Week 2 – Sullivan’s The Meadowlands + Cronon’s The Trouble With Wilderness + Environmental News Item

Thoughts on The Meadowlands:

While Robert Sullivan appears to be a very intellectual man and a decent author, I must admit that I am not a huge fan of his book. While his journey through the Meadowlands has been interesting to follow, I still did not find it an overall enjoyable read. I will say, though, that reading this book allowed me to relate it much to William Cronon’s The Trouble with Wilderness because of the Meadowlands’ circumstances. Essentially, the Meadowlands is a combination of human-made objects that were left behind and abandoned many years ago with nonhuman-made objects. Even though there were the submerged ruins of a control room of a radio transmission station, or the foul odor of toxic water permeating Sullivan’s senses, there was still life existing despite these seemingly unnatural conditions. Sullivan writes:

“We began to notice the tail ends of muskrats as they paddled for cover in their huts. In addition to the traffic sounds of the turnpike, we soon heard splashing sounds, which we eventually determined to be spawning carp. Thrashing around in the foul-smelling muck, the carp, each approximately two feet long, did not seem at all out of place beneath the New Jersey Turnpike…”

While I appreciated comparing the book to Cronon’s essay, I did not appreciate the random tangents Sullivan makes throughout the whole thing. Maybe it’s because I’m not someone who enjoys history, but I got incredibly bored when he went into explaining the historical aspects behind certain places. Or when he talks about the water purifier for what seemed like ages, I just thought that was completely unnecessary. The book could have been at least 50 pages shorter had he not gone into so much detail with trivial topics.

Overall, the book wasn’t bad, but definitely not my favorite. However, I do appreciate the detail he put in to the actual Meadowlands site. I was able to envision a lot of the stuff he was writing about in my head. Otherwise, he provided way too much detail elsewhere.

 

Thoughts on The Trouble with Wilderness:

I’d like to begin by summarizing my thoughts on Cronon’s work in a sentence: everything that he has written is a highly ideal approach to contemplating wilderness and frankly shouldn’t be a matter of opinion. Cronon’s essay should be acknowledged as, at least, a morally accepted comprehension of the ideals behind wilderness and the human concept of nature. Anyone who challenges his perspective of wilderness or merely disagrees because they’ve been taught a strict definition of nature should be deemed ignorant and selfishly close-minded.

Allow me to elaborate. I took an environmental ethics course that dove deep into The Trouble with Wilderness and extracted important topics and themes that Cronon describes. I introduced the essay to a friend, and they found it extremely difficult to even read because they disagreed with everything he had to say. My friend claimed that Cronon was betraying everything this person had ever learned about nature, and that they had grown up believing that nature was, in essence, strictly separated from humans and that we as a society must fend for nature if we wish to see it survive. My friend further said that if they continued to read his essay, then they would be tainted by differing thoughts on nature that contradicted everything they were ever taught.

This is what I mean by close-minded. Refusing to even read a work that provides countless evidence towards an idea simply because it is a differing opinion is close-minded. To me, this ignorance is derived in people with an upper-class status and the ability to view wilderness as a recreational subject. There are too many people that don’t even consider the countless lives that rely on the land for money or food, so visualizing nature as an unworked natural landscape is a falsity. Cronon supports this point with the following statement:

“The dream of an unworked natural landscape is very much the fantasy of people who have never themselves had to work the land to make a living — urban folk for whom food comes from a supermarket or a restaurant instead of a field… Only people whose relation to the land was already alienated could hold up wilderness as a model for human life in nature, for the romantic ideology of wilderness leaves precisely nowhere for human beings actually to make their living from the land.”

The most important point that I like to think about from The Trouble with Wilderness is that we are a part of nature, and that there must be an understanding that wilderness is not an entity in and of itself. There is wilderness all around us, from neighboring ponds and forests to even our very own backyards. Anywhere that life exists can be considered some sort of wilderness. There would be variability in this thought if we were a society that still considered wilderness as a desolate, barren hellscape that banishes sin and evil, but that is no longer the case. The word has evolved tremendously over the course of centuries, and so it is easy to see that wilderness exists anywhere that life perseveres. As humans, we must accept that we were brought into this world with the same purpose as an otter, or a bear, or any other organism that exists, so it is meaningless to separate ourselves just because we have the capacity to think rational thoughts and act out on those thoughts. We as human beings hold a position in nature as does everything else.

 

Three ideas for my class project:

  • I am already partaking in a semester-long internship at the Stratford Ecological Center where I will be constructing my own project in collaboration with Dr. Laurie Anderson and the Stratford staff. The internship requires at least 8 hours of my time a week, so I’m hoping that I could use my Stratford project for this class. I plan to develop a butterfly transect (basically a path that gets walked once a week to identify butterflies and flowering plants) to aid in butterfly conservation at Stratford. Butterfly conservation has many positive impacts on an ecosystem, so I think that this would be a great project to pursue. By the conclusion of the semester, I will be writing a final report as a requirement for the internship, which I could integrate into this class as well.
  • I couldn’t help but be interested in your suggestion of doing a project on insects as human food. There are a load of sources available to work off of, so I think that this would be an intriguing topic to look into. I’ve learned about the advantages of consuming insect protein in an Ecology course as well as Entomology, so perhaps this would be a bit of an eye-opening subject to research. Maybe it’ll make people less squeamish about insects. Who knows.
  • Praying mantises are my favorite insects, so I’d like to research their sexual behavior; specifically, the female mantis’ sexual cannibalistic behavior. I know, it’s probably odd that I’d want to look into that, but it really interests me as I’m sure it will be interesting to others. I think in my presentation I’d include the countless photos I have of praying mantises, as well as include a video or two of sexual cannibalism taking place. The project would cover multiple species of praying mantis as opposed to researching one specific species. I think it’d be neat!

 

Environmental news item:

Dragonflies are more active this summer. Blame it on the rain.

Not only do I love praying mantises, but I also adore dragonflies and damselflies of all kinds. As you learned from my tidbit last class, I worked at the Wilds over the summer and man oh man did I see an abundance of dragonflies in various wetland areas. There was one day where I went out to a pond on the property with my camera and spent hours just taking photographs of the various dragonflies and damselflies that I saw. The numerous mosquitoes that bugged me the entire summer makes sense too, as there had been a lot of rain on a nearly weekly basis. I guess you can say that I’m thankful for them, because that allowed the explosion of dragonflies that made an enjoyable summer.

 

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