Off We Go in Search of Snow

Dear husband asked me what I would like for my birthday a few days ago. We already have too much stuff. We both prefer experiences. So I asked for snow.

Obviously, he couldn’t conjure up snow out of thin air, and hiring a snow machine seemed a little over the top, and wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as the real thing. Instead, we elected to do another one of my favorite things: ROAD TRIP!!!! So off we went, in search of snow.

Fortunately, the area in which we live, Seattle, doesn’t get much snow. It sees maybe 3 or 4 days of it a year, if that. That suits me. As an adult, snow is less about sledding and snow angels and snowball fights, and more about horrific commutes, shoveling, and outrageous heating bills. No thank you.

But another beautiful feature of this area is that there’s snow nearby. We headed for Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade Mountain range, to the little town of Alpental. And as you’ll see from my photos, the trip there was breathtaking, with its snow covered trees, frozen waterfalls, and fog.

I was a little shocked, upon arrival, to see the logjam of cars on the road, waiting to park for the ski lifts. This area is known for both downhill skiing and cross country. We saw lots of sledding off the roadside, and snowboarding, and snowball fights, too. But not a single mask. We didn’t get out of the car. We didn’t even park. We love our lives too much.

I can’t believe how selfish people are. As long as they have fun, they don’t mind putting other people’s lives at risk. How clueless can you be? Wear a mask, folks!

But I did want to touch snow at least once, so we pulled over on a deserted back road, and I decided to have DH film me throwing a snowball at the car. I’m walking gingerly because the roadside was a sheet of ice. And this was about take number 4, because I kept missing the dang windshield. Hence, the chuckle at the end.

Anyway, happy winter to you!

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Debunking Chemtrails

Let’s round out the year with some facts, shall we? Chemtrails are a myth. There is no credible evidence to support their existence.

I suspect that if you’ve read past that first paragraph, I’m probably already preaching to the choir. That’s a pity. It’s nearly impossible to disabuse a conspiracy theorist of their erroneous conclusions. The only reason I’m even giving it a try is that I still see this subject come up time and time again on social media, from sources that I think are way too smart for this foolishness, and I’m hoping that if you know someone who seems to be on the fence about the issue, you may be able to use this post to draw that person away from the lunatic fringe.

According to this article in the Smithsonian, based on public policy polling, “…about five percent of Americans believe in chemtrails. That’s more than the four percent who believe lizard people are taking over our politics but much less than the number who believe in bigfoot or that global warming is a hoax.”

Give me strength.

Okay, let’s start with the basics.

You’re not being conned. We call them contrails because that’s short for condensation trails. You’re familiar with condensation. You’ve seen it gathering on the outside of a cold glass of lemonade on a hot day. It’s why you use coasters. You’ve seen it dripping out of your old air conditioning window unit when you were trying to beat the heat. Condensation requires three things to exist: warmth, cold, and moisture.

Jet engines provide the warm water vapor by way of their exhaust or by way of a sudden change in pressure when air flows over the wings. (However, wingtips require an assist in the form of high humidity in the air.) This moisture hits the cold air that the high atmosphere provides and that causes this water vapor to cool and condense. Ta da! Condensation! (This article explains it in more detail, but it’s really just that simple. I promise.)

And here are some FAQs for you:

Why do we seem to be seeing more trails in the sky? Because contrails are produced by planes, and we have increased the number of flights for travel and shipping over time.

Why do they seem so bright? Because sunlight reflects off the ice crystals, just as it does on sparkly snow. You’ve seen sparkly snow.

Why do these trails seem to last longer than they used to? Because a) you’re paying more attention to them, b) there have been changes in jet engine technology and c) (please don’t kill the messenger) global warming may cause the trails to linger longer.

Why do they often make big exes in the sky? Because planes fly in different directions and are at different altitudes. It may look like the cross is located right over your house from your angle, but I guarantee you that one leg of the x is at a much higher altitude than the other, so someone on the other side of the county, seeing it from another angle, is probably thinking that the x is over his or her house, too. (You get an x, you get an x, EVERYBODY GETS AN X!!!!!!!!!!)

Okay, then, why have theorists found traces of barium, aluminum, copper and strontium in ponds, snow, and air? Because we have polluted the freakin’ planet. All of us. Perhaps you’d be better off focusing on our need for green energy.

Why do some of these trails have multiple bands? Because some planes have multiple engines. And all have multiple wing tips. (Yes, condensation can come off of wing tips, too. With help. See above.)

Why can’t I believe that these trails are a government conspiracy to control the weather, the population, or to test biological weapons? Well, you can, if you insist. But…

  • If the government is trying to control the weather, they’re doing a horrible job of it. I’d like to send some of the Pacific Northwest rain down to California where it’s so desperately needed, please.
  • If they’re trying to control the population, again, they’re doing a horrible job of it.
  • Due to ever-changing wind currents, they couldn’t specify the exact population they would be controlling from that altitude. People in the government have families, too, and they don’t want them to be messed with. They may not want you to have grandchildren, but they want some of their own.
  • If there is some type of aerosol birth control out there, especially one that would provide the exact proper dose to everyone with whom it comes in contact, I wish to hell someone had told me about it before I got my tubes tied.
  • Perhaps most glaringly obvious is the fact that it would be idiotic to test biological weapons on your own populous, because the whole point of producing something to use to wipe out your enemies is to wind up with more of your friends when all is said and done. So by that way of thinking, it would have to be a foreign government doing these tests.
  • Every country heavily monitors their own air space, so it would be awfully hard for another country to drop chemical weapons on us, all over the country, on a daily basis, without our being extremely aware of it. We knew the exact location of sputnik, for crying out loud. And in the case of a daily invasion of that magnitude, our government would be pissed. There would be tweets, believe you me.
  • How could our own government produce daily chemtrails all over the country when it can’t even work out an efficient way to provide us with sufficient vaccines to get this pandemic under control? To believe that the government is using chemtrails, you have to have a heck of a lot more confidence in their organizational, logistical, and secret-keeping abilities than I do.

Okay. That’s it. I’m done. I tried. Now it’s up to you to think critically.

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Justice Despite Roadblocks

In the 1880’s the US government gave the Jesuits 525 acres, scattered here and there in South Dakota, according to this article. The purpose was to make churches and cemeteries on the land. But that land has become more and more sparsely populated over time, and the Jesuits found no use for it after a certain point. The mission stations they built were serving no one, and nothing further was being constructed.

As per usual out west, the government really had no right to give away this land in the first place. Every single plot of land is located within the Rosebud reservation. The Rosebud Sioux are part of the Lakota people, and currently about 15,000 of them live on the reservation.

So the Jesuits decided it was time to return this land to its rightful owners. (One wonders if they would have done so if the had been able to find a use for it, and also how much money, if any, they’re saving in property taxes by getting rid of it, but that’s just my cynicism coming out to play.)

Apparently the property transfer will conclude in May, but the Jesuits have been trying to do this for at least 5 years. The efforts kept hitting brick walls in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It beggars the imagination if there is a more obstructionist governmental bureaucracy on earth, in my opinion.

But, regardless of the motivations, it is nice that, when all is said and done, the right thing is finally going to happen. Finally, a returning is taking place. As the great Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

And now, a tiny bit more land.

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The Dolmen de Guadalperal

If, like me, you have always been fascinated by Stonehenge, you’ll be quite thrilled to hear about the one silver lining to global climate change. According to this article, the Dolmen de Guadalperal rose above the waterline for the first time since Francisco Franco had a dam built which flooded that area of Extremadura, Spain in 1963. Due to extreme drought, this archeological site was suddenly high and dry.

As you can see from this beautiful short video, what remains of these dolmen are about 100 standing stones. Not nearly as tall as the ones at Stonehenge. The tallest stones here are about 6 feet. But I’m grateful to whoever took that video, because to get to that site requires a hike of several hours. The idea of hiking that long in a place known for its heat, and not being sure at the end if the dolmen will be completely covered in water, is rather unappealing to me.

But this site is very significant. It’s believed to be about 7,000 years old, which is 2,000 years older than Stonehenge. Unlike Stonehenge, archeologists believe that this was once a completely enclosed building. The Romans may have damaged it. It was a mystery to them, too.

While Franco’s dam brought electricity and water to underdeveloped western Spain, it flooded this site as well as a Roman city that was called Augustóbriga. That city included a temple, which was dismantled and moved to higher ground when the dam was being built. The city also had an aqueduct and thermal baths and paved roads. What a loss.

The Dolmen of Guadalperal, when intact, would have consisted of a long, dark hallway that opened into a central room where the dead would be interred. During the summer solstice, the hallway would be lit up, and the sun would shine on the ancestors for a few moments. It must have been spectacular.

The people who lived in this area also left evidence that they were some of the first in the world known to make flour, and that was 1,000 years before the dolmen were erected. They were also using honey, and eventually brewing their own beer.

The dolmen, which are made of porous granite, are suffering from being constantly submerged in water. They are toppling and cracking. And now the damage is accelerating as they go from cold, wet conditions to hot, dry ones. There was talk of moving the stones to higher ground, but it would have had to have been done extremely carefully. Only the government can decide their ultimate fate, and governments tend to move slowly.

Alas, per this article, the government chose to do nothing, and the dolmen are already covered by water again. This makes me sad.

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Embryonic Learning and Spotting Imposters

Everything you’ve ever learned, you learned from someone who knew something that you didn’t. Think about that for a minute. We’re constantly giving gifts to one another via packets of information, even if it’s just by demonstrating how not to behave. I love that concept.

Now imagine this. You are a zebra finch, not yet ready to hatch, and yet you can hear your mother singing to you from outside your fragile little shell. The song of the zebra finch is varied and beautiful. Listen to it here.

But on this day, it’s unseasonably hot. It’s above 78 degrees. Because of this, your mother is singing a song to you that she does not sing at any other time. This gets your attention. And because you have heard this song, you are born smaller, and more capable of coping with the heat.

Isn’t that amazing? Your mom sings the zebra finch equivalent to “We’re Having a Heat Wave” and somehow, in your embryonic state, your body decides not to put on that previously planned layer of fat. And even more interesting, having heard that song impacts your nest choice 200 days after you have hatched.

All this, according to a scientific study outlined in an article entitled Birds Sing to Their Eggs, and This Song Might Help Their Babies Survive Climate Change. I strongly urge you to check it out for further details. It’s fascinating. It’s science.

The article goes on to describe how fairy wrens teach their chicks to make certain sounds that cuckoos are incapable of making. Why? Because cukoos like to lay their eggs in fairy wren nests in the hopes that the fairy wrens won’t realize it and do all the work of hatching those eggs and feeding those chicks. So you either learn that song or you’re shown the figurative door.

Nature is cool. Science is cool. And now I’m wishing I was hatched from an egg and had some foreknowledge of what I was getting myself into!

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Two Historic Smogs

If I ever find myself 24 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I will make it a point to visit the Donora Historical Society and Smog Museum. Until then, I’ll have to content myself with visiting the website and watching the fascinating videos there. The museum educates the public about what Wikipedia describes as one of the worst pollution disasters in America’s history.

On October 27, 1948, the yellow smog started settling upon the town of Donora, which had a population of 14,000 at the time. There was a temperature inversion, which was causing warm air higher up to force cold air to remain down below, and the pollutants from the nearby U.S. Steel Donora Zinc Works and the American Steel & Wire plant, which normally disbursed into the upper atmosphere, were trapped. These pollutants included sulfuric acid, nitrogen dioxide, and fluorine.

The fire department and the town’s medical staff were pushed to their limit during these five days, and an emergency center had to be set up in the town hall by the American Red Cross. Visibility was so limited it was nearly impossible to drive.

This picture was taken in Donora at high noon during the disastrous smog.

By the time the smog disbursed five days later, due to a weather change, 20 people had died, and half the residents had been sickened. An additional 50 people died within the month, and even 10 years later, mortality rates in Donora were a lot higher than in other nearby towns. Research later showed that thousands more would have been killed if the smog had lasted longer than the five days.

U.S. Steel has denied all responsibility for this toxic event, even though the emissions from the zinc plant had killed all the vegetation within a half mile radius of the plant. It made a few paltry settlements of lawsuits, but none of the victims were ever adequately compensated. And to add insult to injury, property values dropped by 10 percent within a year. The current population of Donora is around 6,000.

The one silver lining to the Donora Smog is that it made people start taking pollution seriously, and this resulted, eventually, in the Clean Air act of 1963. It also triggered stricter regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency in the hopes that such a disaster would never happen again.

But unfortunately, it seems that London did not get the memo, or if they did, they chose to ignore it. A little over 4 years later, on December 5, 1952, the people of London experienced the worst pollution event in the history of the United Kingdom. And it was eerily similar to that of Donora. It, too, was the result of a temperature inversion. It, too, lasted 5 days. But 1952’s Great Smog of London was much more deadly.

For London, the pollution sources seem to have been a combination of the poor quality coal that residents were forced to use for heating after WWII, which produced sulphur dioxide. There were also several coal fired power plants within the city limits. The smog contained hydrochloric acid, fluorine and sulphuric acid, similar to the Donora incident. The city was also full of vehicles, steam trains, and diesel buses. And of course there was industry. Lots and lots of industry

The people of London could barely see three feet in front of them in the daytime. Public transportation was shut down, as was the ambulance service. Public events were cancelled as the acrid smog even got indoors. If people had to go anywhere, they were forced to feel their way, one step at a time.

The Great Smog of London, 1952.

When the weather finally changed, at the time it was estimated that 4,000 people had died and 100,000 were made ill. Current researchers set the number of deaths closer to 12,000, taking into account the many people who continued to die for months afterwards of lung infections and hypoxia.

This smog, too, lead to greater public awareness and increased environmentalism. It, too, led to changes in legislation, including the City of London Act of 1954, and a national Clean Air Act in 1956 and in 1968. At least we are capable of learning from our horrendous mistakes.

Now, if only China and other nations with heavy industry would get the memo and learn from it, too.

Recent photograph of smog in Beijing.

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The Sedona Vortices

Sedona, Arizona is said to be a very spiritual place. Many go on very expensive retreats there. You can visit astrologists and fortune tellers, get your chakras realigned, commune with crystals, meditate, practice yoga, take a reiki tour, look for UFOs, be healed by a shaman, reawaken your spirit, and get an image of your aura. Apparently you can also meet with a Siberian Metashaman, and she’s handicap accessible.

But the most prevalent spiritual activity seems to be visiting the many Sedona “vortexes”. (Vortices is the plural of vortex, but these grammatical rules seem to fly out the window in Sedona, along with so many other things.) There is an entire industry that revolves (sorry) around these vortexes and their supposed ability to reengergize your very soul.

I must admit that I didn’t explore these vortices very thoroughly. I did stumble across one, though, in a patio of a gift shop/gallery called Son Silver West. We had been wandering amongst the delightfully cluttered displays for some time, and all of a sudden we came across a wrought iron bench with a sign hanging above it that said “vortex” with an arrow pointing straight down.

My first thought was, “you’d think the sign would be spinning if this were a vortex.” But I also thought it would feel good to sit down. And it did. I tried to keep an open mind. And I must admit I did get goose bumps, but I think this has more to do with my desire to believe than any type of actual proof.

Here’s the thing about Sedona. It seems that the vast majority of spiritual shop owners and guides and soothsayers and shaman and tarot card readers are of northern European descent. There are lots of blonde shamans out there, more than happy to enlighten you for the right price. And more power to you, I say, if that’s your thing. But I do struggle with all the cultural appropriation for profit.

If Sedona were really such a spiritual mecca, I think the Native Americans wouldn’t be so offended by this appropriation, and they’d in fact be out there trying to enlighten all of us themselves. But you see very little of that in Sedona. What you see, mostly, is a lot of money passing from one white hand to another.

But having said all that, I must admit that Sedona is a special place, not because of the spiritual accessories that it wears, but in spite of it. It is one of the most naturally beautiful places that I’ve been to in my life. The red rocks and the cozy canyons call to me. For that reason alone, I’d love to retire there. The food is also excellent and there is art everywhere you look, so I think it’s a lovely place to be.

I do enjoy being around whimsical and liberal people, too. I adore active imaginations. I try to take the gullibility factor with a grain of salt. I find nothing wrong with people seeking enlightenment. And if you’re planning to do that somewhere, you may as well do it in a gorgeous locale.

So, spiritual, smiritual. Sedona is still one of my favorite places on earth. For that reason, it will always seem magical to me.

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Twin Arrows and Two Guns

I’ve gotten my kicks on Route 66 more than once. And on a stretch of that magical highway that goes through Arizona, between Winslow and Flagstaff, lies two desolate, yet intriguing, ghost towns. One is called Twin Arrows, and the other is called Two Guns. The first time I passed these places, years ago, I thought, “There’s got to be a story behind this.” But I never got around to looking it up. But now I have a blog, in which I do all the looking up so that you don’t have to. So here goes.

Two Guns has a rather sad history. The Navajo murdered a group of Apaches that were hiding in a cave there. They smoked them out and shot them as they emerged. The 42 who did not emerge were asphyxiated. The place is called “death cave” to this day. Then a settler came along and built a store next to death cave.

Once the road that is now Route 66 was established, a restaurant and gas station were added. This was a good stopping place for tourists to gas up and eat. This place, which was also the best route across Canyon Diablo, had earning potential.

Enter a character named Harry “Two Guns” Miller. He leased some land and turned this place into a tourist trap. He added a zoo, tours of death cave, and sold the skulls of the Apaches therein as souvenirs. He also put in some fake ruins and a soda stand. He later shot his landlord, but was acquitted of the murder.

During his time at Two Guns, Miller, who liked to dress up as an Apache, complete with braids, was robbed of nearly everything in the trading post, bitten by a Gila monster, and mauled, twice, by mountain lions. Then the trading post burned down, and the widow of his dead landlord, Louise Cundiff, won a lawsuit to prove her ownership of the land. That’s when Miller finally gave up and left.

Cundiff and her new husband didn’t have much luck in Two Guns either. Route 66 was rerouted to the other side of the canyon, so they had to move the entire town with it so as not to lose the tourist trade. Still, Two Guns kind of fizzled out in the 1950’s and stayed that way until it was revitalized in 1960 by a guy who put in a new restaurant, gift shop, gas station and zoo.

But Interstate 40 was on its way, and that tended to kill just about everything on Route 66. Even though Two Guns had its own exit ramp, it finally became a ghost town when a huge inferno burned everything to the ground in 1971. You can still visit the cave and check out the sad ruins of this strange town.

To add to its odd history, in 2011, Russell Crowe purchased it to film a Westworld remake, but it seems that nothing has been done with it since.

Twin Arrows stands on the site of the Canyon Padre Trading Post, named after the nearby gorge, but that trading post did not really attract tourists until it was renamed Twin Arrows Trading Post, simply because a place called Two Guns was nearby. Eventually a gas station, diner and gift shop was added, and then two 25-foot arrows, made out of telephone poles, were placed by the highway.

Twin Arrows was also slowly killed by Interstate 40. It was finally abandoned in 1995. The area is owned by the Hopi tribe, and is on the Navajo and Hopi reservations. The Twin Arrows Navajo Gaming Casino opened just north of there in 2013, but the only thing left of the original town are a few gas pumps and a stove from the old diner.

The huge arrows were steadily decaying, so they were restored by the Hopi tribe and some Route 66 enthusiasts. Whether they symbolize warrior spirit or entrepreneurial spirit is up to individual interpretation. I just love that they’re out there, as I’m a public art lover.

So there you have it. Everything you wanted to know about Two Guns and Twin Arrows but were afraid to ask. If I ever pass that way again, I may just have to stop and explore. That would be a lot more fulfilling than just wondering.

Sources for this post:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twin_Arrows,_Arizona

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Guns,_Arizona

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/two-guns

https://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/115

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Hannibal and His Elephants

One of the most compelling historical images, for me, is that of the great Carthaginian general, Hannibal Barca, crossing the alps with his 20,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry, and 37 elephants. What a sight this must have been to behold, especially when the average Roman in 218 BCE probably didn’t even know that elephants existed. It would be like seeing Martians on the horizon.

But since I tend to look at things from odd angles, I often wonder what the elephants thought about the experience. According to this article in the History Herald, there’s not one shred of evidence that any of these elephants died in the crossing. These wonderous creatures must have been well cared for. Indeed, if you take the Roman propaganda with a grain of salt, it is now believed that only 500 men were lost on the trip, which is also remarkable.

That’s pretty amazing for all concerned when you consider that this army, both human and pachyderm, was being exposed to terrain and climate, and, one would assume, viruses, that they had never experienced before. They were regularly attacked by strange humans, which would be scary for anyone, let alone an elephant who was being forced to trample them underfoot. They had already walked across the Pyrenees Mountains in Spain, and apparently made it over the alps in less than 16 days. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

I wonder what the morale was like. Did all of this feel like a grand adventure, or were the troops just in it for survival and resigned to the hard slog? I ask, because those intelligent animals surely picked up on the human emotional vibe. Imagine being an elephant in the snow, surrounded by 20,000 terrified men. What a nightmare.

Another reason not to take vanquished Roman accounts very seriously is that two of their historians give a detailed description of Hannibal having to build barges and cover them with dirt to trick the elephants into thinking it was solid ground in order to transport them across the Rhone River. Supposedly they were terrified of the water.

Um… elephants love water, and they can swim quite well. Imagine Hannibal, who had an intimate knowledge of these animals, going to such great lengths to get them across a river that they probably looked forward to playing in. I bet Hannibal would have laughed if he heard these accounts.

Yes, these elephants were sure-footed survivors. The crossing of the river and of two mountain ranges didn’t get them. No. What got them was the unusually cold winter of 218-217. All but one of the elephants died of the harsh cold. (It would be interesting to find out what one does with 36 frozen elephant corpses, but that’s just me looking at things from odd angles again.)

Interestingly, we know a bit about the one elephant that survived. It was an Indian elephant, while the rest were of a tiny North African species that no longer exists. The survivor was named Surus, and carried Hannibal himself. Personally, I think Surus’ name should be as famous as Hannibal’s.

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The World’s Longest Creature

I know what you’re thinking. Some type of whale, right? If so, you’d be wrong. You’d also assume that length alone would mean that we have known what the longest creature in the world is for quite some time, because how can something that’s extremely long hide? Again, wrong.

The longest creature ever discovered in the entire world was only just discovered in 2020. This fascinating find probably got lost amongst the political, social, and general insanity that has made up this pandemic year of ours. While that may be understandable, this is rather a big deal, so I figured it was blog-worthy.

This creature is called a siphonophore, and it was discovered off the coast of Western Australia, deep in a canyon near the delightfully named Ningaloo reef. It’s 150 feet long. It’s also a predator.

It’s a fascinating creature, because it’s made of thousands of individuals called zooids that clone themselves and string together. It adds a whole new meaning to the phrase “it takes a village”. Siphonophores hunt by dangling poisonous tentacles that paralyze small creatures that come in contact with them.

According to this website, there are 175 different types of siphonophores that we know of, including the Portuguese Man O’ War. Because of their colonial development, most are really fragile and break apart easily. But since the zooids in each siphonophore colony all came from a single fertilized egg, it’s still one creature which has cloned itself so that various zooids have different functions. Pretty freaky, no?

Even more interesting is that the gigantic siphonophore in question was stumbled upon by a research team that wasn’t specifically looking for it. They found so many amazing things on this expedition that this long guy was just the tip of the iceberg. Check out this article, and particularly the second video therein, to see some of the otherworldly creatures they found. Then check out this article for even more details.

If I had my life to do over again, I’d love to be a marine biologist. We’ve barely pierced the depths of the ocean. It’s an exciting unknown, just like outer space, but it’s teeming with weird and wonderful life that is definitely going to be encountered within the next few decades. How exciting!

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