“Northland,” a 4,000 Mile Journey Along America’s Forgotten Border,” by Porter Fox, 2018
This is a travelogue and history of the northern U.S. border with Canada. Fox starts his travels at the eastern border on Passamaqoddy Bay in Maine, traveling by flat-end canoe and 5 horse motor east up the boder-line St. Croix River. Then he jumps over to a Great Lakes freighter hauling ore pellets and wheat from below Montreal through Lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron, docking at Thunder Bay, Canada on Superior, stopping at various ports like Hamilton. He canoes parts of the border in the Minnesota Boundary Waters where the voyageurs traveled and then visits the Minnesota “Angle” protruding into Canada. Fox follows that with a drive through northern North Dakota fracking country and Williston, visiting the NO-DAPL camps along the way near Cannonball, ND. He continues his drive along the ‘medicine line’ of the Montana/Canada border after visiting the Little Bighorn Battlefield. Then over the Rockies and through Idaho, foot trekking the North Cascades in Washington like Jack Kerouac before hitting the west ocean border point in Blaine, Washington.
In the process Fox tells the story of French explorers like Champlain, Brule and La Salle who were the first European-Americans in these areas; tribes that straddle the border – the Passamaquoddy, Mohawk, Sioux, Blackfeet and Lummi; the extensive efforts of surveyors trying to track through this sometimes trackless wilderness, following rivers, lakes and the 49th parallel; the fauna, wildlife, mountain peaks, rivers and woods that he encounters - and bits of politics, present and past. Fox is an experienced canoeist, growing up in a small town in salty, seaside Maine. He now lives in Brooklyn, but still has a basic feel for northern lands, though he hasn’t seen all of these.
Fox interviews many people along the way – activists at NO-DAPL fighting the pipeline; a militia leader in Idaho; lodge owners along the border; the ship’s captain and its cranky, odd and formerly violent crew; arctic explorer Paul Shurke, who takes him into Minnesota’s multi-lake boundary waters; a native American historian in Maine. Of most import is his focus on indigenous peoples that live along the border, a theme repeated over and over, as the border separates their homelands. The name 'medicine line' for the northern border means 'good' medicine, as fleeing native Americans like Sitting Bull could escape pursuit by U.S. soldiers. When he returned to the U.S. he was assassinated, so that puts fact to the name. Fox makes it clear to his fellow coffee-drinkers in Brooklyn that native Americans are not a thing of the past.
Fox’s use of the term ‘northlands’ returns the north to its rightful geographic place, as northern states are sick of incorrectly being called ‘the Mid-West.” He reminds U.S. citizens that Canada is actually nearby, the north is a real place and that the center of the world is not the reactionary Sunbelt. This is a fascinating journey, though it skips over parts of the border as that would take much longer to travel. While I might quibble with his archaic description of Ely, Minnesota, I’m assuming the rest of the book is not so nostalgic. The book will increase your deep geographic and historic knowledge of the northern borderlands, though it only includes small maps. Just use a larger map while you read.
Other prior reviews related to this subject, use blog search box, upper left: “The North is Not the “Midwest,” “The Heart of Everything That Is ( Red Cloud),” “The Dharma Bums,” (Kerouac); “Sulfuric Acid and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area,” “A Less Modest Proposal,” “Stop Tar Sands Oil,” “Oh Canada,” “Factory Days (Gibbs).
And I bought it at May Day Books!
April 2, 2020
Mayday is closed due to the virus and a robbery. If you want a book, call ahead or knock and you might be let in. We can also mail out books.