Sunday, July 30, 2017

Cloud Ring and Trumpet Sounds, heard in Israel

Cultivating the art of practical magic on a Rockport farm

[Press Herald] The first indication that agriculture is practiced differently on a biodynamic herbal farm is the ritual before the rose petal harvest. Farmer Deb Soule, the founder of Avena Botanicals, sits quietly on the grass next to the hedgerow of rosa rugosa. It’s a cool morning and the petals are just opening. A trio of harvesters wait nearby, holding flying saucer-sized baskets. Soule is meditating and giving a silent thank-you to the rosa rugosa, which stretch about 40 feet away from her and are at least 5 feet wide.
When she feels that the time is right, she begins the harvest and the others follow, tenderly taking only the open roses, whole, with their yellow middles, and placing them in the baskets where they sit, like bright pink fried eggs over perfectly easy. The season for this crop runs about three weeks and will result in about 40 pounds of rose petals in the brightest of pinks. They’ll be distilled or dried and turned into various herbal concoctions: rose petal elixir, rosewater spritzer, a tea called “peaceful heart.”
The sounds of pollinators – from bees to hummingbirds – fill the air. A bird’s nest, likely a robin’s, is found in the thickest part of the hedgerow and the harvesters give it a wide berth. A chipmunk waltzes by within a foot of Soule and it seems quite possible that it will perch on her knee, Walt Disney-style.
Avena Botanicals, one of Maine’s oldest herb farms and its first certified biodynamic farm of any kind, is a serious business, producing over 1,000 pounds of herbs every growing season and more than 300 different species on three lush acres. But it’s also the agricultural equivalent of a soul spa, capable of making someone feel, setting foot on the property, as if they have just had a massage or fallen under a spell. Soule, a Maine native who has been exploring herbal remedies since she was a teenager in the 1970s, is the presiding queen of the magic. Other herb farmers describe her as an icon and an inspiration.
“She kind of crosses barriers from earthliness almost into fairyland,” said Lauren Pignatello of Swallowtail Farm, another herb farmer and herbalist who runs Milk and Honey Cafe in Portland. “She has that otherworldly energy.”
Soule rolls a few bright marbles in her hand and mentions that she keeps a basket of them nearby so she can hide them in secret places around the garden. “I like to make a simple offering.” That would be to the plants, and to, she says, the fairies who make the gardens grow. She means the team of gardeners (there are three on staff) but for a moment, maybe because of the hypnotic powers of the sweet haze of rosa rugosa, you might think she was talking about less corporeal fairies. And that seems almost reasonable. Read More

After a wet and snowy winter, wildfires rage across the West

[LA Times] Thousands of firefighters across 10 states west of the Mississippi River are battling massive fires that have destroyed homes and displaced hundreds of people and, in some cases, continue to burn out of control.
The unusual amounts of snowfall and rain across the West this last winter helped facilitate tall grass and more vegetation — creating conducive conditions for large fires once the hot and humid months of summer rolled around. Lightning strikes have sparked many of the fires and some blazes have been burning for weeks.
Wildfires remain active in Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wyoming, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
“When wildfires threaten resources, that’s when firefighters will do everything they can to minimize the threat and go after the fires to put them out,” said Robyn Broyles, spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center. “At the same time, wildfires play an important role to helping restore the balance of our ecosystem. In that case, firefighters supervise it.”
There are currently 40 uncontained large fires burning across the nation. So far this year, the entire United States has experienced 36,182 large fires, which burned nearly 5 million acres — almost the size of Minnesota, Broyles said.
Here are a few key states where crews are fighting flames.
The largest of 16 wildfires that have engulfed parts of Montana is burning in Garfield County, where 657 firefighters are on the fire lines, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Crews from 23 states have joined local firefighters to battle the fire, according to Ray Hageman, Garfield County fire warden.
“Some people are ecstatic that people are here to help them,” Hageman said of county residents. “But others just lost their entire livelihood. It’s rough.”
Twelves homes were destroyed and about six ranches severely damaged. Still, about 99% of livestock in the county has been taken out of harm’s way, and though some people experienced heat exhaustion and heat strokes in recent days, there have been no reports of major injuries, he said.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock on Monday declared a fire emergency in the state after more than 250,000 acres of the Lodgepole Complex fire burned. That fire started on July 19 following a lightning storm.
“Montana is racing extreme fire conditions. Our top priority is ensuring the safety of Montanans, their property and our communities,” Bullock said in a statement Monday. “As firefighters battle blazes across the state, Montanans must stay vigilant about active fires in their area … and prevent any actions that might spark new fires.”
At least seven active wildfires are burning across different parts of Nevada, the National Interagency Fire Center said.
In Douglas County, which borders California near Lake Tahoe, the wildfire sparked by lightning storms threatened structures and led to evacuation orders that were lifted Tuesday after favorable weather slowed the fire, according to the Sierra Front Wildfire Cooperators, while some roads remained closed.
As of Wednesday, 4,651 acres have burned in the county.
There are six active wildfires currently burning through different parts of Oregon.
One of the larger blazes is the Whitewater Fire in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness Area.
The fire doesn’t present an immediate danger to private property because it is mainly burning in the wilderness. But the area is a popular destination for hikers and at least four hiking trails remain closed. Read More

NASA finds moon of Saturn has chemical that could form 'membranes'

[Space Daily] NASA scientists have definitively detected the chemical acrylonitrile in the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan, a place that has long intrigued scientists investigating the chemical precursors of life.
On Earth, acrylonitrile, also known as vinyl cyanide, is useful in the manufacture of plastics. Under the harsh conditions of Saturn's largest moon, this chemical is thought to be capable of forming stable, flexible structures similar to cell membranes. Other researchers have previously suggested that acrylonitrile is an ingredient of Titan's atmosphere, but they did not report an unambiguous detection of the chemical in the smorgasbord of organic, or carbon-rich, molecules found there.
Now, NASA researchers have identified the chemical fingerprint of acrylonitrile in Titan data collected by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. The team found large quantities of the chemical on Titan, most likely in the stratosphere - the hazy part of the atmosphere that gives this moon its brownish-orange color.
"We found convincing evidence that acrylonitrile is present in Titan's atmosphere, and we think a significant supply of this raw material reaches the surface," said Maureen Palmer, a researcher with the Goddard Center for Astrobiology at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of a July 28, 2017, paper in Science Advances.
The cells of Earth's plants and animals would not hold up well on Titan, where surface temperatures average minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 179 degrees Celsius), and lakes brim with liquid methane.
In 2015, university scientists tackled the question of whether any organic molecules likely to be on Titan could, under such inhospitable conditions, form structures similar to the lipid bilayers of living cells on Earth. Thin and flexible, the lipid bilayer is the main component of the cell membrane, which separates the inside of a cell from the outside world. This team identified acrylonitrile as the best candidate.
Those researchers proposed that acrylonitrile molecules could come together as a sheet of material similar to a cell membrane. The sheet could form a hollow, microscopic sphere that they dubbed an "azotosome." This sphere could serve as a tiny storage and transport container, much like the spheres that lipid bilayers can form.
"The ability to form a stable membrane to separate the internal environment from the external one is important because it provides a means to contain chemicals long enough to allow them to interact," said Michael Mumma, director of the Goddard Center for Astrobiology, which is funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute. "If membrane-like structures could be formed by vinyl cyanide, it would be an important step on the pathway to life on Saturn's moon Titan." Read More