Monday, February 10, 2014

141. Salt

I stood at the wooden fence, my small fingers curled around a post, framing my view of the field beyond. The ram was still a little too close, so I had to bide my time. I looked down at the salt lick I was holding, narrowing my eyes and pursing my lips. I'd never licked a salt lick, but something about it seemed enormously appealing. It was a hard white hockey puck of minerals, and it made my mouth water just to look at it. Glancing furitively left and right to make sure no one was looking, I stuck out my tongue and slowly moved the lick toward my face.

"Whatcha doin'?"

I froze and closed the lick in my fist, looking over my shoulder.

"Nothin'," I said in the completely unconvincing way of all 9-year-olds, trying to look innocent while avoiding eye contact with my fellow 4th-grade classmate. He was holding the bag of feed for the sheep, and he raised an eyebrow at me.

"The ram's still too close..." I began, but as I looked back out over the fence, I saw that the ram had finally wandered far enough to the opposite side of the large field. There was no more time for excuses, it was time to act. I breathed in deeply, shaking out my arms and legs and doing a few tiny jumps to loosen myself up.

I was at my farm montessori school in northern California, and I was a skinny, scruffy 9-year-old who thought she had a cool attitude but was really only as sassy as a block of warmed butter. It was my turn to "help feed the sheep" which meant it was my turn to distract the ram while my classmate dragged the bag of food out to the feeding bin in the center of the field for the kind and gentle lady sheep.

I launched myself up and clambered over the fence, dropping down into the field. Even though the ram was a few hundred feet away, he immediately looked up at my movement. Somewhere in my mind, someone played a dramatic minor chord on an old saloon piano, as flames erupted from the ram's eyes. I didn't hesitate, I ran.

I was sprinting as fast as my tiny 9-year-old legs could pump, my long stringy brown hair streaming out behind me. I didn't look around to see how close the ram was. I was completely focused on the pole with the loop onto which I had to string the salt lick. My breath echoed in my ears, the salt lick clenched in my fist, my world zipping by in cinematic slow motion. 

I slammed into the pole, immediately unlooping the string, threading it through the hole of the lick, and reattaching it. I turned and started to run toward the far side of the field, but only made it about 5 steps before an insane cannonball of force CRASHED into my lower back. I was launched forward into the open air, my arms and legs bent backward like my body was a drawn archery bow. I sailed through the atmosphere, free of gravity and consequence.

I came back down to Earth with an ungraceful thud, rolling a few times through the coarse California grass. I coughed and sat up slowly, taking a few moments to pick the grass out of my mouth. I was no longer hurried, as I knew the danger had passed. 

The ram was standing stock still, staring at me with the imperious glare of a galactic emperor. I dusted some dirt off my hands, and the ram, having asserted itself, lazily walked over to the salt lick to enjoy his treat. My classmate, who had finished dumping the sheep feed into the bin, gave me the thumbs-up from across the field. 

This happened every single day, every member of the class having to take turns with the farm chores, meaning that each kid got Ram Duty once every 2 weeks or so. It was a badge of honor. Sometimes a kid could outrun the ram, and they were celebrated like a hero. No one was ever hurt at all- the ram just wanted to assert itself once a day. But it wasn't pleasant. It's definitely one way to teach humility.

But strangely, every time I would pick myself up out of the dirt and slowly make my way back to the fence, the emotion I would feel most powerfully was jealousy.

I wanted my own salt lick.

Even though salt is a pile of delicious magic food snowflakes, set on nearly every restaurant table in the USA, tempting us and being perfect, we are constantly told NOT to use it. Everything's oversalted already! Salt will murder you! Salt makes bad investment decisions! Salt never calls back!

But when you're a long-distance hiker in the summer, salt consumption is necesary for health! When you are sweating constantly for 8-10 hours in a row, day after day, you are losing water and salt at an alarming rate. It's not enough just to drink liter after liter of water, because then the salt is never able to be balanced back out. Then everything gets all out of whack! You get all rubbery and wet and then melt away like that poor guy in the first X-Men movie that started out as a man and ended in a mop bucket! Do you want that?! 

Instead, when a hiker sits down to eat, a hiker has no choice but to add salt to her meal. Even better is that when you have to eat bland boiled packaged food, it actually tastes edible with a good dusting of salt.

The worst part of this is that you might get used to the magical mouth delights of salted food, and when you return after your hike, you have to physically restrain yourself from the salt shaker. But while you're a hiker, salt to your heart's content.

Clever Girl

1 comment:

  1. Ram racing would be a good Olympic event; running, jumping, vaulting, launching...