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Since moving to the Carolina coast, I’ve taken up the hobby of shark tooth hunting. It’s a simple activity. I walk the coast, barefoot, and slowly scan the sand for little, black, glints. Fossilized shark teeth are the shiniest thing on the beach, so when you’re looking for teeth, what you’re really searching for is light. Though you may be fooled by black shell imposters, once you have a tooth in your hand, there’s no confusing the two. One is thin, dull calcium carbonate, the other a gleaming remnant from a living creature from at least two million years ago. Every time I find a tooth, I can’t quite believe the age of the object I’m holding. What a beautiful testament to survival.

I’ve begun thinking of the teeth I’ve found as little reminders of hope. Even if the sharks whose mouths housed these objects have died long ago, still a piece of them remains. This is one of the reasons I like searching for shark teeth, but really, I enjoy the whole process of it. While you look, you’re surrounded by the ocean and all its breathtaking wonder. And once you’ve succeeded in your search, you’re rewarded with a wondrous, ferocious gift from the ocean. What could be better?

I usually hunt for shark teeth on Topsail Island, which spans over twenty-five miles, in what feels like a near-limitless stretch of ocean and sand. With its pelicans and plovers, dolphins and sea turtles, the island feels to me like a perfect place, and I’ve fallen deeply in love with it. Though as my affection grows, so too does my worry for this ecosystem, which is nowhere near as sturdy as a shark tooth, and is subject to increasingly frequent floods, eroding dunes, and new development. But, though I’m fearful, I’m also optimistic, because I’m one of many who cherish this island, like the good folks at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. Topsail Island is a sea turtle sanctuary, and every morning during the nesting season, volunteers walk the miles of coast, and identify turtle tracks and nests. They carefully place orange-netting barricades around the nesting sites, so beach goers know not to bother those areas. Though I’m sure the volunteers do this work out of love—for the place, for the species—as I’m filling out my application to join them this summer and reading about the training and time involved in their efforts, I’m reminded that this is work too. Unlike shark tooth hunting, which is all pleasure, there is value in the labor of these volunteers. And the work, like any worth doing, is hard.

I was buoyed by the vibrancy of our literary communities. The sea of tables of magazines and presses, all who believe in the work of publishing.

As the Ecotone team has been diligently preparing the Labor Issue, I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrase: a labor of love. Over the years, I’ve heard many people say literary magazines are a labor of love. As someone who has worked on them for over a decade, I agree—I love literary magazines, adamantly, fiercely. Yes, we do this because we love it, but love isn’t the only reason. Like the sea turtle rescuers, we do it because we believe in the work of it, and it is work. We believe in the literary community, in supporting and uplifting others’ voices, because in the deepest parts of ourselves is an unshakable belief that writing matters.

As I walked the bookfair of this year’s AWP conference, I was buoyed by the vibrancy of our literary communities. The sea of tables of magazines and presses, all who believe in the work of publishing. But I was reminded too of how many don’t see the value of this labor. I thought about the recent closing of the Gettysburg Review because their supporting institution no longer saw value in continuing one of the nation’s top literary magazines. I also thought of the Sycamore Review, who recently published their final issue, because a lack of funding caused the well-regarded MFA program that publishes it to shut down. At Ecotone we feel these losses deeply, as I’m sure you do. We are ever thankful for the support we receive that allows us to continue to do what we love doing. A magazine is a labor of love, yes, but let’s not forget, running a magazine is hard, important work too.

 

Now let me introduce you to the Labor Issue, where you will find art and writing that explores the many forms labor can take, while also reveling in the joyous, challenging, tiring, and rejuvenating facets of such work.

In the opening essay “The Salamander Brigade,” Elodie Reed finds solace in saving mating amphibians in New England, as she struggles with leaving her faith, a health scare, and dealing with grief. In the story “Manual for Talking to Plants” by Morgan Day, a woman finds similar comfort in her work as she becomes a Master Gardener and deals with the loss of her unfaithful husband. Day writes about plants so compellingly that I now find myself attentively monitoring all the plants around me and whispering my strangest secrets to them. After reading, I think you might too.

Geetha Iyer lyrically explores the complexities of communication, as she discusses her experience growing up among many languages, in her essay “Love Songs and Other Languages.” She shows us how music ranging from Jorge Drexler to Bollywood tracks from the nineties, can be a grounding force of belonging. Brian Truong’s “The, The, The, The” also has language at its heart, as he recounts the ways his family shed their mother tongues as they navigated life in Texas. And if this isn’t quite enough rumination about language for you, there’s Whitney DeVos’s translations of poems by Martin Tonalmeyotl, which are published in Nahuatl, Spanish, and English.

In “Aversions” Colleen Rothman crafts an alternative reality that feels, perhaps, eerily too similar to our own. I won’t spoil her very good premise here, except by saying that you might want to read this story with a good snack, because the way Rothman writes main character Sadie, a pregnant woman who becomes increasingly obsessed with food, will certainly make your mouth water.

There’s much more in this issue, including a lot of poetry—from pastorals to prose poems—about agribusiness and seasonal workers, new inventions and architecture, wildfires and BB guns, grief and walking the dog. I hope reading these pieces will feel a little like hunting for shark teeth—an activity that isn’t work, but is all pleasure, where you will discover some beautiful and ferocious gifts.

Before I sign off, I’d like to say two more things. First, I would like to thank our three departing staff members: managing editor Meghann Blackman, poetry editor Maggie Boyd Hare, and nonfiction editor Emily Krauser. You three are brilliant and it’s been a pleasure working with you. I know your futures will be filled with momentous successes.

Second, as you might have noticed, this is the first time in many years this note hasn’t been written by Anna Lena Phillips Bell, who has been Ecotone’s fearless, mighty editor for nearly a decade. It seems fitting that as we prepared our Labor Issue, Anna Lena had to leave us—briefly, temporarily!—to pursue her own sort of labor. She welcomed a beautiful new baby into the world late last fall. All of us here at Ecotone are thrilled for her, as I’m sure you are too. And what a lovely place to end this note: with a new life in the world, another reason to be filled with wonder and hope.