By Anthony J. Machcinski
For many adults, the transition of the Meadowlands from a landfill-laden mess to a beautiful stretch of land has been a lengthy process, one not many can fully understand to begin with.
With the help of Thomas Yezerski, children may soon be able to see this transition with their own two eyes.
“There have been some good books written for adults on this subject,” Yezerski, author and illustrator of “Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story” said. “I thought there was a great story in it for kids and it’s a great way to teach kids about ecology and how people fit in.”
Yezerski, who has illustrated 14 books and authored four of those, fell in love with the Meadowlands while he was living in Rutherford.
“One of the first things I did was take a pontoon tour the week after the 9/11 tragedy,” Yezerski explained. “It was amazing because it was so quiet on the Hackensack River and the water was so still. You could still see smoke rising from the World Trade Center. I just kind of fell in love with this peaceful place.”
The story itself follows along with the history of the Meadows, from when the Lenni Lenape lived on the land, to Dutch farmers and eventually the creation and elimination of landfills. “Little by little, the meadows became a dumping ground,” Yezerski explained. “In the late ‘60s, New Jersey decided they wanted to clean it up because it was giving the state a bad rap.”
However, like any good story, the meadowlands has started to flourish again.
“When they started cleaning it up, the river was able to clean itself, allowing plants and insects to thrive again,” Yezerski said. “Eventually, fish and birds began to come back to the area and every year, more species begin to show back up there that haven’t been in that area in nearly 50 years.”
The story of the Meadowlands comes down to an even simpler story idea.
“It’s a story about rejuvenation, about a place that was kicked around and ignored,” Yezerski explained.
“Now, people from all over the world can look to our urban wetland and see that good stuff can happen.”
However, the story is not as simple as going from bad to good, as evidenced by the amount of time it took Yezerski to complete the book.
“It took me about 10 years to complete because there was so much to learn about it,” Yezerski said.
His largest challenge, however, came when he had to compress that information.
“When you’re making a picture book, its about 800 words at the most,” Yezerski said. “It’s hard to distill all that information down.”
Yezerski, a fabulous illustrator in his own right, will have his illustrations on display at the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission in the Meadowlands Environment Center.
In 2011, “Meadowlands” was named one of the best 11 children’s non-fiction books. The New York Times, in its original review of the book, said, “Yezerski not only can write a book on how to teach children about their environmental impact – he has. ‘Meadowlands’ is tremendously informative, fun to read, and gorgeous to look at.”
Copies of “Meadowlands” are available at the Meadowlands Environment Center’s Tideland Treasures Gift Shop, which is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The Flyway Gallery hours are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Directions are available on the NJMC website at www.njmeadowlands.gov or by calling (201)- 460-8300.