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ZipUSA: 98281 @ National Geographic Magazine
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By Erla ZwinglePhotographs by Penny De Los Santos



What's life like on a five-square-mile (thirteen-square-kilometer) patch of U.S. soil at the tip of a Canadian peninsula?



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Neatly drawing the border between Canada and the United States along the 49th parallel was a fine idea, except for one thing. When the line reached the ocean just south of Vancouver, it cut off a tiny lobe of Washington State, which was left hanging out into the Pacific all by itself.

A few people almost immediately noticed that it would make more sense to assign this appendage to Canada, but somehow that never happened. Therefore, sometime in the 1850s the hardy residents of Point Roberts—Icelandic farmers and fishermen, cannery workers, and now a good number of retirees from as far away as Florida—began living on this five-square-mile (13-square-kilometer) fragment of the peninsula as if it were an island colony of some distant mother country. The scenery is gorgeous and, thanks to the guards manning the checkpoint on the border, life is ridiculously peaceful. But it is also riddled with inconvenience.

"This is a wonderful piece of heaven," said cheery, endlessly energetic Terrie LaPorte, owner of the Maple Meadow Bed & Breakfast, "but you can't buy a bra here. You can't buy shoes here. There's no dentist."

If Point Roberts had a national anthem, this would be it: Ten verses outlining the hassles, drawbacks, and handicaps—some of them rather serious, such as the lack of a pharmacy or doctor. Some are merely tedious, such as the need to drive around 45 minutes to leapfrog across the border twice, once at the Point Roberts checkpoint to cross from the U.S. into Canada and then at the Blaine checkpoint to get back to the U.S., simply to buy your license plate, fill a prescription, or go to school past the third grade. But after each stanza everyone would join the rousing chorus, "We're here because we want to be here."

The adoration that the 1,300 year-round residents lavish on this piece of land is matched only by the foibles and feuds that flourish among them. If you sit on the porch at Maple Meadow in the summer evening with Terrie LaPorte and her husband, Keith, you'll hear the main points as expressed by a cross section of their friends who drop by. As the breeze rustles the stately trees and twilight falls, they drink their wine and marvel yet again at their good fortune, the natural beauty, the pods of killer whales frolicking off Lighthouse Point, the peace and tranquillity.

Those gatherings also usually cover the flip side. This being a small town, everyone knows everyone, or close enough. "I took the truck to the shop today," Terrie's husband was telling her. The shop is in Canada, of course. "When I got back, this kid asked me, 'How's your truck?' " Things like this make Keith burst into wild laughter. "That's Point Roberts for you! I don't even know the kid, and he asks me, 'How's your truck?' "

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In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
While the dot-com world was revving up in the 1990s down in Seattle and Redmond, Washington, Ben VanBuskirk was up in Point Roberts wondering how he could get in on the action. He was a full-time park manager at Lighthouse Marine Park, but his winters were quiet and he had time to think about what could be. He got together with a friend, Jeff Pickering, who lives in Redmond, and they started brainstorming. After a little research, they figured out that one of the top "hits" on the Internet is games. "So we decided to invent a game," says VanBuskirk.

VanBuskirk and Pickering were interested in Taoism, so they designed a game based on the philosophy. The game, called Dao, was an immediate success around Point Roberts. In fact, there have been more games of Dao sold in Point Roberts than the number of people who live there.

The game gained some wider popularity after winning the Mensa Select award in 2001. In fact, Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys offered to buy the game from VanBuskirk and Pickering. "He said, I want it to be Nick Carter Dao!" says VanBuskirk.

They turned him down, and things have continued to grow, even though until recently it's been a low-key operation. The travel version of Dao is a specially designed mouse pad and playing pieces of smooth stones. VanBuskirk has assembled every Dao game sold. Sound simple? Not really. VanBuskirk and Pickering have sold 20,000 games.

Needless to say, they have decided to hand the manufacturing over to someone else—a company that makes board games. But just because the dot-com economy tanked, VanBuskirk and Pickering's creative talents haven't followed suit. They're in the midst of inventing another game that they're keeping under wraps, but one that VanBuskirk promises to be just as unique as Dao. And Point Roberts.

—Julie Cederborg
Did You Know?

Related Links
Town of Point Roberts
www.pointroberts.com
Find out more about the history of Point Roberts and the workings of the town, or take a look at a street map of this five-square-mile (13-square-kilometer) zip code.

All Point Bulletin
www.allpointbulletin.com
The online version of the town's newspaper offers up tide tables, current weather conditions, and all the news from this small community.

Lighthouse Marine Park
www.co.whatcom.wa.us/parks/lighthouse/lighthouse.jsp
Details on what to see and do at this county park that is known for some of the best orca viewing around.

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Bibliography
Clark, Richard E. Point Roberts, USA: The History of a Canadian Enclave. Textype Publishing, 1980.

McQuaide, Mike. "Point Roberts Is a Beach Lovers Paradise." Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 19, 2000.

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NGS Resources
Gorman, Jim. "America's Sweet Spots." National Geographic Adventure (March 2002), 52-65.

Ricks, Byron. "The Front of Beyond: San Juan Islands, Washington." National Geographic Adventure (July/August 2000), 112-5.

Chadwick, Douglas H. "British Columbia's Sunshine Coast." National Geographic Traveler (January/February 1996), 32-45.

Barnard, Charles N. "9 Great Summertime Getaways." National Geographic Traveler (May/June 1994), 112-5.

Vesilind, Pritt. "Common Ground, Different Dreams." National Geographic (February 1990), 94-127.

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