Tag Archives: Science

I Smell a Rat

September 8, 2016

by Dr. Kathorkian
an alter ego of katharineotto.wordpress.com

rat090616I am a murderer.  In defiance of my lifelong aversion to killing–war, capital punishment, abortion for me or by me (others have their own choices to make), physician-assisted suicide–I starved a rat this week by trapping him in the pantry.  I had already protected my edibles in a large metal trash can, because of the rat/mouse infestation that has plagued me for more than a year.

I’m the type of person who apologizes to blood-sucking mosquitoes before swatting them, but I’m absolutely opposed to the government spraying the marsh with malathion to kill mosquitoes at large, or the farming industry spreading pesticides willy-nilly over farmland.

I eat so little meat that I might as well be a vegetarian.  I like bacon but couldn’t kill a hog, even if I knew how, so that makes me a hypocrite. I have been known  to kill shrimp.  Blue crabs, too, but they are too much work to eat. Fish?  I’d rather not and don’t know how to fish.  Since I got chickens eight years ago, I have not eaten chicken.  I wonder these days how many people have even seen a live chicken, and if they had, could they kill and eat them?

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S. Squire Rooster, Attorney, for the Law of the Land

As methods of murder go, poison exists in the same category as bombs, because they are generally non-specific.  I actually bought poison to control the rodents but took it back.  My intention was to feed the river with rat remains, thereby alleviating my guilt, but poison would have made that rat’s body dangerous for the wildlife I like.  Traps are messy, unreliable and non-specific, too. I have a cat and rooster to protect.  The main reason I have rats is because my rooster, Squire, lives in the house and the cat lives outside.  Rats really like chicken food, I discovered, especially sunflower seeds, and they leave husks, shreds of clothing, mouse turds, and urine wherever they go.

In the past couple of years, rats have eaten through refrigerator wiring, a washing machine drain hose, sofa bedding, clothes, walls, packages of food, drapes, and even through a hard plastic cat food container.  They have taken up residence behind the stove and eaten through and urinated on the insulation at the bottom.  Like the human rats in government, I’ve learned that if there is something you have that they want, they will find a way to get it or destroy it, and leave the stink behind.

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Socksie by the marsh

Rat stink was making me sick, I decided, and cleaning up after them was pushing me to re-evaluate my excessively high moral standards.  I had visions of getting hemorrhagic fever from rat urine, bubonic plague from rat fleas, death by asphyxiation.  I bribed and threatened my cat, who watched the rats while they ate her food, then moved outdoors and refused to come back in.

I looked into getting a rat snake.  I discovered the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has outlawed selling native snakes. (The DNR is another blog, another day.) The local reptile dealer says he could be fined $20,000 and shut down if he sold one.

I prayed for a rat snake, and about two months ago, a black kingsnake dropped from heaven (actually out of the attic when I let the stairs down). He may be a cotton mouth moccasin, but he disappeared behind book shelves before I could fully identify him.   He didn’t reappear until my birthday in August, then showed briefly on the bathroom floor that night.  I almost stepped on him, but as before, he began to charge at me then disappeared again behind a cabinet, not to be seen again.  I saw traces of rat-blood on the floor and was grateful for the surprise birthday present.

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The last straw

It took that rat about six days to starve to death while I deliberated about what to do.  The pantry became death row when I discovered a new three-inch hole, made by one of his friends, in a favorite antique wool rug. This sealed his fate, a scapegoat for my pent-up rage. I checked in on the prisoner every day or so, and usually didn’t see him.  The day before he died, or maybe the day he died, he was sniffing around the bottom of the door and seemed weak.  When I opened the door Tuesday and smelled dead animal, I knew he was gone.  I searched and found him inside an open box of plastic garbage bags, looking as though he were sleeping peacefully.  That was comforting, in a macabre way.  I took him outside and showed him to Socksie the cat.  She took a couple of whiffs and walked away.  I deposited him by river’s edge, and Wednesday morning he was gone.  I figure a racoon got him, thereby concluding the latest of my many scientific experiments on human and animal behavior.

 

 

 

 

Packaging

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Has anyone considered the carbon footprint (and excessive waste) of all this single use packaging?  Whatever that fluorescent light bulb saves in end-of-line energy use is used up front in excessive packaging.  Why has Congress outlawed incandescent light bulbs?  Because if people had a choice, they would buy them.  Deprived of choice, people are forced to buy the patented technology or go back to using candles.

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“We don’t intend to honor patents”

In my wildest dreams, I envision Fidel and Raul Castro refusing to honor foreign patents.  Think of it:  dream dirt, fertilized by oxen and horses since the USSR collapsed in 1991.  Cuba lost its oil source and its sugar market at the same time.  Cubans almost starved, so Fidel invested in the improvements necessary to life:  food and health care.  As a result, he has grown generations of healthy, self-sufficient individuals.

Because of ongoing US spitefulness, in the form of trade embargos, torturing operations, and general scapegoating, Cubans have been forced to remain stuck in time, before tools were made of plastic, before bulldozers and pavement planted thermals in over-heated cities.

Much to United States’ embarrassment, the Castro team has proved that Cuba can survive and prosper without US help.

Hahaha.  Well, if Cuba refused to honor foreign patents, Monsanto and Dow/Dupont’s stockholders would poop in their pants.  Patents are hot commodities, a bloodfest for lawyers, who win either way the FDA blows.  I’ve read that up to 80% of America’s corn is already mutated, so the time for labeling is long past.  Just assume it’s patented food until otherwise proven.

Cuba could then thumb its nose at the FDA, whose nose is up its ass.  (I know this because FDA recommendations stink.  I’m horrified at the succession of FDA-launched food scares, intentional panic-creation with too little or misleading information.)

Beware the patent industry, is all I gotta say to the Castros’ Communal Capitalists, who believe the product is its own patent.  Let the lawyers and government do the paperwork on their own time.

Also, don’t let them trap you into debt.  Eminent domain all foreign assets, including Guantanamo Bay, and especially assets held by corporations like Pfizer, Walmart, and McDonalds.  Use the reclaimed land to pay off any debt, then party with unpatented drugs, and drink to everyone’s health and wealth.

The more I think of it, the better it sounds.  As America drowns in its environmental toxins, it continues to churn out more of them, with no thought of tomorrow.  I think about the growing cesspool of “unintended consequences” now.  I also hate seeing deformed birds, strangled porpoises, and sickly babies that “progress” (downhill fast) is bleeding us to pay for.  Cuba is relatively plastic and packaging free, I hope, at least so far.  Let’s hope they can keep it that way.

Cuba:  A New History, by British journalist Richard Gott, was published in 2004.  I reviewed it on this blog 10/22/15.

In 2005, Harpers‘ published “The Cuba Diet: What will you be eating when the revolution comes?”, by Bill McKibben, April, 2005.  The following month, the ecologist came out with  “Cuba: Health Without Wealth,”  by Brendon Sainsbury, June, 2005.

 

Fortune Tellers on the Payroll

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I was reading the Wall Street Journal the other day, circling predictive and speculative words, and thinking about the term “Know thine enemy.”  I wondered where it originated so Googled it to find it attributed to Chinese warrior Sun Tzu, in his classic work, The Art of War.   The translator of my copy, R. L. Wing, chose to translate the Chinese word “bing” as “strategy” instead of “war.”  He claims in the translation’s notes that he believes this choice is “most faithful to Sun Tzu’s intended objective:  the achievement of triumph through tactical positioning, without resorting to battle.”

 

Wing says it is not clear when Sun Tzu lived, but the work is now believed to have been written between 480 and 221 B.C., during the so-called “Warring States” period.  During that time, more than 300 wars were fought between the separate states of China against the Chou dynasty.

A conflict-avoidant coward like me would rather win than fight, so Sun Tzu’s philosophy speaks to me.  Especially now, when it fights rage all around, and I’m caught in the cross-fire, I keep tabs on those addicted to fighting, if only to stay out of their way.

So The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today and their ilk educate me about how the fortune tellers on the payroll subtly manipulate their readership through prognostication.  The addiction to prediction has become so entrenched that I had to start circling predictive and speculative words in news articles to grasp how prevalent it is.  Don’t take my word for it.  Just take note of words like “expects,” “will,” “ won’t,” “if,” “could,” “possibility,” “predicts,” “forecasts,” “thinks,” “believes,” and “suggests,” to name a few.

Predictions are dangerous, especially when they come from authority figures, who should know better.  They include economists, world leaders, government, doctors, “climate scientists,” and, of course, meteorologists.  Those making the predictions have a vested interest in being right, so contribute to the outcomes they expect.  Negative predictions, such as those coming from doctors, put binders on the future, like casting a spell on a vulnerable patient. Global predictions, about “the global economy,” or “climate change,” create unnecessary fear based on a few isolated and disconnected facts.  There is nothing scientific about predictions, no matter what the fortune tellers on the payroll say.

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Chemistry Quiz

  1. What is the difference between organic and inorganic chemistry?
  2. What is this molecule?

                           CH4

3.  What is this molecule?

                           CH3-CH2-OH

Answers:

1.  The difference between organic and inorganic chemistry is carbon. Carbon (C) is the basic building block of life, thus “organic chemistry”. Everything that lives or has ever lived contains it.  Carbon dioxide (CO2), considered a “greenhouse gas” in today’s parlance, is part of the natural life cycle, exhaled by human beings and animals, used by plants for growth.  The earth’s atmosphere is composed of 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen.  The remaining one percent consists chiefly of argon, with extremely small amounts of other gases.  Carbon dioxide, then, constitutes significantly less than one percent of the earth’s atmosphere.

Green plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen in “photosynthesis,” a process involving chemical reactions, using the sun as an energy source.

Life is an organizing force which defies “entropy.” “Entropy” has several definitions, but it is generally perceived as the ultimate degradation of matter and energy in the universe toward patternless conformity, degradation, disorder, and death.  However, the organizing force of life concentrates the energy in the living or dead organism.  Wood, coal, oil, and natural gas are examples of stored energy sources derived from living or formerly living organisms.

2.  If you answered that CH4 is methane, you would be right. Methane is another so-called “greenhouse gas.” It is produced by all living and decaying organisms.  It is the simplest molecule in organic chemistry, consisting of one carbon and four hydrogen atoms.  Everything from marshlands to landfill, from animal waste to human farts, add methane to the atmosphere.

If you answered that CH4 is natural gas, you would also be right.  This is why natural gas is considered the cleanest fuel of all, because it produces no toxic by-products.  The chemical reaction for natural gas when used for energy production is:

CH4 + 2O2 + flame = CO2 + 2H2O

Translated, this means that one methane molecule plus two oxygen molecules plus heat of combustion generates one carbon dioxide molecule and two water molecules. Thus, burning natural gas generates twice as much water as carbon dioxide.

If you are considering “greenhouse gases,” you must recognize that water (steam) is a potent one. The cloud cover of the earth has the effect of trapping heat inside the atmosphere.

You will note that “climate change scientists” want to reduce CH4 levels, but oil and gas companies want to capture and sell CH4 in the “global economy.” They are using “fracking” and other techniques to extract CH4 from trapped deposits in the earth.

3.  If you answer that CH3-CH2-OH is whiskey, you would be right. Whiskey is a distilled alcohol, usually from grain, such as rye and maize or corn. It is also distilled from barley.  Corn liquor was an early American product and used in bartering by cash-strapped farmers to pay bills.  George Washington was a large-scale whiskey distiller.  In his later years, he made most of his money from the distilling business.  Distilleries are examples of “economic narrows” that operate as toll gates between producer and retail purchaser.  Washington and Alexander Hamilton conspired to enact the “Whiskey Tax” in 1791 to undermine the bartering system and replace it with a cash-based system that could be more easily taxed. (Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow, 2007) This led to the infamous Whiskey Rebellion, in which Washington betrayed the farmers who had fought in the Revolution (thereby neglecting their farms) and were going bankrupt because of debt, taxes, and the devaluation of the Continental dollar, after the new United States currency was introduced.

If you answer that CH3-CH2-OH is ethanol (or ethyl alcohol), you would also be right.  The 2007 Congressional mandate to blend gasoline with at least 10% ethanol proved a boon for Archer Daniels Midland and other corporate giants, which benefitted mightily from the mandate, through tax breaks, other ethanol subsidies, and price supports.

It must be remembered that “farmers” and the “farming industry” are not the same. In fact, “farmers,” as we perceive them, are being displaced in large numbers by corporate mega-farms.  The corporate “farming industry” has significant political clout through donations to both major parties.  They also have armies of lobbyists, lawyers, and friends in federal and state regulatory agencies like the USDA and EPA.  They are the major beneficiaries of federal and state mandates, subsidies, and price supports.  They have their fingers in every point of the farm to table (or vehicle) distribution chain, including storage, distilleries, commodities futures markets, transportation (ADM Trucking is a subsidiary of Archer Daniels Midland), and global sales.

In this election year, while the media and public are focusing on the presidential candidates, let us not forget that the entire House of Representatives and one third of the Senate are up for grabs. Whatever anyone thinks of Donald Trump, we must admit he is a game-changer.  His grass roots appeal is showing the power of the people to make a significant difference in how the game is played.  We may be moving closer to a true democracy, by default, as the “ruling elite” of the two-party system desperately tries to recapture its “market share” of public trust and acceptance.

Yes, the individual can make a difference, whether at the national or local level. If that individual is informed well enough ask the right questions of all candidates, from local to national levels, and to demand informed answers, we might wrest a revolution in consciousness from this circus of political psychodrama.

So far, Ted Cruz is the only presidential candidate who has come out against the ethanol mandate, but he has begun to waffle under political pressure from the “farm lobby” and others. Hillary Clinton does not seem to know the difference between natural gas and methane.  She is not alone.  It is frightening to think that so many people with zero knowledge of science are in positions to write and pass legislation mandating, regulating, and subsidizing industries that affect us all and to such a great extent.

It probably doesn’t matter much who becomes president. The real power is in Congress, which has the power to repeal stupid legislation, like the ethanol mandate.  Especially now that there’s a worldwide oil glut—one of the premiere reasons for passing the mandate—it’s especially good timing to revisit that law and its consequences.

 

 

Go Metric

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I put myself on the metric system years ago, using it for everything from sewing to woodworking. It’s especially useful for calculating gas:oil ratios for my various power tools.  My chain saw fuel tank holds about a cup, and the required ratio of gas to oil is 50:1. To avoid mixing more than necessary for the job at hand, I have in the past gone through rigorous calculations to reduce gallon:ounce to cup:teaspoon sizes.  This takes a master mathematician, unless you know that a cup is almost exactly 250 milliliters, and a teaspoon is almost exactly 5 ml, good enough for my chain saw’s 50:1 requirement.

The framers of our Constitution realized the economic importance of having a consistent system of weights and measures. Article 1, Section 8 gives Congress the power “To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures,” all in the same sentence.  In the beginning, it was a political issue.  Thomas Jefferson argued for a decimal-based system, while Alexander Hamilton preferred the British “inch-pound” one.  Jefferson won in the money category, which is why we have a decimal-based dollar.  As he explained, the British system of fractions “works for bankers, but not for farmers.”

In 1975, the US Congress passed the “Metric Conversion Act,” which recommended but did not mandate that the US switch to the System Internationale d’Units, commonly known as the “metric” or “SI” system. In 1988 it made the SI system the “preferred” system.

However, the US has been slow to convert. It is now the only country in the world that still uses the old “inch-pound” system, based on the British standard used in the 1700’s.  Even Britain began converting to metric in 1965.  New Zealand began conversion in 1969, Australia in 1970, and Canada in 1975.

We now see a blend of the inch-pound and metric system on grocery items, with weights and liquid measures given in both. We have yet to see many tools with metric measurements.  Rulers, measuring tapes, squares, hardware, and other items in metric are hard to come by.

That the US is out of phase with the rest of the world is nowhere more obvious than in our stubborn adherence to the antiquated inch-pound system. The costs are incalculable, as the “global economy” must adapt to our standards to sell products here.  Modern machines contain parts from all over the world, with both measurement systems applied in many large ones, like cars.

Metric is easy. Conversion back and forth is hard and error-prone, responsible for at least one satellite explosion so far.  Convenience is a major feature of the SI system.  It is based on one family of units.  It relies on decimals rather than fractions.  It employs standard prefixes, and different quantities relate to each other in a simple way.

The inch-pound system, by contrast, is based on a combination of units developed separately, with some, like the mile, coming from the Roman Empire. It derives from “mille passus”, Latin for “thousand paces.”  The foot was established from the length of King Henry VIII’s feet.  His daughter Elizabeth I, in the 1500’s, set the mile as 5280 feet, or eight furlongs.  A furlong was the length of a furrow an ox could plow without resting.  The inch was gauged to be three barley corns, laid end to end.

In the 1600’s there was no universal standard, which became inconvenient for merchants involved in trade with different regions. In 1790, the Parliament of France took action, and in 1795 it officially adopted the SI system.  It established the meter as one ten-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the equator.  A gram was one cubic centimeter of water at a specified temperature, and the centigrade scale spanned from the freezing to the boiling point of water.  Thus, the meter tied length, area, volume (capacity), and mass together.

The complexity of weights and measures shows in the SI’s “base units” for different types of measurements. The meter is the base unit of length; the kilogram of mass; the second measures time; the Kelvin is for temperature, using the same unit-span as Celsius but having a different start-point (absolute zero, or -273.15 degrees centigrade).  The ampere is for electric current; the candela for light brightness; and the mole for substance.  One liter of water has a volume of 1000 cubic centimeters (or cubic milliliters) and a mass of one kilogram.  “Horsepower” is the inch-pound equivalent of watts, with 750 watts equal to one horsepower.

Despite our general reluctance to keep pace with the rest of the world, metrically speaking, we are moving that way in subtle fashion. Anyone who has measured a standard two-by-four—a piece of lumber used in framing houses, among other things—knows it is not two inches by four inches.  It is one-and-a-half inches by three-and-a-half inches.  But if you measure with a metric ruler, you will find it is exactly 4 centimeters by 9 centimeters.

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An even better example of “metric creep” shows in the four major coins we use, the dime, penny, nickel, and quarter. Measure with a metric ruler, and you will find there is a consistent progression in diameter.  A dime is exactly 1.8 centimeters, a penny 2.0 cm, a nickel 2.2 cm, and a quarter 2.4 cm, each 0.2 cm larger than the one before.

The inside diameter of a 3/4” PVC pipe is 2 cm.

In this election year, I would like to see candidates for all offices move toward practical, easily attainable goals that benefit everyone. Officially adopting the metric scale would be a start.  Abolishing Daylight Savings Time would be nice, too, as it costs way more than it’s worth, for many of us.  In future blogs, I plan to make a case for repealing a number of mandates, primarily the ethanol mandate.  I could make a strong case for repealing the air bag mandate.  Finally, the incandescent light bulb needs to make a come-back, at least until someone finds a better way to heat chicken coops in winter.

Eat dirt. You’ll feel better.

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So suggest some researchers into eco-therapy, a trendy new concept that has doctors writing prescriptions for spending time in a park. While they don’t specifically recommend eating dirt (a pathological condition known generally as “pica”), they do say the soil contains mood-enhancing micro-organisms that enhance happy-making brain chemicals, such as serotonin.

The star of current research is the benign Mycobacterium vaccae, a micro-organism found in soil and discovered to enhance serotonin levels in mice.  Serotonin is the neurotransmitter du jour in psychotropic medications like Prozac and is known for its ability to alleviate depression and anxiety. (Mayer, et al.  “Gut Microbes and the Brain:  Paradigm Shift in Neuroscience”. The Journal of Neuroscience. 12 November 2014, 34(46))

I practiced eco-therapy long before science discovered it. I’ve been a river rat since childhood.  After leaving home, I wound up in New York, but two years of noise, bad smells, pollution, too much concrete and pavement drove me to the opposite extreme—the mountains of Colorado– in 1977.  After some bouncing around, I moved to another big city, Atlanta, in 1992 for career training and lived there three years.  I spent all my free time in the back yard, planting flowers.  Because of the garden, the house sold for much more than the realtor believed I could get.  So my eco-therapy was financially rewarding, too.

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I spent too many years after that working in offices, often with no windows or with windows fronting on parking lots, and missing the best part of the day outside. Now retired and living on the old family homestead, I spend as much time as possible outside, scratching in the dirt with my chickens, and surrounded by the greens and blues of nature.  I’ve always liked the smell of earth, and now science is telling me why.

The scientific community is discovering what humans have instinctively known forever. In “The Nature Cure:  Why some doctors are writing prescriptions for time outdoors,” by James Hamblin, MD (Atlantic magazine, October, 2015) tells of the emerging “eco-therapy” concept. Dr. Hamblin writes of the M. vaccae. He also references a UK study showing physical activities in natural versus “artificial” environments, induced less anger, fatigue, and sadness.  Another study found that patients recovering from gall bladder surgery fared better if they were in rooms facing trees instead of a wall.

“The Nature Cure” also cites research that says people are attracted to and feel restored by looking at images of nature, especially savannas, slow-moving water, foliage, and “birds or other unthreatening wildlife.”

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Since then, I’ve stumbled on similar articles about the healthful and mood-enhancing effects of nature in Yes! magazine and Mother Earth News.  The winter, 2016 issue of Yes! is devoted to creating a “culture of good health.”  In “The Curious Case of the Antidepressant, Anti-anxiety Backyard Garden,” family practitioner Dr. Daphne Miller says “It’s well-established that the microbes in soil enhance the nutritional value of food and, as found in studies of farm children in Bavaria and among the Indiana Amish, improve immune function.  (Researchers were finding that exposure to a diversity of microbes early in life led to fewer allergies.)”

Dr. Miller states we need a diversity of organisms found in animals, plants, soil, water, and air for optimal functioning of our immune and nervous systems. She laments the modern practice of crop monoculture and use of pesticides and herbicides, which all deplete soil of micro-organism diversity.

Finally, “Nature Really Does Make Us Happy,” by Eva M. Selhub and Alan C. Logan, in the December, 2015/January, 2016 issue of Mother Earth News, takes a slightly different tack.  Here, behavioral scientist Roger S. Ulrich is given credit for the original research on gall-bladder patients.  He is also given credit for a landmark 1979 study on stressed students.  He showed them images of nature scenes and cities.  “The nature scenes increased positive feelings of affection, playfulness, friendliness and elation.  Urban views, on the other hand, significantly cultivated one emotion . . . sadness.  Viewing nature tended to reduce feelings of anger and aggression, and urban scenes tended to increase these feelings.  Also, seeing natural landscapes was associated with increased production of serotonin,” say the article’s authors.

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Other studies cited in the Mother Earth News article indicated elderly inhabitants of a residential care center in Texas had lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) when in a garden rather than a classroom.  The presence of plants, particularly flowering ones, in a room can reduce stress caused by an emotional video.  In Taiwan, rural farm scenes produced higher alpha-wave activity, particularly in the right brain.   Alpha-waves are associated with peaceful states of mind.  Forest scenes and natural water scenes also decrease heart-rate.  In Japan, forest walks reduced cortisol levels.  Forest walks are also credited with reducing depression and hostility, while increasing vigor and improving sleep.

Norwegian research shows that having a plant near or within view of a work station significantly reduces the amount of sick leave workers take. Japanese research adds that greening high-school classrooms with potted plants significantly reduces students’ visits to the infirmary.  Nature scenes fired up opioid receptors in subjects’ brains, imaged by fMRI in California.  Endogenous (produced by the body) opioids reduce perception of stress, enhance emotional bonding, and decrease brooding over negative memories.  Urban scenes were found in Korea to activate the amygdala, a part of the brain associated with anger and fear.  Chronic stress and cortisol may promote activity in the amygdala, which selectively prioritizes memorization of negative experiences and events.

So there you have it. My take-home message is to escape as often as possible the boxes where we live, drive, and work, and to enjoy the health-sustaining multi-dimensionality of the great outdoors.

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Photos, top to bottom:  Camellia;  White-tailed deer;  Trees and marsh;  Pecan tree with Spanish moss; Moon River at high tide.