EDGES: Mountains, Forests, Creeks; Nature's Guide to Village Form

Eldon Beck


As my young family hiked into the Sierra foothills long ago, beyond rolling meadows, we passed the sparkles of a lake nestled into the forested landscape.

Ancient mountain peaks, pasted like paper cutouts against passing skies, rose mystically, compelling exploration. On trips to explore these mammoths of nature, I wanted to absorb the messages offered by wilderness. We spent our days on the edge of Thousand Island Lake at the base of Mount Ritter, or sitting at the edge of Hat Creek, near Mount Lassen, watching a bold red fox just across the rippling water. These precious times are at the core of my love of nature. They led directly to my creative life in the design of landscapes and composition of villages in mountain settings.

The forms of forested peaks with walls of glistening stone are the playfields of sunlight. There, erratic edges toss and catch fragments of brightness with poetic abandon. I am intrigued by the stunning diversity of edge conditions, physically, environmentally, visually and symbolically. Edges are where habitats connect and interact, both in natural and man-built settings. This makes an edge a place of unity rather than division.

Attempting to comprehend the complex union of nature with human settlements has been at the core of my design search. Edges: Mountains, Forests, Creeks, describes my path of awareness to how our inner lives respond to fringes in nature, and to what edges open for us within our own spirits.

In many readings of Diane Ackerman’s book, A Natural History of the Senses, these words speak to my love of edges.

Our senses define the edge of consciousness

and because we are born explorers

and questors after the unknown, we spend

a lot of our life pacing that windswept perimeter


Ackerman’s words Our senses define the edge of consciousness take me to memories when I was between ages three to six, living in Andrade, California. This was a residential enclave built for workers on the All-American Canal, across the Colorado River from Yuma, Arizona, tucked tightly to the border of Algodones, Mexico. My awareness was of blazing hot days, blinding sandstorms, harsh cactus covered hills, tempered by constantly changing shapes of lovely dunes of sand. Later we moved to a gentler part of Southern California, arriving on a warm May evening, the air saturated with an overwhelming fragrance of sweet citrus blossoms. I felt an unforgettable rousing of benign senses. The drama of these early landscapes would guide me along life pacing that windswept perimeter.

The creation of places where people are encouraged to interact with others and to find attachment to nature has guided my design philosophy for almost fifty years. My edge of consciousness is awareness of the vitality of edge conditions in the natural world. Where boundaries of two natural habitats meet, like meadow to forest, there is a richness of life in the zone termed an ecotone. The edge in nature is a celebration of connection, not division.

Read EDGES: Mountains, Forests, Creeks; Nature's Guide to Village Form in its entirety.