Sunday, March 7, 2010

March 7: Sea Salt

A friend gave us today a small bottle of sea salt from the waters off Spruce Head. Throughout the winter he boils off seawater on his wood stove and collects the salt residue. Now we can season our food with genuine local salt. In this new era of eating local foods, I hadn't thought before about how even salt can be found so close to home. Living on the coast, we are surrounded by sea salt, but I never think about harvesting my own as I would wild berries or mussels.

This home-grown process of "making" salt reminded me of a poignant section of The Tale of Genji in which Prince Genji goes into exile for a while in a remote coastal village on Suma Bay, far from his many lovers and the excitement of the capital. While there, he exchanges letters and poems with a former lover, including this one, which in Japanese apparently contains double meanings hinting at a longed for but forbidden meeting.

At Suma Bay
on the beach is the sea grass
which one knows so well.
What do the women boiling salt
from seawater think of it?

(Translated by Jane Reichhold with Hatsue Kawamura)

Being a sophisticated city guy, Genji is charmed by the quaint scene of the peasant women boiling seawater for salt on the beaches. His lover's reply poem references, of course, briny tears on her sleeves over their separation. Sleeves dampened by tears / dew / water seemed to be a common image of pathos in Genji's time.

I, on the other hand, not having such emotions to draw upon now, boil down my thoughts into a poem that is more "salt of the earth:"

Bottle of sea salt--
this harbor's waters offer
something essential.

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