By LESLIE LAKE, Wilton Villager, Link to original post
With the first dip of his canoe paddle into the northern Hudson River, Michael Freeman began what he says was his journey to discover America.
The discovery was less about the geographic America and more about Freeman’s desire to understand the country’s social, economic and environmental changes during a time he calls “America’s Midlife Crisis,” he said.
The Wilton native found the scenes he observed on his two-week journey from Henderson Lake, N.Y., to Manhattan so troubling that he compiled his experiences in a book, “Drifting: Two Weeks on the Hudson.”
His solitary canoe trip took him past the rusted, deserted remains of formerly thriving industrial towns; past West Point, his reminder of U.S. military involvement around the world; and past miles of terrain, and over waters, that have been affected by pollution.
While Freeman began the journey without a clear agenda in mind, he says that he was struck by the realization that towns along the Hudson were a microcosm reflective of many of the socioeconomic and environmental issues that are facing communities throughout the U.S. With an eye on the Hudson’s past, Freeman draws observations about the current state of labor, energy and warfare.
The genesis of the canoe trip came about when Freeman returned to the east coast after 10 years of living in Alaska and working as a fisheries assistant at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“After living in Alaska for so long, I guess I was insulated from the changes going on in the rest of the United States,” Freeman said. “It’s funny, people who live in Alaska refer to the lower forty eight as America. It’s a very different world up there.”
“I returned east just before Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008,” he said. “I got married, my wife was working in New York and I wasn’t able to find work.”
He added: ”It seemed like the perfect time to relearn the part of the country that I had left and to rediscover the America I thought I knew.”
Of Manhattan Harbor Freeman said, “This was the perfect ending for the trip, as Manhattan is a symbol of financial might paired with a startling economic fragility.”
While the Hudson was the venue for Freeman’s book, he writes that the same scenes of economic and environment changes are being played out throughout the U.S.:
“From the river at least, Troy is red brick and white brick, brown brick and gray, most of it crumbling, save the odd machine shop limping along. Busted windows pock these old sweat shops, where labor unions once thrived at a time when they needed to thrive. They’re gone now the factories, the unions, the work. America’s brief history is repetition. Renewal, decay, renewal, decay.”
Freeman, a freelance writer whose essays have appeared in “Avian Life,” “Gray’s Sporting Journal” and “Connecticut Review,” explained the metaphorical significance of the book title this way: “We seem to be drifting as a country. We are not sure of ourselves.”
“I came away from this trip with more questions than answers,” says Freeman. “We are drifting as a country and our direction is unsure.”
“The Hudson is a great river and a great metaphor,” writes environmentalist Bill McKibben of the book. “This is a great exploration of both.”