It was a perfect photo opportunity – one foot in Sweden, the other in Norway. I stood on the Old Svinesund Bridge, straddling the boundary between two Scandinavian countries. The flags of Sweden and Norway, on their respective sides, waved cheerfully in the breeze.
I looked down from the bridge across the Ide Fjord. There was no corresponding demarcation of nations in the water. Identical aqueous molecules flowed freely from one country to the other. The same types of plants grew on either side. If there were fish and other aquatic organisms swimming underneath, I was sure they did not collide with some boundary wall.
Neither of my legs felt different from the other, even though an official national line bisected my body. And that set me to wondering: What does a boundary make? The Oxford Dictionary of Current English defines it as "a line marking the limits of an area."
What, then, I asked myself, defines a limit? According to the same dictionary, it is "a point beyond which something does not or may not pass." At least not without careful scrutiny, I parenthetically added, which many a traveler, waiting in long immigration lines, can affirm.
Several years before, I was crossing another international boundary, from Canada to the United States. At the border, I was closely questioned as to the length of my stay in Canada and the purpose of my visit. The trunk of my car was searched. Despite my innocence, I began to feel potentially guilty. Finally I was cleared to proceed home.
Meanwhile, above my head, monarch butterflies were nonchalantly flitting their way southward, without stopping. Boundaries presented no limits for them.
In some areas of the globe, guards with guns preserve their country's boundaries, and refugees risk their lives crossing borders to a safer place. Yet avian travelers freely traverse international lines without passports, IDs, or official permission.
In skies above the perpetually war-threatened Middle East, an average of half a billion birds (half a million raptors alone) travel back and forth twice every year. Between summer sites and winter grounds, their biannual migration flyways pass through Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt. Storks and pelicans brazenly swoop over border patrols' heads.
Even in peaceful places, boundaries abound, albeit of the natural kind. Geological and aquatic formations present potential limits "beyond which something does not pass."
Yet man has found ways to cross many of those barriers with boats, planes, and trains. We build bridges over water and make tunnels through rock. Yet, when constructed by human disharmony, man-made limits loom large and insurmountable.
Boundaries can bring beauty. I remember a childhood friend's collection of foreign dolls, each dressed in the unique costume of the country from which it came. Over and over my friend and I wondered about the exotic languages and lives of people of such diverse cultures – so very different from our own, so much more interesting, we thought.
And so it was during that trip to Scandinavia, when I marveled at the rich history and traditions each country called its own. Norway and Sweden, peacefully adjacent to each other – the point at which one began and the other ended was clearly marked on the Svinesund Bridge. But as was proven there beneath my feet, boundaries need not limits make.