North Country

North Country coverNorth Country: A Personal Journey Through the Borderland
Howard Frank Mosher
Mariner Books (July 29, 2014), 243 pages
originally published in 1997
purchased during an Early Bird Books sale for $4.99

I am always happy to turn to a travelogue for a pleasant diversion, and North Country was no exception. Author Howard Mosher felt the need to make a sojourn westward along the US-Canada border from his home in Vermont. This book documents his trip.

Although he describes the geography he encounters, what is central to North Country is the conversations he has. Mosher talks with hunting guides, merchants, customs agents, truckers, and others on both sides of the border. He spoke with a young woman about to enter college who was an amateur stock car racer and the best in her part of Canada. Some locals are more and some less reluctant to speak with Mosher, but they all have something interesting to say about life along the rural border. He is not afraid to ask questions or to get referrals. If the waitress says, “You should go talk to Joe up the road. He knows all about our local history,” Mosher does so. And Joe will usually talk to him.

Mosher is also happy to relate stories about incidents along the way. He describes coming back into the United States from Canada and checking in at the first motel he encounters. He was in room five. In room six was a newlywed couple, based on the signs on their car. They had a boom box blasting, and it was hard to tell from all the shouting whether they were fighting celebrating. In room four was a trucker who was trying to sleep because he needed to get an early start in the morning. Our author was not happy about being caught in the middle.

Throughout the book Mosher interweaves stories from his past. He describes working summers for a door-to-door brush salesman. (He doesn’t name the company, but it must have been Fuller Brush. I did that one summer in college.) He talks about his time as a teacher and social worker, and he describes trying to work with one unruly epileptic young man whose life came to a tragic end. He describes working for a local logger when he had no other prospects. He was doing fine in the job until he was summarily fired one day when the logger told him that if he wanted to write he should go write.

The author is not one to hesitate or mull over decisions. He had enrolled in the MFA program at the University of California, Irvine. He had just arrived in town and met his classmates when a phone company employee saw the Vermont plates on his car, pulled up beside him, and shouted, “I saw your green license plate. I’m from Vermont, too. Go back home where you belong while you still can.” Mosher did just that.

Mosher begins each chapter with an epigraph, and it turns out that he read some of the same authors who have been favorites of mine in the past: William Least Heat-Moon and Kathleen Norris, for example. He is also a big Hemingway fan, and loves the Nick Adams story, “Big Two-Hearted River,” something he references multiple times in the early part of the book. I hate Hemingway and I hated having to read that story in high school. But I’ll forgive him for that.

The bottom line: If you like a good travelogue you’ll find one here.

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