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Heart Butte School, Montana (Non-fiction, the school and its community.)

Robert Macfie Scriver and Art: An archive. Books by Mary Scriver

ON AMAZON: "Bronze Inside and Out: a biographical memoir of Bob Scriver" and "Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke: sermons for the prairie."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


When I moved back to Valier, I had visions of a fabulous garden. They have not become real for a number of reasons, not least of them money. The problems with gardens here include: temp extremes (zone 3 plants are pretty dependable, Zone 4 will be killed in a hard winter, and Zone 5 need special protection); high winds; enough altitude for high ultra-violet light; clay soil; and both alkali water and alkali soil. The best seed catalogues (this year they’re coming online rather than hard copy, which is an improvement in terms of keeping the piles of things under control around here) will list the acid/alkali affinities of the plants in question, but all too many of them do not. There are alluring plants like winterberry and azalea that simply cannot be grown here because they demand acid soil. Most evergreens are always on the edge of being stressed because of not enough acid. The books caution not to use poplar leaves for compost because they are so alkaline. REAL gardeners use little kits to be sure about acid/alkali balance because it can vary all over the yard. I haven’t done that, but I notice that the best local gardeners use tons of peat moss.

I became aware that humans have to think about this stuff, when I did my hospital chaplaincy. There was a little girl brought in unconscious because she had spent a hot summer day swilling lemonade, to the point that her electrolytes (which depend upon acid/alkali balance) were out of whack enough to render her comatose and possibly permanently brain dead. Here’s an explanation from Wikipedia (okay, I’m lazy -- but I can usually understand Wikipedia and it’s handy): pH of the blood: The pH is usually maintained within a narrow range by a number of buffer systems in the body. A normal pH value may still be due to a well-compensated imbalance or a mixed acid base disorder and an abnormal value is definitely due to a poorly compensated acid base problem or due to both metabolic and respiratory derangements causing an imbalance in the same direction.

Some people are more acid than others. Ireland is an acid place where much of the soil is peat and maybe those of us with Irish genes tend to be a little acid in more than our outlook on the world. My brother Paul was acid enough that his skin chemicals destroyed metal watch bands. He could patine copper by simply rubbing it. But an accumulation of lactic acid, suspected of being at the root of fatigue and other metabolic problems, can raise havoc in a body by blocking “perfusion” or the flow of fluids. I myself am a little too acid and feel better over here on the alkali prairie.

Now consider this:

Anion gap: Body fluids including blood may contain a variable number of ions, but the total number of anions (negative ions) and cations (positive ions) are roughly the same. The ions that are usually measured in blood are cations like sodium and potassium and anions including chloride and bicarbonate. There are unmeasured ions in both groups (cations and anions), which also contribute to the ionic constitution of blood. The measured cations are usually greater than the measured anions by about 8-16mmol/L. This is because the unmeasured anions constitute a significant proportion of the total number of anions in blood. Proteins make this up predominantly, but also included are sulphates, phosphates, lactate and ketones. Causes of a decreased anion gap include hypoalbuminaemia and severe haemodilution. Rarer causes include increase in minor cation concentrations like calcium and magnesium. Causes of a raised anion gap include dehydration and any cause of raised unmeasurable anions, like lactate, ketones and renal acids, along with treatment with drugs given as organic acids such as penicillin, salicylates and poisoning with methanol, ethanol and paraldehyde. Rarely it may be due to decreased minor cation concentrations such as calcium or magnesium.”

It’s from Wikipedia, but I can barely grasp it. The point is that “ions” are electrons and it is largely the management of ions among atoms and molecules that makes our bodies work properly. They are what digest food by assembling and reassembling molecules, they are what makes glue stick, they are what cause colors to fade, they are how genes work, they are how thinking works -- all on this electromagneticochemical level that was unsuspected until recently. A few extra ions here and there, a few missing where they ought to be, and the human body (like the bodies of other critters) will try to compensate, then begin to express distress, and finally simply stop functioning. Death.

I looked up those cow acids: acetic or ethanoic acid is just vinegar. “Acetic acid is one of the simplest carboxylic acids (the second-simplest, next to formic acid). It is an important chemical reagent and industrial chemical that is used in the production of polyethylene terephthalate mainly used in soft drink bottles; cellulose acetate, mainly for photographic film; and polyvinyl acetate for wood glue, as well as synthetic fibres and fabrics. In households diluted acetic acid is often used in descaling agents.”

The use of acetic acid in alchemy extends into antiquity. In the 3rd century BC, the Greek philosopher Theophrastos described how vinegar acted on metals to produce pigments useful in art, including white lead (lead carbonate) and verdigris, a green mixture of copper salts including copper(II) acetate. Ancient Romans boiled soured wine in lead pots to produce a highly sweet syrup called sapa. Sapa was rich in lead acetate, a sweet substance also called sugar of lead or sugar of Saturn, which contributed to lead poisoning among the Roman aristocracy.

In the 8th century, the Muslim alchemist Jabir Ibn Hayyan (Geber) was the first to concentrate acetic acid from vinegar through distillation. In the Renaissance, glacial acetic acid was prepared through the dry distillation of metal acetates. The 16th century German alchemist Andreas Libavius described such a procedure, and he compared the glacial acetic acid produced by this means to vinegar. The presence of water in vinegar has such a profound effect on acetic acid's properties that for centuries chemists believed that glacial acetic acid and the acid found in vinegar were two different substances. The French chemist Pierre Adet proved them to be identical.

In 1847 the German chemist Hermann Kolbe synthesized acetic acid from inorganic materials for the first time.

Propionic acid (systematically named propanoic acid) is a naturally-occurring carboxylic acid Propionic acid was first described in 1844 by Johann Gottlieb, who found it among the degradation products of sugar. Over the next few years, other chemists produced propionic acid in various other ways, none of them realizing they were producing the same substance. In 1847, the French chemist Jean-Baptiste Dumas established that all the acids were the same compound, which he called propionic acid, from the Greek words protos = "first" and pion = "fat," ... Bacteria of the genus Propionibacterium produce propionic acid as the end product of their anaerobic metabolism. This class of bacteria is commonly found in the stomachs of ruminants and the sweat glands of humans, and their activity is partially responsible for the odor of both Swiss cheese and sweat. Propionic acid inhibits the growth of mold and some bacteria. As a result, most propionic acid produced is used as a preservative for both animal feed and food for human consumption, and can be used as a preservative for Ballistics Gel. For animal feed, it is used either directly or as its ammonium salt. In human foods, especially bread and other baked goods, it is used as its sodium or calcium salt. Similar usage occurs in some of the older anti-fungal foot powders.

NOTE THIS ONE: A recent publication by MacFabe and colleagues found that intraventricular infusions of propionic acid produced reversible behavior that was very similar to that seen in autism. Behaviors included: hyperactivity, dystonia, turning, retropulsion. In addition, the treated rats demonstrated caudate spiking and the progressive development of limbic kindled seizures. The paper concludes that this is an excellent animal model of autism and warrants further study (MacFabe, 2007).

The human skin is host to a species of bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes, which is named after its ability to produce propionic acid. This bacteria lives mainly in the sebaceous glands of the skin and is one of the principle causes of acne.

Butyric acid, (from Greek ???????? = butter) IUPAC name -Butanoic acid, or normal butyric acid, is a carboxylic acid with structural formula CH3CH2CH2-COOH. It is found in rancid butter, parmesan cheese, and vomit, and has an unpleasant odor and acrid taste, with a sweetish aftertaste (similar to ether).

Butyric acid is used in the preparation of various butanoate esters. Low-molecular-weight esters of butyric acid, such as methyl butanoate, have mostly pleasant aromas or tastes. As a consequence, they find use as food and perfume additives.

Dunno about you, but the ions are flyin' around in my head.

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