Animal parents: from self sacrifice to murder

In the animal kingdom, reproduction is a vast and interesting topic with many different methods having evolved.  Take for example the frog mums who let tadpoles develop in their tummy and then have to regurgitate them.  Or any one of the marsupials who give birth to jellybean sized young who then have to struggle across mum to find her pouch where lies safety and food.  I’ve written before about kangaroos and how females are essentially a baby making conveyor belt with young at various stages ‘on the go’.

Birth might sound difficult for the kangaroo but I’m betting the hyena is looking on wistfully… Female hyenas experience horrific births.  Their birth canal is a funny shape, it’s longer than most similar sized mammals and the umbilical cord is short.  This means there is a higher risk of asphyxiation, but it gets worse.  The baby’s head is too big to pass through the clitoris (hyenas have an unusual genital makeup and urination, fertilisation and birthing are all carried out through the clitoris) so when a mother gives birth, the clitoris tears.  Not just painful, this can be deadly, with estimates of over 10% of females dying the first time they give birth and more than half of cubs being stillborn.  Things don’t get much better for those cubs that survive either… they tend to arrive in litters of two and the one that is born first tends to kill the second within minutes of birth.

Not necessarily a difficult birth, but the frilled shark has to suffer pregnancy for over three years…  The babies grow a frustrating ½ inch per month and don’t emerge into the water until they reach 1 ½ to 2 feet long…

On land, the longest pregnancy falls to elephants who have to endure almost two years of pregnancy before a baby pops out but thankfully, once little ellie has arrived, the whole herd play a role in raising it.  Similarly, sea lions have collective arrangements with a nursery so they can drop off the pups and then head out to feed.  This rota system works well for sea lions but this communal approach isn’t the case for all animals.  In many species, mum and dad don’t actually engage in parenting and in others, the burden falls on just one parent.  And in some cases, this burden can literally kill mum.

Self sacrificing parents include octopus mums who guard their eggs for several months, starving during this time as they can’t leave them.  Once they hatch, the mother dies.  As sad as this is, it pales in comparison to the desert spider.  When the female desert spider lays an egg sac, her insides start to liquefy.  Once her babies hatch, she regurgitates her innards for her young to eat and nine days later, only a husk remains.

When desert spider lays an egg sac, her tissues start to degrade until the spiderlings hatch. Once this happens, she regurgitates her own liquefied insides for the babies to eat.  9 days later they finish up her innards and then head off into the world, leaving her husk behind…

For orangutans the substantial workload falls to mum who has to spend 8 years raising her babies, longer than any other animal single parent.

Whilst pregnancy and childrearing might be tough for mum, not all dads are hands off.  Indeed, in some cases, its only the male who’s involved in child rearing – the male rhea receives eggs from various females to incubate and rear and the same is true for the cassowary.

Indeed, this system – where the males look after the young from several females, and females spread their brood between several males – is common, especially among fish.
– Olivia Judson

Childcare arrangements vary throughout the natural world with some parents having no involvement, some species specialising in single parenthood and others working together to raise their children.  The type of gestation affects the possible roles for parents.  In mammals for example, where the fetus develops in the womb, there isn’t a lot that the males can do.  For birds however, dad can sit on the eggs and provide food for the chicks just as well as mum can.

Looking at a couple of egg examples, we can see there are different levels of involvement and different roles the parents can play.  The spraying characid is a fish that lays its eggs out of water – the female leaps out of water and lays eggs, then the male leaps out and fertilises them, an act which is repeated until about 300 eggs have been laid.  For the next three days, dad has to stay with them and splash the eggs with his tail to keep them from drying out.

For some leeches, parenting is the basic guarding eggs from predators but for African leeches, a kangaroo style approach has been adopted and they carry their young in a pouch, and for another type of leech, the young are glued to their parents tummy.

But moving onto mammals, we find the Dayak fruit bat where both mum and dad produce milk, taking shared responsibility for nursing their young.  Djungarian hamster males are also devoted to their babies.  They “forage for seeds which they stuff into their pouches in their cheeks; on arriving back at the burrow, they unload their cargo by pushing on the pouches with their forepaws so that seeds stream forth” (Judson).  In addition to finding the food, the males help in the birth process, acting as a midwife and helping the pups out.  They also open their airways and lick them clean, even going so far as to eat the placenta.  Male marmosets also carry out a similar role and will go on to play an active role in childrearing.

Hornbills are another devoted parent.  The female climbs into a nest in a tree and seals up the entrance so that there is only space for her beak.  She is then reliant on her partner to bring her food whilst she incubates the chicks.  Once they are born, the father must bring food for the whole family until it is time for them to emerge.  Overall, the female spends as much as 137 days cooped up in the nest.

But there’s always two sides to a story…  And on the flip side to these dedicated parents, we find infanticide.

In many species where fatherhood is clear, males will kill offspring that is not there.  Infanticide gets pesky children out of the way so that dad doesn’t have to spend resources, time and energy on raising them.  They also do this because without children around, the females get in season and thus he can get her pregnant and have children of his own.  Squirrels, wolves and primates are some of the creatures that engage in this behaviour and about 34% of gorilla infant deaths and 64% of languar infant deaths are down to infanticide (Bondar).

In species which are particularly prone to infanticide, females have evolved a number of countermeasures such as keeping babies in burrows or pouches so that males can’t get to them but there are times when even mum can’t keep their baby alive.

“In rodents, an increased incidence of infanticide is observed for males during periods of food deprivation, and for females during periods of lactation (which confers high energetic demands).”
– Carin Bondar

In coot and moorhen families, who have a large number of chicks at once, parents tend to feed the closest mouth, but if one chick becomes particularly demanding, the parents will try and discourage it by picking it up and shaking it, sometimes killing it.

In some animals, a male having a mistress can lead to the death of the children, the ultimate in wicked stepmothers!  The mistress will often murder the wife’s children and if the opportunity arises, vice versa.

“In both the house sparrow and the great reed warbler, for example, a male with two mates will help only the female whose clutch hatches first, so to ensure herself of male assistance, a savvy mistress will smash all the wife’s eggs.”
– Olivia Judson

Murder isn’t only a risk that comes from your parents; the sand shark practices intrauterine cannibalism, the biggest fetus gobbles up its embryonic siblings whilst in the womb. Whilst an extreme example, siblingcide is not uncommon in the animal kingdom.  In many invertebrates, cannibalism is the way to get rid of your pesky brothers and sisters and thus not only do you get a good meal, you also guarantee increased access to resources going forward.  Whilst not so extreme, eagles and hyenas also kill their siblings, although they wait until after birth.

Of course there are many other interesting births and parenting techniques in the animal kingdom and I could never do any more than scrape the surface here but if these exmaples have whet your appetite, try checking out some of the links below and look into seahorses, that well known fully involved dad!

Suggested reading:

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2 of Swords

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Swords/Air

Swords are the suit of the air, of the mind, of communication and the mental realm.  They are about matters of logic, knowledge and ambition.  Strategy and planning, truth and justice are all sword qualities.  Swords are about learning and thinking but as they are about the inner mind, they also deal with worries and nightmares, the shadow side of all that thinking energy.  This suit, like the swords that represent them, have two edges; light and shadow.  Creation and destruction.  Imagination and anxiety.  Decisiveness and indecision.

“You don’t always have to chop with the sword of truth. You can point with it too.”
– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird (quoted on Little Red Tarot)

The nature of swords is to fight but instead, as Lamott makes reference to, you can use the sword in other ways.  You can use the related intellect and instead out manoeuvre your opponent or your nemesis using your mind instead.  The suit of swords is also about communication, possibly making the saying the pen is mightier than the sword appropriate at times.

Whilst we normally think of cups as the emotional suit, swords and air bring with them mental conflict.  Michelle Tea notes that “the swords suit has a tense relationship with the realm of emotions.  In some readings of the Two of Swords, it represents a problem whose solving requires strict logic; you must not rule with your heart in this moment, but with what you know to be intellectually true”.

Twos

In tarot, twos can go two ways.  They can be about union and partnerships or they can be about choices and opposition.  With this in mind though, we can also see them as being able balance or finding the middle ground.

Twos are also linked with the high priestess, the two from the major arcana.  I’ve not done a post about her yet but she is often about intuition and looking inwards for answers.  She is a card that sings with sacred, feminine wisdom.  She is balance and harmony and peaceful stillness.  Yet she is also about awakening what lies inside you, revealing that which is hidden.  This dichotomy gives us a hint of what we will find across the twos.

We will start to see, as we move through the different depictions of the two of swords, that this tuning into oneself is one way of answering the call of the card.

Different decks

Rider Waite Smith

The two of swords from the RWS tarot depicts a blindfolded woman with a sword in each hand and her arms crossed.  Behind her is the ocean, craggy islands and a vast sky, empty except for a crescent moon.  I feel like we can take this scene by looking at three stages in the scene; the woman, the sea and the sky.

The woman appears to have chosen her blindfold, she has deliberately closed her eyes.  What might this represent to the reader?  Perhaps you have consciously withdrawn in order to make a decision without distraction.  Or are you subconsciously closing your eyes to your choices or in denial?  Sometimes we shut ourselves off physically or emotionally as a way of handling decisions – we put our head in the sand, or blindfold ourselves so we don’t have to engage.  We can also push problems or choices we don’t want to make away from ourselves and if we look at the woman we find a position which could be considered defensive, crossing her heart in a protective way so that nothing can get near.  Conversely the crossed arms could be a deliberate, temporary, carving out of space and time so that she can think things through – there is something in her position that I find somewhat intentional and zenlike.

We saw that twos can be about choices and balance and here we find the two swords facing away from each other, is there a tension here?  Are they symbolic of the two paths ahead of the woman?

Behind her we find the sea, choppy and filled with rocks and islands that could become hazardous for ships.  In tarot, we often find that the state of water is reflective of the emotional state of the querant.  Here we see a lot of emotional turmoil and perhaps this is why the choice or decision is so difficult?  Or are we being swayed by those emotions?  Another way to view this is to note how still and calm the woman is in the face of such emotions.  If the woman is in denial, we could view the choppy seas as a sign that the problem she is hiding from is growing and growing and the chance of hitting the rocks is increasing… It is time to made a decision, to choose a path and to move on from this place of inaction.  Toss a coin if you have to but don’t stay here.

Above the sea spans a sky, empty except for a crescent moon.  Interestingly the sky is a light blue, the sky of day, whilst the moon is obviously normally found at night.  Perhaps this hints that logic won’t always work here.  The moon is about illusions and dreams and things not being as they seem and a moon in the day feels like it exaggerates that message.

Tarot of Pagan Cats

The Tarot of Pagan Cats normally follows the RWS deck in it’s imagery but here it has departed quite significantly.  There is no blindfolded character and the cat is not holding two swords.  Despite that, the little white book gives this card the same meaning.  Again, it’s about conflict, this time its specified that it’s between heart and mind.  The cat is walking a tightrope between the two swords, the two choices but his head (and tail) are held high.

These swords are parallel suggesting equally valid paths and it may be worth noting that the cat is both black and white here.  We find the crescent moon depicted but this time in a night sky and whilst there are islands in the ocean, they are smoother, less dangerous and the waves aren’t as choppy as the RWS card.  This all confirms the cat’s confidence about this decision, he knows he’s got this.  I feel like this deviation from the RWS card shows the importance of listening to your intuition when it comes to which deck to use for a reading as the conversation can take on a rather different tone.

Wild Unknown

Another different depiction here.  In the RWS we had two swords facing away from each other and in the pagan cats the swords are parallel, here we find the swords are facing towards and crossing each other.  They form a dark X against a sky with an eclipsed sun.  The moon on the previous cards is now full and is obscuring light, the clarity.

When I first saw this card I read the sun as straining behind the moon to be seen and that if I uncrossed the swords, or made a decision, I would be able enjoy the light and see things clearly again.  I’ve also had readings which have shown the card as a situation where we want to understand things but we don’t necessarily want to understand things as they actually are and we find ourselves straining to impose our mentally constructed version of reality onto the world around us.

Lumina

Wow, this portrayal is so different to the rest of them.  Here we have parallel swords, as in the pagan cats, but instead of being vertical they are horizontal and instead of being held by the same person they are each wielded by a bird and they appear to be in a stalemate situation.  Alternatively, we could see a mirror image deal going on here.  Appropriately, the image is a bit confusing.

Talking about the two of swords reversed, the little white book says that “mental confusion and information overload is rife!”  This is something I wanted to touch on as it’s not really come through with the other representations.  We life in a world where we are surrounded by messages and information and opinions and words and words and words.  It can be hard to hear our own voice in amongst all the others and most of us don’t tend to make space for listening either.  Another way to feel into this is that being surrounded by information can mean we know too much and can see all sides or we can have so much information that we don’t realise we have the right information.

I don’t know what the birds on the cards are but given the meaning of the hawk and eagle, I like to view them as one or the other.  Both are messengers who bring perception and foresight to the game.

Other

The two of swords in norse tarot is very different again.  It has two men sitting opposite each other at a table and it looks like they’re playing chess or something similar which requires the mind to come up with paths forwards and work through them to see what obstacles could arise.  There is also something here about taking your time but not taking too long.

Whilst we’ve seen some very different depictions, there are some common themes here.  We are looking at decisions and how we face them.  As well as figuring out the decision or choice you are facing, you may need to spend some time unpicking the how and whys of your coping mechanism.  In my little white book I’ve made a note that whys -> wise.  By learning why we engage with a particular way of dealing with things we can start to learn how to approach things differently.

Other questions to explore include:

  • What are you denying, repressing or avoiding?
  • Head or heart? Logic or intuition?
  • What info do you need to make the decision?
  • Why are you struggling to decide?
  • Is anxiety clouding things?
  • Do you already known your decision but are afraid to make the leap?

Keywords

blocked, stuck, avoiding, at a standstill, intentional blindness as an emotional barrier, following blindly, conforming, stalemate, opposing forces, a situation you’ve been putting off dealing with, ambivalence, take off the blindfold and start fighting, indecision, contemplation, deliberation, considering both sides, boundaries, the calm before the storm, closing off from distractions to make a choice, comfort zone, clouded logic, overthinking

Associations

Peppermint

Whilst I mostly know about mint as an association because of the wonderful Little Red Tarot website, I have come across it elsewhere as I’ve noted it in my little white book I just didn’t note where it came from…  I have found a few more references in my googling to the suit of swords being associated with mint which reassured me that I haven’t just dragged this out of thin air!

Mint is a stimulating herb which is associated with quickening the mind and as we’ll see, the sign of libra is also about rapid fire of ideas and this could be related to the information gathering or information overwhelm of the two of swords.  The peppermint could stimulate the mind to filter through or seek out the information needed to make the decision.  It is said to clear the mind and this would set the scene for making the choice ahead.  Perhaps a peppermint tea would give you the space and the clarity you need.  Or a peppermint scent could help you cut through the fog.

It is a stimulating, invigorating plant that energises but also soothes; it is complicated, much like decision making!

Moon in libra

On a basic level, the moon is about emotions and libra is about balance and harmony.  Libra is an air sign, like swords, and the moon in an air sign brings us quick fire thinking, rapid fire ideas as well as the desire to build bridges, connect seemingly opposing ideas and find compromises.

The moon also brings us intuition and the sub-and un- conscious and then libra can bring in an air of indecision.  Because libra can see and understand multiple perspectives, they can find themselves unable to make a decision because they know there are pros and cons of all sides and as there may not be a clear cut good or right choice, their intuition can become muddled and blinded by information.

Moon in libra can be focused on trying to keep everyone happy, compromises which keep the peace and generally trying to find the middle ground.  This can lead to the person themselves getting lost and their own needs and thoughts being lost as they try to please everyone else.  This can be seen in the depictions above but does put a slightly different spin on things.  Instead of just being indecisive or stuck under an information avalanche, we find a person who has lost touch with themselves because they are focused on the happiness of others and compromises.

I feel like the energy at play here makes it hard to lean into mind or heart fully, perhaps being able to feel into both instincts and not being able to privilege one over the other.

On a more negative side, the moon in libra can lead to a person becoming argumentative as a protective mechanism.  They can provoke an argument if they feel emotionally unsafe and then instead of dealing with the emotional unsafe feeling, they can go into their quick fire, rapid idea, seeing all sides of things part of themselves and this can feel more comfortable.  In a way, this is hiding behind indecisiveness and/or the decision making process itself.  It is almost as if an issue has been summoned up so that moon in libra can busy themselves with seeing all the many sides and arguing about it.  An excellent example of paradoxically avoiding an issue by diving into the issue.

Bird of the year, bird of the country and so on

“Their songs, nests, mysterious migrations, even just the act of flying, all enchant, taunt, intrigue and tell of another world, ancient, important, and proceeding by non-human rules and rhythms.  It is their capacity to connect, to capture our emotions, that helps make birds so enchanting.” 

New Scientist

I apologise for the terrible title, my brain is not up to scratch at the moment… 

We have all come across national birds, birds of the year and so forth.  I’m sure we’re all familiar with the use of the dodo as a mascot for Mauritius and the kiwi for New Zealand.  For Spain, 2018 is the year of the barn owl and in Australia, the magpie has just been voted bird of the year.

But why do we declare birds as icons of certain years or places?  Well, in some cases it’s to do with conservation.  In Spain, there has been a recent decline of 13% in barn owls and the species was chosen by the public to raise awareness of it’s plight.

If you take care of birds, you take care of the most important of the environmental problems in the world.
-Thomas Lovejoy

National Geographic and partners are going one step further and have declared 2018 to be not the year of a certain bird but the Year of the Bird:

“In 1918 Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to protect birds from wanton killing*.  To celebrate the centennial, National Geographic is partnering with the National Audubon Society, BirdLife International and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to declare 2018 the Year of the Bird.”

*Too late for poor Martha and her friends…

As part of this, there are new years resolutions you could make to ensure a more bird aware year and small actions you can take to #BirdYourWorld.  You might also want to take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch on 27 – 29 January 2018.

When it comes to nations, empires and rulers, the adoption of birds as emblems has a lot to do with the power that they convey.  They are used in coats of arms, seals and other prominent displays and of all the birds, the eagle has been especially popular.  Perhaps it is it’s size, it’s ability to fly so high and being virtually at the top of the food chain that has marked it out for this role.  Perhaps it is a sense of regalness that it engenders.  It is a symbol of strength, leadership and courage.  As king of the skies, it sees all and rules all.

Since 1782, the bald eagle has been used by the United States on it’s great seal. A choice which Benjamin Franklin apparently argued against, preferring the golden eagle or possibly even a turkey… Many other ideas were suggested including rattlesnakes and complicated scenes which don’t seem all that practical.

“He is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly; you may have seen him perched on some dead tree, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the fishing-hawk, and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish and is bearing it to its nest the bald eagle pursues him and takes it from him. Besides, he is a rank coward; the little kingbird attacks him boldly. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem… For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America. He is besides, tho’ a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”
– Benjamin Franklin

Perhaps it is the depth of symbolism and folklore surrounding our feathered friends which means we chose them time after time to represent who we are, where we are and when we are.  But let us hope that doing so refreshes and rejuvenates interest in our flying neighbours and increases conservation efforts for them.

To end on a lighter note, if you were to chose a personal coat of arms or a seal, what bird would you chose?  I’m pondering ducks, I love them, but I also have a soft spot for puffins… And we’ve already seen how amazing crows and ravens are… Tough choice!

Eagle: Animal Dreaming Cards

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We are starting with the eagle, a bird we have already considered in Wild Unknown Animal Spirit deck. This gives me an opportunity to let you know how I’ll be tackling these cross over cards.

There will inevitably be similar themes and similar teachings so I will not repeat what I have already written.  Each crossover card will link to the equivalent wild unknown version and I will expand on this interpretation by looking specifically at the image in the animal dreaming card and the Australian context.  Whilst there will be similarities, I don’t believe that one image will convey the same as another of the same species.  In some cases we may have different sexes, in some we may get different feelings towards the animal.  A mouse looking curious will speak to us in a different way to a mouse looking terrified.

Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Eagle

This particular eagle looks like it might be some kind of sea eagle.  It certainly doesn’t look like the Wedge Tailed Eagle which is Austrailia’s largest bird of prey.  According to birdlife Australia, “few Australian birds of prey are as spectacular as the White-bellied Sea-Eagle.”  This bird is second largest and is found in coastal areas but also inland, far from the sea, near rivers and lakes.

Just returning to the Wedge Tailed Eagle for a moment, Bunjil is often depicted as such.   One myth tells of Bunjil creating the mountains, the rivers, the plants and the animals as well as laws for humans to live by.  One he had done this, he asked Crow to create some wind and this wind was so strong that Bunjil and his family were blown up to the heavens.  They remain they today, Bunjil as the star Altair and his two wives, the black swans, became stars on either side of him.

Regardless of which eagle we see here, we know already that the eagle soars high in the sky, carrying messages between land and spirit.  They know a freedom which comes only when you let go of material, earth bound things.

Another important aspect of this card is the number 0.  From a mathematical point of view, 0 is a powerful number.  It has led to philosophical ponderings, how can nothing be something?  0 is neither positive or negative, neither forward nor backwards.  It is potential, possibility.  It is everything and nothing.  It is the moment before the first breath of life.  0 also marks the Fool in the tarot deck, beginnings and endings.

Considering the eagle and zero, we see a bird which is guiding us to step out on our journey.  Their amazing eyes see the minutiae, what lies in our hearts, what stops us from moving on.  They also see the big picture, the possibilities, the paths that lie ahead of us.  They ask us to trust their guidance and knowledge and listen to them in whatever way they speak to us.  Whether that is signs and synchronicities or intuition or cards. We are poised, ready to take an amazing journey, if only we can trust ourselves to listen and take that initial step.

Eagle: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

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As I said in the post about the hawk, there are a lot of similarities between these birds.  I would recommend reading that post as well if you have drawn the eagle card.

As observed in the hawk post, the eagle is generally larger and more powerful and can fly higher so is a more spiritual bird.  Like the hawk, the eagle is a messenger from the gods and has a higher perspective on life because of this and because of it’s very literal perspective.

One key difference in terms of the two cards is the relationship with the sun.  The hawk flies in the light and strength of the sun whereas the eagle appears to be mastering the sun.

These icons of wilderness and strength are majestic hunters who’s amazing vision can can spot carcasses from long distances.  They gorge when food is available and can then go ten days without food thus reminding us to prepare for the future.  When diving on prey, they can reach up to 100mph which sounds pretty terrifying but even at that immense speed, they are still able to carefully and precisely target their kill.  Once they have caught their prey their talons clamp shut so they can hold onto their food even when they relax their muscles.  What are you not letting go of?

Eagles soar high above the mundane day to day, flying adeptly and freely through the skies and the realm of the mind, of knowledge and of communication.

Despite their splendour, not everything about the eagle is so regal and godly… They are prone to what is called Cain and Abel Syndrome, that is to say siblingcide.  In the nest, the oldest chick will often kill it’s siblings.  A true survival of the fittest situation that is thought to arise as a result of food scarcity.  If there are limited resources, sharing them with your brother could result in the death of both of you… What do you do in that situation?

Eagles feature in a lot of myths and legends and are considered symbols of strength.  For example, we have the revered bald eagle in america and the Thunderbird from native american tradition was often considered to be an eagle.   Eagle feathers have been used to symbolise rank and bravery as well as in healing, perhaps lending their own strength to help you heal?

We see the eagle’s importance in many cultures, for example, an Aztec sun god took the form of an eagle and in Norse mythology, the golden eagle sits on the top of the tree of life.  The Celts linked the eagle to the sun as well as with the oak tree and saw it as a wise and ancient creature.  The links with the sun and the sky tie the eagle to the role of messenger in both ancient Greece and ancient Rome, being the messenger of Zeus and Jupiter respectively.  Both of these are sky gods although Zeus is better known for his place as king of the gods.  Without doubt, this is a bird of the sun.  And with it is tied to the conscious world, the light, clarity, illumination and the day time.  Take control of your light, shine it on your shadows without fear, see what is made visible.

In my notes I wrote that eagles have few boundaries.  I am assuming that means physically, that is they can go pretty much anywhere but I can’t remember.  Whatever I meant by it I wanted to include it as it’s an interesting thought to ponder.  What are your boundaries?  Do you have too many?  Not enough?  What if you had no boundaries or limitations?