There are many things to appreciate about Biscayne National Park. One thing is the clouds.

The link between clouds and national parks is not new, nor is it tenuous. The National Park Service was formed 100 years ago to conserve the most majestic scenery in America. Clouds are a large part of this scenery.

Of course clouds are much more than scenery. In their stillness, patterns, shapes, movement, mist, shadows, reflections, darkness and colors, they are like magicians. Clouds open our eyes to new wonders, shift perspectives and allow us to move back and forth between different worlds as in dreams. Clouds are never the same.

In movement clouds dart across the sky like frightened fish. They skim, float, flow, creep, and twist and twirl like dancers. As with distracted children they wander in different directions. They swirl and bubble like boiling cauldrons and grow into massive thunderheads. Shifting clouds create eerie patches of sunlight and shadows, or line up so that objects and people below are constantly in the sunlight or out of it, even as the clouds race by. Clouds are thin and vapory, or thick as soup. They hover close to earth as fog or drift high above even the jets. They flow like the ebb and tide of the ocean.

In shapes and forms clouds are infinite in variety. They are ethereal as dreams, smooth, round and numerous like jellyfish of the sky, or insubstantial as ghosts. They form objects seen in our minds, or perhaps the other way around, they create the objects for our minds to see. Clouds are fluffy, thick, thin and translucent as veils, and their shape shifting is constant. Together they resemble landscapes, oceans or giant rivers of sky.

Amethyst, sapphire, lemon, pink, turquoise . . . there are as many colors to clouds as there are stars in the sky. Clouds often reflect what is around them; water, sun, forest fire, moonlight and more. Lightning flashes from within them.

The boom of their thunder is heard for many miles around. It provides a jolt even to the stoutest people among us. Clouds also bring such peace and quiet, especially in the form of mist or fog, that it seems they muffle or amplify sound.

Clouds impart feelings. Their mysteriousness clings to us like the aura around a magician. In the patches of light and dark under shifting clouds, we see things differently both physically and emotionally. Clouds heighten our sensations of wonder, excitement, fear and love. When sunlight appears through clouds after a storm, it is like a portal to another world just opened. Clouds warm our hearts, bring changes in temperature, immerse us in shadows, strengthen or dispel moods and create visions. They deepen perceptions as well as senses, or dampen them.

When it seems a certain place or thing never changes, clouds provide contrast. For instance, as a park ranger at the Grand Canyon I witnessed the canyon and park day after day. The scenery did not seem very different from one day to the next. One time, after snowfall, the whole canyon was obscured by mist. I could hardly see my hand in front of my face, yet suddenly the mist cleared and the entire canyon opened before eyes. Standing on the canyon rim with the moisture and wind rushing past, it felt like I was flying through a cloud, and with the sudden view of the total canyon I was stunned. I went from seeing nothing to everything.

Such things are only some of the variety and magic that clouds supply.

Biscayne National Park makes the appreciation clouds easy. The quiet, solitude, clean air, peace and greater visibility of the park provide the perfect amphitheater in which to view and realize the magic of clouds.

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