Readings from The Trouble with Wilderness and The Meadowlands

The Trouble with Wilderness
Cronon presents a lengthy analysis of the changing concepts of how nature is perceived throughout history. Early perceptions were many times biblical, and represented the wilderness as areas that should be feared and avoided. “Wilderness, in short, was a place to which one came only against one’s will, and always in fear and trembling.”
By the end of the 19th century the perception of wilderness by many had completely reversed. He quotes Environmental Philosopher John Muir as saying “ no description of Heaven that I have ever heard or read of seems half so fine” in describing the Sierra Nevada. Soon, numerous sites throughout the US would be designated as sites of wild beauty.
Eventually cultural movements such as the romantic sublime would transform the wilderness into a sacred American icon.These intellectual movements form the foundation of many of today’s environmental concerns.
As Cronon continues his examination of nature, he finds the principal problem of wilderness, is that it “distances us” from the things it “teaches us to value.” In the way the wilderness suggests that we are separate from nature, our own sense of environmental responsibility is diminished.
Cronon concludes that the concept of wilderness should evolve again. He suggests we need to stop thinking about the world in “a set of bipolar moral scales” Rather than thinking of the world in terms of human and nonhuman, the unnatural and natural, Cronon suggests we need to embrace and celebrate the continuum of a natural landscape that is also cultural, in which the city, the suburb, the pastoral, and the wild each has its proper place. All of these things that are linked together form our “home” to be cherished.
The Meadowlands

The Meadowlands is collection of short narratives that each have a theme or a discussion regarding the challenged area in northern New Jersey, just beyond the skyline of New York City. Sullivan begins the book with a chapter explaining the history behind the Meadowlands. It is amazing to think that what is now referred to as an “industrial swamp” was once thriving with flora and fauna. The site of numerous failed redevelopment programs, supporters continue to promote initiatives to improve the area.

Indicative of past development horrors ware the “improvements” implemented by the local county government in the1960s. Located in the center of the Meadowlands was Snake Hill, a 150 foot tall rock formation. Considered a geological mistake by Hudson County, the “imperfection” was corrected as part of a redevelopment plan. In the case of Snake Hill, this meant the hiring of a demolition crew and the use of explosives to blow off the top of hill.

The author also discusses the cultural history of the Meadowlands. Inventor Seth Boyden invented items such as patent leather and malleable steel. Unfortunately, when many businesses proved successful, they would relocate elsewhere. When reading this section I made a connection with a book I read in my sociology course that was describing the same problem but in Ohio, especially Cleveland. For example the famous band known as Boston was originally from Toledo, OH.

Sullivan explains that many of the reclamation attempts on the land proved unsuccessful, and utilized the inappropriate methods. As noted in my Urban Society course, our current generation urban planners are utilizing updated and improved development approaches to handle these kinds of situations. We are more green conscious than before.

I thought the Gone with the Wind chapter emphasized the theme of cultural gems forgotten. From the librarians not realizing they had this amazing collection of Gone with the Wind translations, to the famous inventors and Generals of the past, much of the cultural history of the Meadowlands has been lost by the local residents of the Meadowlands themselves.

When it was mentioned that someone wanted the eyesore of the remaining stumps of the cedar trees to be removed, I took it, as they did not want to be reminded and feel the guilt of all the damage humans are responsible for.

Sullivan and his friend explored areas that were inaccessible by road and had to take a canoe through the layers of marsh and most likely toxic debris. They went to landfills that were full of tall hills of garbage, layers, and layers of waste that some would pick through thinking they would get lucky or rich.

The section about the mosquito problem horrified me, especially when they said that they thrive on the inside of rubber tires, and when you have that much debris and stagnant water, no wonder they are a problem.

I liked that Sullivan had talked to the environmental groups to show how broken and uncompromising the two sides are. With that much disagreement and no plans put forth, how does anyone expect to make any progressive change?

He ended the book on his visit to the other side of the Meadowlands he had not yet been to, and his experience with the man giving him the magazine with the section of gory details underlined, must have left a bad taste in the author’s mouth. One part that really stuck with me was when he met with the mayor about his initiative to prevent construction of homes and buildings to occur on the site because he did not want a Love Canal situation. This comment made me think of the waste as more toxic and when reading the rest I was comparing situations like Love Canal to these parts of New Jersey.

One Response to Readings from The Trouble with Wilderness and The Meadowlands

  1. John Krygier says:

    Excellent posting. You were able to pull out some key (discussable) points and issues. I suggest putting a few of the questions for discussion at the end of the posting and also maybe look up some additional relevant stuff on the web and include links and images.

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