Blink, and you’ll miss it.
Look anywhere but the side of the road, and you’ll miss it.
Try very hard to run the car in front of you off the road because they’re trying to figure out where to turn and you just have to get where you’re going right now, and you’ll miss it.
What you’ll miss, on an otherwise unremarkable strip of rural road, is the sign showing where Dunstable becomes Nashua, where northern Massachusetts becomes southern New Hampshire.
The first time I went to Canada — the going to Niagara Falls because that’s what you do in Buffalo — the border agent was suspicious one of the members of our group because she was a Canadian crossing the border after three Americans.
She was a permanent resident, here on a green card — we haven’t spoken in more than 25 years, so I have no idea if she became a citizen — and the guard let her go after she said she was with us.
The second time, not long after 9/11, I was staring off into the middle distance when the Border Patrol agent decided to ask me, the passenger in the car Suzi was driving, a couple questions. Lucky for me, I blurted out the right answers.
On the way from Vancouver to Seattle, there’s a duty-free shop, a Peace Arch, space to walk around (even though we were very careful to stay on the sidewalk). At the other end of the continent, the crossing between Quebec City and Augusta, Maine, was a single booth, followed by about 10 miles of road to the next town.
Same two countries … same border.
The turnaround on the trail for one of our walks is the border between the town where we live and the next town over. There are signs marking each town, but they’re not directly across the trail from each other. They’re a few feet apart.
Driving west on the Massachusetts Turnpike, there’s a sign that says you’re leaving the state, but the one welcoming you to New York is a few hundred yards down the road.
I’ve always wondered … are these spaces disputed territory? No-man’s lands? Demilitarized zones?
Even in the places where the border crossing itself is fairly mundane — that country road in New Hampshire, a walking trail between Acton and Maynard, the highway between New York and Massachusetts — they are different places on either side.
Maybe that’s why the guys really wanted to get past us in Dunstable, because they were in a rush to get to that living free or dying, maybe at one of the state liquor stores.
But in some places, crossing the border makes you literally a different person. Once I traverse the whatever-it-is between the Bay and Empire states, I go from being a weirdo, an object of curiosity and perhaps even ridicule, to someone perfectly normal, fully accepted and welcomed for who I am.
Is it because, even after almost 18 years in Massachusetts, I still don’t have the accent? Well … I don’t, but no.
It’s because, after 18 years in Massachusetts, I’m still a Yankees fan.
Maybe that’s why the simple act of driving over a state line felt like we were spreading our wings just a little bit more.
And we apparently weren’t alone. Suzi noticed a lot of cars in the Blithewold parking lot with Massachusetts plates.
Sure, Bristol isn’t that far, and it was a really nice day, but with cases starting to tick up, are people afraid their wings will be clipped soon?
That seems sadly prophetic now.
The border with Canada is still closed, and probably will be for quite some time.
Our post-Thanksgiving trip to visit my parents in New York was replaced by a Facebook call Thanksgiving morning, and we’re trying to ensure Christmas Eve with Suzi’s parents and Christmas Day with mine can happen.
At least we can still go town to town … for now.
We were in Dunstable exploring the Nashua River Rail Trail, which had started seven weeks before with bright autumn leaves and turtles in Ayer.
Even though the trail continues a mile or so across the border into New Hampshire, we had already decided it would be our last stop.
Time for a new adventure.