Mike Freeman was at a crossroads in his life. After spending 10 years in the Alaskan wilderness, he moved back to the Northeast in 2008 — right before Lehman Brothers collapsed, spawning the worldwide economic downturn. At age 41, he was suddenly an unemployed, stay-at-home father of a newborn daughter, living in a part of the country he no longer recognized. Drifting (State University of New York Press, $24.95) is Freeman’s account of a solo two-week canoe trip on the Hudson, from Lake Tear in the Clouds to northern Manhattan. More than a travelogue, the book draws parallels between our nation’s current woes (financial, political, international) and the author’s own mid-life anxieties. Added to this mix is a good dose of Valley history — as well as commentary on its current state. At times, Freeman’s descriptive phrasing approaches poetry, and his outsider’s take on our region makes for compelling reading.
Hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) is a red-hot topic in and around our region (click here to read our July 2011 article on the subject, “Fighting Fracking in the Hudson Valley: Actor Mark Ruffalo Leads the Movement to Stop Hydraulic Fracturing for New York’s Natural Gas”). The discovery that huge amounts of natural gas exist below our feet, as well as technological advances that make it profitable to extract it, have prompted a “gas rush,” with energy companies and local landowners hoping for a windfall. But the environmental impact of fracking is unclear at best; battle lines are being drawn between conservationists and those most interested in jump-starting the area’s struggling economy. Former Gannett reporter Tom Wilber spent years conducting interviews for his just-released book, Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale (Cornell University Press, $27.95). From farmers and landowners to politicians, gas company executives to environmental activists, Wilber gives all stakeholders in the fracking fracas a chance to have their say; the result is an evenhanded overview of the subject and the multifaceted controversy surrounding it.
The 13-sided Bronck barn in Coxsackie (pictured on the cover) is just one of the farm buildings featured in Barns of New York (Cornell University Press, $27.95). Author Cynthia G. Falk’s compendium of agricultural outbuildings (barns, chicken coops, smokehouses, windmills) includes examples stretching from Long Island to Lake Erie. Falk pays special attention to edifices that were used in the production of some of the state’s best-known products, such as maple syrup, apples, and hops. More than 200 contemporary and historical photos illustrate the unique architectural style of these structures, whose rustic appearance often belies the ingenious craftsmanship involved in creating them.
Cordelia, a young (and beautiful) oceanographer, is given her great-great-grandfather’s 1908 journal by a wealthy (and handsome) archaeologist. The journal is thought to include information about a valuable land deed in Norway. Before she knows it, the journal goes missing, and Cordelia is being pursued by Russian thugs, religious fanatics from Texas, and a female American spy, among other sinister types. In The Explorer’s Code (Scribner, $26), former CNN journalist and part-time Rhinecliff denizen Kitty Pilgrim sends her plucky heroine on an action-packed thrill-ride that goes from Paris and Monte Carlo to the Arctic as her characters attempt to solve a 100 year-old mystery. Tautly written and paced, and full of historical details, this page-turner should make for fun beach-house reading.
In the good news department: D.C. author and environmentalist Roger D. Stone sings the praises of the Valley in The Mightier Hudson (Lyons/Globe Pequot Press, $24.95). This well-researched treatise lauds recent efforts to preserve open space and protect New York City’s water supply — much of which originates in the Catskills — from contamination. Stone highlights recent events, including the construction of the Walkway Over the Hudson and the burgeoning farm-to-table movement, which he feels have revitalized the spirit of the region and saved it from succumbing to economic and environmental pressures.