Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mysterious Meadowlands

As I've been working on my project in the city, I have been commuting into NY by bus two or three times a week. It can get a little tedious but some stretches of the journey pass through interesting and beautiful areas; Long Pond, Monksville and Wanaque Reservoirs enroute to the Skyline Drive, NJ. Each time I pass, I take in the view, and each time, there is something different and magical to behold; like the dark primeaval stumps sticking out from the frozen whiteness of the winter's ice, or the mist steaming above the water on a crisp early morning. 

Then there is the area known as the Meadowlands, about two miles outside of Manhattan in New Jersey. I'm fascinated by this place, it's a strange mix of industry, deteriorating buildings, new hotels and wetlands, and I can imagine that most people simply do not see it. It's just a place to drive through quickly with out much thought. Indeed, at first glance the area is a mass of highways shuttling commuters back and forth to NYC, punctuated with pylons, and all manner of industrial towers, bordered with unattractive looking suburban towns named Secaucus, East Rutherford, Kearney, together with the Giants Stadium, and Continental Airlines Arena, with big billboards announcing such acts as Rod Stewart, and the American Idol top 10 finalists. They've even broken ground to build one of the biggest shopping malls in the country. It all reminds me of Walker Evans' photograph of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in which you can clearly see the layers of industrial and human development expand within the environment over time.

1935 - Graveyard and Steel Mill, Bethlehem, PA

But there is something very mysterious about the Meadowlands too. I see an incredible beauty and life in the grasses, and the waterways. It changes too with the quality of light. I have even found myself not minding the made-made scars that have intruded onto the natural landscape when everything is bathed in the fading glow of early evening. There's something very interesting about the juxtaposition, highlighting human nature to conquer the environment, to its detriment or not. I know nothing about the history of the Meadowlands but my interest has been sparked. Actually, my imagination had been captured a few years ago, after I read a National Geographic article about the renewal of these wetlands after decades of pollution, (my step son told me the other day that the place reeks of sulphur, though I wouldn't know about that since I am sealed in a NJ transit bus and haven't set foot on the lands themselves), and by Mark Helprin's descriptions of the Marshlands overlooking Manhattan (set in early industrial age) in his spectacular novel, Winter's Tale. Although I am not nearly as poetic and lyrical as Helprin, the other day I was inspired to write my own ode to the Meadowlands.........

Journey Home

Deep impenetrable grey
The backsplash colour of my journey home
Dusk slips to night and industry
suddenly illuminates it's beauty.
Meadowlands frame cell towers 
and factory columns,
their myriad shapes radiate against muted skies.
Then grasses and strips of silver water
give way to habitation.
Row upon row of clapboard 
crammed across my horizon.
Asphalt rivers cut a diagonal line above
silky metallic threads of liquid.
Struts reflected in the smoky stillness
turning this apparent ugliness on its head.

I travel this way roundtrip:
New York State, New Jersey, Manhattan
Re turn.
The patchwork topography of this waterlogged marsh
beckons as I pass, decoding its history
before progress marched in.
This strip of land, remnant of bygone time,
holding skyscrapers and rambling sprawl alike,
has never looked so beautiful.

I leave you with some images and some links of photographer, Joshua Lutz. His first monograph was published last year, and is entitled Meadowlands, and is a decade long visual exploration of this area and it's people. The images are incredible. Also worth watching is this short video podcast in which Lutz talks about the project.

1 comment:

lynchart said...

There is a great seen at the end of Being John Malcavich that takes place in the meadowlands NJ. I agree a mysterious place!