Archive for the ‘autumn’ Tag

SunSpecial: Working Title   Leave a comment

Just as Michonne predicted ‘From the Burrow’ last week, here at ECOVIA we labored a little too much over Labor Day and are taking some time off to rest and enjoy the remaining days of summer (first day of Autumn, September 23!). With all these weeks of laboring, you’d think someone would have come up with a ‘Rest and Relax’ Day to recover from work. But that might be just one more thing to do.

Two polar bears take a break from their jobs to enjoy the summer arts festival and forget, for a few hours, that their ice homes are melting away.   Or maybe, their real work is bringing the message of climate change to the arts festival.

Two polar bears take a break from their jobs to enjoy the summer arts festival and forget, for a few hours, that their ice homes are melting away. Or maybe, their real work is bringing the message of climate change TO the arts festival.


Posted September 13, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SunSpecial

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SciSun: King for a Day   Leave a comment

It’s good, they say, to be King. But despite the raiment – or at least the name – of royalty, it’s not necessarily a good time for the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus), the widely-recognized orange and black flier perhaps best known for her annual migrations across North America (and mobs of individual butterflies that occasionally cover trees, camouflaging the foliage in a cloak of brilliant crimson). With numbers falling from over one billion in the 1990’s to 35 million in 2014, flutters of the migrating insects, once an anticipated Spring and Autumn event, is in danger of becoming no more than the flitter of a few stragglers following unseen routes of generations past.

Last month (on the final day of the year, at that!), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) initiated the first steps in the process that could ultimately list the Monarch as a threatened or endangered species. While the worldwide, overall population of the butterfly species continues to be relatively healthy (although under environmental pressure and not as abundant as they once were), the concern comes from the decline in butterflies traveling to and from North America – numbers dropping 96.5 percent over the past few decades – and what this fall in Autumn and Spring visitors could mean not only in pretty butterflies visiting our gardens, but directly linked to the food you and I eat; crops grown for livestock; and the same gardens planted for their beauty that could actually be leading to the Monarchs’ decline.

As far back as anyone can research, the Monarch has migrated between central North America – primarily the American Midwest – and the forests of Mexico. (There are also eastern populations that follow the Gulf Coast and move into the Mid-Atlantic area; and an unique western group that only flies between California and neighboring western US and Mexican states. Californians have always been a little different). But one thing that makes the Monarch migrations special, is they are the only insect that moves both ways – in the Spring and Fall – one of the longest migrations of any animal. And on the return trip, each individual has never made that journey before yet instinctively recognizes the way. (As we know, once the butterfly lays its eggs it dies, and newly born butterflies are the ones that have to make the return).

Despite these herculean achievements, the Monarch depends upon one food source both as a larvae and adult: The Milkweed (genus Asclepias) which once was common within North America and may have actually been among the most numerous of all ‘weeds’. Just as the name implies milkweed is considered a weed (despite the ‘milk’ part, which is a bit redeeming); and farmers hate weeds. So do livestock, which usually don’t eat the plants, and if they do it sometimes makes the cattle sick. So much are these plants despised massive attempts to remove every weed are undertaken including mowing, burning, cutting, and poisoning to keep the land clear for crops like corn, wheat, hay and grains. And that leaves the adult Monarch very little to eat as it makes it’s journey; and nothing for the larva (‘caterpillar’) Monarch to eat as it grows. For that matter it doesn’t even leave any place for the larvae to live, as Monarchs only lay eggs on the Milkweed. To make it more convenient for the larva to get a meal, you see.

Milkweed will grow most anywhere.  It's truly outstanding in its field.

Milkweed will grow most anywhere. It’s truly outstanding in its field.


Of course in gardens throughout America there are millions of Milkweed plants, many purposely positioned to attract the Monarch and give them a good home. But the most common milkweed sold in nurseries and garden centers is not the native milkweed the butterflies need (Asclepias incarnata), that produces subdued white and pastel flowers and dies off each year; but a foreign species (Asclepias curassavica) that grows year-round, exhibiting colorful pink, red and orange blossoms. Unfortunately the protozoan parasite Ophryocytis elektroscirrha (OE) grows on milkweed. Once eaten, it can cause wing deformities, infection and ultimately kills the butterfly (it seems this one-food diet might not have been the wisest choice for the monarch. But it probably sounded good at the time). In normal conditions, any ill monarch would die before passing on the parasite and the milkweed itself, along with its parasitic hangers-on, would die during the winter and fresh, parasite-free plants would grow in the Spring, with no ill effects to newly-hatched larvae. But as foreign milkweed grows all year – harboring the parasite – illness is just passed from one Monarch generation to another; and some Monarch populations, particularly in mild climates like the Gulf and Pacific Coasts, are abandoning migration to remain among the year-round milkweed. They think they’ve got it made, when they are slowly extinguishing their species.

Intense logging in Mexican forests; climate change; intensive use of resilient pesticides; and even severe storms are other challenges this little insect must face (with a body mass less than a penny, over 500 million were killed in severe winter storms of 2002). But by the simple effort of not disturbing native milkweed, particularly if the plants are along ditches, empty fields, and other un-farmed areas; and buying and planting the natural flower in our own gardens, is something every one of us can do to help save the Monarch. We might not be kings – but with just a little planning, we can all help the King of Butterflies continue to reign.


Michonne Says: The flutter-byes eat the milk-flowers and the flowers make them sick? That is very sad. Sometimes I eat flowers all day from when I wake up until it’s time to go back underground (except for nap-times of course, I only dream of flowers then), and later I don’t feel so well either. And I wasn’t even eating milk-flowers.

SunSpecial: A Man for all Seasonings   Leave a comment

Ben Franklin, today recognized as one of Americas’ Founding Fathers, was more well known during his lifetime as quite the character. While he always considered himself a humble book and newspaper printer, there are almost endless facts; half-facts; fantasies; and outright lies about his work and habits that no one really knows what is true and what’s made up. There is enough evidence to believe that, among other things, Ben:

Invented Water Wings. Not the inflatable type children wear in backyard pools, but rather wooden flotation devices he used to help teach others to swim. Ben, himself, was such an accomplished swimmer he often swam places, rather than walked or took a horse or carriage. In 1968 he was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. No word on what he wore for a swimsuit, in the 1700’s, though.

Created many words commonly used today. While Ben didn’t invent electricity – it was always there, just no one thought to look for and understand it – Ben was among the first to conduct detailed research and experiments on electrical energy. As there were no words to describe what he discovered, he had to invent terms like ‘battery’; ‘conductor’; and even ‘electrician’. And while he actually didn’t stand outside in a thunderstorm flying a kite, trying to catch some lightening; he did hold the kite string, in a thunderstorm, from inside the relative safety of shed; and when electricity ran down the string, he couldn’t help himself to reach out and touch it, which, he reported, was a rather shocking experience.

Used at least nine distinct names in his writing. Today’s avatars and screen names have nothing on Ben. Over 200 years ago he wrote, reported, and commented on events of the day under at least nine pseudonyms, five of them women. Some of these choices were to hide is true identity; others were based on literary characters, to make a statement about cultural norms of that day, or to prove a point. But others – like Alice Addertongue and Busy Body – seem to have been created as much for Bens’ amusement, than for his audience.

And of course, Ben didn’t think the Bald Eagle was a fitting symbol for the United State, but he argued for the Wild Turkey, pointing out that the Eagle is a “…Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly… too lazy to fish for himself…”. The Turkey, on the other hand is “…a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of American… He is besides, …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.” .

So during these holidays, we should think of Ben – and the Turkey – and the Eagle – and what might have been. Because due to a twist of fate, Turkeys seemed to have gotten the worse of the deal. And it’s questionable if cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie are fitting sides for Bald Eagle.

Franklin was also the first Postmaster General of the United States, and in 1847 his portrait was on the very first stamp, as well as multiple stamps since then.  George Washington is the only human with more stamp appearances, and the eagle has countless stamps with its image.  The Turkey has only one.

Franklin was also the first Postmaster General of the United States, and in 1847 his portrait was on the very first stamp, as well as multiple stamps since then. George Washington is the only human with more stamp appearances, and the eagle has countless stamps with its image. The Turkey has only one.

Posted November 30, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SunSpecial

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SciSun: Talking Turkey   Leave a comment

The Holiday season is, for many, one of the best times of the year. Most everyone enjoys festive decorations, and cool, crisp weather, and big feasts with once-a-year foods. The North American Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), however, has an entirely different viewpoint about these weeks from November through December. And now he’s starting to fight back.

In the San Francisco Bay area of Northern California, turkeys have, you might say, flown the coop. Historically uncommon or unknown on the west coast but introduced into the area less than a century ago as hunting trophies, today the population has grown to over a quarter of a million, and the birds are flocking to urban and suburban neighborhoods. Not due to high property values or coffee bar on every corner, but because humans have unwittingly created the perfect turkey habitat in their own backyards and city parks: Food (acorns, nuts, seeds, grass and insects) is usually easy to find; shrubs and trees make convenient hiding and roosting areas; and bird feeders are ubiquitous. Unfortunately, a rafter of turkeys (not a flock or group) can tear up gardens and landscaping, damage cars through scratching and pecking, and steal food intended for other birds or even pets. Gathered together in a gang (sometimes used interchangeably with rafter – and possibly more descriptive), turkeys can virtually take over an area, forcing out other birds, small wildlife, and sometimes the more timid dogs (purse pooches, watch out). And don’t think you can get on their good side by feeding them: For no apparent reason, turkeys sometimes are aggressive toward people who’ve feed them in the past. Maybe they didn’t like what’s on the menu.

Sometimes the 'Black Friday' sales are just too good to pass up, even if that means wiating all night to be first in line.

Sometimes the ‘Black Friday’ sales are just too good to pass up, even if that means waiting all night to be first in line.

But the birds are not, yet, out of control (‘Attack of the 50 foot Turkey’ is still science fiction), and it’s possible for humans to stand our ground. Despite the challenges of gangs of 25 pound wild birds randomly gobbling up our open spaces, most people don’t mind – that much – and don’t want the birds harmed (which is really ironic, when you think about it). The birds usually avoid areas with large or threatening dogs, and aggressive shooing by waving your arms and making odd sounds while quickly moving toward the birds has been shown to disperse a rafter. (Or maybe they are simply shocked by seeing humans behave that way). Despite the birds somewhat odd shape and large size, they can be excellent fliers – most often at short distances  – but it seems they prefer not to fly unless they must, and the most simple barrier is enough to keep the birds at bay, particularly if they can’t see what’s on the other side of the fence.

The best way to keep turkeys at a distance, it seems, was happened upon when someone just had too much of the birds and turned the water hose on them. Not too surprisingly, they hated getting wet and flew away, not to be seen in that area for days later. When they probably forgot why they left in the first place. While the wild turkey might be among the most unusual wildlife species to share our yards and spaces, he’s not the only animal: Often rabbits and skunks and hawks and coyotes and raccoons and bears and mountain lions and many more are living among us, but often unseen and unheard, just as they like it. So while man continues to forge and form the cocoon which is modern society, along the edges bits of the natural world are finding their way in. And if this concerns you, just remember to keep your water hose handy. Unless, of course, there happens to be a severe drought and no water should be wasted….which may be exactly the opportunity the turkeys were waiting for.,1607,7-153-10370_12145_12202-52511–,00.html


Michonne Says: The men talk about a Turkey Day. I think that means it’s like that Groundhoggy day when everyone watches to see if ground-hoggies wake up on time. So today the men must watch and wait for turkeys to do something, for some reason. I’ve also heard something about tossing around a pig by it’s skin which I’m certain the pigs don’t like and I must have misunderstood. But the the ground-hoggies have a special day and the turkeys and even pigs and still nothing for squirrels or marmots. Phooey.

Posted November 23, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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SciSun: Hollow-weenie   Leave a comment

As Halloween creeps ever closer, each day we are confronted with more and more signs of the season that most of us don’t think about during much of the year: Witches on broomsticks; ghosts and ghouls rising from graves; skeletons dancing in the moonlight; monsters of all sorts invading our dreams; and bats descending from the black night sky. But of all Halloween characters with their scare and their doom and their gore, bats don’t really fit into this pattern and in fact are getting a raw deal by being included with this questionable group. Bats, it seems, are a very important – many would say irreplaceable – part of a healthy environment, and actually provide incalculable service to humans by eating insects that would otherwise destroy plants and over-run the earth. So who’s the monster, in that story?

But if bats are our friends, how did they get mixed up among all those shady signs of Halloween? The connection probably goes back thousands of years, possibly far into history when humans were afraid of many different things, and no one has the exact answer but it possibly has something to do with early humans, late at night, gathering around fires which they believed would protect them from all the dangerous animals, evil spirits, and other unknowns of the darkness, as most animals avoid flames. But just when our great-great-great-and greater grandparents thought all was safe, bats would appear, fly around and above the fires hunting insects (who were attracted to the light and the heat), and freak out everyone who thought the fire would protect them from the wilderness waiting to attack from the black void beyond. And, because bats were about the only animal that fire wouldn’t keep away, but they actually seemed to enjoy it, obviously bats were accustomed to fiery, hot, dangerous places and that associated them with the Underworld and infernal, punishing eternity; then someone noticed bats flying around animals that had recently died (again, hunting flies and other insects) so obviously the bats killed these animals, and then drank their blood, and they’ll do the same to you! Plus, they fly but they’re not birds so they must be un-natural, accursed creations; and they are silent as the darkest night, making no noise at all until they are so close you hear the flutter of their wings and then it’s too late!! Yes, humans can easily make up stories about anything they don’t understand.

Most bats hunt for insects.  Others like to hit the salad bar first.

Most bats hunt for insects. Others like to hit the salad bar first.

In reality, bat are flying mammals, exhibiting some of the same behaviors as other mammals like horses, dogs, and humans. There are about 1,200 species of bats in almost all areas of the world, totaling approximately one-quarter of all mammals. Bats are the only free-flying mammal (sorry, flying squirrels – you actually just glide, not really fly), and have evolved to be mainly active at night; not because they don’t like daylight but because there’s less competition and often more flying insects. While they’re aren’t the only mammal, or animal to eat insects (birds, reptiles and amphibians probably take that title), bats do eat the most insects at any one time. In areas that hold large bat colonies – often a million or more individuals – the colony can eat between 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of insects each night. Even relatively small numbers of bats, which can often, and surprisingly to most people, be found in urban areas such as under bridges; among the artificial ‘cliffs’ and ‘canyons’ created within dense downtowns; and even in the parking garage of the Las Vegas airport – can each night eat enough insects to fill two grocery bags. (The bats don’t actually fill grocery bags every night. It’s more a grab-n-go). Throughout North America almost all bats are insectivores, helping control the potential overpopulation of insects, but in the southwest and Mexico we can also find nectar-eating bats that help pollinate cactus and agave plants, the type that’s used to make tequila. We can only hope all those bats drink responsibility, or at least choose not to drink and fly.

So in honor of the humble bat and all it does for us, this week – October 26 through November 1 – is National Bat Week. While that probably won’t mean much to the bats who will just go on sleeping during the day, hunting at night and doing all the things bats do, it does give us the opportunity to think about the many unseen, unknown, and misunderstood plants, animals, and wild places that together make the world home to us all. And isn’t trying to recognize and understand the misunderstood a better way to spend the week, than running from make-believe terrors and and made-up, empty horrors?


Michonne Says: The little night-mice (men call them ‘bats’) can fly, but it’s sad because they can’t walk very well and can’t run or jump at all. I would rather run and jump than fly. Unless there are flowers high on a hill that I can’t walk to, then I’d rather fly.

Posted October 26, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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SciSun: Send in the Clones   Leave a comment

For many people, Autumn is the best time of year, particularly if you live around or near lush forests filled with plants transforming into radiant golds and shocking reds and fire-like oranges. Forests seem to take on every shade of red, yellow and violet among stands of towering oak; groups of dogwoods; collections of willow; and crowds of aspen. Only there is one thing misleading about this scene: While all the other trees and most plants are gathered as individuals, groves of Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) is often just one specimen, each individual tree a clone of all others within its group; which brings the question are the Aspen trees you might find actually one tree with many sprouts; or many trees originating from one system?

Aspens are deciduous trees native to higher elevations with cool summers and generally moist, but not extreme, winters. Reaching about 40 – 100 feet tall, each ‘tree’ (actually individual stems – or aspen ramets – generated from a massive root system) generally lives 50 – 100 years which is a short lifespan for a tree; but the underground root system can live thousands of years and spread many miles. The ‘Pando’ colony (Latin for ‘I spread’) in Utah is estimated to be 80,000 years old; consists of over 47,000 individual ramet stems; covers more than 106 acres; and is probably only a few generations separated from its Aspen-ancestors of millions of years ago, as fossilized leaves of these prehistoric plants, and leaves of modern trees, are virtually indistinguishable. And that, really, is an example of good genes!

Yet while a stand of aspen consists of clones originating from a shared root system (Aspen can also spread by seeds – they’ve got it covered both ways), DNA studies have found that individual specimens from a single population hold more genetic diversity than between specimens of nearby colonies. Which indicates there’s more diversity within a single clone-population, than between two similar populations that may have been spread by seed. So, the seed really doesn’t fall far from the tree, as the saying goes – but that also shows among single populations genetic mutations are occurring that result in unique individuals. And that leads to trees (or stems or ramets – this is all getting rather confusing), that are more suited to survive in changing environments and clone-populations with greater genetic diversity. Or giant mutant trees that will take over the earth.

A mutant-tree invasion aside, how has the mild-mannered Aspen, for decades considered a ‘weed tree’ due to its prolific output of ramets and aggressive colonization, survived while other plants and animals have disappeared? Part of its success is due to the strong, resilient, and generally unique root system (only a few other woody-stem plants, such as the Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) and Huckleberry (fam. Ericaceae) grow through such a similar clone colony); fire, which can be a disaster to other plants actually benefits the Aspen; and in many areas, particularly in harsh environments that are tough for other trees to survive, Aspen thrive and become climax communities, unique areas that serve as homes, food, micro-climates, and general habitat for multiple other species. Requiring open space with abundant sun and little competition, wildfires that can destroy all surface life pass over Aspen root systems, leaving the perfect environment for ramet growth and re-forestation.

All for One, and One for Fall!

All for One, and One for Fall!

Unfortunately, much of modern forest, range and livestock management – preventing wildfire; clearing out ‘unwanted’ plants in favor of what’s considered more desirable; removal of wolves and other predators, leading to historically dense populations of deer and elk which devour fresh Aspen stems; and assuming longer-living trees provide more favorable habitat (as well as more valuable lumber), is placing the iconic Aspen at risk. Even the long-lived Pando grove – one of the oldest plants in the world – is threatened by human construction and development.

Aspen colonies are the most widely distributed tree in North America, yet one often overlooked or even, for much of the year, unappreciated next to towering pines or broad oaks. Yet they are a species that is vital to a healthy, mature environment and the plants and animals that depend on the unique Aspen ecosystem.

If left alone and not overshadowed (literally), Aspen colonies will continue to thrive for thousands of years, creating homes for countless other species as well as providing some of the most glorious Autumn colors of any tree in the West. Which is quite a golden future.


Michonne Says: All the Gold-in-the-wind-trees are the same tree? But there must be one-hundred of them, how can they all be the same? And they are everywhere even near the moving water and the deep water and the rocks and everywhere. I think this story is something men made up because they don’t understand. Phooey.

Posted October 19, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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SciSun: Set your alarm clock to ‘Salmon’   Leave a comment

This past week marked the first day of Autumn, so it’s time for wildlife to start preparing for winter. They don’t usually have calendars to tell them what week it is, they just know. For some, this means eating, gathering and storing as much food as possible while there’s still food to be found; for others, the season calls for migrating to climates that are warmer and areas where foods more plentiful (for a human, that’s usually a trip to Florida or Hawaii); the fur on some animals grows long and thick, and they just tough it out all winter. But for others, the coming of winter means hibernation, an extended period when they literally sleep the winter away. Well, more-or-less.

While most of us think of hibernation as going into a deep sleep for months at a time, not waking up to eat or drink or even go to the bathroom – let alone venturing outside to see what’s going on – actually there are different types of hibernation. ‘True’ hibernation is the deep sleep often associated with this ‘long winters nap’; in this condition, breathing and heart rate drop to just a fraction of a more active animal; body temperature falls to half or lower; and some normal processes, like hair growth, slow or stop. Some true hibernators are bats, marmots and other squirrels, and where there’s cold weather some insects, snakes, frogs, and even alligators and the common garden snail hibernate, often by burying themselves in the ground. But even these heavy sleepers wake from time to time to eat a snack and use the bathroom, usually in a specified area in the burrow or den; then they go back to sleep for another week or so.

While many of us think the real deep-sleepers are bears, warm and comfy in their caves while freezing weather storms outside, bears are not ‘true’ hibernators but more of a light sleeper, relatively easily awakened even in the deepest winter and often getting up to eat, drink, eliminate waste and if it’s a particularly nice day, move around in its den or even venture outside. While the bear might be drowsy and not as alert as he would be in the peak of summer (see how you feel after sleeping a few weeks!), he’s sharp enough to pull down a tree for a few apples or dig out some roots. All this is important to know if you decide to go sledding one day and there’s a bear in your path. It’s never a good idea to get in the way of a sleepy bear.

“I don't see any fish at all and I thought the weather report was 'party cloudy with chance of salmon'.  Maybe that  was 'chance of sunshine'.”

“I don’t see any fish at all and I thought the weather report was ‘party cloudy with chance of salmon’. Maybe that was ‘chance of sunshine’.”


Skunks, opossum and racoons are other species that often take long naps during the winter, unless they find something better to do. In areas where food becomes scarce early in Autumn, these animals dig a burrow or seek out an empty log for their winter home of the next six to seven months. Seldom, if ever, do modern bears actually live in caves and you’re more likely to find a colony of bats that a family of bears. (Tens of thousands of years ago, the Cave Bear (Ursus spelaeus), an animal larger than almost any bear today, obviously did live in caves, but those bears became extinct approximately 30,000 years ago. For modern bears, cave-living is so yesterday). In areas where food can be found through the Fall and into winter, light-sleepers eat as long, as often, and as much as they can until it seems a better idea to find a warm, safe place to take a nap than to keep looking for food. These animals only ‘hibernate’ when the weather is too harsh to be outside exploring, and in areas where food is plentiful some don’t hibernate at all, but might just take naps of a few days.

While there are many theories why animals hibernate, and what causes hibernation – including amount of daylight; temperature; food; and genetic behavior, so far there’s been no ‘key’ found that answers the hibernation question. Interestingly, if a blood sample is taken from a hibernating squirrel in the winter; and then placed into a different squirrel in the Spring; the second squirrel will start exhibiting hibernation behavior! But if a groundhog is provided with plenty of food and warm temperatures and sunlight, he will all but forget about hibernation and remain active while others of his species will be fast asleep. Which just confuses scientists, who always want to find the answer to puzzling questions; and is inconvenient for the squirrels and groundhogs and other animals that are woken up when they should be asleep and left to sleep when they’d like to be active. All in all, they’d just rather be left alone.

In the Spring when temperatures warm and the sun is high in the sky all hibernators awake, emerge from their burrows and dens and logs, and although hungry (and probably a little sore after laying down for so long), for the next few weeks usually only drink water and eat a few light snacks while their bodies adjust to their usual summer lifestyle.

But if you want to impress your friends with your knowledge of hibernation (and give yourself an excuse for a nap), the next time you eat a big meal and feel sleepy afterward, just say you need to hibernate.


Michonne Says: Hi-bear-nation is when we sleep during the cold time? That’s a big word and I don’t know why it’s only about bears when marmots sleep too. But maybe the bears would get mad if it wasn’t named for them. Bears can be pretty pushy sometimes if they don’t get their way. And it’s usually best to let them have their way.

Posted September 28, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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