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Three artists preserve memories of a changing environment
by Charlie Buterbaugh

The Upper Delaware Magazine, Spring/Summer 2003

Joseph Freda

In an old Kenoza Lake farmhouse attic, novelist Joseph Freda has made a room to write. Here, Upper Delaware stories are conceived and local personalities, landscapes and climates portrayed. He has furnished his workplace with topographic maps, an old-fashioned typewriter and radio, and a series of piled manuscripts that lay under the weight of collected rocks.

"I care about this area very much, and that care drives much of what I write," Freda said. I asked about his characterization of the region's physical spaces.

He replied, "The river in all its moods weighs in heavily, of course: its smooth, black surface in early morning before the sun is out; its roily, dark-tea look when it begins to flood; the low-lying river fog that seems to blot out the rest of the world, at least until it burns off. The endless changes in the Delaware’s physical nature has always fascinated me, and many of us who live within those changes are deeply affected by them."

He said, "I have characterized the Upper Delaware as it always appears in my mind’s eye, no matter where I am: the steep angles of the immediate river valley; the gentler farmland that extends farther into New York and Pennsylvania; the craggy bluestone cliffs; and the changing colors. Multiple greens of summer come to mind first (probably because our winters make us crave that season so), and then the shades of blue as the mountains recede into the distance, and the taupe of the raw cliffs, sometimes edged with ice."

Freda's descriptions espouse a need for preservation. The language itself preserves a memory of scenes, what appears in his mind's eye, or the minds' eye of others who behold the landscape. I also wanted to know whether his fiction participates in another mode of preservation, one that evokes a reader's will to sustain the open space of our region.

"Yes, though not in a direct, exhortative way. Care for the land is suffused in everything I write. By presenting the Upper Delaware in a way that evokes similar emotions in readers, I hope my writing allows more people to form a bond with the region."

He said, "When I create characters who live in the Upper Delaware Valley, they are shaped, or not, by the landscape as many of us are or aren’t in real life."

I wondered if Freda's novels work to refine an ideal: a best version of the relationship between a character and the ecology of his home.

"Not really. At least I don’t consciously strive for that. I try to write realistically, to present humanity as honestly as possible. My honest response to the Upper Delaware is one of respect and appreciation, so no doubt that comes through in my writing. Likewise, my honest response to my fellow human beings is to recognize our traits in total – our foibles as well as our ideals. So in the case of "The Patience of Rivers," there are characters who litter as well as those who pick up garbage. There are characters who wish to develop the land and those who wish to preserve it. It is the novelist’s job to present humanity honestly and fully."

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