Notes on The Meadowlands
Pg 20: “On top of Snake Hill, I am in the middle of a place that the forces of progress have perennially targeted but have never managed to completely control, a place that people rush past on their way to the rest of America, a place they spit at with their exhaust pipes.” This quote portrays feelings of disdain toward the Meadowlands and reveals how so many Americans take them for granted. Perhaps this is because the nature in the Meadowlands is not pristine or untouched; this connects to Cronon’s complaint that “By teaching us to fetishize sublime places and wide open country, these peculiarly American ways of thinking about wilderness encourage us to adopt too high a standard for what counts as ‘natural’” (Cronon, 8).
Pg 28: While some thought the pig farms in the Meadowlands were laughable, Mayor Just believed them to be an important form of recycling. This reminded me of a trip I took to Price Farm Organics. They use some of the larger food scraps from what they receive for composting to feed the pigs, which were later used for meat.
Pg 36-40: The stark contrast between what the marsh looks like today and what the marsh used to be like (so much plant and animal diversity, Indian tribes living responsibly with the land, and farmers practicing sustainability) was shocking. The description of the cedar stumps as “piles of old bones” (40) stood out to me because it made me feel like the diversity loss in the Meadowlands was something to mourn since it can never be restored. The shift from sustainable use in the Meadowlands to the disregard for the wildlife, like in the case with cedar deforestation, directly connects to Cronon’s idea that people must be educated on using nature responsibly, not jut trying to keep humans and nature completely separate; after all, we are surrounded by nature.
Pg 48-50: “People were always trying to invent new uses for the Meadowlands; most people thought anything was better than what was there” (48). The developmental plans for the Meadowlands embodied the ideas of Americans in the 1800’s who thought nature was something that needed to be controlled because it was only impeding progress; order and industrialization was beauty. People described the Meadowlands as “barren acres,” even though they are teeming with life, because they lacked industrial development (50).
Pg 77: I was surprised at how expensive it was for Sullivan to travel across the Meadowlands. This reinforced Cronon’s point that experiencing wilderness at one point became a luxury for the upper class. This train of thought led me to think about how not everyone can experience wilderness the same way today, sometimes not just because of money, but because of physical or health limitations. People who can only experience certain areas in nature if, for example, a ski lift can bring them to the top of a mountain or a road is built to drive them through a forest probably have different opinions than those who feel nature should remain as untouched by humans as possible.
Pg 82-87: I found much of the description of Sullivan’s journey to be comical: “Using our compass and the power lines to guide us… [we] observed the migratory patterns of the cars” (82, 87). Sullivan finds a way to appreciate both the natural and industrial parts of the Meadowlands. I like how Sullivan does not use nature solely as an escape like many do today; he interacts with the people of the Meadowlands and questions the history, while also appreciating nature as a place of solitude (“We felt alone and far away” (82)).
Pg 116: The mention of DDT reminded me of the book “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson. She describes the use of pesticides as “man’s war against nature” (Carson, 7) to portray the lethality (to both humans and the environment) of pesticides and the need for constant “combat” as using insecticides that some insects are resistant to results in bugs coming back stronger in the next generation. Carson points out that the “insect problem” is actually connected to modern social conditions or social practices. For example, disease-carrying insects are a result of overcrowding and poor sanitation, like during war or in poverty-stricken places (9). In addition, farming a single crop over an unnaturally large area provides insects with an unnaturally large habitat and food supply (10). I find it interesting that things seemingly unrelated to the environment like politics and economics can have such a profound effect on the ecosystem. At the same time, as Cronon expressed, a person’s economic state and social status can effect how they view and what they value in the environment.
206: Ending the book with the juxtaposition of Sullivan’s encounter with the kind man and the policeman with the magazine mentioning details of murders in the meadowlands noted the stark contrast of feelings that can be evoked from the Meadowlands. On the one hand, it is possible to find people like Walter (137) and Sheehan (192) who value the Meadowlands and the nostalgia it evokes. The Meadowlands are a place of connections with people and history. On the other hand, there are many gory parts of that history and that history’s impact lingers today.
Notes on Uncommon Ground
While elite tourists thought “wild land was not a site for productive labor and not a permanent home; rather, it was a place of recreation” (5), when I went on a service/ hiking trip to Peru, we focused on trying to live as “travelers” rather than “tourists,” the difference being that travelers try to engage with the people, culture and history of a place (they try to live in it, even though it is not permanent), whereas tourists use the place as an escape from responsibility. At the same time, we indulged in the recreational aspect of the landscape.
“No matter what the angle from which we regard it, wilderness offers us the illusion that we can escape the cares and troubles of the world in which our past has ensnared us” (5). I think many times I do go hiking, I view it as an escape from the stresses of daily life. However, it is not so much of an escape from total responsibility because many times I use it as a time for reflection and prayer. I think this is why I experience what Cronon might call a “domesticated sublime” when hiking, because I let myself slow down and take extra time to be thankful when I feel peaceful in nature. I think connecting nature with solitude and spirituality may also be because when we are in non-human places, we are away from material things, money and many other corrupting influences which distract us from God. The vastness of nature also reminds me of God’s power.
Three Issues/ Questions:
“And yet protecting the rain forest in the eyes of First World Environmentalists all too often means protecting it from the people who live there” (Cronon, 6). What are some ways we can protect the environment without compromising the ways of life of people living off the land?
Which of Cronon’s descriptions of nature (the original garden, the frontier, the sacred sublime, etc.) do you most relate to?
What do you think should happen to the Meadowlands—industrialization, restoration, or a mixture of both?
Google three issues:
As Sullivan listed the various animals that used to inhabit the Meadowlands, I became curious as to what the biodiversity is like today. I found that the Meadowlands are home to 275 plant species, 332 bird species, 50 fish species, 25 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 24 species of mammals. I was also interested in the conservational milestones in the Meadowlands, which this site also describes.
I wanted to know more about the Jimmy Hoffa case and found a relatively recent article. According to one source, he is buried in Oakland County, Michigan and the FBI are trying to get a warrant.
I was interested in learning more about the role of phragmites and found that phragmites are actually an invasive species due to habitat alteration, and while they do prevent many birds from foraging in the marsh, there are also specialized phragmite foragers whose populations significantly decrease when areas of the marshes are destroyed.
I made a mistake, this is too long and I’m unhealthy.