Becoming a Boundary

Jul 5, 2017

As we learned in the discussion of charter boundaries, there used to be a tradition of walking the borders of one’s property, to re-enforce the invisible lines defined on paper and in minds.

I wonder why this tradition existed. Was it to remind everyone else of the land you owned, or to remind yourself? A solemn patrol, not so much watching out for trouble as trying to dissuade it; a show of force.

As we walked the border between England and Wales (approximately, via Offa’s Dyke), we physically enforced it—our single-file line came between a lamb and the rest of its family. Immediately, the mother began calling out in a low bleat; the lamb answered with a high, distressed “baa.” For a moment, the walkers stood still, observing the odd noises of these ridiculous animals. Why should a lamb care if it was only a few feet away from the herd?

For the lamb, however, this must have been an incredibly troubling event. It kept glancing across the divide, towards the safety of its family, but was dissuaded by the risk. Finally, a few walkers shifted, opening a passage through the border. The lamb leapt past, twisting and turning, trying to evade the perceived danger of that crossing. Not until the family was once again reunited did they quickly run away.

We learned how parish boundaries, if they come after an ancient earthwork, will generally follow it; if the land-units predate the work, they will be cut through. What happens when a border cuts through something that is still alive, like a family, a culture, or a nation? What happens when that border, which can be an entirely mental construction and easily passed over by a wandering sheep, is granted physical force, via a wall, ditch, or line of people? There is a slogan in the Mexican immigrant rights movement: “we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.”