United States/Canada Border
“Smuggling is old hat around here. Anything that’s better, one side or the other, people find a way to pass it over the border,” he says. “Or at least they always used to. Now it’s harder.”
Continuing south toward the Canadian towns of McAdam and St. Croix, I plan to cross over there into Vanceboro, Maine, in Washington County. When I reached McAdam, I see a sign for a picnic table. It’s a long way over dirt roads, but once I’m on the path, I follow it to the end, which turns out to be a big, broad lake called Spednic.
Picnic tables edge the water. I carry my lunch to a table. If I’d planned a picnic beside a wilderness lake, I couldn’t have had more beautiful weather for it. The sun is hot, the sky blue. Beside the table is a big boulder with trees growing on it, roots twining, searching the rock for nourishment.
My eyes travel to the top of the boulder. A small white obelisk–an International Boundary marker! I’ve studied the map so closely in search of the border and now here I am, sitting right on it. There isn’t another person in sight or sound. I get up from the table and walk to the water’s edge, crossing pleasurably from Canada into America, no passport required.
In Calais, Maine, about 30 miles farther south, I cross over to the larger city of St. Stephen, New Brunswick, a place that was popular for a while with busloads of American seniors, who found they could buy prescription drugs more cheaply in Canada. Large drugstore outlets were built in St. Stephen, a phenomenon that changed with the shift in currency rates.
Here, in many ways, the two countries acted as one. Not only did they birth each other’s babies, but police and fire departments worked jointly, and familiar faces were routinely waved through the border checks. In Calais, the bridge across leads directly onto St. Stephen’s main street, just as in the north, the bridge in Madawaska leads to the bigger city of Edmundston.
This shared border allowed these communities to coexist and to blend almost into one. Now, however, crossing the bridge has become a long wait in line and a nightmare of downtown traffic congestion as idling cars block commerce on the main streets.
Down in Eastport, Maine, the border is in the middle of the bay–a floating, changing, imaginary line that rises and falls with the tides, a line no one can reasonably point to. We surge through that line, wherever it is, as the barge-like ferry, pushed by a tugboat, delivers me and half a dozen other cars and passengers from Canada to a rough little landing on the far side of Eastport.
Eastport still bears the patina of an old seafaring city, not unlike Salem or Mystic, but smaller, less lavish. All streets slope down to the sea. It’s soothing to sit and watch the water, which I do one evening, from the deck of a reliable old spot in town called the Waco Diner. The deck is so close to the water it’s almost like being on a boat. The little houses on Campobello Island look close enough to touch, the channel a mere river between us. The waitress sets a big, hearty bowl of lobster stew in front of me, and as I taste its sweet goodness, I spy a dark figure as it rolls out of the water and then disappears. I see the fin: a dolphin. He wheels in and out in a rhythmic way, and I imagine he’s tracing the border with his nose.
After all the miles I’ve traveled, the border seems just that elusive. The management of that border seems even more mysterious. My picnic hamper has been searched often, and I’ve seen tables beside the customs stations loaded with confiscated fruits and vegetables. Had I wanted to, it seems I could have brought all kinds of contraband, from cigarettes to nuclear or biological weapons, across the border in my car’s various cavities. I didn’t need the cameras of 60 Minutes to wonder what might be inside that tractor trailer or tucked under the seats of that enormous RV. And, as I was often reminded, these stations are for the honest people. In the vast wilderness that divides these two countries, just about anything would be possible.