Not many of us have reason to consider the border between the United States and Canada, the world's longest at over 5000 miles, if you include Alaska with the “lower 48.” This border has been explored, surveyed and defined by intrepid men, beginning as early as the American Revolution. Parts of it are still devilishly difficult to penetrate, and the Boundary Waters of Minnesota were the last to be explored.
The concept for the book was laid out by Fox in a casual meeting with his editor and agent. This meeting resulted in a chronicle of Fox’s journey by canoe, car, freighter and foot.
The border area is called, among other names, the Northland. Not many, either on the U.S. or Canadian side, find reason to visit there. It gets much less attention in the press than the U.S.-Mexico border, though it is traversed by thousands more illegal aliens and drug runners and patrolled by only a small fraction of border agents.
Fox's journey begins at East Quoddy Head, Maine, the country's easternmost point, and ends in Bellingham, Washington, following the border as closely as he can. Along the way, he meets numerous interesting characters in out-of-the way places and recounts many more who were historically vital in the development of the northern part of the U.S.: railroad barons, land speculators and oilmen, among others.
The author's extensive research is apparent, and the book is almost as much about history as it is about his journey. It involved digging into numerous sources, starting with the Treaty of Paris in 1783, and then subsequent journals of many of the early explorers. Apparently, much of the language is dense and difficult to interpret, and Fox points out that the earliest men laying out the border were too involved with survival and with their difficult task to keep a journal.
"Northland" is remarkable for its description of a part of our country (and Canada) that few of us have had reason to consider. It serves to point out the fascinating story we've been missing.