This past week I made the annual pilgrimage to this abandoned shack that lies astride the Canadian border. The newbie on the trip brought along one of those fancy Garmin GPS things. Preferring zero connectivity and an apparent affinity for buttons over zippers, this made me uncomfortable. I must admit that change can be good, however, in the right doses.
I was stunned to learn that the cabin rests at exactly 48.00 degrees north. So exciting! This is now my 21st year of journeying to this spot, and this knowledge spawned brand new observations in territory that I’ve explored perhaps 50+ times. It also enabled me to further sense that our planet really is smaller than you might think. Stand on a tall building, for example, and you can see the curvature of the Earth quite clearly with the naked eye. During this journey I felt the effect of being just a bit further north on this curve more than I expected. Being relatively close to Duluth, which sits at 46.5 degrees north, I never considered the fact that there really is a noticeable difference in both day length and the angle of the sun, which remained surprisingly low in the sky. To back up my visible observations, I did some quick studying after returning home.
Each degree of latitude is separated by just 69 miles, probably half the distance I would have guessed. This mileage, owing to the curvature of the earth, significantly reduces daylight as you move north of the equator this time of year. The sun is visible for 8 hours and 38 minutes during the winter solstice at the 46th parallel, and just 8 hours 22 minutes at the 48th parallel. Conversely, the 48th experiences 18 MORE minutes of daylight during the summer solstice. Plus there’s the notable change in the angle of the sun. It’s remarkable, really, when considering just the distance of the sun from Earth (92.96 million miles). Anyhow, I got a big kick out of it.
I’m surprised, and even a bit chagrined, to learn that the city of Paris lies a bit north of this spot, being just nine miles south of the 49th parallel. The two most populous cities of Canada, Toronto and Montreal, fall significantly south of here, however. The capital of Canada, Ottawa, is also further south.
Per Wikipedia, much of the supply of hops grown in the northern hemisphere come from a band at approximately this latitude. There’s even an IPA named in honor of this little-known-fact called Latitude 48. You can read right here about one such hops grower I biked out to last summer. He’s a real pioneer. To my knowledge, there are no other hops growers of this scale in this part of Minnesota (the middle of a continental climate with severe zone 3 winters and all that). The grower is featured in the second half of the article. That day I rode 65 miles while delivering one copy of my book, and crammed as much into the experience as possible.
As usual, we completed the journey after it became dark. This time we went in via a new route for the first time, much of which was on the edge of a clearcut. Once again, it was crazy to experience how much things slow down after the sun sets. You avoid putting on the headlamps as long as possible, because at the very instant the beam of light goes on your entire field of reference narrows down to the small area of illumination. The broader context is lost, and we did lose our bearings for a time…
The snow up there was surprisingly plentiful for a poor snow year, about knee-deep. Here we are standing on our side of the border, but virtually the entire backdrop is Canadian.
In the following picture, Canada sits on the right side of the river. If you look closely, in the distant center, you can see smoke rising from the site of the cabin. This place is the subject of two full chapters of my book, because much of my mental, emotional, and spiritual formation occurred right here. I described it as being a stone’s throw from the border. As you can see, this is no exaggeration. In my mind, this is one of the most unique and precious places on the planet.
We skied directly on the river for a time, on top of the international boundary. Being a human, eventually I was forced to relieve myself. In an astounding display of penismanship, I wrote my name in the snow with greater neatness than I routinely produce with pen and paper. Afterward I pondered whether or not somebody watching drone footage would analyze the bright yellow message in the snow.
The next day I received my answer when we were buzzed twice by the Border Patrol, flying very low directly above our heads. This has never happened before. It made me wonder how much longer this secret cabin will continue to exist. Some day we might arrive cold and exhausted in the middle of the night, in sub-zero temperatures, and find nothing but a pile of ashes.
The history of the area is incredible, but in this case I rejoiced most in the discovery of a drawing my wife made of the original woodstove nearly 19 years ago. It was located deep within the annals of the place. She’ll probably never make it back again, so it was nice to find this small memento reminding me that she did share the place with me once…
So many good (and hard) times have been enjoyed both inside and outside the cabin. The place is the perfect marriage of interior and exterior worlds (both physical and emotional)…
Stories from this place are worth the price of The Emancipation of a Buried Man by themselves in my opinion, but for now take a look at some great blog posts I’ve written about it: Journey To the Top of the 48 and My Secret Cabin Deep in the Wilderness. They contain some swell pictures that I love to share.
Now get out and enjoy the rest of winter wherever you live. In the blink of an eye it’ll be time to tap the maples, then it’ll be ticks, planting the garden, the mosquito invasion, and lovely walks on the beach…