Sunday 11 March 2018

Borders: The Slash in the Trees

The 'slash in the trees' and a Canadian border post, a few miles west of the eastern railway crossing.

Lately, the US-Canada border has been in the UK news, touted by the Prime Minister as a possible model for the post-Brexit Irish border. Someone ought to share this with her:
Perhaps you thought the border between the United States and Canada was thoroughly invisible boundary line, something as theoretical and imaginary as the cordon between the Eastern and Central Standard time zones. Well, you would be wrong.
I already knew this, since I'm planning to cross the border by train this summer. I know I need to send Amtrak a copy of my passport number well in advance, and also that the border adds a couple of hours to an already very slow journey.

With Google Maps you can see border posts and even concrete bollards blocking what should be minor residential roads. But that's not all. Much of the US-Canadian border runs through water or forest. Through the latter, there is a 20-foot wide corridor carved through the trees for 1349 miles. US and Canada share the task of keeping this line free of trees, in a monumental 15-year cycle of bush clearance.
Lest visitors think the 20-foot-wide endless lane they just discovered in the northern woods is some kind of installation art or strange land-management practice, the IBC has placed 8000 monuments and reference points along it indicating the international border.
It's easy to see why people might be confused otherwise.
"The purpose," Hipsley (then Acting Commissioner of the US International Boundary Commission) explained genially, "is so the average person... knows they are on the border."
And the reason you would want to know that?
"If you cross it and are caught, whether you intended to or not, you can be fined a substantial amount - so it's important," Hipsley warned.
Actually, Hipsley is really good at telling it like it is. Here he explains the all-important relationship between borders and regulatory divergence. Brexiters (forced or voluntary), take note!
"It's still important, because we [the U.S. and Canada] have different governments with different policies on farming and timber management."

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