Philosophy

ARIZONA – THE SONORAN DESERT

The Sonoran Desert is an arid region covering approximately 100,000 square miles in southwestern Arizona and southeastern California, as well as most of Baja California and the western half of the state of Sonora, Mexico. Subdivisions of this hot, dry region include the Colorado and Yuma deserts. Irrigation has produced many fertile agricultural areas, including the Coachella and Imperial valleys of California. Warm winters attract tourists to Sonora Desert resorts in Palm Springs, California, and Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona.

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Prickly pear cactus are found in all of the deserts of the American Southwest, with different species having adapted to different locale and elevation ranges. Most require course, well-drained soil in dry, rocky flats or slopes. But some prefer mountain pinyon/juniper forests, while others require steep, rocky slopes in mountain foothills.

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Like other cactus, most prickly pears and chollas have large spines — actually modified leaves — growing from tubercles — small, wart-like projections — on their stems. But members of the Opuntia genus are unique because of their clusters of fine, tiny, barbed spines called glochids. Found just above the cluster of regular spines, glochids are yellow or red in color and detach easily from the pads. Glochids are often difficult to see and more difficult to remove, once lodged in the skin.

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The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there, I like Arizona.

~Will Rogers

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Crash landed on Earth, an alien stepped out onto an arid, rocky bajada and found himself dwarfed by gigantic, grotesque, green figures with arms reaching toward the sky. Feeling at home in this weird landscape, he approached one fiercely armoured mammoth, which he estimated to be 35 feet tall and weighing several tons. “Where am I on your planet?” he questioned the giant. The strange green figure remained silent.

Where was the alien? By the distinctive characteristics of the peculiarly human-like plant, he could have only been in the Sonoran Desert. His geographical location could be pinpointed to be either in extreme southeastern California near the Colorado River, in southern and western Arizona, or south of the border in northwestern Mexico. These are the only places on earth where the saguaro cactus — grand symbol of the Sonoran Desert, the West and arguably the United States — grows.

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If the stately 20-to 50-foot saguaro could have talked to the alien, it would have had tales of the Old West to tell. Some have been around since Teddy Roosevelt became president in 1901. A few still living today were tiny young upstarts, perhaps growing under the shelter of a paloverde tree, when Thomas Jefferson was elected President in 1801.

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The saguaro can grow only in narrow environmental niches within the Sonoran Desert, usually below elevations of 3,500 feet. Freezing temperatures and frosts can kill or damage the delicate plant. Wild arms and drooping limbs may indicate that a particular plant survived a bitter winter.

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These distinctive human-like arms begin to grow only in middle age, about 75 years, after achieving a height of 14 to 16 feet. The oldest, with dozens or more branches, have marked the passage of many years.

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When the pleats are more deeply shadowed, more defined, drought has shaped the cactus. The plant can lose up to 82 percent of its moisture before it dies of dehydration. In times of little rain, shallow roots near the soil’s surface can capture the moisture of even the lightest rainfall. The downward-pointing spines, “drip tips,” also help by directing rainwater toward the base of the plant. These clusters of spines also play a role in cooling the outer skin; they help deflect wind and provide insulation from freezing as well.

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Another feature of the saguaro, the many holes on its body, makes one wonder if the Gila woodpeckers inflict much damage as they hammer into the tissues used to store water. Often, these meticulous birds drill 2 or 3 holes before they are satisfied. But the plant quickly minimizes damage by sealing off the wound with callous scar tissue to stop water loss. Conserving water loss is essential to the survival of the saguaro. When the sun beats unmercifully on its waxy, watertight, outer surfaces, microscopic pores close. At night, when temperatures are lower, the pores open, allowing for the entry of carbon dioxide, necessary for photosynthesis and the manufacture of carbohydrates.

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“Even the plants in Arizona wanted to hurt you.”

Author: Janette Rallison

“He’d always had a quickening of the heart when he crossed into Arizona and beheld the cactus country. This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaro standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.”

Author: Dorothy B. Hughes

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“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

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Land of extremes. Land of contrasts. Land of surprises. Land of contradictions…. That is Arizona.

~Federal Writers Project, Arizona: The Grand Canyon State, 1956

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I live in the dry dusty desert

Where we’re always short on water

And even if the sun fell upon us

It couldn’t get any hotter.

~Terri Guillemets

New York City – Taxi Cabs

“I had a job as a paralegal. I drove a cab.” – Larry David
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Taxi cabs are both loved and hated by New Yorkers. They serve as a quick and easy means of transportation across Manhattan, a route not amply served by the subways. The downside with having an abundance of cabs is the traffic that results. Most traffic-jams in mid-town are speckled with many of the over 10,000 yellow cabs that service the city.

“I get out of the taxi and it’s probably the only city which in reality looks better than on the postcards, New York.”

– Milos Forman

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New York Taxi Rules:

1. Driver speaks no English.

2. Driver just got here two days ago from someplace like Segal.

3. Driver hates you.

– Dave Barry

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The act of flagging down a cab is called “hailing”; there’s not much to it, just stick out your arm above your head, and pretend you’re the Statue of Liberty. When the numbers on the roof of the cab are lit, it is available. Yellow Medallion cabs are the only ones authorized to pick up hails. Avoid cabs that are not the typical “yellow cab”, especially if you are new to New York. It’s a good idea to make sure all seat belts are working before closing the car doors.

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“Anytime four New Yorkers get into a cab together without arguing, a bank robbery has just taken place.”

– Johnny Carson

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“People say New Yorkers can’t get along. Not true. I saw two New Yorkers, complete strangers, sharing a cab. One guy took the tires and the radio; the other guy took the engine.”

– David Letterman

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“I love New York. You can pop out of the Underworld in Central Park, hail a taxi, head down Fifth Avenue with a giant hellhound loping behind you, and nobody even looks at you funny.”

― Rick Riordan

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“I don’t have to really be in the 60s. Every time I hail a cab in New York, and they pass me by and pick up the white person, then I get a dose of it. Or when they don’t want to take you to Harlem. I grew up with that.”

– Queen Latifah

New York City – The Subway

In Toronto, I grew up taking a subway, I grew up taking a bus. I spent my formative adult years in New York City, walking the streets, taking the subway. You’re connected to the larger whole. Subway 13  copy

“People who want to understand democracy should spend less time in the library with Aristotle and more time on the buses and in the subway”

– Simeon Strunsky

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Twenty-three lines, 468 stations, 5 million daily riders, 1.5 billion yearly riders. Probably the most famous subway system in the world. Not the first, certainly not the best, but the one everybody seems to know. Administered by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, or MTA. The New York City subway trails only the metro systems of Tokyo, Moscow and Seoul in annual ridership and carries more passengers than all other rail mass transit systems in the United States combined.The trope here is that the subways of New York City are hot, grimy, filthy, encrusted with graffiti, and magnets for street crime. While this was once basically true, subway cars haven’t fit this bill since 1990.Subway 01 copySubway 2 copySubway 02 copy

“Of course, in Los Angeles, everything is based on driving, even the killings. In New York, most people don’t have cars, so if you want to kill a person, you have to take the subway to their house. And sometimes on the way, the train is delayed and you get impatient, so you have to kill someone on the subway. That’s why there are so many subway murders; no one has a car.”

― George Carlin, Brain Droppings

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I was raised by a single mother who made a way for me. She used to scrub floors as a domestic worker, put a cleaning rag in her pocketbook and ride the subways in Brooklyn so I would have food on the table. But she taught me as I walked her to the subway that life is about not where you start, but where you’re going. That’s family values.

– Al Sharpton

Deprived of the opportunity to judge one another by the cars we drive, New Yorkers, thrown together daily on mass transit, form silent opinions based on our choices of subway reading. Just by glimpsing the cover staring back at us, we can reach the pinnacle of carnal desire or the depths of hatred. Soul mate or mortal enemy.

– David Rakoff

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I hate people walking down the street listening to the soundtrack of their lives which responds to them but not their setting. I hate the overspill of sound which metro and subway riders are oblivious to because they notice no one and nothing around them.

– Margaret Heffernan

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In New York, you’ve got Donald Trump, Woody Allen, a crack addict and a regular Joe, and they’re all on the same subway car.

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“The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenements halls and whispered in the sounds of silence”

Paul Simon

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I always feel like people in general are much weirder and insane than anybody really wants to admit. How dare somebody watch anything and go, ‘That’s not real!’ Go on the subway. For five minutes.

– Max Greenfield

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If I ever have to stop taking the subway, I’m gonna have a heart attack.

– Edward Norton

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“I never overestimate the audience, nor do I underestimate them. I just have a very rational idea as to who we’re dealing with, and that we’re not making a picture for Harvard Law School, we’re making a picture for middle-class people, the people that you see on the subway, or the people that you see in a restaurant. Just normal people.”

– Billy Wilder

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Wall Street is the only place that people ride to in a Rolls Royce to get advice from those who take the subway.

– Warren Buffett

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“There is nothing Tourettic about the New York City subways.”

― Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn

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“Everyone has this sense of togetherness right now. For example, one guy on the subway today, he wanted to share my pants.”

– David Letterman

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Thank you… fat dude with giant headphones on the subway, for looking like what would’ve happened if Jabba the Hutt mated with Princess Leia.
– Jimmy Fallon

See more New York City photos in full resolution at: http://www.howardfrankphotos.smugmug.com/New-York-City/

Rainforest of Australia

“I think it’s a lovely hallucination but I love it sorta.”
― Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

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The tropical rainforest is home to the most diverse range of plants and animals on earth. The Daintree Cape Tribulation region supports species of plants and animals that have existed for millions of years and are integral to the ecosystem not just of the Daintree Rainforest, but of other areas around the world too. As difficult as it may be to imagine, what happens in the Daintree Rainforest affects what happens on the other side of the planet.

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Musky Rat Kangaroo – the most primitive of the kangaroos, it is also the smallest and the only one with five toes. The Musky Rat Kangaroo is restricted to the floor of the rainforest in north east Australia. A similar size to a bandicoot, but with an upright posture and with dark reddish-brown fur. It feeds during the day on the rainforest floor on fruit, fungi and insects.

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In the far north of Australia the cassowary plays a central role in shaping the rain forest.

Queensland’s own big bird hails from the era of the dinosaurs and still roams the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area today. Often spotted from Mission Beach to the Daintree Rainforest lowlands, these stocky birds serve an important role in conservation.

The cassowary swallows seeds whole and as they travel long distances across the rainforest, these seeds are dispersed in other areas with its own built-in fertilizer.

 Cassowaries are large, flightless birds related to emus and (more distantly) to ostriches, rheas, and kiwis. Today there are three species. Two are confined to the rain forests of New Guinea and nearby islands. The third and largest—the southern cassowary—also lives in the Wet Tropics of northern Queensland, in the part of Australia that sticks up at New Guinea like a spike. Some live deep in tracts of rain forest, such as the Daintree; others live on the forest edge and may wander through people’s backyards.

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A cassowary is not your regular garden bird. If an adult male stretches up to his full height, he can look down on someone five feet five—i.e., me—and he may weigh more than 110 pounds. Adult females are even taller, and can weigh more than 160 pounds. Among living birds, only ostriches are more massive. Most of the time, however, cassowaries seem smaller than they are, because they don’t walk in the stretched-up position but slouch along with their backs parallel to the ground.

Their feathers are glossy black; their legs are scaly. Their feet have just three toes—and the inside toe of each foot has evolved into a formidable spike. Their wings are tiny, having shrunk almost to the point of nonexistence. But their necks are long, and bare of all but the lightest coating of short, hairlike feathers. Instead the skin is coloured with amazing hues of reds and oranges, purples and blues. At the base of the neck in the front, a couple of long folds of colourful skin, known as wattles, hang down. Cassowaries have large brown eyes and a long, curved beak. On their heads they wear a tall, hornlike casque.

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The Daintree Cape Tribulation Rainforest in North Queensland Australia is one of the most diverse and beautiful examples of Mother Natures work in the world. This ecologically unique rainforest is home to the most extensive range of rare plants and animals on earth, and all are found within an area of approximately 1200 square kilometres – the largest chunk of protected tropical rainforest in Australia.

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“Who can leap the world’s ties and sit with me among white clouds?”
― Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

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The trademark of all rainforests is their canopy – a thick layer of leaves and branches that shades the forest floor. This forces the plants into a super competitive state as they fight their way up towards the sun. The individual plants of the forest each have their own unique tricks for surviving in what many botanists refer to as ‘the battlefied’. Some are soldiers in the war for sun, some have good homeland security and some become good at finding allies.  107 Kuranda 12 copy

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The Daintree Cape Tribulation rainforest is a World Heritage Listed area and contains the highest number of plant and animal species that are rare, or threatened with near extinction, anywhere in the world. The Daintree Cape Tribulation Rainforest is a unique area, precariously balanced between the advances of development and the warnings of environmentalists.

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Found mainly in the mangrove swamps, the Salt Water Crocodile is one not to mess with. A male can be measured as long as 6.7 metres and weigh in at over 500 kg! While they are busy being humongous, the female Salt Water Crocodile is much smaller. Measuring only 3 metres in length and weighing in at 150 kg, the lady of the swamp is petite compared to her male version.

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These crocs are very territorial and will munch on anything that may be a threat to them and their area. This includes fish, mammals, other reptiles, and the occasional human. Yes human! Think of the Salt Water Croc as the ’T-Rex’ of the Daintree-the biggest and baddest of them all.

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This extraordinary World Heritage Site is filled with species which have been swept into the rainforest ecosystem over 100 million years of advance and retreat as climate changed.

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Located in the heart of the ‘Wet Tropics’ of North Qld, the climate is warm all year round. From December to March it is also very wet – some years the Daintree has been known to receive more than 6 metres of rain during the summer wet season. As a result the flora: plants, trees, bushes, ferns, vines, creepers etc is very lush and often referred to as ‘jungle’.

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The vegetation of the area is the most diverse in Australia both floristically and structurally. There have been 13 different rainforest types identified.

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The peppermint stick insect has a very small and patchy distribution along some beach areas in Cape Tribulation, Innisfail and Mission Beach. It feeds only on a few species of pandanus and these spiky-leaved palms also provide some shelter from predators. The peppermint stick insect spends all its time on the pandanus leaf, feeding, sheltering, mating and laying its eggs on the leaves where they roll down to the tight-fitting leaf axil to ‘incubate’. Why is it called the peppermint stick insect? As a defence mechanism, it sprays an irritating fluid at any predators (which include curious tourists) and this fluid smells like peppermint. This is a strenuous act for the frightened stick insect so, if you are lucky enough to find one in your travels through the Wet Tropics, please don’t try to touch it.

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Looking up into a fan palm forest canopy – as the sunlight filters through the leaves it creates an ethereal feel to the rainforest.

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The beaches of the Cape Tribulation Daintree Rainforest region are rated among the most spectacular in the world. The tropical warmth combined with dazzling sunshine and crystal clear calm water makes you wonder if this is what heaven could be like. One of the most wonderful features of Daintree beaches is the lack of people. Stretching for miles, you can cast your eyes along the golden sand and not see a single soul, just the trees waving at you in the breeze.

Under the Sea – The Great Barrier Reef

“Captain James Cook’s ship, The Endeavour, hit a coral outcrop in the Great Barrier Reef in 1770. Cook and his crew camped in what is now called Cooktown for nearly two months while making repairs. Then they sailed south, where Cook claimed the east coast of Australia as British territory.”

― Julie Murphy, Great Barrier Reef Under Threat83-gbr-1

The Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia, is the largest living thing on Earth, and even visible from outer space. The 2,300km-long ecosystem comprises thousands of reefs and hundreds of islands made of over 600 types of hard and soft coral. It’s home to countless species of colourful fish, molluscs and starfish, plus turtles, dolphins and sharks.