Inner Wilderness Guide. She offers programs and personal mentoring using a blend of creativity, Expressive Arts and deep nature connection to support people in discovering and deepening their understanding of soul purpose and life path. Visit her at,


8 comments to Edge-Dwelling: A Social Ecology For Our Time, By Dianne Monroe

  • Richard

    Hi Dianne,

    Thanks for the great article.

    We’re 4 years into a Permaculture project and are just beginning to understand some of the exciting things that happen at (physical) edges. Unexpectedly dynamic, resilient and productive stuff can and does happen. This is one of the few things that keeps me optimistic about the future.

    All the best for 2014

  • Beautiful article, Dianne.

    For 30 years or more I’ve called myself an Edge Walker! I believe many edge-walkers and -dwellers were born with those who moved out of the 1950’s into the ’60s and ’70s as young exploring minds with a burning desire to make something more meaningful and aligned with the greater Mystery of the world of their childhood. Many of us succumbed to the pressures of the established culture but many have not. All of us are now entering our older years, some of us as true elders. Watch, join, and appreciate this fast-growing population for what it may still bring us from the edges!

    Heartfelt vibes comin’ at you from the Edge!

  • izzy

    Been dwelling on that edge just about 40 years now, on the NorCali coast one county north of you. As noted above, a lot of us blew out here (and there) as a result of the 60’s counter culture, and a good many have been quietly keeping the faith throughout the socially wasted decades of the eighties, nineties and oughts. And while the hard-won skills and resourcefulness of the DIY paradigm are going to be useful as things ratchet down, an even greater elasticity of spirit will be required to face the many dilemmas with no practical solution. Back in the day, I used to speculate that at some point a hammer and a bag of nails would be worth a whole boxcar full of Krugerrands. Today, I would say that personally coming to peaceful terms with the human predicament is more valuable than a boatload of platitudes and second-hand wisdom. We will likely all have the opportunity to be pushed to our limits, wherein much may be revealed.

  • frances

    Loved your article, my husband and i call ourselves – fringedwellers. Both in our 60’s and washed up on the fringe of society high in rainforest mountains in Tasmania. Like you said, it can be a harsh climate, but rainfall is reliable and so we can grow a good variety of food. One of the reasons I love living here is the balance between man and nature feels more correct……….lots of nature and few men. What we want to outpicture and demonstrate is the abililty to survive in this area and after 12 years its looking good. When people visit I can see it giving them hope and they leave with brains ticking and thoughts churning.
    There is a network of like minded people living in similar situations all over tasmania and the social connections continue to grow, this is our security and hope.

  • Beautifully written Dianne! By this I mean you wrestle and dance and flow with words and ideas and thoughts that have and create beauty. This endeavor has worth and I love that you have shared it with us.

    Love to you from up north

  • Ara Swanney

    While I live in a coastal town, grow my own veggies and live as consciously as I know, my living on the edge has evolved into living completely different lifestyles in two hemispheres. My comfort zone has developed from within as I live on the edge of I don’t know what will happen next.
    I like the way you describe the fertility of the edge places. With my white hair I am curious to see how I manage the edge of eldership in ways that keep me awake and functioning as useful and valued member in community.

  • More celebration of the edge please. It’s been difficult as I transition from focusing on the positive fronts of raising kids and nurturing microbes for the soil, to being used on the front lines of water treatment and protecting the environment, but I take great comfort in knowing how much is beyond my limited understanding. Remember some times it takes a fire to germinate the seed.

  • Hi Dianne. Your article resonates very much with my thinking; check out my web site and you’ll see what I mean. Seems we have a great deal in common (though I’ve used the term “edgewalker” myself.)I’m going to send you a FB friend request so I can keep up with you. I suspect I will be sharing info about your work on my blog if that’s alright with you. Best wishes for your journey. It is much appreciated.

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