Hooray for winter slush

  • Article by: STEVE BERG
  • Updated: February 8, 2013 - 7:17 PM
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Shoveling the slush

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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As anyone who reads billboards already knows, Gov. Mark Dayton has declared March "Slush Awareness Month" in Minnesota. All I can say is, it's about time. For decades, slush has been growing in stature and complexity, and yet, because it now covers nearly every aspect of Minnesota life, people tend to overlook it. But no longer.

As historians note, slush didn't really come into its own until the widespread application of road salt in the 1950s. Adding salt in just the right proportion gave snow and ice its creamy texture. Then, by blending in just the right mix of motor oil and other auto fluids, as well as native soils and a good measure of grit, we achieved the deep, rich gray-brown color we were looking for.

It was only upon returning from a recent trip to Florida that I discovered the source of the empty feeling that haunted me for two weeks in Sarasota. As the taxi deposited me at home, I stepped into a whole bank of slush, its bracing wetness penetrating my socks. I was home!

Slush was my close companion after that. It followed me up to my apartment, where it took up residence on my floors. Its residue clung to my coat and gloves. (I must have brushed against the taxi's exterior.) Better still, my heart leapt with appreciation that night as I entered the parking garage to find that the "essence of slush" coated not only my car but also the cars of my neighbors.

Sadly, now I see that slush is under attack. The Pollution Control Agency suspects that it harms our lakes and streams and wants to cut back on salt intake. That only adds to the ultimate threat of global warming, which, I don't need to remind you, could bring about total liquefaction.

That would be the end of it, except for this encouraging note: Scientists at the University of Minnesota are hard at work on extending the life and pleasing texture of slush even into the warmer months -- and without the need for refrigeration!

"In the not-so-distant future we may be able to enjoy slush 24-7-365," reports Russell Drapes-Orlon, a top researcher in the field. Among the commercial applications: A prototype tentatively called "Truck Spray," available in an aerosol can and at an affordable price. So there's really no need for alarm despite what you hear. On the slush front, things are looking up.

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Steve Berg is a writer and urban design consultant who lives in Minneapolis.

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