North Country: book review

The deep wooded forests of northern Maine, the working waters of the Great Lakes, the prairies of North Dakota, the winding mountain roads in Montana, the Pacific Ocean shore in Washington state: it is a long trip north countryalong the northern borderlands of the United States from one ocean to another. That is the trip Howard Frank Mosher sets out on to mark his fiftieth year.

Mosher is a novelist by trade, a man who lives in the forests of New England. On his trip along northern borderlines, he talks with and of the people he meets in short chapters, vignettes of a sort, really, in North Country. A Green Mountain Spy Story, The Fisherman and the Pipe Carrier, Wild Rice and Blue Rollers, Notes from the Red River Valley, The Veterinarian and the Visionary and Crossing the Cascades are titles of he chooses for some of them, titles which give a taste of the observer’s style Mosher chooses for most of his journey. With occasional loops back into his own history with Vermont, fishing, and writing, it is a mostly steady journey westward. Off the beaten path, most of the time, but that does not seem to be the point of Mosher’s travels. Experiencing what is going on in the moment and waiting to see what’s next, and who’s next, and letting the dots connect if they will and not if they don’t seems to be his approach.

Mosher took this trip and wrote this book in the years before September eleventh. Some things have changed to a great ot lesser degree, and no doubt the circumstances of the people he met have changed too. Border crossings are different these days, and there have been economic changes which have rippled across this part of the American landscape as they have across others.

I came across North Country in a library, on my way to looking for something else. As it was published some years ago, after reading it, I looked to see what had been said about it. The impact of the people Mosher met was a strong thread, as was the fact, lamented by many, that there were no maps in the book. For me, the presence that lingers is that of the landscapes, the waters, the plains, the forest, the mountains, and for that no maps are needed.

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