by Tina Rapp
I have a map of the world in my kitchen. It is a rectangular, flat map that spans two countries at their plain, cold border. Two feet wide on my wall; it represents just a few hundred miles. Its towns and topography hold practically no interest to those who live beyond its borders and little interest to those who live within them. Stony Point, Chaumont Bay, the Tibbetts Point lighthouse on the south side of the lake. Kingston, Wolfe Island, Prince Edward Bay on the North. Lake Ontario, the least of the great lakes, in between. As far as I’ve traveled from these water-tinged landscapes and lived more than half my life away, I still come back to this, the only world I really know.
I’ve never railed against my upbringing. There is no need to recover from it, excuse it or erase it from my memory. Henderson Harbor, New York—a short ride from the Canadian border—raised me as surely as my mother and father. The rough beauty of the place was my first language. It spoke in peach-streaked sunsets, dolloped snowdrifts, and whimsically harsh winds. My first lessons of perseverance came in the form of lake-effect snowstorms, which my family faced calmly with a neatly stacked pile of wood, kitchen shelves filled with canned tomatoes and fresh perch caught by the dozens and hauled over ice. I was steadied by a father who was part mechanic and part craftsman—an Adirondack mountain man born a hundred years too late—and a mother, equal parts engineer, artist and seamstress. Together, they designed, built, fixed, created and recreated the richest of lives from the most overlooked of small objects.
We were bootstrap puller-uppers. Trudgers in the face of adversity. And proud of it. My dad liked to test me at least once a month when I was growing up by asking: “Teenie, are you North Country?” “Yes, Dad,” I’d plump up and respond without hesitation. “I’m North Country.”
Now, I live in an 800-channel, Twitter-fed world where North Country means nothing. Except maybe the name of a mediocre movie that you can stream on demand. Or the title of a book by Howard Frank Mosher who, at 50, traversed the Canadian-American border in a midlife road trip. He found that in every U.S. state that bordered Canada, the people stateside, say within a hundred miles of the border, referred to their region as the North Country, from Washington state to Maine.
What could this mean? A simple geographic reference? A description of a frigid climate? A tip of the hat to an honest life lived with a “true north” brand of integrity? It is a world apart, this North Country. This swath across the top of the U.S. where the maple leaf flies next to the stars and stripes with an evenness that suggests equality.
And I just can’t shake it, no matter where I am. Not in my home of thirty years in the Currier and Ives hills of southwestern New Hampshire, where the quaint shops and eateries make it a poster child for small-town life. Not in the streets of Boston or Manhattan where all I can think about is how glad I’ll be to leave behind the clatter of horns, the lines for coffee, the fitted trench coats, the shiny red pumps.
To be most comfortable on a winter’s day is to hear the winds rattle the windows hard, and later squint into the night to make out the reassuring lights of a snowplow flashing through swirling snow. Or to see my sinewy father, contented, napping in his cracked leather chair, brown work shoes unlaced and half toppled off his feet. To smell the simmering pot of polenta with rabbit stew on the stove.
What more could there possibly be than that?
Tina Rapp is a writer, editor and content producer who lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Her work has appeared in various venues including New Hampshire Public Radio; Yankee Magazine’s Vinegar, Duct Tape, Milk Jugs and More; The Wall Street Journal (Student Edition); Concrete Wolf; Post Magazine; TV Technology; Millimeter; and National Business Employment Weekly.