In early May, we moved.
It was the first time I’d ever left home for someplace else, and, of course, Dad said it’d be great.
“It’ll feel like home in no time,” he said.
I didn’t believe him, but I didn’t tell him that, because it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Home is only home when the people you love live there, and the only person I had left to love was Dad. So I guess home was anywhere he was. Which was fine and easy to say while everyone and everything was familiar. But whether I wanted to go or not, we were leaving the familiar behind. Even the normal end-of-school routine would be different. I’d finish seventh grade far away from the rest of my class and turn in the last of my assignments by mail.
Before we left, Dad and I packed for three days straight. We taped over the seams of a couple-dozen cardboard boxes, then shipped them away on a cargo plane, and drove north. We were leaving behind our house in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, which was far enough north already in my mind, considering it was only about a five-hour drive to the Canadian line. But one mile-marker at a time, we went right on over the border toward Churchill, Manitoba.
I’d never crossed the border before. It’s all very official and serious. Men and women in uniform with stern faces and clipped questions, and the Canadian flag flying high over the border station made me nervous. Guilty. Like maybe the stuff we were taking into Canada might be illegal or something. But all I had in my pockets was some Chapstick and a candy wrapper. Our duffle bags were just full of clothes, and I guess we must not have looked too suspicious because they didn’t ask us to get out of our vehicle for a search or anything.
The border patrol has an interesting job, I think. All the pictures they look at every day—how many driver’s licenses and passport pictures do they see?
The photo on my passport wasn’t great. I looked too excited about getting my picture taken. My eyes were wide and there was a surprised look on my face. I looked like I thought my whole life was bound to be one big unexpected thing after another. But I don’t like change too much, or the unexpected, and it was frustrating that Dad somehow thought all this was a good idea in the first place. Nobody drags their kid to the arctic for the summer. But my Dad was, and it was surprising how fast my entire life suddenly felt unsteady. Like one big gust of arctic wind could sweep it all away.
Of course, the border patrolman didn’t care about any of that. He just asked for my name and matched it to the name printed on my identification. And if he noticed the funny look on my face at all, he probably just thought the lady at the passport office had been quick with her snap-shot finger.
“What are you doing in Manitoba?” the patrolman asked.
“Whale research,” Dad said. And I was thankful he left it at that, because once he got started talking about whales, there’d be no stopping him.
The patrolman waved us through, and I turned around in my seat, watching as the gate lowered behind us. The border station shrunk smaller and smaller as we drove. The road pulled us away from that invisible border line separating the United States from Canada—separating home from everything else. And when I finally turned back around in my seat, it felt like we were going in reverse because I’d been watching the road move away from us for so long. That’s what leaving is like. Watching things slip away from you until your insides ache and everything feels backwards.
Dad and I drove until we reached Montreal, where a man waited to buy our truck.
“We won’t be able to drive past Thompson, Manitoba,” Dad said. “No one can, because the roads actually end. And there’s no point in having a truck you can’t use.” He’s practical like that.
After Thompson, the roads leading north just stop, giving way to Arctic peat bogs and ocean inlets. I’d spent the past few weeks poring over the pictures I’d found online, trying to see it all in my head—something I could barely imagine. I tried to picture the bog lakes and stretches of Tamarack trees. In the fall, the trees would trade their green summery clothes for needles the color of saffron—a spice Mom kept in a small glass jar in the spice rack.
But winter was still in charge where we were headed. In the Arctic, things stay cold a whole lot longer than other places. It’s too far north to thaw when farther south everything is getting on with the business of spring.
The Montreal man who bought our truck seemed nice enough, though I don’t remember very much about him. The only thing that really stuck in my mind, was his hair. It sprouted wildly out of his head, and once in a while he ran a hand through it, trying to calm it down. But it wouldn’t be calmed and kept falling into his face where it got mixed up in his eyebrows. There was even hair coming out of his ears, and poking up through his dirty flannel shirt where he’d left it unbuttoned, and though I tried to ignore it, out of his nose, too.
I didn’t think I’d care who bought our truck. But when it came right down to it, I did. I guess I’d envisioned people like us having the Ford and somehow, I couldn’t make this man and whatever family he might have fit that picture. It made saying good-bye to the old green truck even harder than I thought it’d be. Strange, how you can get attached to something that’s done nothing but carry you from one place to the next.
The Ford had carried me to school on snow days when Mom and Dad didn’t trust the buses.
It had carried us to Dairy Queen on hot summer nights. Dad would let me ride in the back, just as long as I sat down and leaned against the cab. He would take the back roads and roll the windows down so that his country music could pour out into the summer air. Mom would sing along, letting the wind carry her voice. She always opened the back window so I could sing along, too, and she held my hand through the space there, like she was afraid I’d blow away in all that warm summer wind.
And of course, the Ford took us to the hospital and back, over and over again, when Mom got sick.
But we left the Ford behind, along with all those memories, and boarded a plane that would bring us closer to dad’s whales. We would have to take two of them: a big plane from Montreal to Winnipeg, and a smaller one from Winnipeg to Churchill.
And as our plane bounced once before lurching into Canadian skies, I wondered what would be carrying me around next.
Copyright © 2015 by Beth Hautala. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.