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Submerged: Border-to-border ramblings

Julie Louise and Jess Koski straddling the border, one foot in each country. Photo courtesy Jess Koski

"Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you." –Walt Whitman

We human types like to create boundaries, borders and fences.

Last June, I stepped into the icy waters of the Pigeon River (also known as the Canadian border), filled a vial with water to carry to Duluth and set off on this modest odyssey. There is no evidence that this is an international border – No guards in sight, nor fences, walls or cameras. Just a wall of trees and the river.

To the southwest 2,075 miles, there is another trail – no river, but a fence of sorts. Ironically, this much-ballyhooed border is easier to cross than the Pigeon River.

My intrepid companion, Julie Louise, and I are camping – a celebration of sorts of my final spring break – in Organ Pipe National Monument. We seek out the dirt road closest to the Mexican border.

Turns out that there is one right on the Mexican border. We could, if fit enough, run about 20 miles of the road. But the day is hot at 85 degrees and the path is gravel and soft sand, making for slow going. Besides, who is going to haul our desiccated corpses back to our car? Few tourists even drive this road, and, unlike the Superior Hiking Trail, there is no shuttle service.

So, we settle for an hour-long out-and-back shuffle.

The southern border is a tense place. Border Patrol vehicles pass every few minutes. Helicopters hover and drones drone. Warning signs, asking tourists to narc out suspicious people carrying black plastic water jugs, are omnipresent.

Just before setting out on our trot, we straddled the fence (Yes, it's just a few feet high, with a metal crossbar and two strands of non-barbed wire. Rather porous, IMHO, Mr. Trump.) and took a selfie, with each of us standing in both countries simultaneously.

Just then, a Border Patrol truck pulled up and the officer rolled down his window. He quizzed us, from behind his reflective sunglasses; we sheepishly explained our fairly innocent shenanigans, and he blandly resumed his patrol, dragging tires and chains to sweep the sand so they could more easily see the tracks of those slippery Mexican travelers with water jugs, painted black.

I only ran 7 miles, but I was nearly staggering with dehydration by the last mile. We northerners sometimes forget the value of the occasional sip of water, at least in winter.

As I ran, I crossed many dry washes that were obviously used by recent migrants, with tracks, jettisoned bottles, food wrappers and unneeded clothing marking their passage. It got me thinking about how we humans have all of these paths that we create in order to carry on trade and commerce, hunt, visit other humans, seek mates, take road trips with mates ...

These paths are only interrupted by our own barriers that we use to keep out humans who are not useful to us, or make us feel threatened.

I have always been moved by the motto of the Duluth Loaves and Fishes organization, and always look forward to the kind and wise words of the Loaves and Fishes writers in these pages each month: "We humans have made life more difficult and painful than it needs to be. There are resources and love enough to go around. It's time for a revolution of the heart, put to action."

They work toward a world that breaks down barriers and creates paths – paths heading in the direction of opportunity and hope.

My hope is that as we perambulate along the various trails, trails we choose or not, that we are cognizant of why we are on this particular path. And when we create walls and barriers, we understand the implications.

Trail Report: It's spring break for those of us in the pampered, union-coddled, higher education system. I am filling a backpack and headed to the dusty trails of southern Arizona.

Jess Koski is in his last semester of teaching English at Hibbing Community College. He writes a monthly column documenting his north-to-south traverse of the Superior Hiking Trail.

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