2014-10-16 / News

Author details life from Alaska to Queens

By Ken Shane

Author Mike Freeman at Fort Getty with wife Karen and daughters Flannery and Shannon. Author Mike Freeman at Fort Getty with wife Karen and daughters Flannery and Shannon. Jamestown author Mike Freeman has written a new book called “Neither Mountain Nor River.” The memoir chronicles Freeman’s belief in family and faith, and how the outdoors has helped him to get in touch with both.

It is Freeman’s second book, following “Drifting: Two Weeks on the Hudson,” which was published in 2011. He will discuss his newest book at the library on Thursday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to everyone.

Freeman grew up in Wilton, Conn., and earned his undergraduate degree in American studies at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Penn. Following a stint installing aluminum fencing in Vermont, Freeman crossed the country and began studying creative writing at San Francisco State University.

During summer break from school, Freeman was hired for a seasonal position by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Yakutat. When the summer was over, he returned to school and completed his master’s degree. He decided to return to Alaska the summer following graduation to work in the wild for one more season. He ended up staying for a decade.

“It was fun,” Freeman said. “It was southeast Alaska, which is a lot different than what people think of Alaska. It was more of a rain forest, sort of like Seattle’s climate.”

Freeman spent most of his time gathering data in the field for a biologist; he mainly counted fish by catching and tagging them. He also worked on wildlife projects including one involving wolverines.

“There were a lot of bears on the job,” Freeman said. “For the most part, they want to stay out of your way, but there were a couple of times I was glad that I had a gun. I didn’t shoot any though.”

While he was working in Alaska, Freeman often returned to the East Coast during the winter. It was on one of those occasions that he met his future wife, Karen Dockery, through a mutual friend. When she became pregnant in 2008, Freeman moved back east, and the couple lived in Queens, N.Y., just weeks before the bottom fell out of the financial markets. Since Dockery had a good job, Freeman became a stay-athome dad, a role he continues to this day.

After a year, the couple decided that Queens wasn’t a good place to raise a child. Dockery had an aunt in Charlestown, and she had always liked visiting Rhode Island. She applied for a job in Newport and the family moved to the Ocean State in 2009. The couple now have two daughters, Shannon, 5, and Flannery, 3, who was named for writer Flannery O’Connor.

Shannon has severe autism, and after four years in Newport, the family decided to move to Jamestown specifically so that Shannon could attend the local schools. She is now in prekindergarten at Melrose School.

“The school system has a really good reputation for special needs children,” Freeman said. “It’s a small system, so they’re able to provide a lot of support and staff for each kid, where Newport was a lot bigger. One bridge over has made all the difference and we’re really happy here.”

Freeman wrote his highly re- garded book “Drifting” while living in Newport. He said the book is about his experience relocating from Alaska to Queens, followed almost immediately by the financial meltdown. He was jogging near the Hudson River one day when he began to think about the river’s history; he decided to take a canoe trip on the river and use the journey to write about America.

“The Hudson’s history kind of parallels what’s going on in the country at-large,” Freeman said.

The canoe trip took place in August 2009, a few months before the Freemans moved to Newport. He spent two weeks on the river, sleeping most nights in a tent. He covered the river from Lake Henderson to Manhattan, about 315 miles. Freeman gathered information along the way. When the trip was over, he returned to the area by car to do further interviews.

Since Shannon was diagnosed with autism in 2011, Freeman’s primary job has been to care for her. To earn money he writes for publications like Newport Life, and he also reviews books for the Providence Journal.

Freeman grew up hunting, fishing and trapping with his father. Since he didn’t have children until he was in his 40s, he was able to continue his lifestyle until Shannon was born. “Neither Mountain Nor River” is a tribute, in part, to his father.

“It’s really a way to share what the outdoors can do for family relationships,” he said. “I want to pass that along to my kids.”

According to Freeman, God is sometimes a “touchy” subject, but his book contains a lot of theology. He sees outdoor activities as a way to connect with God, which is why it’s subtitled “Fathers, Sons and an Unsettled Faith.”

“I’ve never really known what it means to believe, but I’ve always believed. In the woods is where I’ve always had the strongest connection to that belief. It’s trying to share with people what outdoor activities can do for family life and peace of mind.”

Freeman’s book has three parts. The first part takes Freeman from Vermont to the West Coast. The second section deals with his time in Alaska. The third part details his return to the East Coast and starting a family.

“Neither Mountain Nor River” is available online and in bookstores.

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