Damp midwinter mornings produce my favorite kinds of liminal spaces—ones that can be uncanny, but still somehow peaceful.
My co-worker, Rachel, and I were digging a drain in our greenhouse when I felt it for the first time—the liminality of the space. Greenhouses toe the line between the natural world and the built environment. They protect crops by controlling natural forces such as heavy rain, cold, and strong winds. Though they contain aspects of the natural world like water, soil, plants, and microbiota, they are still highly cultivated and thus disconnected from the wilderness. And on this particularly dark and moody morning, the liminality of the space hit me unexpectedly.
Rachel stepped outside to grab a tool from a nearby shed and when she approached the greenhouse again, I encountered a surprising feeling of uneasiness. Though she was standing inches outside, Rachel was just a colorless figure. I couldn’t perceive her facial features or the brightness of her scarf because a blanket of fog surrounded the greenhouse, obscuring everything outside. The greenhouse plastic was a stormy sky, all one shade of grey except for Rachel’s blurry frame. All was still. There was just the sound of water droplets falling from plastic onto the soil. Shivers ran down my spine. It was like watching a shadow pass by an empty hall in a scary movie, even though I knew it was just Rachel.
But I would be remiss not to admit that the scene brought me a strange sense of peace. It was a kind of peace I had only experienced in deep and intentional stillness. While drafting this essay, I found myself asking, how can this be? How can a space be both provocative and peaceful?
Perhaps these types of liminal spaces can generate contrasting emotions because they can jolt us out of our routines. On other days spent in the same greenhouse, I never thought deeply about the space. But when I experienced it in an unfamiliar context—a dank morning in midwinter—it stopped me in my tracks.
I felt the intensity of the stillness and silence, my boots squishing mud underfoot, the contrast between the sparse but vibrant patches of weeds against all the grey, and the foreboding outline of someone outside. And I felt all this acutely, in a way I never would have experienced were it not for Rachel’s shadowy figure outside the greenhouse and the dread that, like a wave in the waist-deep part of the ocean, smacked me hard in the stomach.
I was refreshed, renewed. It thrust me out of my tedium and provided a solace from the incessant thoughts about chores at home, whether plants would die at the farm, if I forgot to do something important, or what I would have for dinner. I forgot about all of it. I relished in the provocation of the scene, revisiting that space and its solitude again and again throughout the coming weeks, even if only in my mind.
It is in this way that I think liminal spaces have a transformative power. They can bring you unexpected peace, even though they tend to be disquieting at first. I’ve encountered many of these spaces in other agricultural settings throughout the years—a field of bright green crops that turn solemn and gray during an unexpected freeze, or how a familiar hillside transforms into something altogether new when the sunrise hits it in just a slightly different way. I want to encourage you to pay attention to these spaces and allow them to transform your inner world.
In 2017, Sarah Hase received her Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Agriculture from Appalachian State University. As an avid outdoorswoman and former farmer, she has enjoyed writing about her experiences in nature, whether in the forest or in the field. Sarah spent most of her life in the hardwood forests of the southeastern United States but now resides in Colorado with her husband.
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