I sunk hip-deep into the watery grass and the world became a mix of brown blades and white light. The border was close. I’d seen it from the water, a clean line of sky cutting through the distant forest, empty space where there should have been trees. It’s unmistakable if you know what to look for.
I dragged the boat behind me for a few steps, then abandoned it. The grass swallowed it whole as went forward alone.
I felt half-mad, sinking to my knees in water with each step, my mind consumed by a spot, an imaginary point on the Earth. I needed to stand there, to stare, to fill that gap between the trees with 4,000 miles of dreams.
The border’s only here by mistake, an error on an old map used to parcel out the continent after the Revolutionary War.
“To the northwest corner of Lake of the Woods then west to the Mississippi,” the treaty said, but the Mississippi ends to the south, not the west, no matter what any map or politician says. That’s why this place exists, this angle of land jutting north at the top of Minnesota.
I pushed further into the grass, feeling the muck give way to solid ground until I was walking on land. It felt good underneath my feet, familiar. Brush rose up around me and I smashed my way through toward the border.
I’ve felt like a charlatan all week. In Greenbush, I met Mavis, the Greenbush Tribune’s reporter. A friend of hers saw me standing on a street corner with a paddle in one hand and asked what I was doing. Mavis interviewed me for a story, then took me to lunch where she introduced me to what felt like half the town.
“He’s going to kayak to Key West,” she’d say.
She said it like I’d done something more than just shown up with an idea. I shook hands and smiled and thought about the Looksha’s clean yellow hull sitting behind the J&M Co. Store in Angle Inlet. There wasn’t a scratch on her. I was all paper.
I thought I’d missed the border in the thickets of brush and high grass, then I turned and the world opened up in front of me. Light spilled in from the clean line cut through the trees. In the middle, a silver surveyor’s monument stood alone and forgotten.
I stared at the monument for a moment, half-believing it was my imagination. I didn’t expect to see it there. Then I stared past it, south down the line of cut trees that disappeared in the distance. I felt the weight and joy of four-thousand miles waiting for me.
I thought about the Boundary Waters and Lake Superior, about the Mississippi and the Gulf, about the Everglades and Florida Keys. I thought about the people I’d meet, the unknown faces turned friends, and the stories I’d hear. I thought about icy water, the sun beating down overhead, and waves rushing over the bow. I thought about it all, standing there captured by my imagination, unable to move until rain began falling around me. It soaked into my shirt and ran down the brim of my hat.
“Go,” the world said. “Quit imagining and find out.”
I wrapped my arms around the monument one last time and pressed my cheek into the cool metal surface. I hadn’t realized how much I needed something tangible, some piece of metal underneath my fingers, some anchor for the adventure. Every story needs a beginning.
I walked away, a charlatan no more.