Salt of the Earth

I was at a friend’s house last week, my mud-caked Subaru parked on their drive. He and I chatted in the living room, his  wife called from the front window.  

“I wish you’d come look at this.” And we did. There, one on the front left, the other on the front right, were fox squirrels intently licking the mud in the wheel wells, up on their hind legs like long-tailed bipeds.  

They were supplementing their need for salt, taking it from the leavings of last week’s ice and the road saltings that followed. I suppose they could smell it from the woods a hundred yards away, and risked exposure to humans and other potential predators to add salt to their diet that they don’t get quite enough of in nature. (They also are likely to gnaw on  bones in the woods for the same nutritional reasons. Ever noticed tooth marks on a deer bone? We see it often.) 

We take for granted how necessary salt is. (Or is it a health-destroying poison?) This hasn’t always been the case. Case in point: the word SALARY is based on the ancient word for salt, and soldiers in the Roman army were once paid in salt. If they were worth their salt. 

What prompted me to tell this story, the squirrels alone maybe not quite a blog post, was running by chance across the images you’ll find in this link. Be amazed.  

(BONUS FACTOID: The area now known as the city of Roanoke was originally called Big Lick. Was there a natural source of salt there? Sure is in Saltville, less than a hundred miles west of here, and s a wide variety of Ice Age creatures came there for the salt, and stayed there for the museum.

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

Articles: 3013


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. The valley where Roanoke is now located used to have natural salt deposits that attracted animals, which also attracted hunters and trappers, which is how the area became Big Lick (or Big Salt Lick in some cases). Any residual salt deposits are probably covered by asphalt now.

  2. So glad I found your blog. I love it. Good writing about what I’m interested in– the environment, nature, in southwest Virginia! Thank you for sharing and I look forward to checking in with you during the week.