When I first started reading The Meadowlands I really had no idea what or where they were. I soon realized however that I have in fact seen them when flying back from Brussels last spring and I had a layover in JFK. As we were approaching our descent I was drowsily looking out the window of the plane and noticed that what we were flying over was not in fact city or even suburbs, as one would expect to find surrounding NYC, but what looked like marshes and streams. I had no idea what it was but from above it looked so serene and beautiful in the sunlight. Although I wondered what it was, I soon forgot about it and never gave it too much more thought other than, well that’s weird. It was not until reading this book that I remembered and really started to consider how it was that this massive expanse of land adjacent to NYC could remain so underdeveloped for so long.
I think that Sullivan does an excellent job in describing all sides of the history and present state of the Meadowlands, both the good parts and the bad. As I read this book I started to question what it is that really defines wilderness. It seemed like such a simple question and yet on first hearing a description of the meadowlands I doubt that I would have classified it as such. Now however, I feel that there is very solid reasoning for calling this area wilderness. I feel that a better definition of what wilderness is more related to something that to you is full of the unknown and unexplored. Where, as you travel through it, you are not sure what it is that you will find but often it is not what you might have expected. I feel that the definitions that we read in class now make a little more sense in all the negative connotations that they held for the simple reason that people often fear and treat with apprehension what they do not understand or are not used to. Not that you necessarily should need to be scared for something to be considered wilderness, but that there is something of the unknown about it. I feel in this sense the meadowlands fits the category of wilderness because even though they have a long history in the US there is so much that is unknown and forgotten about them and that in going out in them you are stepping outside that of the norm and comfort of the modern society that surround it.
I feel that beauty or at least grandeur are both something that I myself still associate with the wilderness but that does not necessarily have to mean that it is all untouched and pristine. Even with all that pollution and dumps and abandoned structures there can still something in a place that draws people into it and can capture them. This reminded me a little of the Cuyahoga River that flows through my town north through Cleveland and empties into Lake Erie. It was infamous in 1969 when it caught fire, for the 13th time, due to the amount of pollution in/on it, which made it the butt of many national jokes for quite some time.
Since then, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park has been founded and the river has been cleaned up immensely. This area is by no means a wilderness in the like that we picture with huge unexplored mountains and endless forests; it is not pristine nor untouched, and you will find many things in the park that have been built and abandoned in the last few centuries. But it is, in its own way, a wilderness of sorts, you can get lost in it if you don’t know where you’re going, and there is a mystery about it, you might be surprised but what you find.
Song about the Cuyahoga River Burning: “Burn On” by Randy Newman