The Meadowlands and Cronon Notes

The trouble with wilderness is that it is almost entirely a cultural construct. I’m not saying that remote places untouched by humans don’t exist, I’m just saying that “wilderness” means different things to different people in different times. Is present day American wilderness the same as what Columbus would have called wilderness? Is Chinese wilderness the same as Australian wilderness? Probably not. And we don’t have a good way of objectively comparing these different places because we cannot talk about wilderness without language, which in itself is a cultural construct.

Are the Meadowlands “wilderness”? They are certainly not remote or untouched by humans. But they are chaotic and apparently leave people with a similar sense of awe (I say it this way because I’ve never been there myself).

Where the heck are the Meadowlands anyway? I am embarrassingly unfamiliar with New York area geography… I found this picture (from urbanhabitats.org) to be incredibly helpful:

Here you can clearly see Central Park, so we know that’s Manhattan, so that large uninhabited area must be the Meadowlands. It’s a lot bigger than I thought… But I’m bad at visualizing numbers.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the way this book was written. The author didn’t write in chronological order, and this was especially annoying in the first few chapters when he was giving a history of the place. Some may have appreciated the anecdotes, but I would have preferred they were written in some kind of order. The jacket also claims that the book is sarcastic and hilarious, but I thought it was really pretty dry. There were several ironic bits, but I never laughed out loud while reading or anything. Sullivan’s redeeming factor is his descriptive ability. He really painted a picture of these places  with their goofy names that I’ve never been to (I mean really… Moonachie? Bayonne? Seacaucus? Kearny?). He’s not a great author, but the book was readable simply because the places he was writing about were so horrible. It’s like a train wreck, you can’t stop looking.

While I was reading, I found myself repeatedly thinking, “Who ever thought that was a good idea?” We can’t go into the forest and kill the pirates? Let’s burn the forest down! We can’t plant any crops here? Let’s drain the whole dang place! Where are we going to dump our garbage? In these beautiful meadows! I don’t get it…

Also, there are a TON of crazy people in New Jersey.

Not really related, but I just have to say that I read the chapter on mosquitoes on Monday night right before I went to bed, and that was a TERRIBLE idea. My apartment is currently infested with ants, termites, and fruit flies and I’m already paranoid about the creepy crawly things… You know how you keep feeling something touch you and you freak out even though nothing is there? Ugh, it was terrible. Don’t read about bugs then expect to fall asleep in a bug-infested apartment.

Even the Statue of Liberty turned her back on New Jersey…!

One Response to The Meadowlands and Cronon Notes

  1. John Krygier says:

    Very good comments – some good stuff in here we could discuss certainly.

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