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Fighting frozen toes

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By Kirsten Peters

This winter opened with bitter cold for much of the nation, including parts of the country not used to snow and ice. Here in the northern tier states we are at least equipped to respond to winter storms, but they always pose a challenge.

At a very human level, cold temperatures often show up first as the experience of cold hands and cold feet. Even with good socks and sturdy boots, when I’m outside there are temperatures below which I cannot keep my toes warm (this is more common the older I get, a trend I don’t appreciate).

There are two basic ways to combat freezing toes – and both depend on the chemical miracle of how oxygen (my favorite element) interacts with so much of the world around us.

The first approach to warming up, of course, is simply to build a fire. Fire, from a chemist’s point of view, is a rapid chemical reaction of oxygen with carbon-rich materials. Where I walk my dog on cold Sunday afternoons in the winter, along the seemingly endless Snake River, fishermen pursuing salmon and steelhead use driftwood to build fires. With plenty of fuel available, the fires can be big.


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