ICE AND SALT DON’T MIX
Taking care of kids at age sixty wasn’t exactly what I had planned; when I scripted out my life as a young man, but I must confess the job of Childcare Professional does wonders when it comes to trimming down my fat-headedness. Like all writers I have an oversized ego, (why else would I think I’m worth listening to?) and such egos need to be punctured on a regular basis. Kids do a good job of that.
Yesterday morning you may have heard a wail like an enraged banshee in the far distance, even if you lived seven states away. That noise, in close proximity, could shatter eyeglasses.
I had been feeling proud of myself for being on the ball, and noticing the Childcare driveway had turned to glare ice, and leaping into action and swiftly spreading a fifty pound bag of salt liberally about the surface, just before the customers arrived. The surface stayed gritty for all of ten minutes, but by the time I was leaving to take some children to kindergarten all the salt had done was drill thousands of small holes, leaving the surface as slick as ever. I no longer had anything to feel proud about, and in fact pride came before the fall. In this case the fall involved a six-year-old girl, who wasn’t the slightest bit inhibited, when it came to expressing her extreme displeasure.
I wanted to tell her to shut up, before the trial lawyers or insurance adjusters heard, but of course six-year-old girls don’t understand the bizarre logic of adults and lawsuits. It would have done no good to explain. Therefore I had to squat down and be kindly.
Usually I am not all that good at being kindly, first thing in the morning, but for some odd reason my heart went out to the little girl. Not ten minutes earlier she had proudly rolled up her pant leg to show off a purple bruise on her knee, bragging about how she fell on it not once, but twice, over the weekend. Now she had landed on that same knee once again.
As she wailed she happened to look at the palm of her hand, and saw she had come down hard on a large grain of sand, which had embedded itself. As she flicked it away she noticed a tiny spot of blood, and the wail rose another octave and further decibels.
It was a wound she’d never notice if she got it playing hopscotch, but I supposed it added insult to injury, and I asked her if she wanted a Band-Aid. He wailing stopped as if someone clicked a switch, and she replied, most seriously, “Yes.” Then she took a very deep breath, and the wailing resumed.
I got her a bright green one, which covered the entire lower half of her little palm. (When I was young all Band-aids were flesh-colored, but not any more.) I explained I got her a green one to remind us of spring, when there wouldn’t be any more ice to slip on. She gravely examined it and then, satisfied all was well, she arose, proudly showed the Band-aid to another girl who had been patiently waiting, and we resumed our journey.
Due to the delay, rather than at the front of the line of vehicles waiting for kindergarten to open, I was vehicle number twenty-five. The two girls chattered away in the back, leaving me free to think. I found myself thinking about the subject of salt and ice. It wasn’t hard, especially because the people walking outside the kindergarten all shuffled with extreme care, as if they had pockets full of eggs, or else vials of nitroglycerin.
It was amazing there was so much ice, especially when you consider the huge amounts of salt spread about both during and after the blizzard. The temperatures had barely dipped below freezing the night before, and with all that salt about you would think the water would remain slush. However the fact of the matter was that the salt was gone. It had leached out, boring its way down through the ice, and leaving fresh water behind. The fresh water froze at thirty-two, whereas the brine, which would have stayed liquid down to twenty or even ten degrees, (if strong enough,) had all trickled away to wherever brine goes, (likely our brooks and streams, and then back to the ocean.)
The kindergarten teachers came out, casting salt left and right, (and likely making the janitor mad, because that is his job,) (irritating the Union but avoiding lawsuits, and more importantly avoiding fallen, wailing children.) The cars began to creep ahead as child after child was unloaded.
As soon as I had delivered my two girls I headed straight for the Town Garage, which is a derelict structure that isn’t actually used any more, but behind it are huge mountains of sand and salt for the road crews. There is also a little pile for the public.
You can’t exactly call the sand-salt mix in that public pile free, considering the taxes we pay, but you don’t have to shell out a cent when you pick it up. As you shovel it into the back of your truck you tend to meet other town characters, especially on mornings when ice is a problem. Obviously this was one of those mornings, because I had to wait to for a space to back my truck in. I didn’t mind, because it is a good place to catch up on the news, and perhaps hear an off-color joke or two.
I actually made three trips in all, one for the childcare drive, one for the farm drive, and one for the house and neighbor’s drive. I suppose it is good exercise, but the blizzard has me sick to death of shoveling. The silver lining was I got to meet a good selection of fellow townsfolk.
I was hoping to find the intellectual sort who like discussing the science of things such as salt being leached from ice, but even the intellectuals were in the mood to guffaw, when I first got there.
They were all watching an old salt who had the nerve to drive right by the little pile of sand meant for townsfolk, and right to an enormous corrugated iron shed which protected a huge pile of salt. There the old-timer had limped out of his car with a five gallon pail, and was busily scooping up pure salt when the town employee driving the front end loader, (which scoops that salt and mixes it with sand and then fills the sand trucks,) shut off his engine. Old salt then met frost, as the town employee started to give the old-timer a lecture.
The old salt gave a lecture right back. It had something to do with the amount of taxes he paid, and a five gallon pail not even making a dent in a mountain of salt. The two men became more and more animated, gesturing and pointing various directions, and finally the old salt concluded, “Then call the police! I’ll wait.”
The town employee apparently decided his job description involved loading salt and didn’t include arresting old salts. With a disgusted wave of his hand he started up the front end loader and drove off.
The onlookers didn’t exactly cheer, but as the old salt puttered by on his way out he got a lot of delighted grins and a few waves.
From there the conversations moved on to the usual murmuring about those who pay taxes versus those who use the tax dollars up. One fellow stated that he was surprised there was any salt left, considering how roads were salted at the drop of a hat, and this led to a discussion about whether all the salt was damaging the ecology.
It was generally accepted that roadside trees suffer in lower places, but it is rainy enough to wash away the salt in most places before trees suffer. This led to an interesting quarrel about whether the fish in streams suffer, involving the little-known fact that brook trout are actually able to live anadromous lives like salmon, and that five-pound brook trout swam up the Charles River from the sea, back in Puritan times.
You never quite know where a conversation will lead, when shoveling sand at the Town Pile, but I was never quite able to work the topic around to Global Warming and the amount of sea ice in the arctic. I suppose that topic will have to wait until I bring the trash to the recycling center (which is what we used to call, “the dump.”)
They have only kept accurate records of how much ice melts in the arctic ocean since 1980, because before that they lacked a good satellite view. (There are earlier records, but it involves some guesswork.) Last summer set a record for the amount that melted, so of course this winter set a record for the amount that refroze.
Arctic Sea Ice can get a good debate going if there are Global Warming Alarmists present, because as it melts they always talk about oceans rising, but when it refreezes they never talk about oceans sinking. I like to point that out, and then stand back and watch the volcanoes erupt.
However what fascinates me is what happens to all the salt when the ocean freezes. It actually gets leached out of the ice, so that arctic explorers could melt the ice made of sea-water and drink it, without facing the hazards drinking sea water usually brings about.
There is actually interesting video of this super-cold brine forming a frozen tube of seawater as it leeches out of the ice and sinks. Called a “brinicle,” it can freeze starfishes and sea urchins when it directs its current of brine onto them, on the sea bottom.
However what interests me most is the fact that this sinking brine only occurs when the ocean is freezing. When the ice is melting the meltwater is relatively fresh, because the salt has been removed, and fresh water tends to float atop saltier water.
Therefore for half the year the water sinks, and for half the year it doesn’t. The Arctic Ocean has a heartbeat, a pulse.
This is the sort of stuff I think about while dealing with crying six year olds and frozen parking lots. Either it proves I’m cracking up, or it is keeping me sane.