Northland : A 4,000-Mile Journey along America’s Forgotten Border by Porter Fox

northlandOur border with Canada is lengthy, and largely not thought of.  As news items go, the border with our southern neighbor gets all the press.  So it’s a shame that our longest frontier is little known.

In Northland, the author mixes history lessons and a grand tour by a variety of methods to enlighten the reader on the amazing variety of peoples and geography of the north.  He begins his journey in Maine, which he dubs “The Dawnland,” where he largely explores the region by boat.  He starts at the farthest eastern point of Maine, and then canoes the interior lakes between the United States and Canada.

In the Sweet -Water Seas section, Fox abandons his beloved canoe to traverse the Great Lakes area by cargo freighter.  This was for me the most interesting part of the book.  During his time on the freighter, the author gets to know the salty types who make a living hauling cargo.  They have rough jobs, made harder from tedium and days on end of trekking the Great Lakes.

In Boundary Waters, Fox explores the vast network of lakes in northern Minnesota, usually by canoe and often guided by locals.  In this part, he marvels at the sheer remoteness of the region, but yet how quickly the modern world intrudes.  A cell phone signal, the sound of a car door, the ordering of a pizza after days of canoe travel and camping – all of these are welcome but jarring after the solitude of the north country.

In the Seven Fires section, history and current events take center stage, specifically the recent Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Fox meets some key figures of the protests there and provides an overview of the Native American tribes that have called the Great Plains home for hundreds of years.

In the final section “The Medicine Line,” Fox ends his journey in the Pacific Northwest.  Even though most of this stretch of boundary is straight along the forty-ninth parallel, mapping and maintaining this part has been difficult, considering the terrain, which is largely mountainous.

Northland is a far-reaching observation of a boundary between two countries that takes into account a fascinating history, environmental issues, and the immense task of maintaining a border that has been contentious in the past and still an ordeal to patrol today.

(William Hicks, Information Services)



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