What first caught my attention was Sullivan’s use of comparisons that joined together the “man/nature” binary. Phrases like “wild industrial” and “a hydrological kidney” hinted at his feelings towards the Meadowlands. A snippet of a paragraph on page 82 beautifully exhibited this: “We saw more carp, more mudflats coverd ith sandpipers, and the frozen-in-time remains of a snapping turtle that appeared to have been decapitated by a train just as it had crawled up out of the marsh. We also saw a Thermos, three unopened cans of Pepsi, a beach chair sitting on another island, and a Seven Seas Red WIne Vinegar salad dressing spill.” Then at the bottom of page 18, I really felt Sullivan’s love for the swamps when I read “the smell of lemon-scented Joy dishwashing detergent that emenates from somewhere under the Newark Bay Bridge that was once covered with acres and acres of soft green salt marsh grass and now is covered with acres and acres of sun-sparkled, newly imported cars, or the crisp, stark scent of Titanium White oil paint that arises from the western end of the Pulaski Skyway.” His description of the junk dumped in the Meadowlands is pretty, with no trace of hatred of or sadness for the state of the swamp.
I also noticed many bits that reminded me of our discussion in class. Sullivan marvels that “in the middle of the Meadowlands there are acres and acres of land where there aren’t any people at all.” (18) This reminded me of the common theme of seclusion in many of the definitions of wilderness that we read. I recalled our talk of danger in the wild when “in 1956 a man set out in the fall to walk across the meadows that are now paved concrete from Elizabeth to Newark and that he didn’t show up until the next spring, when his body was found in the creek.” (18) There are actually many accounts all through the book that remind me of danger in the wilderness… When Sullivan moved away from New York he “would walk into the woods outside the city where [he] ended up living and see beautiful trees and huge mountains topped with spectacular glaciers that altogether only made [him] miss the world’s greatest industrial swamp,” (31) This along with Bill Sheenan’s thought “I’d love some land out there (the Meadowlands). You know? I’d preserve it.” (192), remind me of our questions of what wilderness is. Sullivan experienced what most people typically think of as beautiful wilderness, but still preferred the swamps. Bill spent so much time in the Meadowlands that he came to cherish them. Maybe even blue limestone can be considered beautiful wilderness if we spend time there and connect with the park?
Also, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to strictly discuss environmental topics in the book, but I just want to bring up how unbelievable the characters scattered throughout the chapters are. The inventor Seth Boyden in the chapter “An Achievment of the Future” is incredibly colorful. I laughed a little too much when I read that he became obsessed with growing strawberries at the end of his life and grew a fifteen pound strawberry. I also laughed too much (thanks to the dark side of my humor) when Sullivan wrote of Henry Herbert who, when he “threw himself a party to cheer himself up and no one came, Herbert killed himself.” (48) I felt very sad for Henry, but the bluntness of Sullivan’s writing caused me to laugh. Sorry.
Tony Malanka, the owner of one of the Meadowlands dumps that is trying to sell it, seemed entirely normal, until the end of the chapter when he turned out to be an ass, saying to the waiter about the sausage he was served “Well, let me tell you something. If my wife served me this, first of all, I wouldn’t eat it. But if my wife gave me that sausage, let me tell you something, I’d divorce her. Do you hear me? I’d divorce her!”(106) Then there is John B. Smith, America’s first great mosquito warrior, and the person in charge of executing his dream of nation-wide mosquito control, Leonard Soccio.
Commence the discussion!