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Wednesday
Oct052011

Blue Highways: Seaside, Oregon

Unfolding the Map

Salt.  We want it, we need it, and we use it.  William Least Heat-Moon passes through Seaside, Oregon and relates the story of how Lewis and Clark stopped here to make salt out of seawater.  And to feed their men dog meat if they couldn't get beaver tail.  So, there you go.  To see where salt was made and cruelty to canine companions was done, check out the map.

Book Quote

"North of Haystack, at the old resort town of Seaside, was the site of a firepit where the [Lewis and Clark] expedition, in preparation for the long return east, boiled down seawater to make salt, a commodity they ran out of coming west....Although Clark believed the party healthiest on a subsistence of dog flesh, the favorite meat of the explorers, when they could get it, was beaver tail."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 5


Seaside, Oregon seawall and beach. Photo by M.O. Stevens and hosted on Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to site.

Seaside, Oregon

My homework for this post was to try to make a post out of two things: salt and dog meat.  Of course, there's a connection - salt could be used to preserve animal meat back in the days before refrigeration, and salt could be used to season the meat.  It was probably used for both during the Lewis and Clark expedition.  However, salt has a much more meaningful history, so much so that after learning a little about it I might not look at a salt shaker in exactly the same way again.

Where to begin with salt?  It's an element that regulates the ability of the body to retain water.  Too much salt is unhealthy, as it lowers the amount of fluid in the body and causes high blood pressure.  Too little, and the body begins to suffer from water poisoning.  So salt needs to be maintained in balanced amounts.  The fact is that in most industrialized and modern societies, people are getting too much salt from an overabundance of processed foods, leading to health maladies that our forebears didn't have to deal with too much.

Because of the necessity of salt to life, it has had a profound effect upon the course of world history.  The economics of empires and nations often depended in part upon salt.  China as an empire began to tax salt because it was such a necessary commodity and therefore China's treasury burgeoned due with the increased revenues.  Other nations followed suit, and the practice continued up into the relatively present day.  Gandhi staged a famous protest against the British colonial Empire in India by leading a mass protest of Indians to the sea to make their own salt, illegal because it wasn't taxed by the British.  Gandhi was probably partly influenced by the French Revolution, which may have been caused in part by the French government's onerous tax on salt.  The Spanish were brought to their knees by the Dutch, who blockaded the Spaniards' salt works and kept them from exporting this commodity.  Even farther back in history, the Greeks traded salt for slaves, and the Romans paid their troops partly with salt in the form of rations.  The modern word "salary" comes from this practice, as well as the roots of the terms "sausage," "sauce," and even "salad."

Of course, being so important to human life, salt has a rich symbolic value as well.  Salt has been used to frighten away evil spirits or other misfortunes, and at the same time, make someplace a cursed place.  An example of the former is the old superstition of throwing salt over one's shoulder to ward off bad luck.  An example of the latter is the "salting of the furrows" to make a place symbolically uninhabitable, such as when Rome razed and destroyed Carthage after the third Punic War and salted the earth to make sure that the city would never rise again.

In religion, salt has been referred to many times.  The Old Testament describes Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt when she turns back to see the destruction of Sodom and GomorrahJesus refers to his followers as "the salt of the earth."  Salt has been used as a symbol of purification, and as a portent of bad luck: Judas spills the salt in Da Vinci's "The Last Supper," therefore indicating that something terrible is going to happen.

We take for granted those little white crystals that sit innocently in the salt shakers on restaurant tables and on our dining room tables.  But they are essential.  It may be anathema to us today to spend a lot of time by a seashore wholly for the purpose of making salt, but on an expedition like that of Lewis and Clark, salt was needed for survival and as a handy source of barter with friendly Natives.

Of Lewis and Clark's penchant for feeding dog meat to their men I don't have much to say other than in modern cultures nowadays, the idea of eating dog is greeted with about as much revulsion as the idea of eating children.  But this was not always so, and still is not always so. There are some who say, for example, that South Korea, despite laws discouraging the eating of dog, still has an active canine culinary tradition.  Other cultures have often turned to dog as a way of meeting food shortages - for example European countries that sold dog meat during war or the aftermath of war.  The phrase "you're dog meat" comes from the idea that not only are you a lowly dog, but you're it's meat and therefore will be eaten.  To their creidt, both Judaism and Islam forbid the eating of dog, albeit because they may see dogs as being unclean animals.

As I look at my little dog, who is probably more my child since my wife and I don't have children, I couldn't imagine eating her, even under the most dire of circumstances.  Not even with the noblest and most necessary of seasonings - salt. 

But, what does it say about me that my salt shaker, which dispenses this wonderful and necessary element, is in the form of a wienerdog where the salt comes out of the dog's rear end?

Musical Interlude

Jesus called his disciples the "salt of the earth."  I can think of a few people who are essential to our society and to our civilization.  Let's put it this way...they aren't part of the 1% who has the wealth.  The Rolling Stones paid homage to these people in their song Salt of the Earth, and I would say that they are one of the "salts" of music.  Enjoy!


If you want to know more about Seaside

City of Seaside
El.com: Seaside
Go Northwest: Seaside
Seaside, Oregon Official Visitors Website
Wikipedia: Seaside

Next up:  Fort Stevens, Oregon

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