Build Bridges, Not Walls


Anyone who has ever been driving and had a collision with a deer or other large animal knows just how devastating it can be for the animal as well as for the driver and any passengers, besides the damage to the vehicle. Every year millions of animals die in collisions with vehicles, though of course only estimates are available on that number, and damage to vehicles comes to over eight billion dollars. The best method for reducing both those numbers appears to lie in building ways for animals to cross roads safely.


France led the way in the 1950s, building overpasses and underpasses for animals to use in crossing busy highways. Other European nations followed, and then Canada and the United States. There is still much to be done in all those countries, and even more in the rest of the world. The animals have a hard enough time navigating a world dominated by people, and they should not also have to risk death in the simple act of trying to get from point A to point B. People do it every day without serious thought of not returning home safely from their journey, though all the other drivers on the roads don’t always make it easy on account of their distractions and reckless behavior.

Axis axis crossing the road
A spotted deer crosses a road near a “Wildlife crossing” sign in Nagarhole National Park in India. Photo by Chinmayisk.

25-Orient Beach State Park
Wildlife crossing warning signs portraying a deer, a fox, and a turtle, in Orient Beach State Park in Orient Point, New York. Throughout the country, signs like this are  often pockmarked by blasts from the firearms of people who pass themselves off as wits. Photo by DanTD.

It makes even more sense to build more safe wildlife crossings when considering it is in our own self interest. A high speed collision between your vehicle and a deer will kill the deer either instantly or harm the deer grievously enough it will die later in great pain, and the collision will also cause thousands of dollars of damage to your vehicle and possible injuries to yourself and passengers, if any, adding up to thousands of dollars in medical expenses, as well as psychological trauma which may make you justifiably jumpy behind the wheel of an automobile from that point on. All this is obvious, and old news really. Why then wouldn’t highway departments across the country do more to mitigate this kind of thing?

A certain kind of person might view a wildlife crossing, be it an overpass or an underpass, and think “Look at all the money the highway department threw away just to protect some stupid animals, probably because a bunch of animal loving tree huggers wouldn’t shut up about it until they built it.” No, the wildlife crossing isn’t there solely for the sake of the animals, and whether a group of people this certain kind of person is contemptuous of pushed for the project is besides the point. The wildlife crossing is there for everyone, for animals to use and for people of every political persuasion to admire as they motor along more safely than they did without it. It is there to save everyone’s lives, and in the case of people it is there to save the treasure they care very much about, possibly more than the well-being of other creatures on this Earth. It is way past time for that certain kind of person to ask who is really the stupid one when it comes to how we cope with animals crossing the road which, as we all know, they will do come what may.
— Izzy



Zippity Doo Dah


In a perfect world where people are always well-behaved and courteous and the bluebird of happiness accompanies them throughout their day, the zipper merge would work as harmoniously as traffic engineers envision it working. In practice, the zipper merge rarely works well, and instead it becomes a place where jerks can take advantage of the polite behavior of others in order to cut in line. Everyone who drives is familiar with the traffic setup, but not everyone may be acquainted with the term “zipper merge”.


A zipper merge refers to the area of road where one or more lanes end, and all traffic must move into the remaining open lane or lanes, such as in a construction zone. A similar situation presents itself where one lane of a road becomes an exit, with warning signs posted that the lane is for exiting only. Traffic engineers refer to these areas as zipper merges because ideally that is how they want drivers to conduct themselves where a lane closes down or where an exit lane is about to leave the main roadway. Like a closing zipper, cars in adjacent lanes should politely alternate merging together into the one open lane, making use of the closing lane as much as possible.

Construction Barrels (14173532670)
Every driver recognizes these orange barrels as the lane markers in road construction zones, but not every driver reacts to them the same way, much as traffic engineers would like them to.

It’s a neat theory, and when it works as proposed it is a fine thing. “After you, sir.” “No, I insist, madam, you go first.” “Ah, very well, I shall do so then, and a fine day to you, sir.” “My pleasure, madam.” And a tip of the hat to you, too. Usually, however, most drivers who see the warning signs about a lane closure will move over to the through lane early, queuing up. The zipper merge happens in a sense, but farther back from the closure than engineers envisioned it. This polite behavior by most drivers is admirable because it invokes the manners ingrained in many people from early in life, but it has the effect of leaving a stretch of open road in the closing lane, and that is a temptation for jerks.

Not all drivers who take advantage of the open lane are jerks in their own eyes, because it is as hard for a jerk to recognize his own jerky behavior as it is for a fish to understand it is swimming in water. There are many rationalizations available to jerks, after all, the most prominent one provided by the traffic engineers who designed this scenario. The jerk reasons as he zips past everyone waiting patiently in line and then cuts in at the front “We’re supposed to use all of the closing lane up until the very end, but the idiot sheep lined up over there don’t understand that!” he would be more hesitant to try the same maneuver in a long store checkout line, but here in this situation traffic engineers have by default endorsed predatory driving, and therefore the jerk sees it as okay.

The exit lane situation is designed into the roadway, rather than being an ad hoc situation due to construction, but it promotes the same kind of selfish behavior. A multiple lane road in town loses one lane to an exit, and at times when the traffic is heavy there may be a long line of slowly moving cars in the lane which will eventually veer off the main road. The opportunistic jerk assesses the situation and, instead of dropping into line at the back, where cars are moving slowly and obviously intend to exit, continues at speed in the lane adjacent to the exit lane until he sees his opening near the front, shortly before the exit lane leaves the road, and swoops in, as often as not using his turn signal, as if that made his shark move alright. “Hey, I’m signaling! Let me in!”

There’s not much that can safely be done about zipper merge jerk behavior other than rage against it or hope that traffic engineers get their heads out of the clouds and figure out a better way to design merge zones, one that takes into account actual human behavior in the real world. Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the auto mechanic brothers who conducted the Car Talk call-in radio program on NPR until 2012, when elder brother Tom’s failing health forced them to discontinue the show, had a caller on one show that they reran in 2015 who had a question for them about using the open lane in a zipper merge. The show was Episode 1538: “Aberrant Behavior Syndrome”, and the caller was Brian, from Kentucky, who called in at about the 11:30 mark of the show. Brian wasn’t absolutely a jerk, even if he did rationalize using the open portion of a closing lane at the expense of his fellow drivers, but Tom and Ray – especially Tom – set him straight in a most definitive and entertaining manner, and their reasoning goes beyond the misconceptions of traffic engineers and the pushiness of jerks who look out only for themselves.
— Ed.


We’re Watching You


There are so many surveillance cameras in private and public spaces watching private citizens that it seems the only way to redress the imbalance is for private citizens to start recording corporate and government officials with surveillance cameras of their own. Recording business representatives on their property without their permission would be legally permissible only on publicly accessible portions. Recording public officials, however, such as police employees, would be much easier since much of their business is conducted in public and because they are, well, employees of the public.


The police employees themselves will often dispute the right of citizens to film them as they go about their business, and intimidate filmmakers into shutting off their cameras and even turning them over to the police. Those tactics are illegal, and cops who use them are doing so either out of ignorance of the law or, more likely, in anticipation of ignorance of the law on the part of the filmmaker. It’s interesting that the increasing surveillance in public of private citizens by corporate and government entities is justified by asserting “If you’re not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about”, but the same entities do not feel their dubious logic applies to them when the public films them going about their activities.

Inauguration U.S. Park Police Surveillance
A U.S. Park Police (USPP) employee takes video of spectators observing an incident in which the USPP had kettled a group of people at 12th and L N.W. in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017. The USPP officer has his back to the kettled group. Photo by Mobilus in Mobili.

Dashboard cameras, many of them with audio recording capabilities, are increasing in popularity mainly for insurance purposes in the recording of accidents. Some auto manufacturers have started including them as standard equipment or options, and therefore they are not entirely after market purchases by car owners anymore. What some car owners tend to overlook is the usefulness of dashboard cameras in recording interactions with police employees. Police have themselves had dashboard cameras for about 20 years, and body cameras are becoming more prevalent every year. The question is how much a citizen can rely on evidence provided by police dashboard cameras and body cameras in any interaction with police employees.


The police have cameras, which they can and do turn off, or the footage of which they can and do selectively edit. It’s well past time for the general public to have cameras in the same abundance. In their cars, for instance, they should have not only a dashboard camera pointed forward, but a rear dashboard camera pointed backward, because that is where a roadside stop by a police employee will end up if it goes outside, with the cop and the driver between the back of the driver’s car and the front of the squad car. All cameras should have the ability to swivel on their mounts, which in the case of the front pointing dashboard camera would allow it to capture the interaction with the police employee at the driver’s side window. All cameras should also have audio capability, though it is important to remember to advise passengers in the vehicle if this feature is on. Police employees do not have to be informed, because they are engaged in public business.

Police employee with bodycam in North Charleston, South Carolina, in March 2016. Photo by Ryan Johnson.

So many people have smartphones now that it may seem unnecessary to buy and install more than one dashboard camera in a vehicle. If the need arises, people think, they can always take out their smartphone and film the interaction with the police employee. There are a few things wrong with that idea. The first is that for most people, who interact with police rarely, getting stopped by a police employee can be intimidating and make them nervous, which in turn may make it difficult or impossible for them to get out their smartphone and point it directly at the police employee, making it obvious they are filming them. Secondly, for some aggressive police employees who don’t know or don’t care about the constitutional rights of the citizens who employ them, pointing a smartphone camera at them is like waving a red cape in front of a bull. It’s much easier and less conspicuous to reach up quickly and turn the dashboard camera toward the driver’s window, making sure to enable audio.

The Conversation, a 1974 film by Francis Ford Coppola, is about an audio surveillance expert, though in general the topic becomes the loss of privacy in the electronic age.

It’s a shame it has come to this, where the public feels they have to protect themselves against the very people who have sworn to serve and protect them, people who use public funds to trick out publicly funded squad cars in thousands of dollars worth of the latest technology, and themselves in quasi military gear and vehicles for the purpose of intimidating and beating down the citizens who pay their way. For the time being, it may appear out of control police employees are hurting only minorities and the poor, but that will change as they see they can get away with it, as they have. Any day now, the mistreatment will become indiscriminate, because that is the way of things like this. Psychotic bullies will beat up on almost anyone, middle class white people included, if they step out of lines that are ever more narrowly defined. They will beat up on almost anyone, that is, except the rich who are their real masters. Protect yourself with as many cameras as they have, if you can, because you can’t afford as many lawyers.
— Techly


There but for the Grace of God


Roadside memorials for traffic accident fatalities have been appearing more frequently over the past 20 years, a period when the numbers of deaths per capita or per mile driven had been dropping until the last two years, when they have risen again. Since the increase in memorials has not been tied to overall traffic fatalities, there must be another reason. Unfortunately, no one seems to have a reason other than the increase in memorials being due to a snowballing cultural phenomenon. People become aware of the memorials, and then when a loved one dies in an automobile wreck, they feel moved to erect a memorial near that spot, and so the phenomenon builds on itself, this being its moment.


One force that could be feeding the movement is the amount of young people who are dying in traffic accidents, many of them on account of their own negligence due to distracted driving. Young people have always been overrepresented in the traffic fatality statistics due to their willingness to take foolish risks, but now add in their addiction to cell phones and they have become an even more dangerous element on the roads. Insurance companies, who put dollars and cents numbers on risky behavior, understand this and accordingly attach high premiums to policies for drivers under 30 years old. Having a relative taken away by death in a violent accident at a very young age is of course a more traumatic event than having one taken away by natural causes at an advanced age, and may be a factor in the urge of friends and relatives to build a roadside memorial.

Angel teddy bear memorial
Statuettes at a roadside memorial in 2006.

None of this is by way of claiming that most roadside memorials are erected by traumatized relatives on behalf of teenaged drivers and drivers in their twenties who were irresponsibly texting when they ran their car off the road and flipped it over in a ditch. There are scant statistics available to support such a claim, though a deep dive into state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) websites may turn up a breakdown of accident causes or contributing factors. Mainly it is speculation to suppose distracted driving may have been a primary cause of any accident marked by a roadside memorial. While texting is a phenomenon of the past 20 years, and as such coincides with the increase in roadside memorials, there is nevertheless a logical fallacy described in Latin as “post hoc, ergo propter hoc”, meaning “after this, therefore because of this”. Still, the coincidence bears consideration.

As a matter of personal experience, however, anyone who has been driving the past 20 years cannot help noticing the increase in distracted driving around them. Sitting at a red light behind a driver who is mesmerized by his or her phone means waiting extra seconds before accelerating after the light turns green, or even having to honk the horn to rouse that driver from smartphone induced hypnosis. Driving on a road behind or next to a texting driver means being alert to his or her sudden and unexpected accelerations and decelerations of their vehicle and jerking it from side to side, behavior that is exactly the same as a drunk driver. Getting out in front of a texting driver is not entirely safe either, as is obvious by glancing in the rear view mirror at the texting driver looking down toward his or her lap rather than up toward the road and the back of the car, your car, that they are dangerously closing in on.

A 2012 experiment in Belgium to demonstrate the dangerous foolishness of people who believe they can drive competently while texting. For additional views on the casualties of texting and driving, see the 2013 Werner Herzog documentary From One Second to the Next.
As they drive past a roadside memorial bedecked in flowers and balloon hearts and teddy bears, motorists reflecting on its meaning have no idea whether the memorial is for an irresponsible driver or the innocent victim of that driver, any more than a person walking through a cemetery knows the particulars behind the deaths of the people marked by the tombstones over their graves. If the driver thinks for a few seconds about how quickly life can be snuffed out, whether by foolishness or merely by bad luck, and checks their vehicle speedometer and puts their phone away in the glove compartment, then maybe the roadside memorial has served a good purpose after all. Taking it easy and laying off the accelerator and the constant jonesing to communicate, even though it be about nothing of note, maybe the driver reflects upon seeing the roadside memorial and thinks “There but for the grace of God go I”, and gets home safely.
— Ed.


What’s the Rush?


When a pedestrian comes to an intersection and presses the “walk” button, the pedestrian may feel frustrated that the button doesn’t seem to do anything. The pedestrian is correct. Usually, pressing the button accomplishes nothing, at least not at an intersection busy with vehicular traffic. Very early or very late in the day, when hardly anyone is around, pressing the button may interrupt the regular signal cycle. Some pedestrians know this and yet can’t resist pressing the button at all times of day. They can’t give up feeling in control. Most others aren’t aware of how the button works, or rather doesn’t work, and press it innocently expecting a favorable result. Depending on that person’s patience, or lack of it, they may feel pressing the button has some effect. Whatever the behavior of the person pressing the button, the button’s behavior doesn’t change.


Impatience is the modern disease. Oddly, some of the people exhibiting impatience by using their phone while walking or driving on busy city streets are impediments to other people who are in a hurry to get to their destination. Not waiting for a better moment to use their phone than being in traffic on the road, or walking on a crowded sidewalk, causes a phone user to slow down and speed up unpredictably and meander from side to side, acting not unlike a drunk. Such behavior is exasperating to others and dangerous for everyone, including the zombie phone user. The pedestrians hurrying past and around the zombie may not understand proper sidewalk etiquette themselves, often being brusque with people they feel are in their way, when sometimes those slower folks are only minding their own business at their own pace. The clashes can be especially testy at airports as people rush to make connecting flights or get through the security bottleneck.

Pedestrian walk signal device NY
An example of the sturdy Harbelite pedestrian walk signal device in Tuckahoe, New York. Photo by SteveStrummer.

Stay to the right when standing or walking slowly, and keep the left side clear for those wanting to pass. Pedestrian etiquette on sidewalks, the moving type or otherwise, is the same as the rules for motorists on the road. Groups of people out for a walk should not clog the sidewalk from side to side, but travel in single or double file. Teenagers and young adults, particularly males, may not understand there is such an unspoken rule, though more likely they do understand it, and they enjoy playing chicken with other pedestrians and intimidating them. That’s another subject for another day. For most reasonable people who want to do the right thing, it’s enough to politely point out the error of their ways.

In this early scene from the 1980 parody film Airplane!, the announcements over an airport public address system go from maintaining order to getting emotional. Warning: foul language.
Realizing there are other people in the world and acting according to their interests as well as your own is a big step toward curing yourself of impatient behavior if that’s something you want to improve upon. People who act with impatience are often considering only their own interests, and some are incapable of seeing beyond that. So be it. They will always be impatient, forever cutting other people off in traffic, cutting in lines either in a car or in person, pushing everyone else out of the way on public transportation or elevators, stopping unexpectedly in the middle of a busy sidewalk to take a phone call or send a text message, and mashing the “walk” button multiple times at intersections, as if their imperious command should make any difference to a senseless button. On a particularly harried day, it would be tempting to give in and be like that yourself, even if behaving like an impatient jerk is not as satisfying a release as it might seem. Being aware and looking out for the other person is a good way to stay safe, besides being good manners.
― Ed.


Deerly Beloved


Every gardener will at one time or other have to contend with wildlife or neighborhood pets causing problems in their yard and garden. Vegetable gardens are especially apt to be browsed by wildlife, obviously, and the legal options for backyard gardeners in coping with unwelcome visitors are much more limited than the options available to a farmer whose livelihood is at stake. Today as in the past a farmer can dispose of a varmint chewing up his or her crops with a well-aimed shot from a .22 caliber rifle and law enforcement or neighbors are unlikely to interfere. That option is not generally available to the urban or suburban gardener tending a small plot in close proximity to neighbors’ houses.


What is a varmint? A varmint is any animal whose survival habits conflict with your own, just like a weed is a plant out of place. Some people are thrilled to see deer browsing in their back yard, at least for a while, but to others those same deer have long since crossed over into varminthood after they have eaten hostas down to the ground, nibbled away rosebuds on the cusp of bloom, and used their antlers to rub the bark off young fruit trees, killing them. Garden enemies are not limited to deer, although they are probably at the top of most peoples’ lists, and a by no means complete catalog of varmints would for most folks have to include groundhogs (woodchucks), gophers, rabbits, rats, mice, voles, moles, chipmunks,  skunks, dogs, cats, poisonous snakes, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, inattentive drivers, and unsupervised children.

Bill Murray as a golf course groundskeeper in the 1980 movie Caddyshack plots the destruction of the gophers who have been disfiguring the fairways and greens.

For some of these varmints, the critter kind, there are no shortage of chemical and mechanical repellents manufactured by companies eager to help out a distressed gardener and incidentally make a buck on a continuing basis, because all of them require regular re-application or constant tweaking to keep up their effectiveness. Gardeners who have wised up to this laborious and expensive treadmill may look instead to fencing, the only truly effective solution, though effective only in the sense of diminished and insecure expectations. No fence is a 100% effective deterrent for all critters at all times in all situations, as any convict will tell you, although in this case the malefactors seek to break in rather than out.


Some gardeners will try to remove the problem from the garden by relocating it, or by hiring someone to do so. Although this practice is illegal nearly everywhere, the gardener can feel smugly humane about it. Unfortunately, it is a poor strategy for everyone concerned. The varmint, let’s say a groundhog, is trapped in a humane trap, but sometimes the animal injures itself in some way in its panic to escape. Injury to a wild animal is often a slow death sentence. The gardener, or his or her proxy, then takes the groundhog out to some countrified place and releases it, feeling good about him or herself, even if the groundhog begs to differ. This is likely another slow death sentence for the groundhog, because for one thing it is not familiar with the new territory, and for another the territory, if it is any good, is likely already occupied by another groundhog or two who will not treat an interloper kindly. The gardener then, with a warm and fuzzy feeling brought on by reflecting on the newfound happiness of the groundhog he or she has just released to frolic in fields of daisies in the countryside, returns home where another groundhog from a neighboring yard eyes the newly unoccupied territory and its fresh crop of tasty vegetation.


There are all sorts of other strategies for dealing with varmint pressure on the garden, such as companion plantings or planting only things offensive to them. It can seem the options come down to living in a fenced-in or foul-smelling compound, or giving up on planting old garden favorites like roses and daylilies. There is another option involving compromise and a relinquishing of control, and in the end it may be the only sensible option whether the gardener is willing to acknowledge it or not. It doesn’t mean giving up, but merely giving in where other options are inhumane, or too expensive or unsightly, or just plain idiotic insistence on controlling every little thing. The critters – varmints, if you insist – have just as much right to be here as we do, and that’s true whether you want to acknowledge it or not. Putting up a fight is fine, but try to retain perspective on who is supposed to be the rational creature capable of long-term, ethical considerations.
― Izzy


White Tailed Deer
One of the Varmint Cong, or a Beloved Creature? A white tailed deer fawn, Odocoileus virginianus, in Raleigh, North Carolina; photo by Clay Heaton.


Nomophobic No More


Nomophobia is a term coined in 2010 by the United Kingdom Post Office, which commissioned research into the anxieties of mobile phone users. It stands for no-mobile-phone phobia, or the fear of not having access to a phone or phone service.

On February 3, 2017, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, responding in part to the antics of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, who streamed a post-game speech by his head coach, Mike Tomlin, on Facebook Live from his smartphone, vowed to “scramble” social media sites in the Saints’ locker room in the future. It was unclear what Payton meant exactly by “scramble,” but perhaps he was referring to using a filter on the locker room wi-fi service. Players could still access social media sites using the signal from their cellular service, however, making the overall effectiveness of Payton’s ban doubtful. A cell phone signal jammer would be an option if it were legal.

Payton’s proposed ban was his response to players’ increasing inattention as well, since they itched to check their phones for distractions instead of devoting their full attention to the business at hand in locker room meetings. These are men in their twenties and thirties, some of them making millions of dollars a year, and they cannot be relied upon to disregard their smartphones for more than forty minutes at a time while their head coach conducts a meeting. But then, considering the behavior some players exhibit during games, perhaps it should come as no surprise they are selfish and immature in other areas of their lives. We would more usefully order our priorities to not give the players and the game as much attention as we do.


Arrecife - Iglesia de San Ginés in 18 ies
No cell phones sign at a church in the Canary Islands.
The message in English reads “Sacred Place – Silence Please”.
Iglesia de San Ginés in Arrecife, Lanzarote, Canary Islands;
photo by Frank Vincentz.


Whether it is a compulsion or an addiction that many people have to constantly check their smartphone for text messages, emails, or social media posts, is something they need to examine for themselves. The rest of us just wish they would stop checking, checking, and checking again, because it is costing us time and frustration, and in some cases our lives. Besides the everyday annoyances caused by compulsive smartphone users disrupting the enjoyment of theater-goers and patrons at restaurants and shops, there is the now nearly constant problem of being held up at a traffic light by the driver in front being too engrossed in their smartphone to realize the light has turned green. Such drivers build up road rage in others, and that’s minor considering the dangers they pose once they get their car moving.

A majority of drivers sensibly acknowledge that texting and driving is dangerous and are in favor of state laws prohibiting it, yet many of them continue to do it. You can see these drivers everywhere on the roads, bobbing their heads up and down like mechanical dipping birds as they look up and down from the smartphone they hold down just out of view of others – as if they’re fooling anyone – to the road and back again. The danger comes not only while they are looking down, but also for the first few seconds after they look up, because in that time their minds are elsewhere.

The Green Eggs and Ham Cafe - panoramio
The Green Eggs and Ham Cafe at the Seuss Landing attraction
of the Universal Islands of Adventure theme park in
Orlando, Florida; photo by Panoramio user BihnX.
Since some people can’t seem to stop themselves from texting and driving, and since enforcement is lax, it appears the only thing that will get at least some of them to stop is the kind of social disapproval that has built up around smoking in public over the past twenty years. It’s incredible now to recall that up until twenty or thirty years ago smoking in most public places was not only acceptable, it was the norm. People smoked in theaters, restaurants, and on planes and trains. Like enjoying green eggs and ham, people had a cigarette pretty much anywhere they liked. Speaking of green eggs and ham, now there’s an excellent idea: shut off that phone, smart or otherwise, and enjoy an attentive meal with friends or family, put the phone to sleep in the glove compartment while you drive to the theater, and then leave it in the car when you go in to relax and enjoy the show. Your dinner companions, the drivers you share the road with, and your fellow patrons at the theater will appreciate it, and it won’t kill you.
― Techly


Salting the Earth


“Carthago delenda est!” [Carthage must be destroyed!] ― Cato the Elder


The National Weather Service has forecast an ice storm for the central United States this weekend. Road crews will most likely treat the roads with a brine solution before the storm arrives, and in case ice accumulates nevertheless, they will return to treat the roads with rock salt, sand, and possibly other materials to increase traction for motor vehicles and rid the roads of ice. What happens to all that salt after the storm, and how does it affect roadside plants, soil, and the water table?

Salt from Timbuktu
Blocks of salt from Timbuktu; photo by Robin Elaine.

Salt Crystals
Salt crystals; photo by Mark Schellhase.

Some of the salt dilutes with water from the ice and atomizes into droplets that passing vehicles spray onto roadside plants. The damage can most easily be seen in early spring as plants and trees sprout new foliage which may suffer from scorching on the side that received the salt spray. Most of the salt runs off into the soil and the water table near the road, where it can cause a number of problems, including interfering with water uptake by plants and contaminating residential and agricultural wells. Some salt migrates into city water supplies.
Excessive salt has long been known as a detriment to agriculture. Plants show little need for salt, while animals can’t live without it. Our word “salary” is rooted in the Latin term for salt, which indicates its crucial importance to everyday life for people. It’s ironic then that poor fertilization and irrigation practices can lead to the salinization and ultimate abandonment of agricultural land. With population growth come more roads and development into the countryside, taking over or abutting traditionally agricultural land, and consequently adding more salt to the environment.

Salt from Berchtesgaden
Salt from a mine near Berchtesgaden, Germany; 1951 photo by Roger McLassus.

Some localities across the nation have been experimenting with alternatives to use of rock salt exclusively, such as mixing in cheese brine, beet juice, or sugarcane molasses. Whether or not these alternatives ultimately prove as effective as rock salt and comparable in cost, for auto drivers who need to get out and about in an ice storm personal safety understandably comes first and environmental effects second, or even third after reckoning the tax bill for materials and labor. Considering all that, we might reflect how Cato the Elder’s oft invoked exhortation to vanquish the Carthaginians at any cost led after many years to civil war and then to the dubious distinction of empire, and we might then note how a relentless quest for domination of our perceived foes, in nature or otherwise, as often as not has unintended consequences and unfortunate side effects for ourselves.
― Izzy