West End News: January 2

trusty Sorel pac boot
trusty Sorel pac boot

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I was sorry to hear that the Birch Grove skating rink has not opened yet, in spite of this being one of the earliest and coldest winters in decades. At least one skating party has been cancelled already. It also would have been good to have the rink ready for the many visitors that were here over the holidays. Skating is also a good sub-zero outdoor activity, because you can skate until the frost starts to nip and then step into the warming house for a quick toe thaw.
 
Last year, the fire department was complaining that water was running out of the rink, rather than freezing in place. Apparently, similar problems are being encountered this year.  The solution, although counterintuitive, may be to apply less water to the rink.
 
When I was in high school, I lived only a block away from my school. The school had an outdoor skating rink that was used for phy ed classes and by the B-squad hockey team, of which I was a member.  My coach was Jerry Peterson, an Iron Range native who became a pretty famous prep-school hockey coach in later years.  Coach Peterson recruited me to flood the rink, because I lived conveniently close by.
 
Coach was a precise and exacting leader. He was also much more interested in my rink flooding abilities than in my hockey skills. I vividly remember him admonishing me not to put too much water down in any single flooding session. He had me set the hose to a wide spray and just cover the ground, not even attempting to have the water pool up anywhere. He taught me that you get much better ice by frequent light flooding than a few heavier floods.
 
Of course, being a teenager, I ignored his advice and tried to add more water to speed up the process.  When Coach made his inspection the next day, I learned two things: It’s better to use less water with more frequent applications; and it’s a really bad idea to second guess Coach Peterson’s instructions.
 
You may have noticed some news stories this week about the U. S. Forest Service plan to restore the forest along the North Shore. The effort is just one part of a more ambitious restoration plan known as the North Shore Forest Collaborative, which includes private landowners, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, county and tribal forestry agencies.
 
The most obvious and visible problem with the forest along the shore is all the dead and dying birch trees.  No one knows for sure, but the birches are thought to be dying from a combination of age, drought stress, disease, climate change and pollution. The birches are only a part of what some ecologists call “the accidental forest,” meaning that the forest we have today is the result of historic large scale logging, fires, invasive species, and all the change agents already mentioned.
 
The ambitious goal of the collaborative is to bring the forest back to some approximation of what it would have been today without all the human disruption.  This is, of course, an impossible task, but in my opinion an important step toward protecting the ecosystem for the long-term benefit of all.  Although commercial interests are important, it is a good thing that foresters are beginning to plan for long-term sustainability.
 
The recent cold snaps have made me grateful for my trusty Sorel pac boots. I’m just old enough to remember the days before pac boots were available. I was reminded of those days recently when I went for a run in the sub-zero temperatures and thoroughly frostbit my big toe. The agony of the thawing brought me right back to childhood when my feet froze almost every time I played outside in the winter.
 
I clearly remember the day that I was complaining about frozen feet to our neighbors, Ken and Vi Osman. The Osmans were Cook County residents for many years, living on Brule Lake during the summer and going south to Sawbill Lake in the winter.  That morning in the early 1960s, Vi offered me a trial loan of her brand new Sorel pac boots with felt linings.  My life changed forever in that moment.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen with the West End News.

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