Notes on “The Meadowlands”

– Lonnie Barnes

My favorite part of the book came at the beginning of An Achievement of The Future. Sullivan’s romantic description of how the Meadowlands used to look was a nice juxtaposition to the preceding chapter.

“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. In the spring of 1819, John Torrey…reported patches of white, yellow, and purple violets. In other springs around that time, ther was yellow floating arum, blue veronica, and white saxifrage. In summers, botanists reported seeing blue irism pink meadowsweet, pink marshmallow, pale purple wild hibiscus, white ladies’ tresses, purple snake’s mouth, and green and purple orchids. In the fall, there were yellow goldenrod, bright red cranberries, and the tops of the cattails turned a dark, burned-out-looking brown, anticiapating future area land uses.”

I don’t know all of the plants that he mentions in this passage, but the colors mentioned are enough to paint a vivid picture of a peaceful Meadowlands.

Although I enjoyed this part, I didn’t particularly enjoy the book. I understand that Sullivan was attempting, in part, to give a history of human efforts to make the Meadowlands their own, but I felt that there were too many anecdotes to keep track of. I also had a hard time picturing many of his descriptions as I have never been to the Meadowlands, nor do I know much about the area.

In relation to our discussion of wilderness last week, one of the definitions we looked at was “land that is uninhabitable by humans.” On page 24, Sullivan says, “whenever a train crashes, people are suddely reminded of how inaccessible the Meadowlands actually are.”  Also, thinking back to the words we used to describe wilderness, I don’t think many of them were said with meadows in mind – they were mostly related to forests or mountains.

What I will take away from this book is the resilience of the Meadowlands. Despite centuries of anthropogenic efforts to squeeze profits from this area, the Meadowlands have resisted. This is not to say that the land has not been damaged – one look at the cover of the book will indicate that it has, but perhaps there are a few places in the world that just aren’t habitable for us.



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