Salt of the Earth

Salt is used for everything from seasoning to water softening, road de-icing and manufacturing. It is also essential to our physical well-being.

Years ago, I stopped eating lunch with other staff. It wasn’t that I was standoffish, although I have been accused of that. Rather, it was because I tired of the chastising comments about my use of salt. Granted, I may consume too much sodium chloride—my kids claim I salt my ice cream—and that probably isn’t good, but I didn’t like being reminded of my bad habits.

However, I am not the only one who find a use for salt. In fact, table salt makes up only 17 percent of salt use. For example, with winter setting in, many communities are preparing to fight back by using salt to keep roads ice-free. Idaho is one of 26 states that use salt to maintain ice-free roads. The salt works well if applied in appropriate amounts, dropping the freezing point of water to seven degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. Idaho Department of Transportation uses 138 million pounds of salt and salt brine on 12,000 lane miles of road each winter. Individual counties and municipalities may add significantly to that total. 

Salt—equal parts sodium and chloride—has been part of the human experience since at least 6,000 B.C. Before refrigeration, salt was essential for preserving meat. It was such a valuable commodity that in the 6th century, Moorish merchants traded salt for gold, pound for pound. Some nations used it for currency, actually minting coins from the rock salt. The word, salary, comes from the Latin word for salt.  Salt trading routes were established across Africa, Tibet and Europe. A tax on salt was partially responsible for the French Revolution. And the word, salad, comes from the Roman practice of salting leafy veggies. 

We know that the ocean is salty and that places like the Great Salt Lake and the Dead Sea are saltier still. How do they get that way? It all starts well back on land where water drains from the highlands. Through chemical and physical erosion, minerals are dissolved from soils and rocks. These minerals, including salts, are carried downstream and deposited in oceans or terminal lakes (lakes with no outlet) such as Great Salt Lake. Scientists calculate that two million tons of minerals flow into Great Salt Lake annually and add to the 4-5 billion tons already there.

Salt is harvested from the ocean, mineral springs, terminal lakes and from huge sedimentary deposits.  These sedimentary deposits were laid down over millennia as inland seas formed. Like the Great Salt Lake, minerals flowed in and the seas eventually evaporated leaving behind thick layers of salt that were later buried with soil. 

The sedimentary layers are often enormous. One of the largest deposits is in Pakistan. This mine has 19 stories, 11 of which are underground, with 250 miles of passages. And, although this mine has been operating since at least the 12th century, it is expected to last at least another 350 years at current extraction rates.

So, how much salt is out there? The ocean has about 35 parts sodium per thousand parts water. That is about eight times less than the 300 parts per thousand in the Great Salt Lake. However, if you were to dry out all the salt in the oceans and place it on dry land, it would entomb everything under 500 feet of salt.

Salt is an essential mineral for all animals. I suppose there is also the possibility of too much of a good thing. But at this holiday season, I try to live by the motto, all things in moderation, including moderation. It has seen me through this far. 

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho