This What’s Your Ecotone comes from Karen Linehan, winner of this year’s Rose Post essay contest from the North Carolina Writers Network. It describes the ecotone around her home in Carolina Beach, NC.
An ecotone surrounds my one-story brick house. It’s a porous border where the indoors and outdoors converge—more structural than ecological. Throughout the year, I share this space with a variety of animal residents. Mud daubers create earthen nurseries under the eaves. Green anoles scamper across the screened porch. Cockroaches cruise the kitchen and millipedes ramble the bathroom tiles. Chimney swift nestlings chitter inside the chimney. Squirrel tree frogs rasp from the gutters.
Earlier this spring, a queen paper wasp discovered a hole in an exterior window screen. Between the screen and the glass panes of a bedroom window, the wasp began constructing her nest. By the time I noticed the small funnel hanging by a stalk in the window, she had already fashioned the first hexagonal cells. Using flakes of bark she had chewed and softened with saliva, the wasp had sculpted wavy layers of gray and beige. In the base of each cell, she had deposited a single egg, like a miniature white sausage.
Through the early weeks of May, I watched the wasp at her nest. She fed her developing larvae a gooey mixture of nectar and the chewed parts of caterpillars she had harvested from my yard. In about a month’s time, the larvae transformed from pupae into sterile female workers. Soon the nest began to look more like an upside down umbrella pocked with dozens of cells.
Sometimes I pressed my face against the glass. On the other side of the window, the wasps raised their smoky black wings in a threat display. My simple eyes gazed into the wasps’ compound eyes. There was nothing between us except the narrow pane of glass.
Now it is late August. Soon reproductive male and female wasps will mate and depart the nest. Only the fertilized queens will survive the winter months. They’ll hibernate beneath loose bark or inside the wooden walls of my old shed, waiting for the warmth of spring.
The ecotone around my home changes through the seasons. As the nights become cooler, black rats will move from the nearby woods into my attic. The chimney swifts will depart for Peru. As for me, I’ll remain in my habitat through the winter, stoking the fire and reading Tinbergen’s The Animal in its World.
Karen Smith Linehan is a lifelong naturalist with a deep love for the flora and fauna of North Carolina. She teaches first and second grade at Friends School of Wilmington where she shares her love of nature with her students. Karen is currently pursuing an MFA in creative nonfiction through Chatham University’s low residency program. She plays guitar and sings with her father in the Raleigh-based band, Bloomsbury. Karen and her husband, Terry, live in Carolina Beach. They have two grown daughters, Kelsey and Dylan.