There are many a wonder in the natural world that can almost automatically prompt magical memories and reflective reminiscences of life’s special days gone by. The sight of Cattails does just that for me.
While walking the trail at Skeetkill Marsh in Ridgefield last week my heart did a flutter as I saw new stands of cattails coming back to the wetlands. I immediately recalled as kids being lucky enough to find a patch of cattails, or “punks,” as we innocently referred to them. They were like gold to a Meadowlands kid, a special gift that only Meadowlands folks knew about or at least that is what we told ourselves.
I could immediately smell the scent of the burning cattails just like I did when I was 12-years- old as we lit the brown treasures to repel mosquitos, which was our perfect excuse to watch the glowing embers in the Meadowlands night as we talked tales of the end of summer and the dread of the school year ahead.
We picked blackberries and ate wild grapes. We walked the old railroad tracks as muskrats splashed down along the creeks. We fished the old clay pits and caught snakes just for fun as our distinct last right of summer. We told stories and contemplated our future as our cattails burned their last glowing ashes of the evening.
Caught between new urban sprawl and the last gasp of the hints of rural life was growing up in the Meadowlands, not quite fitting in with the youths of nearby towns and many times feeling like outcasts at school, even sometimes made to out to feel inferior was growing up in the Meadowlands.
Yet in some special way we knew that we were lucky and had something no one else had, could understand or even grasp. We could wake up with the Red-winged Blackbirds and watch Egrets fly overhead. We could enjoy the Barn Owls perch outside an old warehouse, ice skate on a frozen marsh and see American Bitterns try to hide in the tall grasses. We floated rafts down Berry’s Creek and looked right into the eyes of a Northern Harrier. We somehow knew we were part of something bigger than ourselves, too young to understand what exactly it was and yet connected enough to know the Meadowlands would always be who we were, what we loved and what forever would bond us together.
Today as the dried cottonwood leaves crunch under my feet and the early fall clouds begin to form, and as the shorebirds join up in the mudflats, I am still in awe of what an incredible place we are blessed enough to be part of.
And like the Meadowlands I am still here, wandering the fields and meadows, contemplating the butterflies and birds, and now have a better understanding of what it all means and what it all was for. This our Meadowlands. Unique and diverse as its people, frail and strong, resilient and yet always on the brink. A place that has risen from the ashes like an ancient phoenix waiting to be discovered understood and still saved.
The New Jersey Meadowlands is like all of us who managed to survive life’s journey and at times fought back from the brink. And this is ultimately the reason its wonders like the Osprey, Peregrine Falcon and Bald Eagle touch our spirit and soul. It’s your Meadowlands; get out there and make it part of who you truly are.