Most geographic boundaries are only visible on maps, but we still benefit from examining them up close and personally
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall …” wrote Robert Frost in his poem “Mending Wall.” Reading that, you have to wonder what Frost would have made of a certain plan to build a “yuuge” wall along our nation’s southern border, but Frost does conclude his poem with this bit of New England wisdom: “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Frost was quoting a contrary Yankee farmer in that poem, but perhaps he gained some inspiration from the grand old tradition, still a law in the Granite State (RSA 51), of having town officials walk their boundaries once every seven years to make sure the next town over hasn’t been assimilating a few acres of the village woodlot.
It’s a law that gets little attention. The practice, dubbed “the perambulation,” is often ceremonial and conducted by some old-timer who has actually trekked the tick-laden underbrush and swampland and knows where the ancient markers abide.
You probably assume you know where the boundaries are on your own piece of property, but once there’s a dispute about tree growth or dog droppings, you might be surprised to learn that things have “shifted” since someone installed that fence row back in the 1950s.
It was with all that in mind that we commissioned writer Anders Morley to take a walk along our northern border, where the Granite State abuts the Province of Quebec. (see “Walking the Line").
Early in my days as editor here, I made it a point to drive up to the border stations in Pittsburg and Chartierville.
I was struck by the differences between the American post and the Canadian one, mostly in that ours seemed rustic compared to theirs. At that time, the most common problem cited by the lonely American official was the smuggling of Beanie Babies. Apparently, collectors were purchasing Princess Bears (a hot item back in the day) for a song and bringing them to the States, where Beanie fever was peaking and they could sell them for hundreds of dollars above the retail price.
Seems quaint to hear of it now, when our borders have become high-tech nets to intercept contraband ranging from heroin to weapons of mass destruction to ISIS moles looking for a place to stage terror attacks.
That said, there is some comfort knowing that, to an actual observer who undertook the walk of the 58-mile “vista” between our countries, all seems quiet and peaceful on our northern extreme.
The borders have shifted over the years, and every twisted or straightened line has a story to tell. These are stories best learned by actually getting out there and looking.
Not everyone has the time or energy to hike from Vermont to Maine above the Connecticut Lakes, but maybe, before the snows threaten, you can walk out in your backyard and find the fence line. Then imagine how it looked when the subdivision was new, and, if you get a chance, say hello to your neighbor.
You might learn a thing or two or, like Robert Frost, hear something worth writing down for posterity.