Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Monday, 17 November 2008
Monday, 17 November 2008 20:43

The salt of the earth

Salt, air and water are three of the most abundant natural resources on earth. All are very important for life. They are free for the taking, but the taking is not always free. Water falls free of charge from the sky and flows from the earth freely in springs, is spread around by streams and rivers and collected conveniently in lakes and ponds. For those who live next to where water passes by or collects gathering it by hand held conveyances is relatively easy. Expenses begin to mount, however, when it is necessary to dig ditches for irrigation, build aqueducts or lay pipelines, to say nothing of the added expenses nowadays of pollution control and purification. Obtaining fresh water from sea water is even more expensive.

Before humans began to ascend to high altitudes and descend into ocean depths, breathing involved no expense whatever. Nowadays, however, the expenses needed for purifying the air due to pollution are skyrocketing.

Salt has a reverse history of going from being a very expensive commodity to one that to most people is completely inconsequential. Salt is essential for healing, fluid balance, digestion, etc. There are nine grams of salt in every liter of blood in all vertebrates. Salt is necessary for the preservation of food without refrigeration. The biggest problem with salt is that it not being universally or conveniently so that those who do have it or can produce it have a stranglehold over those who need it. Very early in history governments stepped in to monopolize the sources of salt and even to add taxes to the purchase of salt. There have been places where salt was used as currency; the word “salary” is derived from the Latin word for the allotment of salt as part of a soldier’s pay; wars have been fought to defend or capture sources of salt; revolutions have been instigated to overthrow governments that imposed salt taxes, etc.

When finally salt taxes were eliminated and government monopolies broken up, the diversification brought prices down dramatically. The average price of processed salt per metric ton in 2002 was about $120 for hot pan processed and $6 for brine evaporation processed. The use of salt in making plastics and dozens of industrial processes brings great profits to the processors and miners of salt. In California alone, for example, the production of salt is a billion dollar business.

There is apparently an inexhaustible supply of salt. That is what they used to say about oil and coal. Let us hope that it is true this time.

Monday, 17 November 2008 19:32

The Little Shapeless Cloud

One morning, a small cloud woke up in the sky – and, for him, this particular morning was the first morning of the world. It was a day oscillating between the blue and the grey. Shapes and colors were indistinct and ever changing. The little cloud gave his vaporous flesh a pinch, trying to figure out what he was doing there and where the vague, light mass that, as he understood it, delineated his share of existence was starting and ending. His quest did not teach him anything specific. He was at pain to assert his own outlines, to separate his body from the great Whole that had given birth to the ephemeral particles gathered within him. Nor was he able to clearly distinguish his thoughts, to isolate a flux of consciousness that could truly be called his own and legitimately separated from the universal strain of feelings, energy and motions.

- Ah!” thought the little cloud (and this was the first spark of self-awareness that came to him in the morning of his world appearance), who is this ‘I’ that is awakening within me, supposing the confused, primitive question that this shapeless being is presently formulating does refer to an ‘I’, to ‘myself’ - I, this barely existing creature that the surrounding sentient and non-sentient bodies now identify as a little shapeless cloud? When I look at these majestic formations of clouds that navigate high on the sky, much higher than I will ever rise – and I do not even dare to glance at the celestial bodies -, I do sense within them the certainty of existence, and their assertiveness is shaping the way I am seeing them: I cannot doubt that they are ‘for real’ and, as such, have been shaped for an all-encompassing purpose, that their course is not purely accidental but concurs to the accomplishment of the overall order of things, an order that they might not fully comprehend but of which they are decidedly a most meaningful part. Whereas I am not even distinguishable from the heavens that surround me, I (I?) who have no precise beginning nor end, whose only sparks of thought and consciousness are only directed towards questioning the reality of my own being, and who will very soon not even be around anymore for worrying about the fact that I, most probably, am just a hiccup in the unfolding of cosmic events. ”

It will not escape the attention of the alert reader that, for a being that was questioning the reality of his own existence, our little shapeless cloud was showing a remarkable capacity of reasoning, and this at the earliest stage of his ephemeral life. But so engrossed was he in the formulation of his existential doubts that it did not occur to him that these very doubts might constitute a solid proof not only of his existence but of a definite meaning attached to his appearance in this world, whatever the life span that was allotted to him. His train of thought might actually have led him in this direction if his destiny had not decided otherwise. Towards the evening, the weather became greyer and more uncertain. Soon, the cloud felt that he was starting to disintegrate: drops of rain were leaving his shapeless body and slowly falling towards the earth. There was a public park lying under the cloud – a park where, in the morning, the author of this story had been pensively contemplating the little cloud -, and the rain was gently touching the grass and the leaves on the bank of the pond sleeping in a remote corner of the park. Some of the majestic cumuli that our new-born philosopher had so much admired during the day were releasing large, quiet drops into the pond, creating gentle ripples and music. This is at the time he felt himself falling into final oblivion that the little shapeless cloud experienced his awakening.

- Ah!” said he again (for he had already proven to be a philosopher prone to adopt the exclamatory and sometimes even grandiose mode), now that I am losing the shade of existence that has been mine I do not doubt anymore its reality. I am, I am the rain which is falling from my shapeless body, and these droplets that were tending towards their final annihilation were at the same time my very being and its negation. No wonder I spent my short life wondering about the ‘I’ that was or was not living it! I am now feeling the joy and certainty of my purposeful existence in the moment of its disappearance. May the water that is now reaching the earth and will return towards the sky so as to shape my countless descendants forever continue the majestic course that her continuous self-negation allows her to beget and nurture! ”

And the little shapeless cloud happily closed the eyes that he had opened in such anguish a few hours before.

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