We crossed the border thirty-odd times on that trip. I know because we counted – that was part of our work, part of our questioning – and because of the hours I remember we sat bored in the van thinking about how long our customs conversation would be. It was a trip about borders, Jim told us, a trip about the liminal space between, this funny line that creates two nations instead of one wilderness. At the time, I had signed up for the trip because I was a bird on the wing, anxious to feel the air against my face. I wanted movement, change, a stepping outside myself. I also loved traveling with Jim and all of his rituals. I loved how we sat next to different people in the van every day, waited to eat until we all had our food at a restaurant, stopped to sketch and write, shared our journals, saved ticket stubs and matchbooks and rarely took pictures, but always talked to strangers.
We started in the upper reaches of Vermont that June, while the mosquitos, early in their hatching, kissed our bare knees and skinny arms. One of the girls on the trip wanted us to insist on doing ab workouts every night. She would time us, thirty seconds on each side, in planks and crunches, in strange contortions of high school bodies already too worried about the wrong things. I collapsed every night we did this, exhausted with the fear that they’d figure out that I wasn’t really an athlete.
We drove through towns built with that invisible line drawn through the houses, along the streets – half in Canada, half in the US – and took a long ferry out to Campobello Island, owned by both countries. We walked along the beach for hours, picking up trash and scuffing our sandals against bits of driftwood. I caught a piece of seaweed on my shoe, and the sky rippled grey and it started to rain. We sat on benches to eat homemade sandwiches, ham and mustard on stale wheat bread, apples. I drank water out of the Gatorade bottle I had saved for the whole length of the trip, because we were supposed to bring water bottles with us and I didn’t have a Nalgene.
I remember lying in a dark basement bedroom in a home in New Brunswick one night. We were staying with someone who knew someone who knew Jim, the threads of kindness stretching tight over miles and friendships. The older couple we were with spoke French, and I tried mine on them, feeble though it was, making the noises with my mouth, the Parisian “r” perfected but not understood in their simpler Canadian lilt. I felt foolish, trying to sound French in their sweet yellow and green kitchen, as they fed us blueberry muffins and asked us about our hopes and dreams after high school. They didn’t need impressing, only to hear the echo of their kindness coming back in our “bonne nuit” and “merci beaucoup, beaucoup.” I lay in bed, looking at a small framed picture of the sweet faced Jesus with lambs and children. I looked at the outline of the girl lying in the bed next to mine, asleep in the strange room, and never before have I felt so sure that the lines between strangers and friends is line, dissolving ever and
When I remember Canada, I hear myself reading Robert Frost’s poem to the sweaty sun-kissed faces of my classmates who had not traveled, who had spent their time planting seeds and bike riding to Boston and sculpting or sewing or glass-blowing or putting on a play in three weeks.
Something there is that does not love a wall,
that wants it down.
I hear myself and those words and think – what walls do we carry with us as we go, dear Frost? Where are those invisible lines between the country of our selves, between you and me, between all that we wonder about and all the questions it would take to learn it?
Something there is in me, those long days and nights journeying between those countries, asking strangers and friends about border culture, eating sandy sandwiches and listening to Citizen Cope’s “Son’s Gonna Rise” on repeat, in the becoming of ten high schoolers, in the traveling and the return, that ceased to love a wall.
Something there is in me that wonders, even now,
must we have such walls?