June 15, 2010

Stolen Salt

 Los Gatos
I woke to the sunrise over the red rocks of Los Gatos and the promise of lobster. Everyday is like this. Well not red rocks and lobster specifically, but the promise of something new is always there.
In San Evaristo it was salt.
 San Evaristo at Sunset
I have clear memories of San Evaristo from last time: of walking along a dusty road, along side a dusty burro, heading nowhere specific, at a heat-induced leisurely pace. Together we crested a sun-baked hill and discovered a field of salt.
This time, when we walked the same dusty road, we only caught a glimpse of a baby burro hidden under a cactus, but there were dozens of cows to escort us. And when we crested the hill, we looked down at a much larger field of salt, as well as a half-dozen homes, which were tucked into the shade of towering date palms.
Salt is harvested in San Evaristo. Sea water is pumped across a stone breakwater into a flat field, where there are dozens of shallow evaporation pits. As the water evaporates it leaves ponds of blue-white crystal—from a distance they appear as dozens of back-yard skating rinks lined up side by side. When all the water is gone, the top layer of salt is shovelled into piles—and it was these heaps that caught my eye.

I wanted some of that salt.
We're not low on salt. We don't even use much salt. But the way the crystals glittered in the sun; the idea of going back to the boat without some was unbearable. It was like seeing a beautiful shell on the beach and not picking it up. You have to work really hard to come up with a reason to own a shell. They have absolutely no purpose other than they fill an ancient want. But they are almost impossible not to collect.
But, Evan pointed out, stealing from someone's personal pile of salt is not the same as picking up a shell. He also pointed out I had no way to carry salt. I considered emptying a water bottle for it, or filling my pockets, or just carrying it by the handful, or maybe finding a big shell to hold it.

Evan and Maia asked if I was suffering from sunstroke.
The phrase 'worth his salt' dates back to a time when men in the Roman army were paid their wages in salt. The substance had such value that enough could make you wealthy. The salt I held—course crystals, of the purist white—I had to imagine would have been most valuable of all. I tried to press it into a cake—similar to what the soldiers may have received. It crumbled and slipped through my fingers.
Salt melts in your hand, mixes with sweat and grows sticky. As I let my wealth go I decided to make a final hunt for something to carry it in. Not the camera case, not my hat, not the first aid kit, but this, the Ziploc bag that holds our toilet paper, would work. I filled it, surreptitiously—faintly aware that stealing salt is not normal. Maia joked about my possible prison sentence and the headlines, "Salt Thief Sentenced to Six Years Service in a Salt Mine". I wondered if I should take enough to give as gifts…
I only season my food with my Sea of Cortez salt now. Evan claims he can't taste the difference.
But I do.
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