Salt of the Blood

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"Salt of the Blood is ocean bathing still,
Each cell of brain and heart burning uphill."

Saltmakers' Oven, 1899

The Oven in 1899

From Olin D. Wheeler, The Trail of Lewis and Clark: 1804-1904
(New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904), 2:207.

The late Silas B. Smith, a descendant of the Clatsop chief, Comowool, is seated on remains of the fireplace where Lewis and Clark's detail boiled seawater for the salt, near Seaside, Oregon. The photographer may have been of Portland, Oregon.

Silas Smith's mother, Se-li-ast, was the daughter of Comowool—properly Coboway—the Clatsop Indian chief to whom the captains gave the buildings they called Fort Clatsop. Se-li-ast was born sometime between 1801 and 1804. Her son Silas, born in 1840, became a leading regional historian and a prominent member of the Oregon Historical Society.

Although he certainly could appreciate the unique flavor of sea salt compared with rock salt, Clark was indifferent toward salt as a flavoring. "I care but little," he wrote, "whether I have any with my meat or not, provided the meat fat, having from habit become entirely cearless about my diat, and I have learned to think that if the Cord be Sufficiently Strong which binds the Soul and boddy together, it does not So much matter about the materials which Compose it."

On the contrary, it does.

The formula is simple. One molecule of sodium, a reactive metal, plus one molecule of chlorine, a poisonous gas, equals a harmless mineral that once was deemed "the fifth element," along with earth, air, fire, and water. Indeed, all living creatures are still awash in the salty sea that gave birth to the first living cell. It fills the spaces among the billions of cells in our bodies. A solution of less than 10% salt water injected drop by drop into a vein can keep the human body alive after a serious loss of blood, or in case of shock, until nature repairs the damage. Salt sets the limits of our existence. Too much of it, or too little, means certain death. That is every animal's oldest memory—mystery and miracle enough for poets and prophets, seers and scientists.



A concise and readable introduction to the subject is Robert Kraske, Crystals of Life: The Story of Salt (Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1968).

The ultimate resource for all questions about salt is: Derek Denton, The Hunger for Salt: An Anthropolitical, Physiological and Medical Analysis (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1982).

The Salt Institute's website includes links to related sites, and a multidisciplinary curriculum guide, "Salt: The Essence of Life," which touches upon the fields of chemistry, geology, biology, nutrition, agriculture, history, geography, economics, religion, paleoclimatology, paleogeography, and archaeology.