Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Wild Plants and Wooly Bears

Where is the outrage? Who rails against it? I mean the salt that we spread on our roads at the first hint of snow. The true reason behind the practice of salting roads is clear enough to me, but town fathers, road commissioners and of course, movers and shakers at the Maine Department of Transportation are blissfully unaware of it.

Do we contaminate springs, wells and groundwater, cause expensive motor vehicles to rust prematurely and kill untold plants, trees and shrubs solely to allow business and commerce to function at the same pace year-round? No, not at all. There exists a deeper reason.

The argument that salting roads makes for safer driving is spurious at best. Nothing is more difficult and shall I say, dangerous to drive on than slush, specifically the slush created when road “salt” is applied to snow.

I went shopping early this morning, as the season’s first significant snowstorm was at its worst. This was in order to avoid driving on salted roads. When snow falls at a rate that precludes spreading salt, most towns contain their efforts to keeping the roads plowed. Salt comes later. The exception to this is when an insignificant snow begins, a light dusting, too little for plowing. Then the salt flies out by the ton.

The country roads were as I had suspected, plowed but not salted. Driving was easy and in fact, the potholed road where I live was somewhat improved by virtue of snow filling the ruts and holes. Upon reaching town, though, things changed. Town crews had forgone plowing and instead, heaped application after application of salt on the roads, creating a five-inch layer of mush.

I recently learned how the Norwegians deal with snowy roads. Instead of salting, the wise Norse simply pack the roads down and drive on top of it. Yes, people must reduce their speed but their vehicles don’t rust out and accidents are fewer when compared to driving on slush.

But I digress. This story began with me about to reveal the real reason we salt roads. I have demonstrated what the reason isn’t and now I will reveal what it is. In our arrogant way, we want to control nature. And one way to do that is to spread enough salt on our roads that within a day, the surfaces are bare, as in summer. But who’s fooling whom? In the end, nature has her way. In response to our practice of pounding our wells, streams, ponds, lakes, springs and wetlands full of salt, nature has the final say. Once tainted, always tainted. And make no mistake, we are tainting our water with road salt. Is it really worth it? I say, emphatically, “no.”


  1. In the city of Misawa, Japan, where I lived for four years, they neither salt nor plow. They clear their driveway, what few there are, and the sidewalks by shoveling the snow into the street where it will be packed down by passing cars. Sooner or later the roads will have distinct ruts in them that car tires fit perfectly into. I used to think I could let go of the steering wheel and just slowly step on the gas and the car would follow along in the ruts, much like the old slot cars we used to play with as children.
    The problem came when I had to make a turn and then I had to step on the gas a little harder in order to get out of one set of ruts and into another.

  2. suzie,

    My driveway is like that. I often remove my hands from the wheel and allow the car to ride in the grooves.