Northland: A 4,000-Mile Journey Along America's Forgotten Border
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A quest to rediscover America’s other border—the fascinating but little-known northern one.
America’s northern border is the world’s longest international boundary, yet it remains obscure even to Americans. The northern border was America’s primary border for centuries—much of the early history of the United States took place there—and to the tens of millions who live and work near the line, the region even has its own name: the northland.
Travel writer Porter Fox spent three years exploring 4,000 miles of the border between Maine and Washington, traveling by canoe, freighter, car, and foot. In Northland, he blends a deeply reported and beautifully written story of the region’s history with a riveting account of his travels. Setting out from the easternmost point in the mainland United States, Fox follows explorer Samuel de Champlain’s adventures across the Northeast; recounts the rise and fall of the timber, iron, and rail industries; crosses the Great Lakes on a freighter; tracks America’s fur traders through the Boundary Waters; and traces the forty-ninth parallel from Minnesota to the Pacific Ocean.
Fox, who grew up the son of a boat-builder in Maine’s northland, packs his narrative with colorful characters (Captain Meriwether Lewis, railroad tycoon James J. Hill, Chief Red Cloud of the Lakota Sioux) and extraordinary landscapes (Glacier National Park, the Northwest Angle, Washington’s North Cascades). He weaves in his encounters with residents, border guards, Indian activists, and militia leaders to give a dynamic portrait of the northland today, wracked by climate change, water wars, oil booms, and border security.
Porter Fox's journey across the top of our United States is a timely reminder of many aspects of our history as well as current immigration issues: our past and continued injustice towards indigenous people many of whom inhabit these borderlands across two nations, our ecological rape of the very sources of our nation's water and forests, our sometimes ridiculous efforts at treaty making, and the increased oversight and suspicion at border crossings since 9/11. These are all worthy, necessary and well described in Fox's clear writing style. Beyond the informative, he illuminates the experiences of his journey with McPhee like descriptions of the changing geological and biological landscapes, and the lived experiences of the current inhabitants of the northern border. I felt as though I traveled alongside him in his canoe, on the lumbering Great Lakes freighter, hiking into remote campsites, and intermittently in his car across flat highways and mountain passes to the Pacific Ocean. I couldn't put this book down and was gratefully exhausted at the end! I look forward to his next journey!