On pages 24-25, I took particular notice to the descriptions of wilderness. In class, we described wilderness with a sense of romanticism. While Sullivan gives the Meadowlands a slightly whimsical narrative as he reminisces, it is also mostly portrayed as a negative, dystopian picture. Of course, this may because of the contamination of the meadowlands, nonetheless it still does not fit the idea of wilderness we created. Additionally, this passage also gives the impression that people perceive untouched wilderness as unnatural or abnormal.
At this point, I was already beginning to question the theme of the book. Should the Meadowlands be considered wilderness? The definition fits if you are defining it as barren, unpopulated land that is only occasionally visited… but the secondary effect of pollution and destruction by humans defeats the purity in which we associate with wilderness. I then continued to read the remainder of this book with this scrutiny and questioning of wilderness.
Another theme of the book is the comparisons to the work of Thoreau, particularly in Walden. In fact, Sullivan dedicates an entire chapter to this theme where he takes on a Thoreau persona and takes an adventure on Walden Swamp almost as a parody to Thoreau’s Walden Pond. To further the mimicry, Sullivan illustrates his expenses just as Thoreau did (only I argue that Thoreau wouldn’t allow the ‘useless’ and ‘mindless’ items Sullivan purchased). Outside from the reenactments of Thoreau, Sullivan does appear to conceptualize nature in a very similarly way. He speaks of the largest problem with the overexploitation of nature is the disconnection between humans and wilderness. He emphasizes that through time humans have come to spend less time outdoors. As the dependency on technology and convenience increases, the appreciation for the natural world is lost. In Sullivan’s eyes, there is a lack of respect for nature with each coming generation, hence the use of the Meadowlands as a dump.
There were some very powerful moments in this book. My favorite (on page 35) was the excerpt, “Once, there were actual meadows in the Meadowlands, decorated with wildflowers the way they are today littered with bits of paper and plastic and truck tire shards.” This entire chapter, “An Achievement of the Future,” was quite eye-opening as it explored the countless ways humans damage the environment every day with no empathy for the future. To summarize this chapter in one sentence, in even the smallest of ways, humans are making the biggest impacts.
At first, I very much enjoyed Sullivan’s descriptions of the Meadowlands and the way he portrayed nature and industrialization as one. However, as the book continued, I found myself confused and bored. With each chapter, I felt as if he stepped farther away from the themes described above. The book went from what I perceived as valuable insight into our world to a collection of strange, dragged-out stories of random characters. While some of these stories were quite entertaining, I thought that the book lost its overall value for what I expected it to be. I quickly became quite disappointed with the text and it left me wishing for more (or, in some chapters, less).