Heroes with Clay Feet?


The muck, dear Readers, has a fancy name: Bentonite clay. The Little Missouri River’s turbidity, mentioned in my previous blog, is caused by the suspension of fine clay particles. The river’s flow is due almost entirely to precipitation and water levels quickly drop after a rain. When it recedes, the clay is deposited on the banks in broad, slimy bands. We slogged through this slippery muck to reach dry land, looking for a campsite, but it was a dicey undertaking. Too easily we imagined ending up on our keisters in one unwise step.

The clay has its origins in volcanoes that erupted 65 million years ago, in the magnificent age of the dinosaurs. Volcanoes farther west belched huge amounts of ash which were carried by wind and water into the watershed of the Little Missouri. Over time, the ash settled out as clay, which rises anew with each rainfall.

The clay was a nuisance and we quickly came to curse it, but back home, a computer search informed me that Bentonite clay is highly valued. Among natural health purists, it is thought to pull toxins out of the body and is used in everything from facial masks to toothpaste. Some take it as a cure for the stomach flu.

And cat lovers, listen up: Bentonite clay is also the clumping agent used in kitty litter. That fine gray powder that wafts through the air when you clean the box? Bentonite clay. Those gray clods in the box that felines create and then find offensive? Bentonite clay. Can you see the resemblance to the stuff on my feet? Who ever thought to use this gritty gray material for kitty litter?

I think of all this each time I clean the litter box– of how odd the world is, and how creative the human endeavor.


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