Salt, sun and winter’s advent

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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The CSL Salarium was in port Sunday, low in the water and rusty on the deck, orange hard-hatted workers like toy figurines moving in amongst the heavy machinery.

The ship’s name alone proves someone has a sense of humour, because it’s the Latin word for salary, with roots in paying someone with salt — and the Salarium’s a massive salt hauler. On Sunday, its huge grey conveyor arm was stretched out over Pier 16, dumping tonnes of salt onto the wharf.

The giant cone of salt, in a state of virtually constant landslide as it’s being unloaded, is an engineer’s dream: everything about it seems calculable. The angle of the conveyor? Roughly 21 degrees for a material like rock salt. The steepness of the sides of the pile? It goes by that sweetest of terms, the angle of repose — for rock salt, it’s a near-constant 32 degrees. And how much is there? Well, in cubic feet, it’s .2618 times the diameter squared times the height of the cone in feet. The precision of science; but that’s not what it means, that pile.

The ever-larger salt pile means winter.

On Route 13 South, the Witless Bay Line, the big sign says “During storm conditions, road may be impassable. Please use alternate route.” But this is the perfect route to think of winter: the barrens on both sides of the road are washed-out winter watercolour already, brown and yellow and dun, and you can’t help but imagine watching white sheets of snow blowing in from high cloud, the lead edge lit bright by winter’s white sun.

Up over a low hill and there’s already a blue four-door Hyundai off the road and nose down and out into the bog, getting an early start on the black-ice slide of winter.

And in on the greasy-wet Southern Shore cabin dirt roads, people are packing up their cabins for the winter — just looking at their cars being loaded, you can imagine what it feels like to lie on your back in the damp, draining the water lines so nothing will freeze.

Every car, every house, every person a story, even though this is the time of year when you work with your head down, minding your own business and keeping your face away from the suddenly unfriendly wind.

Some stories steeped in more curiosity than others. On the side of one potholed road, there’s a six-wheel red tractor, with stamped Cyrillic writing on the engine cowling; it’s a product of the Belarus Traktorexport Corp/Minsk Tractor Works, seemingly lost near Tor’s Cove. You can only imagine the combination of confusion and familiarity you’d find in the owner’s manual.

Turn into the wrong end-of-the-line driveway and a honey-brown and white dog runs at you in an unreasonable and dangerous fury, splattering the driver’s window with barking spit as you try to turn the car. You wonder what it is that makes for such anger, and the dog chases you. A tailgating driver, with a cellphone on her ear and a serious purse to her lips, passes you and then both cars ahead of you, pulling in just one whiskered car length before a blind turn. Dangerous enough that you hold your breath and put a foot on your own brake pedal.

At the Southern Shore Arena, there’s a comfortable curl of parents at the glass near the door with coffee while the bantam players work through one drill after another, and high in the rafters is the unlikely and empty mauve jersey of the one player to escape the bonds of surly, small-cold-dressing-room Earth to play in the rarified air of the NHL. The jersey looks like some sort of rafterbound and forgotten holiday balloon.

Back in St. John’s, and there are more cubic feet: the cone can only grow so high, but it seems like no such constraints apply to the diameter.

After the ship leaves, a Caterpillar bulldozer will reorganize the terrain.

Enough salt, it seems, for every inch of paved road on the island.

Monday, and the Salarium is on its way back to the salt mines on the Magdelans.

And winter is on its way here.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. Email: rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Witless Bay Line, Hyundai, Belarus Traktorexport Corp/Minsk Tractor Works NHL

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