The Meadowlands: Finding Peace in Unlikely Places

I have a couple of commuting options from my home in Newark, NJ, to my magazine publishing job in midtown NYC.  I can take the PATH, a light rail train that is convenient but rarely has a free seat during rush hour; or I can take NJ Transit.  Both are prone to delays, particularly during rush hour, but NJ Transit has two advantages.  First, I always get a seat in the morning.  Secondly, part of the ride is through the Meadowlands, a surprisingly intact natural oasis just miles from factories and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels.

During the migratory seasons, I love being on the lookout for birds.  I often see a pair or a family of ducks swimming in the stream alongside the train.  (In spite of the Audubon’s birdwatching weekend my husband and I took in Cape May, the epicenter of avian migration, my bird identification skills are less than stellar, but my avian appreciation is sky-high.)

My commute varies in length depending on congestion, but it’s typically an hour and 15 minutes door-to-door.  That includes a brisk walk through the Ironbound, a train ride, and a transfer to the subway.  I’m thankful that I don’t spend that time behind the wheel of a car.  Nevertheless, it behooves me to spend those 12 1/2 hours a week wisely.

I use the time in a few ways.  I admit, I start out by checking email, weather, and taking a quick peek at Facebook.  Next, I typically share a moment I’m grateful for on Happier, an app dedicated to noticing and recording moments of happiness.  Then I turn off my iPhone and meditate, pray, or do some reading to tune in spiritually and center me in the present.

If I’m on NJ Transit, by this point the train has passed the winding Passaic River that empties into Newark Bay, affording an unexpectedly lovely view, and is approaching the Meadowlands, pictured above.  The stadium where the Seahawks trounced the Broncos on Sunday is in this ecosystem.

Nature centers me and offers me a happiness unlike any other  Whether I’m hiking at the Cumberland Gap on the border of TN/KY/VA, or looking across the sound at Martha’s Vineyard, there’s an ineffable vastness and serene beauty that engulfs me just by seeing it.

I have noticed it can be tempting to tune out the beauty of nature either because we’re used to it (it feels familiar), or we don’t expect it (it seems incongruous).  Who would expect such a beautiful area with ducks, reeds, rivers and streams in-between two major northeastern cities–with factories on the horizon, no less?

Yet there we find ourselves, myself and the other morning commuters, and we’re presented with a choice to tune into our surroundings or to tune out, lost in the distractions of our smartphones or our own whirling thoughts.

For today, I choose to tune in, to soak in beauty where I find it, no matter how little I expect it or how easy it would be to overlook.  Then, when the train takes 40 minutes instead of the scheduled 20, I will have filled myself up with all the goodness and beauty available to me in that moment.

And when I feel flustered again later in the day, I can recall it in my mind’s eye and again find a moment of peace.

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