Transcendentalism in the Meadowlands

by Christine Adams Beckett

Leo F. Koncher is Kearny, New Jersey’s answer to Henry David Thoreau.  He spent most of his adult life exploring the Meadowlands, an area of New Jersey resembling Hades to most untrained eyes.  Koncher instead saw beauty, and took to the swamps to suck out his own idea of the marrow of life.  Well into his eighties, Mr. Koncher would take to the Meadowlands via the Kearny Marsh searching for wildlife and treasure in his canoe.  In the winter months, he preferred traveling on bicycle, clad in an inner tube in case he were to fall through the  ice.  He collected phosphorescent rocks, took photographs and wrote regular letters to his local paper reporting his acute observations.  Of particular beauty:

Dear Editor,

While canoeing in the Kearny marshes (a beautiful area that boasts about 50 lakes), I came across a sea gull.  The Bird was tangled in a long red ribbon wound around a tree stump.  It was soaked and bitten, but I finally cut the poor creature free.  It swam away wobbly toward some other sea gulls, but they flew away.  After about 15 minutes I wondered if the sea gull freed could still fly.  Finally the liberated bird soared into the air, circled overhead and disappeared.  What a heartwarming sight!

Leo F. Koncher, Kearny

One cannot help but think of Thoreau’s transcendental poems about man’s connection to nature and the Goodness of both, realized by Koncher in the polluted swamps of the Meadowlands.  “A man’s interest in a single bluebird is worth more than a complete but dry list of the fauna and flora of a town,” wrote Thoreau.  I believe Koncher’s experience with that single seagull felt a little more like freeing a whale.  Heartwarming, yes, but more than that: connected to the natural world, regardless of the less-than-Walden surroundings.