Spain’s Repsol researching direct conversion of water into renewable hydrogen with solar energy

first_img FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Recharge:Repsol is developing a technology to convert solar energy and water directly into renewable hydrogen, without the intermediate step of electrolysis.The Spanish oil major is conducting a project into so-called ‘photoelectrocatalysis’ together with Spanish gas provider Enagás and research institutes such as the Catalan Institute for Energy Research, the University of Alicante, and the Aragon Hydrogen Foundation.“Using this system, we could obtain a renewable hydrogen that is competitive and uses less energy,” said Elena Verdú, senior process development scientist at Repsol’s Technology Lab, because its main advantage compared to electrolysis “is that no electricity is used, and it, therefore, does not depend on the electricity price. This results in a significant operational cost reduction.”Photoelectrocatalysis is at the experimental stage still, but scientists have been investigating using sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, trying out various materials such as rust to tease the green gas away to mimic photosynthesis.Producing green hydrogen from renewable energy via electrolysis currently is still much more expensive than its traditional production through natural gas steam reforming.Repsol is both Spain’s leading producer and the main consumer of hydrogen at its industrial complexes. Hydrogen is a key component in refining processes, used in desulfurization and hydrocracking treatments that improve the performance and the environmental quality of refined fuels. The oil company currently is exploring various production methods to supplant its current use of hydrogen with climate-friendlier methods, as well as to use green hydrogen and ‘low-carbon’ blue hydrogen (produced from gas linked to carbon capture and storage) for the production of synthetic fuels.[Bernd Radowitz]More: ‘No electricity needed’: oil company Repsol aims to turn solar straight into hydrogen Spain’s Repsol researching direct conversion of water into renewable hydrogen with solar energylast_img read more

Heart of Darkness

first_img Wave Goodbye: Congo expedition paddlers face monstrous swells on the river for five days. Photo: Skip Brown.We had been in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for less than two hours, most of that time spent in the hot, crowded, chaotic crush of airport baggage claim. We hauled our kayaks and gear out into a pitch-black Kinshasa night and drove through a hazy gloom on a dusty road crowded with cars. Pedestrians dashed in and out of traffic with abandon. The only illumination other than our headlights came from hundreds of storefront oil lamps flickering through the dust.Suddenly, a mini-van slammed into a man crossing the road up ahead. A street vendor of some kind, his body was suddenly propelled into the smoky air, his tray of gum and trinkets briefly weightless before he crumpled to the roadside. The van never slowed and disappeared into the darkness. As we passed, it appeared that the guy was dead. Our driver motored on, explaining that we would likely end up in trouble if we stopped to help, probably get blamed for the accident and anyhow, what would we do? Where would we take him?“Welcome to the Congo,” someone said.Visiting this central African country is not for the faint of heart. The worst of colonialism followed by decades of despotic rule has left one of Africa’s largest and potentially richest countries a third-world basket case. Eighty million people live in an area half the size of the U.S. with fewer paved roads than D.C. Through this heart of darkness for nearly three thousand miles runs the Congo River, the second largest river in the world. Only the Amazon carries more water but the Congo has something the Amazon doesn’t – whitewater. Big whitewater.The Congo runs the length of the DRC twice, draining millions of square miles. Straddling both sides of the equator, it’s always raining somewhere in the Congo drainage, thus providing a fairly constant flow of between 1.5 and 3 million cubic feet per second.Just downstream of Kinshasa, and within view of the city’s crumbling skyline, the Congo begins a steep drop to the sea. It’s here that an 85-mile long canyon of pool drop whitewater known as the “String of Pearls” begins. The massive volume, combined with modest drop and incredible depths creates a hydrodynamic cauldron that has stymied explorers for centuries. In 1877, explorer Henry Stanley became the first person to travel the length of the Congo. Ultimately it took him 40 days and the loss of some of his party to get through the canyon below Kinshasa, portaging most of the way. His diaries describe the massive wave trains and his 70-foot canoes pointing to the sky as they spun in giant whirlpools.A century later, a team of French adventurers tried to run the String of Pearls. Film footage shows their rafts heading off into insane whitewater. They disappeared and were never seen again. No bodies were ever found, only a bullet-ridden raft.The daunting whitewater hasn’t only stymied adventurers. Scientists too have been kept at bay by the river’s ferocity and the DRC’s troubled past. For years it has been a difficult and dangerous place to work and the river is just recently yielding some of her secrets. The large volume, great depths and strong currents have created a habitat for unique evolution of a variety of fish and other species. Ichthyologists and hydrologists are using sophisticated equipment to map current velocities at various river depths. But they can only guess at what lies below the surface of the String of Pearls. In fact, it could be the most interesting, least studied large section of river in the world. One of the purposes of our journey was to make depth readings and hopefully prove that the Congo is the deepest river in the world.At the invitation of National Geographic Television, our team of pro kayakers was attempting a first successful descent of the String of Pearls. We were trying to run all of the rapids, take water samples at major tributaries and depth soundings, and film and photograph it all.On the eve of our journey, my mind reeled with concern over the potential dangers we might face. The DRC is an intense and paranoid place, and there are lots of people with guns. Any Army or police officer with a gun can stop you, and they usually try to shake you down with impunity. Taking photographs anywhere is an invitation for trouble.Then there’s the river: giant whitewater rapids with spine-crushing waves, huge whirlpools, shark-sized fish with shark-sized teeth, crocodiles, and hippos. Ichthyologist Melanie Stiassni said the only thing we need to worry about is the whitewater. Turned out she was wrong. center_img 1 2 3last_img read more

Marathon Pursuit

first_imgMarathon Pursuit (1/5): Anyone Can Run a MarathonHere is the tried and true, age-old, step-by-step plan for anyone (and I mean anyone) to run a marathon:Step 1: Run.Step 2: Repeat Step 1.All jokes aside, it is very true that anyone can run a marathon. You may not be shooting for the gold medal, but the only person you should be racing is yourself. I’m not ever going to say 26.2 miles is easy, but with enough patience and enough willpower, I believe anyone from Jared the Subway guy to Gladys Burrill (92 year-old marathon competitor) can go for the long run. To help you along the way, here are some simple guidelines to get you off that couch, into those running shoes, and across that finish line:Be Prepared – It’s going to be hard work, you cannot avoid this. Come in mentally prepared to work hard and occasionally push yourself. If you are not prepared for the long road ahead of you, it will be easy to get lost on its winding corridors. Know your limits, only so you can better push them. Along the way, keep in mind the wise words of Henry Ford, “If you say you can or you say you can’t, you’re probably right.”Stay on Track – Do you a simple Google search, ask a friend, or read a book; just get a plan. Follow the prescribed running amounts, take some days to rest, and track your progress. Lay down the groundwork and the big race will be a walk in the park.Listen to your Body – How’s that cheeseburger and fries you had for lunch treating you on the road? Watch your diet, get your sleep, and stay hydrated. Listening to your body seems like it should be easy, but how often do you respond to those tell-tale signs?Have Fun With It – This should be simple enough, if your pace is pulling you down, slow down a bit. Everyone should have their own reasons to run, but they should all revolve around self-exploration and the pursuit of happiness. Get out, enjoy the run, and have fun with it.Go For the Distance – Perhaps the most important advice is once a week, kick up the distance a notch. It takes time and some groundwork to start pulling down the double digit distances, but once you do, you’ll never want to stop. Get out and push those limits, see new things, and cross a new finish line every week.NYC MarathonLace up those running shoes, stretch those hammies, and drink water! Join me in my marathon pursuit as I keep my eyes on the finish line of the World’s Friendliest Marathon; the Richmond Marathon on November 10th.  Sweat will be involved, sore legs a guarantee, and a lot of healthy runs in between.Over and Out-Bradlast_img read more

Rutherford County Adventure Getaway Giveaway

first_imgSearching for bold adventure? Enter to win an adventure getaway prize package to Rutherford County, North Carolina!Our adventure prize package includes:Two-night stay in the beautiful Lodge on Lake LureLunch for two at Medina’s Bistro in Chimney Rock VillageHalf day pontoon rental provided by Lake Lure Adventure CompanyTwo adult passes to our two hour rock climbing lesson by Fox Mountain GuidesTwo adult passes to Chimney Rock ParkTwo adult passes for a zipline tour at Canopy Ridge Farm$250 gift card to help you get here provided by Rutherford County Tourism Development AuthorityTHIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED! THANKS TO ALL WHO ENTERED AND PLEASE CHECK OUT ALL OUR OTHER GREAT GIVEAWAYS.Rules and Regulations: Package must be redeemed within 1 year of winning  date. Entries must be received by mail or through the www.blueridgeoutdoors.com contest sign-up page by 12:00 noon EST on July 15th, 2013. One entry per person. One winner per household.  Sweepstakes open only to legal residents of the 48 contiguous United  States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 years of age or older.  Void wherever prohibited by law. Families and employees of Blue Ridge  Outdoors Magazine and participating sponsors are not eligible. No  liability is assumed for lost, late, incomplete, inaccurate,  non-delivered or misdirected mail, or misdirected e-mail, garbled,  mistranscribed, faulty or incomplete telephone transmissions, for  technical hardware or software failures of any kind, lost or unavailable  network connection, or failed, incomplete or delayed computer  transmission or any human error which may occur in the receipt of  processing of the entries in this Sweepstakes. By entering the  sweepstakes, entrants agree that Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, Rutherford County, Fox Mountain Guides, Canopy Ridge Farm, Chimney Rock, Lake Lure Adventure Company and The Lodge on Lake Lure reserve the right to contact entrants multiple times with special information  and offers. Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine reserves the right, at their  sole discretion, to disqualify any individual who tampers with the entry  process and to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend the Sweepstakes.  Winners agree that Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine and participating  sponsors, their subsidiaries, affiliates, agents and promotion agencies  shall not be liable for injuries or losses of any kind resulting from  acceptance of or use of prizes. No substitutions or redemption of cash,  or transfer of prize permitted. Any taxes associated with winning any of  the prizes detailed below will be paid by the winner. Winners agree to  allow sponsors to use their name and pictures for purposes of promotion. Sponsors reserve the right to substitute a prize of equal or greater  value. All Federal, State and local laws and regulations apply.  Selection of winner will be chosen at random at the Blue Ridge Outdoors  office on or before July 30th, 6:00 PM EST 2013. Winners will be contacted by  the information they provided in the contest sign-up field and have 7  days to claim their prize before another winner will be picked. Odds of  winning will be determined by the total number of eligible entries received.last_img read more

Saluda, N.C.: The Next Great Mountain Town

first_imgThere’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Saluda, North Carolina. If the tiny town (population 703) is famous for anything at all, it’s the ridiculously steep, but closed, Saluda railroad grade, the steepest main line railroad in the U.S. So steep it was too expensive and dangerous for passenger trains. It’s a near-mythical stretch of track amongst rail enthusiasts. So yeah, you’ve probably never heard of Saluda. But that’s about to change. The once-quiet downtown is now thriving, and adventurers from all disciplines are finally discovering the gems hidden inside the Green River Gamelands, an 18,000-acre tract of wilderness that’s packed with waterfalls, steep creeks, and lonely trails just a few minutes outside of town.“Two years ago, it was exciting to see a kayak on top of a car in downtown Saluda,” says Sara Bell, owner of Green River Adventures and local Saludian. “Now, we see tons of road bikers in town, you see mountain bikes on cars, kayakers everywhere—you can judge a town by the roof racks you see.”Kayakers have passed through Saluda on their way to and from the class V Green River Narrows, arguably the most well-known stretch of whitewater in the country, for years. Now, with live music and Southern fare sprouting up in downtown, they have a reason to stay. Meanwhile, mountain bikers and hikers are showing up for the newly-buffed singletrack in the Green River Gamelands. And road cyclists are geeking out on the low-traffic pavement that rises and falls along the Blue Ridge Escarpment that divides North Carolina and South Carolina. And everyone is digging on the live music and Southern fare that’s sprouted up recently downtown.Here are six reasons why Saluda should be on your radar for next year’s Best Mountain Town.The Purple OnionLive music, heavy on the bluegrass and Americana, happens Thursday through Saturday. Otherwise, there’s a Mediterranean-heavy menu with tons of local goodness. purpleonionsaluda.comThe FoodGreen River BBQ has been a staple in Saluda since the ‘80s. The Piglets (BBQ sliders with Green River’s signature slaw) are still winners (greenriverbbq.com). Expect comfort food staples at Saluda Grade Café, but notice the locally sourced ingredients like Sunburst Farms trout (saludagradecafe.com). The Wildflour Bakery is a mainstay for cyclists on their way up from Greenville. You can’t go wrong with a mid-ride cinnamon roll. wildflourbakerync.com Road BikingSaluda is surrounded by low-traffic mountain roads that pass through protected lands, like the Gamelands and the Greenville Watershed. The small town’s proximity to Greenville makes it a common destination for South Carolina cyclists making their way up into the Blue Ridge. George Hincapie’s Gran Fondo (every October) even crosses Saluda three times. A choice 25-mile route takes you through the Gamelands along the Green River and climbs the brutal Green River Cove (1,000 feet of gain in 2.4 miles). All the while you’ll get gorgeous views and rarely see a car (go to jerrysbaddle.com for a map and cues).Green River AdventuresWhat started as a kayak instruction clinic has blossomed into a multi-sport adventure guide service that uses the 18,000-acre gamelands and a choice parcel of private land that drops into the Green River Gorge. Sara Bell and her husband will still teach you how to roll, but you can also hop into a ducky for a killer class III+ paddle down the Upper Green, rappel off a 150-foot waterfall, or fly along the steepest, fastest zipline in the country. greenriveradventures.com Green River GamelandsThe 18,000-acre forest is known for its torrential white water and rugged, rocky landscape. But it’s predominantly only known by hunters and anglers, as the land is managed by the Wildlife Resources Commission, and the trail system has been in disrepair for decades. Local boater and race producer John Grace and a team of volunteers put in 300 hours of blood, sweat and tears building 14 miles of singletrack to get ready for the ambitious Green River Games. “It’s truly technical singletrack,” Grace says. “These trails aren’t on old road beds. We’re talking legitimate singletrack that’s more technical and tighter, than Pisgah.” In addition to the singletrack, which accesses bluffs with gorge views and drops down to the Green River, the gamelands is also home to Big Bradley Falls, a picture-perfect 150-foot waterfall. Hook up with Green River Adventures (greenriveradventures.com) or Pura Vida Adventures (pvadventures.com) for a wet waterfall rappel. If you explore the gorge solo, keep hunting seasons in mind and be respectful of hunters and anglers.Green River Games Picture the Teva Mountain Games, but fewer sponsors and tougher terrain. In the event’s first year, more than 100 athletes chose from seven different events, from a technical 13-mile mountain bike ride to a class III stand-up paddleboard downriver sprint. There were trail runs and road runs and kayak races and big parties. But the signature event had to be the Silverback, where athletes kayaked eight miles of whitewater, including the famous class V Narrows, then mountain biked eight miles, then ran eight miles of trail. It’s billed as the most technical multi-sport race in the country. Expect the Games to blow up as soon as the world discovers what’s up. greenrivergames.comlast_img read more

Ski and Snowboard 101 at Beech Mountain Resort, North Carolina

first_imgItching to have some fun in the snow this winter, but need a little help getting started? You’re not alone, and it’s perfect timing – January is National Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month! This year, Beech Mountain Resort in North Carolina will once again offer its wildly successful Skiing 101 class in celebration.Skiing 101Skiing 101 at Beech Mountain is an all-inclusive beginner’s program, providing one night’s lodging, equipment rental, helmet rental, full-day lift ticket, and an introductory ski or snowboard lesson at the Resort. The program is available to anyone age eight or older, and runs all month long. Cost of enrollment is $101 per person, double occupancy required.“Skiing or snowboarding can be intimidating if you haven’t tried them before, so we offer a learning experience that’s easy, safe and fun,” says Talia Freeman, marketing director for Beech Mountain Resort. “We take you though each step. Everything is covered from equipment rental to lift tickets to the proper way to carry skis. We make all the rounds and ensure you arrive at the lesson on time and prepared.”Registering for “Skiing 101 at Beech” is simple. Just contact any of the participating lodging options listed on the Skiing 101 page and ask for the Skiing 101 package. The accommodation will book your room and provide a voucher at check-in to be redeemed at the ski resort for a lesson, equipment rental, helmet rental, and lift ticket.Lodging is available Sunday through Thursday nights. Ski and snowboard lessons are available Monday through Friday.Skiing 101 first debuted in January 2013 and received an award from the National Ski Areas Association as the top campaign to promote Learn-to-Ski Month. Beech Mountain has decided to keep up the trend for its third year running, and we have no doubt that it will be another amazing opportunity!So grab a friend or family member and take advantage of this opportunity to venture into a new sport during national Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month.Further details are available at www.beechmtn.com or by calling (800) 468-5506last_img read more

Sweet Home Tennessee: Climbing in Chattanooga

first_imgWest coast peaks have earned an incredible reputation as the ultimate ideal in the eyes of outdoor enthusiasts. It’s pretty easy to see why: powdery slopes, thrilling trails, and sharp cliffs come together to create a new Mecca for adventurers of all persuasions.Pat KriegerFor some of the best rock climbers in the country, though, there’s actually more to life than Yosemite or Joshua Tree.Chattanooga, Tennessee represents a hidden gem throughout the American climbing community. Nestled against the Georgia border and far from sunny California, this region seems to have very little in common with its more famous Western counterparts. But a huge wealth of potential lies in Chattanooga’s own rocky assets. Southern sandstone stands proud all around, quick to offer world-class opportunities just beyond the city center. Trad climbers flock to the Tennessee Wall and Sunset Rock to hand-jam their way through beautiful crack formations, Sport climbers get their fix at Foster Falls on tall walls and aggressive roofs, and boulderers wind through the Little Rock City boulder field – home to one leg of the annual Triple Crown Bouldering Series.Pat Krieger is one of these dedicated Chattanooga climbers. After first discovering his talents on the rock here, Pat has built his life around the climbing journey that Chattanooga helped him begin.Pat KriegerToday, Pat lives in New Brunswick, far from his Chattanooga base, while he finishes up school at Rutgers. He’s got big plans in the works, including an enviable trip to Joes Valley, Utah, but his favorite Tennessee haunts still keep him coming back to familiar ground. No matter how much other rock he touches along the way, Pat makes a point to return to Chattanooga every winter to get a fresh dose of Southern motivation for the new year.Together with fellow climber and filmmaker Adam Nawrot, Pat takes a look into his long journey on the rock in “Dancing with the Stone”, a deep story of big obstacles, bigger accomplishments, and some major Chattanooga love.last_img read more

Ski Porn

first_imgEvery winter, I like to kick off ski season by watching a bunch of ski porn. Sometimes, a bunch of us will cram into someone’s basement and watch a couple of selections from Warren Miller or Matchstick Productions. This year, we hit up the premier for the new Teton Gravity Research movie, Rogue Elements. It’s good in the same way that all of these ski movies are good; you spend about an hour or so watching insanely talented skiers and boarders doing incredible tricks on mountains that I’ll never have the chance to see in person, let alone ski. There are lots of helicopter drops and dramatic face shots. Roughly every 12 seconds, the guy sitting behind me said, “sick.” That’s all he said. Over and over. For an hour and a half.I knew this is exactly how the movie premiere would go, from the flannel-wearing bros in the audience to the heli-access big lines on the screen. And I’m fine with it. I like it. It gets me pumped to go do stupid shit at my own hometown hill, Breckenwolf, which, by the way, has sicker lines than anything you’ll ever see on the big screen. You just have to know where to look. I swear. Scout’s honor. But these movies are also becoming increasingly frustrating to me personally because the skiing I do is nothing like the skiing they’re doing on film. It’s as if we’re speaking two completely different languages. I’m stuck muddling through toddler English and the athletes at TGR are deep into a discussion about physics in Mandarin. I watch these kids, who I assume are all Canadian, do backflips over pickup trucks and bounce from powder pillow to powder pillow, like their skis are part pogo sticks. And I can’t reconcile their actions with what I do on snow, which is much less acrobatic and about half the speed. I don’t think ski porn was frustrating to me when I was younger because I always had delusions that I might someday be as good as the athletes in the film. Maybe even get my own segment at some point. I could also become the center fielder for the Braves and win the Congressional seat for my district. These were all pipe dreams, but I had time on my side, so, who knows? But now, ankle deep into my fourth decade, there’s not a lot of room for me to grow. I’m probably as good a skier as I’m ever gonna get. Based on the trajectory of most people my age, I’ll actually get a little worse with every season, the way old men tend to shrink a little every year. So yeah, screw those Canadians and their backflips. Sick movie though.last_img read more

Mountain Medicine: Part 4 – This is Your Brain on Nature

first_img“One could argue the most valuable resource is cognitive attention.”  Appalachian Ecotherapy and Why We Need it Now Click here to read the whole article Despite the danger of sharing a place where the bug is eaten by the fish, and the fish is eaten by the bird, and the bird is eaten by the cat, and the cat enslaves the humans, we know it is a necessary risk. We know that a place where life thrives is a place where our own can thrive too. We know that our fates are bound to the fates of the living things around us. But we know this fact in a way that our brains can never appreciate, and in a way that logic may even impede. Optimistic anticipation: “You have optimistic anticipation about what’s going to happen in the next few minutes on the trail. You wonder what that’s going to be like, maybe some flowers, something to look at. Your attention is being manipulated by the environment in just the way you want.” — Professor Dennis ProffittPhoto credit: Sarah Vogel Another reflection of sunlight caught my eye, and another. Not just one unlucky fish, I realized. This was a graveyard. I pondered the fate of these hundreds of carp, wondering if they had been trapped by the rocks or died upstream to be carried here by the river. Maybe they died after spawning, like salmon? I soothed myself with rational, detached speculation, ignoring the undercurrent of horror and unease bubbling in my psyche. Whistling in the dark. The honk of a horn could mean anything — a friendly “hello,” a nudging “not sure if you noticed the light is green,” or “this is my mating ritual, pay attention to me,” to “@#$% you.” It takes context to figure out exactly what it means, it’s confusing, and often a bit threatening. “In a city, attention is being yanked all over the place. There’s traffic, there’s horns, there’s lights, there’s people. And you’ve got to become very accustomed to it to be able to focus at all. That takes effort,” said Professor Proffitt. Walking in the city can feel like playing Frogger but with higher and more permanent stakes. Of course it’s draining. Brain imaging gives us another perspective of the brain on nature. When subjects are looking at pictures of an urban setting, fMRI scans show increased blood flow to the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for fear and anxiety. Looking at natural scenes, on the other hand, activated the anterior cingulate and the insula, parts of the brain that handle empathy and regulation of emotion. When monitoring subjects with a mobile EEG machine as they walked outdoors, the readings indicated “lower frustration, engagement, and arousal, and higher meditation levels.” Less angry, less stimulated, less stressed, more zen. This knowing isn’t taught in grade school. In fact, it comes pre-programmed. Our bodies reveal the truth — it’s the reason we feel with our hearts, in our guts, and down to our bones. It is the knowledge of hundreds of thousands of generations rolled into the shape of a double-helix. It’s a package deal with the bodies we’re born with, a part of the human condition, a part of us that we have no choice but to accept.  Although scientists have a lot more questions to answer about ecopsychology, there are people who don’t want to wait around for science to figure it all out. Based on the evidence we’ve got, they are willing to take a bet that we can use the power of nature to promote health, happiness, and well-being. We know nature can reduce anxiety, improve depression, foster connection and empathy, improve cognition, increase creativity, and makes us feel more alive. With all this new-found information, I was ready to make the same bet. I just didn’t know what to do about it. Though I’d seen a handful of them in my life, they had always been peripheral, keeping to the fringes where the road ended and the woods began. For the first time I felt like an intruder, a spectator to their show. And so they regarded me, without much attention or concern, while the mass of black feathers feasted in frenzy. The flutter of their massive wings was the only sound to cut the ominous silence, like the wind flapping through the Grim Reaper’s robe.  This was a hostile place for humans. The pools of standing water festering with bacteria from decomposition, mosquito eggs, vulture shit. I tiptoed delicately, my hand hesitant to make contact with anything. While the vultures clearly had not yet had their fill, I most certainly had. My thinking brain finally caught up to what my gut had been saying the whole while: it’s time to go. Every day, texts, calls, notifications, noise from the radio, nearby conversations, and bright advertisements are begging for our attention. Our brains are constantly working to maintain focus on the important stuff, but it’s hard when there’s so much information and it all seems important. So we try to our best to make the right choices and keep up with the frenzied mental juggling act of being alive in the 21st century. Cognition and perception were Professor Proffitt’s field of expertise, and while it may appear biased to claim cognitive attention as our most valuable resource, he’s not wrong.  Ecopsychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan suspected that nature’s positive impacts on memory, cognition, and stress may be explained by the way our brains pay attention and re-charge. Directed attention goes against the grain and requires hard work to maintain (like reading, texting, solving a math problem). Things that naturally grab our attention give our cognitive faculties a break to recover. Nature pulls attention in exactly the right way, they argue. This is called Attention Restoration Theory.  By the time I noticed the absence of twittering birds and ambient river sounds, the stillness made my neck hairs prickle. The oily, standstill water, the buzz of flies, the stale smell hanging in the air — everything about this place was offensive. Reading a boring textbook is one of many activities in today’s world that demands directed attention, or the willpower to focus on something that you wouldn’t naturally focus on. Like using a muscle, too much exertion will deplete your stamina until you’re all tuckered out. This is called ‘directed attention fatigue,’ the symptoms of which include irritability, poor cognitive performance, lack of impulse control, increased accidents, and forgetfulness.  Professor Proffitt said he couldn’t think of anything better than taking a walk in the woods. “When you walk into a place like that, you get the crud out of your head you don’t need. You look at lichen, look at rock textures. Every day and season is different. When the ground is frozen, you can look at the grass coated in ice. In the summer everything is green. In spring, flowers everywhere. Even food tastes better. You ask, ‘What does that all that other stuff matter?’ You know that you’re going to see things that you didn’t anticipate and they’re going to be beautiful.” He smiled, a rare sight on his usual poker face. “But out in the woods? You can walk.” Coming Home to Ourselves Fear of spiders and snakes, for example, is demonstrated by infants long before they hear their first story about the boogeyman. This was likely an important lesson for hunter-gatherers in the brush to distinguish between edible vegetation and eight-legged foes. Alternately, consider the somewhat baffling human obsession with flowers. Flowers don’t provide any tangible benefits and yet, the floral industry has actually been growing since the 19th century. Maybe that’s because flowers equal fruit and at one point, fruit meant the gift of another tomorrow. Finding it, he adjusted his glasses and read aloud. “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” Take a second right now to pay attention to all the stimuli around you. The smell of the air, the ambient noises, the feeling of your clothes against your skin. As for me, I’ve suddenly noticed the gentle clunking of an ice machine, the tension in the couch springs beneath me, and the imposing weight of an expectant dog planting his head on my shoulder in hopes of a scratch on the head. Actually, I noticed the dog about a minute ago and chose to ignore him to finish this paragraph, but my neglect is no longer tenable. Excuse me for a moment. I trekked back to my kayak and fantasized a hot shower. As I pushed off the rocks and made my way back to the boat ramp, the clean, splashing water and cheerful bird chatter lifted my mood. Afternoon slipped into evening and fish began snapping at bugs on the surface of the river. I welcomed the ripples that marked their presence, somehow making me feel less lonely. A heron slinked along the bank, its pointed beak and serpentine neck poised like a spear. I wished it luck.  I wanted to hear stories from the mouths of actual people who had seen the magic for themselves. I wanted practical help for the rest of us to help ourselves. It was time to find the white witches and Granny women (and men) of the technological era — the modern-day Appalachian mountain healers. A walk in the woods can increase the activity of your “natural killer” (NK) cells — the ones that destroy cancerous or infected cells — for up to seven days. Even more shocking is that an oil diffuser can pull off the same trick. Hotel guests with cypress oil vaporized in their rooms were found to have lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels and higher NK cell activity. You can literally fight cancer by sniffing a tree. In one study, prison inmates with window views of nature made significantly fewer sick call visits and were involved in fewer violent incidents, scoring yet another point for windows. But even pictures and simulations of nature can be similarly powerful, which is good news for office workers or high-rise dwellers who may not have access to natural views in everyday life. In another study, dental patients who looked at a landscape mural in the waiting room registered lower blood pressure and reported lower anxiety than those who did not. Nice to know a screensaver or a thrift store ocean painting can do in a pinch. According to the theory of biophilia, we are drawn to the natural world because we evolved in its context. All of our mechanisms were engineered to operate best within nature (like the blobfish at the bottom of the ocean), and our brains give us cookies to let us know when we’re doing something right. The evidence is clear that engaging the natural world is indeed rewarding in significant ways. Little Occoquan Run – Photo credit: Sarah Vogel Photo credit: Sarah Vogel Biophilia: The Call of the Wild On the other hand, “Nature is a sweet spot for our attentional resources,” Professor Proffitt continued. “It’s not drab because there’s always something to look at, but it’s not in your face. You have optimistic anticipation about what’s going to happen in the next few minutes on the trail. You wonder what that’s going to be like, maybe some flowers, something to look at. Your attention is being manipulated by the environment in just the way you want.” After watching them for some time, it was starting to feel a little bit like finding myself in the weird section of YouTube. Here were nature’s garbage men, creatures with stomachs of steel and acid, cleaning life’s messes where no other cared to venture. And it suddenly occurred to me that there was a reason for this.  In one study, researchers asked participants to undergo a series of cognitive tests before asking them to take a 50-minute walk either in the city, or in an arboretum. When the participants returned and took the cognitive tests again, the results showed the arboretum walkers had improved their memory span by 20%, but the city walkers showed no such gains. In another study, participants were asked to solve creative puzzles before and after a four-day backpacking trip. After the trip they were able to solve nearly 50% more. That’s some brain food to give Adderall a serious run for it’s money. So as to why nature is good for us — it’s a bit of a backwards question. In urban life, we are juggling checklists, paperwork, car horns, taxes, pop-ups, deadlines, bureaucracy, playdates, clickbait, fake news, viral videos, breaking news, credit scores, phone scams, checkbooks, car maintenance, and the beeps, bloops, and buzzes from gadgets reminding us about everything our memory is out of space to hold. We are tired. Yet I still debated the merits of turning around. Not wanting to waste the money I had spent on renting the kayak, I resisted the urge. Surely, just over the next boulder the river would open again. The flies would clear, the water would flow, and I could continue on my journey. But instead, I hoisted myself over a rock to lock eyes with Death’s ugly-mugged, prehistoric companion — the vulture.  With the water so low, weaving between the massive boulders proved unsuccessful. Not quite ready for the end of the line, I pulled my kayak onto the rocks and abandoned it, hoping to return once I could chart a passage to open water. But the rocks were large and plentiful, trapping the water in stagnant pools. A shimmer of silver. I spotted a large carp floating belly up on the surface of one such puddle, unlucky to have been caught in this maze of rock and water.  This juggling act is called multitasking, something we consider so valuable it’s often listed as a job qualification. We try really hard to keep the balls in the air, but on average, people switch activities every three minutes. It doesn’t work well and is pretty unavoidable in a plugged-in world. Anyone who has cursed the invention of the pop-up ad, the paywall, and the push notification will understand all too well what I am talking about. (For a thought-provoking read, check out the guy who willingly endured the cruel punishment of turning on every single one of his phone notifications. Just try to avoid opening the tab to skim a quarter of the way down, find another interesting link, and leap-frog into the next virtual black hole.) And while reading a boring textbook or multitasking on the job may seem particularly draining because it sucks, even fun and so-called passive activities like watching television will strain your cognitive faculties in order to keep up with things like plot and drama. I think most can relate to that general feeling of malaise, foggy-headedness and disassociation you start to feel after the 11th episode of whatever in a row. You’ve just got nothing left in the tank. And since paying attention is the first step to learning, planning, friendship, emotional processing (plus a whole host of other human experiences) an empty tank can be disabling. Surprised by the sudden appearance, I immediately backed off. He, on the other hand, looked permanently nonplussed, ignoring me entirely. He bent his mean hooked beak to tear another strip of flesh from the carp clutched in his talons, maintaining eye contact as he swallowed. Behind him, the rocks bobbed and bristled in a sea of movement. A hundred vultures crowded together, picking and tearing at the carcasses. “So they say you can’t run from your problems, ” I started. As Little Occoquan Run faded into the background, a feeling of kinship arose within me as I regarded every creature I passed. The osprey did not return the sentiment, her eyes still hard and suspicious. But I knew there was a sameness between us, a commonality that distinguished us from the vultures, creatures drawn to death. This place — one of splashing water, of chirping sparrows, of dark, wet dirt, of mushrooms and butterflies, of hungry trout, of everyone and everything so alive — it felt like home. We were compelled to share the same space, to be near one another, even if we did not share trust. It is not, he argued, a single instinct, but rather “a complex set of learning rules” that fall along a spectrum of emotion: “from attraction to aversion, from awe to indifference, from peacefulness to fear-driven anxiety.” These rules do not need instruction and carry important lessons about life. Though this hypothesis is by no means considered a fact by the scientific community, it’s a popular idea that more people are beginning to explore. Nature, on the forgotten other hand, is what we were made for. A part of our prototype. Priorities are easier, clarity is sharper. Compared to the car horn which can mean anything, a loud snap in the woods means big animal. The setting sun means go to bed. The sound of running water means come hither. Sunshine feels good on the skin. No bears, no rain, no worries. Everything just makes more sense. And when our brains are clear about the important parts of being human, magic starts to happen.  In 1984, biologist E.O. Wilson proposed a hypothesis he called biophilia, a word literally translated as “love of life.” According to Wilson, this is more than a feeling or a mood — humans are actually hardwired down to the nucleotides in our DNA, compelling us to affiliate with living things. Over millions of years living on the savannah, he argued, we evolved an ability to decode subtle signs from nature as a means of survival. He pulled up a picture on his computer of his vacation in Ireland. He and his wife are smiling in front of a wave of green hills rolling along the top of a jagged, seaside crag. “Another hiker approached me on this trail and gave a card with a quote,” he said. He pulled up another tab and Googled Søren Kierkegaard. Nature does great things for our bodies and brains. But why? Since my old professor specialized in perception and cognition, I thought I’d ask him to weigh in. Dennis Proffitt, researcher at the University of Virginia and my former psychology professor, broke it down for me into very simple terms: “Emotions put value on everything. Emotion is basically telling us what is good or bad. It’s mostly controlled by that part of the brain that is reptilian, the oldest part of our brain. And it’s got a fundamental lesson of life. Approach those things that are good for you, and avoid the things that are bad.” — Science has figured out that nature can have a dramatically positive impact on countless components to your well-being: your immune system, how much you exercise, your physical abilities, cardio health, anxiety and depression, stress levels, self-esteem, self-control, confidence, mindfulness, mental acuity, memory, social skills, emotional regulation, creativity, empathy. The list goes on. Attention Restoration Theory Biophilia: “love of life”Photo credit: Sarah Vogel … And we’re back. All of this sensory information (including the burning eyes of Toby the yellow lab) is competing for our attention and we just can’t pay attention to all of it at once. The human brain is designed to process one thing at a time and tune out the rest, like a theatre technician with a spotlight trained on a dark stage. This can be more or less challenging depending on how invasive the distractions. The Kaplans called these types of stimuli “soft fascinations.” Sunsets, shadows of clouds across a valley, wildlife, and running water will all catch our involuntary attention, requiring no effort. They give our heavily fatigued minds a rest and give us an opportunity to reflect. Our brains return to baseline and our wires can untangle a bit. Our bodies and minds are calm, replenishing our stockpile of mental resources, similar to meditation.  Relationships run deep like life depends on it, because in nature it does. Self-esteem is built not on image, but on things that matter far more — perseverance, capability, kindness. Communication is intuitive, wordless. Wisdom is gleaned not from books or on screens, but through experience.  “Attention is limited,” continued Professor Proffitt. “If overused, it produces fatigue, and it takes a lot of effort when you have to control it, like reading a boring textbook.”  He turned to me in his swivel chair. “I think that’s a motto to live by.” Our humanity does not separate us from nature. To the contrary, nature defines us. It shapes our relationships — to others, the universe, and ourselves. Without effort, it teaches us the most important things about being alive. To put it more eloquently than I can, I’ve leave you with a quote from ecotherapist Michele Zehr:  “When we go outside, we are literally coming home to ourselves.” I dipped my paddle into the water. No rhythm — a couple of haphazard and lazy strokes every now and again was enough. Propel, drift, repeat. Occasionally, I made an effort to navigate my kayak when something interesting caught my eye: a blue heron stalking the water’s edge, an osprey eyeing me warily from behind her black mask. The river’s edges began to flank both sides as I approached a narrow bottleneck, Little Occoquan Run. last_img read more

There’s No Bad Seat at the Fire with Burly Fire Pits

first_img Like many great endeavors, Burly started with a few good friends gathered around a fire with an idea. It was simple: to invent a wood burning fire pit where no one gets stuck with the smoky seat. Thus, the birth of Burly… a heavy-duty, long lasting fire feature that is easy to start and, more importantly, hand crafted to reduce smoke. Because the worst part about any campfire is having to play musical chairs every time the wind shifts. We have all been there, and it is no fun. With the Burly you don’t have to thanks to its specially designed flange and airflow system which vaporizes the smoke almost entirely. Now, whether you are sitting on your backyard terrace or camping in the mountains, thanks to the Burly there is no bad seat at the fire.  For more information, visit our website at www.burlyusa.com Our goal was to produce a fire pit with reduced smoke technology that was built to last. The Burly fire pit burns a very hot & clean fire. Also, our two-piece design makes the fire pit easy to move around and clean out.  We are pleased to announce that a smaller lightweight unit will be available to purchase this August. It will be offered in 304 stainless and matte black. There will be an “early bird” special promotion offered with the units being delivered in late September just in time for the cooler weather. HOW IT WORKS  The hot air is forced between the walls of the two units and is circulated through holes under our specially designed flange. These holes introduce oxygen back into the fire and excess smoke is burned off leaving an almost smoke free experience.  Currently our products can be purchased online or at Green Top. We are looking for other retailers both in Virginia and out-of-state.    OUR STORY If you want to see a Burly fire pit in action, we have units at King Family Vineyards, Blue Mountain Brewery and Brambly Park Winery. Our fire pits can also be rented at The Shed, which is located in Rockville, VA.center_img Burly was formed in July, 2019. Our fire pits are hand forged at a steel fabrication shop in the Piedmont region of Virginia.  The Burly fire pit has a unique 2-piece design feature that is engineered to take away the headaches associated with conventional outdoor wood fires.  The inner and outer pieces weigh 36lbs each with a total weight of 72lbs. Separately they can easily be moved around your outdoor living space but combined they make a solid, sturdy, pit that will last for years to come.  WHERE TO BUY In these both interesting and challenging times, people are spending more time outdoors. Sitting around our fire pits in smaller groups is both a relaxing and safe way to entertain We currently offer a variety of accessories such as a Snuffer Lid, Fire Poker, Heat Resistant Gloves and Cover. Also, we just launched a Stainless Grill Attachment for our signature Gather 21” fire pit.  The grill attachment is ideal for cooking out in the backyard or taking on a camping trip.  A teak wood tabletop will be available soon.  The fire pit has a perforated, inner floor, which allows for air to circulate under the fire making seasoned wood ignite quickly and burn clean. last_img read more