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Posts tagged ‘Saguaro National Park’


Yellowstone National Park was the first national park, initially established in 1872.

Yellowstone National Park was the first national park, initially established in 1872.

logo jpgToday is the 100th birthday for the National Park Service.  It was President Woodrow Wilson who signed the mandate creating the agency on 25 August 1916.  Since then, its charge has remained the same: protect designated land for its beauty and wildlife as well as its historical significance for the enjoyment of future generations.  That goal expanded to include assuring public access to these protected areas.

That assurance of public access is what makes the National Parks the best gift ever.  Not only can visitors enter the areas, but they will find visitor centers, knowledgeable rangers and volunteers, established paths and scenic drives as well as parking and bathroom facilities.  Not all locations are 100% accessible, but most are upgrading their facilities and have at least some hiking options accessible for wheelchairs.  The access is not free, but the entrance fee is minimal, typically $30 for a car to have access for a week.* Annual and lifelong passes are options as well.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Book heacoxWhen you unwrap this gift, you will find a wide variety of places to visit and enjoy.  To see the magnitude of what the national parks oversee, I went to National Geographic’s The National Parks: An Illustrated History (May 2015).  Through photos and essays, the book explains how the National Park Service “represents freedom, adventure, diversity, dedication, respect, and restraint.”  Here is the book’s opening overview, by the numbers:

84,000,000 acres of land

75,000 archaeological sites

18,000 miles of trails

247 endangered plants and animals

407 park properties including

78 national monuments

59 national parks

25 battlefields

10 seashores

27,000 historic and prehistoric structures

20,000 employees

246,000 volunteers

292,800,082 recreational visits in 2014

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls

Not everyone is a fan of the national parks, however.  Some visitors even offer some less than stellar Yelp reviews.  According to a few of these reviews, the parks are too crowded, which can happen in the height of the season. The potential of too many other visitors is why I try to visit places in early spring, before summer crowds start showing up.  Other complaints, of course, are just downright silly and say more about the complainer than the national park in question:  too lonely, too expensive, lack of cell service, poor food, no adequate showers, not seeing enough wildlife, but also seeing rattlesnakes OMG.

More specifically, someone felt Yellowstone National Park smelled too much like sulfur, which—of course—is a bi-product of the thermal features that make the place unique.  And one person advises to be careful when visiting that big hole in the ground, the Grand Canyon, because it is a long fall to the bottom: “Do not hover about the Canyon whilst drunk.  You will fall over the edge and you will die.”  I think my favorite comment was posted about South Dakota’s Badlands National Park:  “Waste of time.  Thank god I was drunk in the backseat for the majority of the trip.” 

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

YSNP bison sitting

YSNP bison scratch

IMG_2769I have had the good fortune of visiting many but not enough national parks as I wander on my nature treks, typically in the spring each year.  My most recent visits were to Yellowstone National Park, where I was able to see bison up close and personal, and Saguaro National Park, where I finally saw saguaro cacti in bloom. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the nation, with nearly 10.1 million recreational visits in 2014.   The Golden Gate National Recreation Area was the most visited property with 15 million visitors in 2014.  Utah offers many parks from which to choose, including Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, and Zion National Parks.

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

GC deer close

Winter at the Grand Canyon

Winter at the Grand Canyon

Two of my favorite destinations are Yosemite National Park and the Grand Canyon.  They feel the same to me in their majestic and beautiful vistas that encourage quiet contemplation and spiritual connections.  But they are different in mood, I suppose.  The grays and blues of Yosemite are cool and calm, punctuated by the power of waterfalls.  The red and brown hues of the Grand Canyon are warm and soothing, inviting one to sit and enjoy the view of the often muddy Colorado River far below. If you sit quietly at either location, you are apt to see some wildlife as well.

Spring at Yosemite

Spring at Yosemite

Squirrel Enjoying the View

Squirrel Enjoying the View

Running Off with Lots of Nuts! Grand Canyon

Running Off with Lots of Nuts! Grand Canyon

Yosemite Cloud's Rest, Hazy Day

Yosemite Cloud’s Rest, Hazy Day

Yosemite Falls

Upper Yosemite Falls

Book shiveWhen you visit, wherever you visit, I am certain you will be delighted.  There are three great books that provide magnificent photos and details about the national parks and monuments.  The books themselves became my souvenirs this year to mark the National Parks’ 100th Birthday.

Here are the book titles—they do make great gifts:

The National Parks: An American Legacy (2105) with photographs by Ian Shive.

The National Parks: America’s Best Idea An Illustrated History (2009) by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns.

Book Burns

National Geographic’s The National Parks: An Illustrated History 100 Years of American Splendor (2015) by Kim Heacox (mentioned above).

Of course, it is the visit to any of the parks that is the real gift.  I encourage you to accept the present and get out there visiting a park or monument near you soon!  It will be a gift that keeps on giving!



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*For price comparisons:  Entry fees to Disneyland are $110 per adult per day; San Diego Zoo, $50 per adult per day, and Los Angeles Zoo, $20 per adult per day.  National Parks are certainly a great value!

Those Blooming Saguaros

IMG_2660Saugaro NP Rincon & West 144I would bet most everyone has seen a Saguaro Cactus, at least in pictures.  It is an iconic image of old time westerns, even though it does not grow throughout all of the southwest.  A great place to view Saguaros is in the Saguaro National Park, outside Tucson, Arizona.  Driving through this national park is an incredible experience with its open vistas and extensive cactus forest.  But it is the Saguaro Cactus itself that is so amazing, especially when it is in bloom.



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For me, some of my amazement over the great Saguaros comes from knowing the basic facts about this wondrous plant:

The Saguaro Cactus is the defining plant of the Sonoran Desert, which runs from Mexico into Arizona and small sections of California.  Its blossom is the state wildflower for Arizona.


This cactus is grown only from seeds, not from cuttings.

Saguaros grow very, very, very slowly.  At 10 years old, a cactus may be less than 2 inches tall.

Saguaros can live to be 200 years old, reaching heights of 40-60 feet tall.


The largest known Saguaro is Champion Saguaro, and it is 45 feet tall with a three-foot girth. The tallest Saguaro ever measured was 78 feet tall before it blew over in a wind storm in 1986.

A Saguaro with no branches is called a spear.

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The branches start growing once a plant is about 75 years old.


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Once a Saguaro dies, its woody ribs can be used to build such things as fences and roofs.



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The whole life cycle of this magnificent cactus rests on its flower and pollination cycle.  Each plant can have hundreds of flowers, which bloom in late spring, generating red fruit throughout the summer.  Each fruit contains thousands of seeds.  The flowers are pollinated by insects, birds and even bats.



IMG_2975Saugaro NP Rincon & West 085I have visited the Saguaro National Monument as well as the Tucson Desert Museum many times over the years, always enjoying the Saguaro Cactus.  However, I never managed to visit when the Saguaros were in bloom.  This year, I finally noticed the details shared in a brochure that stressed that the blooms were most prevalent in May—not earlier in the spring—and that one needed to be there early in the day to see them at their best.  It seems each blossom is short-lived, initially blooming after sunset and closing by noon the next day.



When they are in bloom, they are gorgeous! 






A Spring Drive through the Saguaro Cactus Forest

IMAG00064A friend and I made a trip to the Sonoran Desert last weekend to look for desert blooms.  We were lucky and found some vibrant colors that I will share in a later post.  But—as usual—I just love the desert itself, especially the forest of Giant Saguaros.  Whenever I visit, a sense of calm and belonging takes hold of my soul.

Something about the desert’s vast open vistas and abundant life intrigues me.  Cacti have been growing here for hundreds of years.  The saguaros themselves grow very slowly, so an individual cactus may only be a foot tall after about 15 years.  After about 75 years, a saguaro will start to sprout its first branches or arms.  Saguaros reaching 25 to 50 feet in height are typically older than 100 to 150 years.

These impressive saguaros persevere, endure, even thrive in what some say is a harsh climate.  Their fruits and seeds feed local animals and make important contributions to ongoing life for those people who live in the desert as well, such as the Tohono O’odham.

IMG_9295IMG_9238These impressive plants have been a part of the desert landscape forever.  Capturing these scenes in black and white helps to present this timeless aspect of the environment.  These scenes taken a few days ago could just as easily have been taken years and years ago.  I hope you enjoy this little trip through the Saguaro Forest of the Saguaro National Park on the outskirts of Tucson.  On this day, the weather was spectacular, reaching into the 80’s with clear skies.







This post is my contribution to Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge: Take a New Photo.  I have written about the Saguaro Cactus before and will again, but these photos were taken on Saturday, 19 March 2016.



Internet Image

Internet Image

Saugaro NP Rincon & West 244We may not always remember its name, but I am sure most of us recognize the image: a tall cactus, perhaps with several branches reaching upward.  It makes us think of the desert, of Mexico (stereotypically) and of the old west.  Anytime bandits sought a hideout across a vast desert or wagon trains trudged west, we were bound to see Saguaro Cactus in the background. They helped create a picture that rang true.

10032277-cactus-plants-in-desertIn reality, these great cacti are not as widespread as we might think—they were just often placed into the scene because they are such a familiar image.  For example, El Paso—the Texas-based company that makes salsa—uses the Saguaro Cactus on its label, suggesting that these plants must be prevalent in the area.  They are not!  Saguaro Cactus grow only in the Sonoran Desert that stretches from a specific section in northern Mexico into southern Arizona.  A few stragglers can be found in California as well. You will not find these remarkable plants in Texas, Nevada, Montana, Utah, or even Northern Arizona’s Monument Valley—another iconic image of the old west.

Monument Valley: Iconic Western Locale But No Saguaro Cactus

Monument Valley: Iconic Western Locale But No Saguaro Cactus

Saugaro NP Rincon & West 042Saugaro NP Rincon & West 144Of course, viewing the incredible Saguaro Cactus is easy.  Just head to Tucson, Arizona, which is surrounded by the Sonoran Desert.  The protection of the Saguaro Cactus began in 1933 when the Saguaro National Monument was created by Herbert Hoover’s presidential proclamation. This was the first monument protecting a specific species rather than an area.  In 1961, President Kennedy added 15,000 more acres to the area, and in 1976 Congress increased the lands to 71,400 acres.  In 1994, the Saguaro National Monument was upgraded to a national park, encompassing a total of 91,327 acres.

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Saguaro National Park is in the Sonoran Desert and has two sections or districts, on the east and west of Tucson, Arizona.   The eastern section is called the Rincon Mountain District.  It offers an 8-mile scenic drive through the Cactus Forest and over 128 miles of hiking trails.  The Rincon Mountains rise nearly 8,000 feet.  The higher elevation and greater rainfall produce Saguaro Cactus that are a bit taller and more widely spaced than those in the western section of the national park.

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Saugaro NP Rincon & West 228The western section is called the Tucson Mountain District and is located near the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.  Its six-mile scenic drive is called the Bajada Loop Drive and offers frequent pullouts, allowing visitors to wander among the cacti, both Saguaros as well as others.  At one picnic site, there is a short trail that leads to petroglyphs left by the prehistoric Hohokam people over a thousand years ago.

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Petroglyphs on Bajado Loop Drive

Petroglyphs on Bajado Loop Drive

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Saugaro NP Rincon & West 287

Saugaro NP Rincon & West 273Although not alone in the area, the Saguaro Cactus is the most unique feature of the Sonoran Desert.  It grows only from seeds dispersed from the red pods or fruit that appear in the summer.  It is very slow growing.  In fact, a 10-year old plant may only be several inches tall, and at 30 years old it might only be several feet tall.  These cacti can live to be at least 200 years old, typically reaching heights from 40 to 70 feet.  The characteristic branches do not even start growing until the cactus is 75 to 100 years old.  Those cacti without branches are called spears.

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bird on cactus 1

Saugaro NP Rincon & West 079In the spring, white flowers bloom at the top of each trunk or branch of the Saguaro Cactus. Its protective spines offer shade and collect water along with the plant’s extensive root system.  The bulk of the roots for each plant are less than six inches deep and stretch as wide as the plant is tall.  The trunk and arms or branches are pleated much like an accordion, so they can expand and contract depending on the available water.  When rain is plentiful and a plant is fully hydrated, each cactus can weigh between 3200 and 4800 pounds. When a plant dies, its woody internal frame becomes visible—and that frame’s strength makes it useful for building roofs, fences, and furniture.

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Some Views of Saguaro Skeletons

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Saugaro NP Rincon & West 249

dead saguaro 1997

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These cacti are gorgeous and well worth a visit to the Sonoran Desert.  The 2010 plant census estimates that there are almost 2 million Saguaro Cacti throughout the Saguaro National Park. Although not on an endangered species list, these plants do struggle against infringement from illegal trafficking. Smaller plants (under ten feet) are smuggled out of the area for sale on the black market, undermining the plants’ repopulation efforts since the cacti grow so slowly.  Friends of the Saguaro National Park are helping the National Park Service thwart the poaching by funding a tracking system on vulnerable plants throughout the park.

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If you have never visited the Saguaro National Park, add it to your list.  If you do not want to wander the national park for a leisurely look at cacti out in the wild, the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum is a great place to visit to see all the wonders of the area, including this iconic cactus.

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“What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.”  Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“If you don’t die of thirst, there are blessings in the desert. You can be pulled into limitlessness, which we all yearn for, or you can do the beauty of minutiae, the scrimshaw of tiny and precise. The sky is your ocean, and the crystal silence will uplift you like great gospel music, or Neil Young.”  Anne Lamott

“I’d had no particular interest in the Southwest at all as a young girl, and I was completely surprised that the desert stole my heart to the extent it did.”  Terri Winding

“Night comes to the desert all at once, as if someone turned off the light.”  Joyce Carol Oates

“I think the American West really attracts me because it’s romantic. The desert, the empty space, the drama.”  Ang Lee

“I have never been in a natural place and felt that it was a waste of time.  I never have. And it’s a relief. If I’m walking around a desert of whatever, every second is worthwhile.”  Viggo Mortensen

“I don’t look like a desert person because I stay indoors most of the day and fool around at night.  That’s what the desert animals do—they don’t have a tan either.”  Don Van Vliet

“This is the sense of the desert hills, that there is room enough and time enough.”  Mary Austin

“To hike out alone in the desert; to sleep on the valley floor on a night with no moon, in the pitch black, just listening to the boom of silence: you can’t imagine what that’s like.”  Nicole Krauss

“Like water in the desert is wisdom to the soul.”  Edward Counsel

“Water, water, water. . . . There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount, a perfect ratio of water to rock, water to sand, ensuring that wide free open generous spacing among plants and animals, homes and towns and cities, which makes the arid West so different from any other part of the nation. There is no lack of water here unless you try to establish a city where no city should be.”  Edward Abbey

“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing.  Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams.”  Antoine de Saint Exupery

Traveling “That Ribbon of Highway”

Traveling “That Ribbon of Highway” (Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge:  This Land Is My Land, 2 Verses)

Coral Reef National Park 259I have always liked Woody Guthrie’s ballad “This Land Is Your Land” that he wrote in 1940.  I was aware of the song from the 1960s when Peter, Paul & Mary sang it.  It moved me in great part because of the intimacy of the lyrics.  The beauty of this great country is truly yours, mine, ours, there for all to appreciate.  Even as a kid, I was aware that not everyone took the time to admire all the beauty around us. But it is always there.


Coral Reef National Park 288As an adult, I travel by car as often as possible because it allows me a closer connection to the myriad of landscapes across the country.  I like the sense of freedom and solitude such drives give me.  Since the roads—paved or not—stretch from coast to coast across all terrains, I can visit most anywhere.  I prefer country roads over city streets, because there I am more apt to see nature, get the feel for the open road, and glimpse the vast panoramas of land and sky.

ribbon of highway

Here—with a little creative editing—is my favorite verse from the Guthrie’s song.

“As I was [traveling] that ribbon of highway

I saw above me the endless skyway. . . .

While all around me a voice was sounding

This land was made for you and me.”

The photos are from some of my recent travels, demonstrating the freedom, beauty and diversity of American highways.  I live in California and am often drawn to the Southwest for some adventures as well.  What are your favorite places to be out on the open road, on “that ribbon of highway”?


Yosemite National Park




Sequoia National Park



Kings Canyon National Park





Eastern Sierra





Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park



See Canyon, Near Avila Beach




Big Sur Hills & Coastline





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MO & KS drive to Dodge City 004

Drive to KC in rain 004


Bosque de Apache outside Albu 010

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CO national mon 2 & River Park 048

CO national mon 2 & River Park 062

CO national mon 2 & River Park 070

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Pam Day 2 & Garden of the Gods 048


Coral Reef National Park

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Canyonlands National Park, Needles

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Canyonlands Needles & I 70 217

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Zion & Kolob Canyons National Park

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As an adult, while I truly love the great beauty and diversity of this land of ours, I am equally aware of our country’s problems.  Guthrie was aware of the discrepancies in society as well, motivating a satirical if not cynical view to “This Land Is Your Land.”  He wrote the famed lyrics, in part, as a political protest.  Bruce Springsteen performed the song live in the 1980s, acknowledging the harsh realities evident in society that some say question the validity of the lyrics.  But through all the problems, the beauty and potential of America still shine through.  As Springsteen says in his opening comments, it’s “about one of the most beautiful songs ever written about America.” 


I have always considered myself a Roadside Naturalist.

pink tree along I-5christio umbrellas along I-5Some roads are noted for their wonderful views, such as California’s Big Sur Coastline and the 17-Mile Drive outside of Monterey.  But even roads like I-5 can let you find a gorgeous tree in pink splendor or Highway 395 can drive you past autumn colors.  The noted artist Christo even planned his Umbrellas Exhibit—in both California and Japan—along common roadways.  No matter where I go, if I pay attention, I can usually find some glorious aspect of Nature to appreciate.

Lone pIne monterey

big sur

Bishop road

In fact, Nature and Solitude are such rejuvenating forces that I used to take Nature Solitude Treks every spring.  The frequency of those trips, however, stopped when I moved into administrative work and no longer had May as a regular time off.  And then I had a series of major surgeries starting in 2006 and my chances to get out into Nature dwindled even further.  I still valued Nature and sought it out, just with less planned intention.

Drive to Flagstaff 013This spring, I finally took another Nature Solitude Trek, this time traveling over 6500 miles and stopping at national parks and wildlife refuges along the way. I did not complete major hikes or camp out under the stars.  In fact, most places I visited I made sure had scenic drives as part of their layouts and options.  It is amazing how much Nature you can enjoy, literally, along the side of the road.  Some of those roads were bumpy unpaved dirt roads while others were interstates, and still others were county back roads.  But they allowed me to get close to Nature, even though I cannot walk very fast or very far anymore.

Below are some of the photos taken from the car that show the Nature I encountered along the many, many roads I traveled on this trip.  It was a glorious time.  And not one flat tire or speeding ticket!


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bull close


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Pam Day 2 & Garden of the Gods 009


Bosque de Apache outside Albu 007

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Bosque de Apache outside Albu 161

Bosque de Apache outside Albu 223


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(Actually two little trips before and after my big driving trip in Spring 2014)












This trip immersed me into the overwhelming and rejuvenating power of Nature and Solitude. In today’s world, when we are urged to see multi-tasking as an expectation, when the Internet and social media bring us news and oddities alike in the blink of an eye, and when reality shows focus so often on people doing stupid things rather than on a delight of Nature, my escape into Nature was a real treat.  This trip confirmed that the best way to approach Nature is as a child excited by the ant and butterfly alike, curious about birds and squirrels and whatever catches her eye.  This trip reminded me of the power of wonder and mindfulness to help keep me balanced and spiritually aware. As a result of this trip, I remembered some simple truths that can help me lead an engaged, wonder-filled life, no matter how hectic my life gets:

  • Don’t multi-task your life away. If something is so unimportant that you need to be doing something else at the same time, why do it at all?
  • Slow down and look around.  You will never notice the natural wonders around you if you just keep rushing to the next item on your to-do list.
  • Be like a child and capture the wonder of each moment—it is the only way to build memories.
  • Express your gratitude and appreciation for nature, life, relationships often.

What truths about life help keep you grounded and sane?

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“Amidst the splendor of the scene and the silence, I was filled with a wonderful peace.”   Basho

“ah, sweet spontaneous earth…”    e. e. cummings

“We need the tonic of wildness—we can never have enough of nature.”  Thoreau

“The spirits of the road beckoned, and I could do no more work at all.”   Basho

“Silence alone is worthy to be heard.”  Thoreau

“Be happy for this moment.  This moment is your life.”  Omar Khayyam

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”  W. B. Yeats

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”  Emerson

“Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”   Betty Smith

“Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”    Franz Kafka

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”   Goethe

“You’ll never find a rainbow if you’re looking down.”  Charles Chaplin

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”   Socrates

“We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”    G. K. Chesterton

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”    Aristotle

“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.”     Buddha

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”    G. K. Chesterton

“Mystery creates wonder, and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.”   Neil Armstrong

“Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.”  Albert Schweitzer

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