About a week ago I took a bike ride to a place called “Southern Lumber” to pick up a couple of sticks of white oak I am using to build a new dodger onto my boat. We’ve been living aboard in Charleston, South Carolina, to get away from Boston winter weather, which makes living on a boat quite miserable this time of year. Southern Lumber is up King street, in the wastelands and badlands that lie north of the city. A few blocks past Calhoun Street the gentility and architectural splendor of antebellum Charleston stops rather abruptly, turning into a run-down clapboard ghetto. A few miles of bad pavement later even that peters out into a wasteland of highway, rail track and industrial shacks, among which sit the silos of Southern Lumber.
The fellow behind the counter knew all there is to know about lumber, even to the point of knowing the important distinction between red and white oak as it applies to boatbuilding. But when the time came for him to write down my name on the sales slip, he bogged down:
Clearly, my last name was not one of the ones that he was familiar with, so I handed him my Massachusetts driver’s license, and said:
“Just copy it from this.”
He looked at my license, and said: “What country is this from.”
“Same one, I hope.”
“Well, if it’s north of the Mason-Dixon line, then it’s a whole different country, you know,” he stated grandly, unwittingly segueing into a speech I had already prepared for just such an occasion.
“Have you heard of Global Warming?”
“Yessuh!” he said, scoring a point for South Carolina public education.
“Well, due to Global Warming, the Mason-Dixon line is moving further and further north every year. It now runs through New Jersey. In another decade or two, it will be running through New England.”
He didn’t buy it, and neither should you. Amusing to think about, though…
Imagine: Christian rock piped in on the Acela high speed train between New York and Boston… civic and community leaders in the Five Boroughs attending a prayer breakfast, praying unto someone called “J-Zeus” (a pagan rapper-god, judging from the name)… Bostonians finding themselves at the meat counter in a Piggly Wiggly supermarket surprised to see gigantic cuts of meat labeled “Boston Butt”… the traditional northern second person plural pronoun “Youse” becoming edged out in favor of the southern “Y’all.”
But is it really so fanciful to think of the old Mason-Dixon line picking up from N 39º 43′ 20″ where it has sat for almost two and a half centuries and walking north? After all, other supposedly fixed boundaries appear to be on the move. The US-Mexican border appears to be shifting north, with the entire southern tier of the US turning into a Spanish-speaking zone. The US-Canadian border seems to have jumped north as well: during the Vietnam war, Americans who had a problem with risking their lives for nothing could flee north, but now soldiers and National Guardsmen who have issues with being called up for yet another tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan need to look further afield to find a safe haven.
In other parts of the world, the border between Russia and China seems to be slowly dissolving, with more and more Chinese nationals to be found north of it. To compensate, Russia’s northern border has recently made a great leap northward, and now encompasses the north pole. (Anyone who doubts this fact can take a trip in a submarine and look at the Russian flag planted on the sea floor.) This is an example of politics racing ahead of nature. With respect to most other lines that are creeping north as the climate warms up, politics is the laggard. But is it not all, in the end, just a matter of time?
As the tropics turn into a belt of lifeless, sun-baked rocks and sand blown about by hurricanes, populations, both animal and human, will be forced to shift north, and fine political lines, like the various North American borders, will turn out to be of little consequence. In the end, you may not know what country you are from, but it may not matter.