By Thomas Gilbert
Life’s fortunes take us down a trail
Through fog and wind and rain and hail
But sometimes sun and warmth and peace
come by to help us find release.
Jamie, do you want to go sledding at the toboggan run this afternoon? Her dad asks her.
Oh, yes. I’d love to! Can Carli come, too?
Of course, but first finish all of your lunch, so we can get ready. Jamie giggles with anticipation. Two of her front teeth, one top, one bottom, are missing, as new ones, barely visible, are coming in.
Daddy, we got an assignment at school yesterday. I’m supposed to ask you about your job and tell everybody else at school on Monday.
So, you want to interview me, eh?
What would you like to know?
Mommy, can I get the list that Mrs. Kelsey gave me from my book bag?
Yes, dear. Jamie runs from the kitchen to the den and rummages through her backpack.
She’s really excited about this. She was telling me about it on the way home from school yesterday.
I can see that she is. Jamie re-enters the kitchen, carrying her book bag, paper, and a tape recorder.
What have you got there?
A tape recorder.
Oh, I see, a real professional, eh?
I need to remember what you say, so I can write down your answers.
Are you ready, Daddy? There’s a lot of questions.
Let me put down my Saturday paper. Her father folds his arms across his chest, leans back in his chair, paper still in his hand, rolled up in a cylinder, and taps it against his knee, carelessly.
Jamie sets her list down on the table, brushes the hair from in front of her face, and stares at her mom and then at her dad. She then reaches across to push the record button on the tape player, looks at her paper again, and then starts confidently:
Tell me where you work, please, and what do you do?
O.K., I work at the Cleveland Salt Mine, just west of downtown Cleveland and beside Lake Erie. I’m a foreman and a manager of a team of 25 men and women gathering salt from the mines beneath Lake Erie.
O.K. And how do you mine the salt?
We use trucks and bulldozers and explosives, and we work about 2,000 feet below the surface of the ground.
And what do you do with the salt when you bring it up out of the ground?
We put it in huge piles on the ground, right outside of the mine shafts.
Then what do you do with it?
Big huge trucks from ODOT, that’s the Ohio Department of Transportation, County Cuyahoga, and various cities around Cleveland and the state, drive up to get their trucks filled. Then they take the salt to their cities where it’s stored for use in the wintertime. We even load salt onto train cars where it gets shipped to other parts of the country.
Jaimie looked away from her list. Why do they do that?
Well, in the wintertime, when it gets really cold and the roads get covered with snow and ice, trucks called salt trucks fill up with the salt that we mine at our company. Then they spread the salt onto the roads to help melt the snow and ice so people can drive more safely on the roads.
How much salt do they use?
In an average winter, here in Cleveland and around the county, they use somewhere between 60,000 and 70,000 tons of salt on the roads to fight the snow and ice.
She put her head on her hands, with her elbows propped on the table. How much is a ton?
A ton is 2,000 pounds.
Then what happens to all the salt on the roads?
Well, as long as the temperature stays pretty much above 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the salt melts the ice and snow, and it gets all over the cars and trucks and buses that run over it.
It does? She looked at her mother.
Yes, said her mother. In the wintertime right now, if you go out to our car port and look at our car, it’s all splattered with salt residue from the spray of salt water from the roads that were covered with salt to melt the snow.
Oh, like on the windshield! When we drive behind cars and trucks and it gets all over the windshield, and we can’t see, and you have to press the sprayer on the wipers to get the window clean?
Exactly, said her dad.
She turned to face her Dad, What is the stuff that cleans the windshield?
It’s the blue washer fluid that we get at the gas station. We have to put it into a special container under the front hood of the car and make sure we have enough to last us when the weather gets bad, because we have to be able to see when we’re driving in order to be safe.
Can you drink that stuff?
No, absolutely not. It’s very poisonous.
Is the salt poisonous?
Well, it’s not exactly clean. The salt is basically sodium chloride, like table salt, but because of the other things mixed in with it when it comes out of the ground, it’s not really safe to eat. Sodium is a mineral and chloride is just chlorine, which is a pale green gas. So road salt is a combination of these elements. Some elements are good for you; others are not so good. Our bodies can use various minerals and salts in small amounts. Too much, or the wrong combinations, can be dangerous or even poisonous. The salt we get from under Lake Erie is basically sodium chloride — table salt, and too much of that in our systems can be really bad, just like too much salt can be really bad for fresh water fish, land animals, and plants and trees. We all need salt to survive, but too much salt is harmful.
What happens to all the salt and washer fluid on the cars and buses and trucks?
Well, the rain rinses it off, or we go to the car wash and wash it off, or we wash our cars in our own driveways at home.
But where does it all go?
Oh, you mean down the drains, into the sewers?
Well, some of it can leach right down into the ground beside the roads, or into the surface groundwater, and some of it goes into the water treatment plants, and some of it goes into the drainage ditches beside the roads and highways, and then into small streams and eventually drains into rivers and ponds and lakes.
But I thought you once told me that the water we get out of the sink comes from Lake Erie?
Yes, I did.
But you said that too much salt is dangerous and the washer fluid is poisonous?
But if we’re not supposed to drink that blue stuff, and the salt should only be taken in small amounts, why do we put them in places where they will end up in the water we drink?
That’s a good reason for getting bottled water at the store.
But doesn’t that come from the lake, too?
Oh, no. Big water bottling companies go to places where they can get water from mountain streams, springs, and artesian wells where there’s really fresh water, or they process water to purify it before they bottle it.
Does this fresh water come from Ohio?
I don’t know. Some companies get their water from sources in the Appalachian Mountains, some from the Rocky Mountains, and some get their water from overseas.
Some big companies get their water from places like Brazil, and France, and Indonesia, and even India.
Where is India?
On the other side of this planet.
Why would they do that?
Well, some big companies make a deal with governments to drill huge wells to tap into deep underground rivers and lakes, and other water sources that have very pure water. They have these huge plants that collect the water, and they bottle it right there, and then ship it back over here for us to drink.
They take water from India and bring it all the way back here?
Don’t the people in India need their water?
Well, unfortunately, some of the deep wells that our companies drill to get fresh water often take away the surface water from the farmers who have cultivated the land around these plants for hundreds of years. In some cases, it is so severe that they are left with empty wells and have no water for their crops or their animals, and they don’t even have drinking water for their families.
What happens to their farm land?
Over time it dries out so completely, it ends up producing a landscape covered with nothing but mineral deposits and salt.
Then the farmers in India could do what you do, Daddy?
Yes, I suppose they could, Jamie. I suppose they could.
Are you ready for tobogganing?
Yes, I’m ready.
Jamie put her papers into her book bag and pushes the stop button on the tape recorder, and her Mom and Dad stare at each other in silence across the table.
So tell me students of the world
What lessons have the Fates now hurled
Upon the table with these dice
As sevens, snake eyes, cold as ice?
Can books remain where they’re not read,
Like stones upon the buried dead?
Or will we crack these useful pages,
And learn from thoughts of wondrous sages?
Thomas Gilbert has spent the better part of the last 52 years in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities. Over the last 30 years he has produced a program for teaching full literacy skills to those within this population with Aspergers, autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, dyslexia, traumatic brain injury, ADD and ADHD.
Thomas’s web site on literacy acquisition is www.literacyforanyone.com It is 100% free to use and share and download. Thomas also dabbles in writing poetry, short stories and novels He has composed simple musical compositions for piano. Thomas also has a deep curiosity about metaphysics and mysticism.