Crossing Borders

I drove into New Hampshire this week, on my way to visit a friend in Maine.  For the first time I had my E Z Pass mounted below my rear view mirror.  It allowed me to pass into New Hampshire at 65 miles an hour through the E Z Pass lane without stopping to pay toll.   The experience made me feel like I was a local.  It felt powerful!

Fast passage through borders has a way of making you feel like an insider.  As you come to a border via an airport, you quickly divide between those who are insiders, returning home, and those who are outsiders.  I have experienced the power of having Canadian and New Zealand work visas–making me an insider for a time.  One of my greatest pleasures while living in Hong Kong was to be able to travel in and out of Hong Kong through the Hong Kong resident line as if to say–look at me–I belong here!  The second time I lived in Hong Kong I had a Hong Kong ID card which allowed me to avoid the lines all together.  I could use the card and my thumb scan for most border crossings into Hong Kong.

As I left Hong Kong, I held on to the I.D., lamenting the expiration of its magical power to define my identify and thus freedom to cross borders with speed.

I have had many interesting border crossings.  As a child I remember the U.S. border police taking our Canadian-bought fire-crackers from us because they were made in communist China.  Our dog had a difficult time getting into Canada that trip.  When in graduate school, a colleague’s dog got his immigration papers to Canada before he and his wife received theirs.  We questioned the wisdom of the border system because this particular dog was known to be on the low end of the intelligence scale, but my colleague was brilliant.

Coming back from countries, especially in Latin America, when the immigration officials have identified me as a geographer, I have been quizzed on the geography of the places I’ve come from, to ensure my legitimacy.  One time the immigration official asked me to name the volcano on the island of Martinique.  I quickly replied that it was Mt. Pele’.  “Good, ” he said.  “I just had someone who claimed to be from Martinique but didn’t know.”  I was actually coming back from Bolivia that trip but had taught Latin American geography enough time to know the answer.

I have to say that the most worrisome crossing was when we drove back from Canada from my Fulbright there.  My younger daughter was 3 and had lost her sense of self in the time we were in Ontario.  She now claimed that we were not her mother and father, but rather she had 4 brothers and sisters, had a dog and cat, and lived somewhere with someone else.  I’ve never quite understood who she thought we had become.  But if you have ever crossed a border with children, the border guard will often ask them–“are they your mother and father?” or “how are these adults related to you?”  The parents are not allowed to answer the question for them.  I had nightmares of my 3 year-old telling the border guard that we were not her parents and this was not her sister, which then led to a big argument between my older daughter and younger daughter as to their parentage–not a laughing matter at any border.

My solution?  Dramamine.  Anything to make the crossing smooth.

Deeper Orientations at all Scales

I am now in my new house in New England after almost a year of living in a temporary apartment.  And finally, after a year in a new job, I am finally orienting myself in all directions.

At the smallest scale, my daughter and I worked on my year–which is bigger than my previous yard–and I started to see what was there.  Raspberry bushes line that back yard along with other bushes.  A few Hawthorne trees are along the border as well.  But as I mow and weed I also realize that the size of the yard requires that I can’t cultivate it at the same level of precision as my previous yard.  I have been going for a more “wild” or “native” look.

Last September I visited the Patton Homestead with another person from work for a meeting.  After driving down small winding roads and many turns, I remember thinking–where in the world is this?  I realized recently that I now live down the road from the Patton Homestead.  What seemed totally unplaced in my mental map is now defined as close to home.

My experiences of the first year developed my mental map primarily along the corridor between Logan Airport and Gloucester, stretching along the Cape Ann peninsula and the main artery of Highway 128.

In the past several weeks, two outings have gotten me to face different directions and given me new insights as to where I actually live.  The first outing involved kayaking in a section of the Ipswich River.  To get to the starting point we went through part of Topsfield after picking up the kayaks in Ipswich.  Topsfield was one of those places I had heard about that I placed on my mental map as being off to the north, far, far, away.  After kayaking up stream and then back, we went downstream so that my friend could show me the Wenham swamp.  I was confused.  We were way north, in Topsfield, so how could we be near a “Wenham” swamp (I lived in Hamilton-Wenham!).  When I got back in the car I closely looked at the map and drove home around the swamp and the connected water bodies.  I now realize that I live just to the east of a local landmark called the Wenham swamp–almost literally across the road from my house!  And the Ipswich River is just up the road from my house in the Bradley Palmer State Park adjacent to the Patton Homestead. Topsfield is just on the other side of the River, not 5 minutes away!








My most recent outing was to go birding on Plum Island near Newburyport.  That town is near New Hampshire so I thought it must be at least 45 minutes away!  No–it was less than 30 minutes away if I went slow and Topsfield was on the way.  I had been to Topsfield before and recognized the place.

For my first year, I primarily faced work and the highway corridor.  But finally my mental map is being stretching in different directions and local landmarks and natural features are starting to fill in the blank spaces.



Tuscan Landscapes

A geographer cannot image a better day than one viewing a cultural landscape from a hot air balloon!  Thus it was a wonderful day that began early, as we rose and floated over the vineyards, olive trees, rural farmsteads, and hills.  On this American Memorial Day we also passed over both a traditional Italian cemetery and the lines of crosses of the American cemetery from WWII.  We ended up coming down in a farmer’s field.  The farmer, an immigrant names Ivan who came from Moldova, rescued us with his old tractor and proceeded to pass out wine as we gathered in his farmhouse courtyard.  And all of this before breakfast!