irreplaceable: a collective praise poem for Great Salt Lake

irreplacebleTwenty of the poets who offered their verses directly to the lake when we read irreplaceable on February 19th, 2022.

irreplaceable is a chorus of praise swelling with love for our Great Salt Lake. By some reports,1700 square miles would be the size of the fully restored lake; the lake bed is approximately 2200 square miles. At well over 2200 lines, the size of this poem is a prayer for Great Salt Lake's full restoration. We present this text as a polyphonic love-letter to our imperiled beloved.

Poetry is a call to pay attention and what we attend to grows. Although we know that even an epic poem cannot save the lake alone, we believe in poetry's power to transform a culture of apathy and disdain into one defined by reverence for life. By turning our hearts and faces toward the lake, we may also save ourselves.

There are over 400 voices in this poem. Our body of work is now on the way to becoming a book. May the praise continue to flow! Please join us in community prayer on behalf of our hemispherically essential ecosystem.

Over a hundred folks read the first 1706 lines of the poem aloud to the lake as an offering to Great Salt Lake on February 19th, 2022 on Antelope Island. Thanks to John Meier and his team who are making a documentary about the movement to save Great Salt Lake, we have a recording:

Table of Contents

Part 1: Calling the Circle
the invocation:
when praise began to flow
by nan seymour

Part 2: Finding the Center
Where are we? How do we know this place without a map? What can we notice about landforms, life forms, and waterways? Who else is here? Who was here before us?

1. Verse: ode to microbialites by nan seymour
2. Chorus: standing in something ancient
3. Verse: My People by Darren Parry
4: Chorus: today on antelope island
5: Verse: why by Scott Baxter
6: Chorus from the Friends of Great Salt Lake
7: Verse: Sin Ti by Jasmine Hennigs-Cornell
8: Chorus from a web of experience
9. Verse: praise to the tar seeps by gretchen ernster henderson
10. Chorus: the empathy of perspective
11. Verse: The Complex Web of Home by Gary Hedlund
12. Chorus: praise the halite crystal edge
13. Verse: Great Vortex by Rachel White
14. Chorus: praise the taste
15. Verse: Hymns in the Wind by Pablo Gonzaga
16. Chorus: just wanting to stay
17. Verse: In Praise of Her Beauty by Lara Chho
18. Chorus of Composers: before you arrive
19. Verse: Late Winter by Paula Volpin Evershed
20. Chorus: the bison of myself

Part 3: All our Relations
Who are we in relationship to this place? Is the lake our mother, our father, our beloved? Yes, yes, yes. He, she, they? All of the above. A mentor, a midwife, a refuge, home of feathered citizens and holy origins. The lake is sentient, fluid, and capacious. They are actively and intelligently engaged in fighting for their own life.

21: Verse: why save our great salt lake? by nan seymour
22: Chorus: brine shrimp matter
23: Verse: Also Curious by Ash Sanders
24: Verse: Interloper on Antelope Island by Daryl Wells
25: Verse: The Arms of the Great Mother by Scott Moore
26: Verse: Grandpa and Great Salt Lake by Dane Christensen
27: Chorus: part of something important
28: Verse: From Dusk to Dawn by Garet Martin
29. Verse: The Brine Shrimp Rebels by Brooke Larsen
30. Verse: Inspired by a Lake by Kai Lameman
31. Chorus: when the women walked to the water
32. Verse: Dead Sea by Maxine Hanks
33. Verse: Home at Last by Kim Pederson
34: Verse: Two Floats by Rachel Posner
35: Verse: Lady of the Lake by Linda Dalton Walker
36: Verse: The Strongest Thread by Tiffany Burns
37: Chorus: kestrel beckons the drummer praise
38: Verse: Farmington Bay by Bree Matheson
39: Verse: Praise THE Lake by Janice Gardner
40: Verse: Take my Measure by Mary Anne Karren
41: Verse: Landing by Karla Feindt
42: Verse: Almost by Gary Evershed
43: Verse: May There be Water by Erin Geesaman Rabke
44: Verse: When Life is a Loan by Pauliina Miettinen
Chorus: A Sonnet for Saltair
46: Verse: Currents of Memory by Rob Bero
47: Chorus of the blue coyote
48: Verse: On the Edge by Kevin Randall
49: Verse: sin eater (anonymous)
50: Verse: The Full Moon Sea of Yourself by Sam Wallen
51: Verse: Verse: Suya Türkü by Abdal Aşık
52: Verse: Never Lost at her Shores by Sophie McCarron
53. Chorus: depending on the season
54. Verse: things to say to future beings by nan seymour

Part 4: Offerings from a Lake-facing People
What do we have to offer? In the midst of our vigil on February 19th, 2022, over a hundred people gathered on Antelope Island to praise. These lines were read aloud to our beloved Great Salt Lake by the poets themselves.
The lake beckoned us and we came.

55. Chorus: a salty yes!
56. Verse: To the Baby Pelican by Willy Palomo
57. Verse: Ways of Knowing by Christy Bills
58. Verse: The Smell of Boats by Jaimi Butler
59. Verse: 1,237 Steps by Chloe Skidmore
60. Verse: Nuestro Padre el Lago Salado by Jose Arevalo-Rivers
61. Verse: Great Salt Lake Limirick by Nini Rich
62.. Verse: Language of the World by Amy May
63. Chorus: praise be the lanterns
64. Verse: Call and Response by Erika Munson
65. Verse: The Birds Will Save us by Therese Berry
66. Verse: The Lake was Always There by Chris Cline
67. Verse: Relative Newcomers by Suzy Eskenazi
68. Verse: Every Ounce of Wind by Debbie Fetters
69. Verse: A Salty People by Olivia Juarez
70. Verse: A Ripple by Moudi Hob
71. Verse: Take Time to Praise by Elaisha Hallel McKenzie,
72. Verse: A Wonder and a Friend by Scarlett & Riel
73. Verse: Valentine for the Great Salt Lake by Sunni Wilkinson
74. Verse: once we had everything by nan seymour

Part 5: For the Beauty of the Earth
How will we begin to repair the breech between ourselves and the life that loves life? What do we owe our neighbors? What kind of ancestors will we choose to be? How do we thank the lake for her sustenance? If we follow the path of beauty where could it lead?

75. Verse: a miracle is due by nan seymour
76. Verse: lake words by milo

77. Verse: Dear Great Salt Lake by Donda Hartsfield
78. Chorus: the bone deep feeling of home
79. Verse: Reckoning by Theresa Holleran
80. Verse: I Will by Monica Dobbins

Part 6: Opening the Circle
the incantation:
the alive earth sings
by giuliana serena


Part 1: Calling the Circle
the invocation:

when praise began to flow by nan seymour

when praise began to flow
we watched the water rise 
along both sides of the causeway
eleven islands recovered 
their autonomy. microbialites sighed 
with relief. when praise began to flow 
the dust subsided. metals resettled 
on the seafloor, arsenic and mercury 
were lulled back to sleep
blanketed once more 
by the great weight of water

when praise began to flow 
three rivers rushed forth unhindered
as greed relinquished its grasp
and fat flakes of snow tumbled
into the great body becoming 
clouds, drifting into peaks
making snow and more snow  
and then creeks, then rivers 
then lake, and then lake effect
also known as sustenance 
also known as snow
and the waters did not desert
us when praise began to flow

when praise began to flow
we returned to fourth grade field trips
to picnics run amok, spirited floats
and salt-encrusted bodies
boats bobbed back to their docks
we recalled how to sail
we could taste our first kiss  
we remembered a day we didn’t die

when praise began to flow
we gathered and told these stories
and a culture of disdain released its chokehold
our eyes shone with love and even 
reverence, which began to grow
when praise began to flow
we sorrowed over the way  
we had shunned her
irreplaceable body and vowed 
never again to part from her company
and the love we felt for each drop 
making a way to her whale-heart 
became unfathomable

when praise began to flow
we thirsted for the names of birds 
we learned the mouth-feel of the words
grebe, avocet, willet
pelican, curlew, stilt
we observed their long dives
sudden swerves, and bright eyes 
we noted their cries and habits
tracing murmurations
we drew love 
beyond naming

when praise began to flow
we felt the genesis of our feathers 
we felt water return to the sea 
of ourselves, we felt
a swell in the lake 
of ourselves. we felt 
the surge of our rivers
we felt tidal. we felt primal. we fell 
with the snow. we grew ocean-
hearted. we began to know 
we had never been separate 
and thus could not be parted 
when praise began to flow

Part 2: Finding the Center

Where are we? How do we know this place without a map? What can we notice about landforms, life forms, and waterways? Who else is here? Who was here before us?

1. Verse: ode to microbialites by nan seymour

first breathers, imperiled neighbors—
you rise from the shallows in ancient forms
a diversity of architects
building layer upon layer of life

metabolizers of light—
behold your living edge
you nurture brine shrimp and brine flies
who fill grebes and stilts,
phalaropes, avocets, and cliff swallows
you sing through the wing bones of seagulls
thank you for each feathered citizen
thank you for filling the air with flight

saline corals, great sustainers—
behold your delicate rhythms
your time-bending and slow growth
you were here before handcarts and causeways
before state parks, airports, and apps
before we began to make weather
you took centuries to form 
we did not create you
may we take in the fact
that we cannot remake you

platforms of life
holy origins—
may we humble ourselves
before you as your descendants
may we find reverence
for we are latecomers
diverting your waters
if we don’t cease you will perish
may we bring water in time

2. Chorus: standing in something ancient

the silty feel of the water, weird caking-mud sand
your expansiveness and spaciousness
help me move out of myself

i’m from the sky, the water
the two swirl together
in the blackness of space, suspended

i’m from a pulse of light
without you, there is no me
without me, no you

one of the most diverse places on the planet
a convergence of water and salt
at the heart of our watershed

the crust of salt falls off my sailboat
no other lake has the depth to accept my keel
like the dagger of drought to my heart

grieving her exposed lakebed
grieving that she is dying
robbed of her lifeblood

praise you great lake, great life-giver
incessantly reflecting the face of god
eternally unfolding prismatic glimpses of all there is

without you, where will bison go? like ancient minotaurs
will they disappear? without you… without bison,
who will provide us with the ethereal?

our beautiful full term grandson was still born
no water in the womb, no water in the lake
but no matter what still born

without you, i can’t find my courage
with you, we could flood the arteries of our lake-named capital
and end this drought of imagination

drawn to her presence. we treasure
the memories of our times together
we see her, we feel her, we hear her.

This chorus is a tapestry of eleven voices, River Writers who gathered on 2/12/22 to witness the lake together on Antelope Island.

3. Verse: My People by Darren Parry

My people knew this water healed,
The medicine within, to them was real,
The plants and herbs along its banks,
Were gathered from its sacred place,
Healing spirits and wounds, said Grandma Mae,
The water and land of Great Salt Lake.

About the poet: Darren Parry is the former chairman of the Shoshone Nation. He grew up hearing oral stories abotu the importance of Great Salt Lake from his grandmother Mae Timbimboo Parry.

4. Chorus: today on antelope island

today on antelope island
i was greeted by new lovers:
a falcon, a murder of crows
the majesty of eagles, golden and bald

today, a briny hello from the lake
today, a shoreline strewn with foam
jagged rocks festive with snow crystals
praise this air mixed with land and tears

praise microbialites, ancient here before us
praise rivers etching a path
praise rocks making a puzzle
pieces scattered over the land

today on antelope island
sea monkeys swim in a tank
their life cycle on display for us to see
brine shrimp on the lake like an oil slick

praise coyotes playing on the waters edge
rust and sea-foam lichen in full bloom
praise blackbird floating still in the wind
as i reveled, i heard a cry for help

today i grieve each water molecule
molecule by molecule, drop by drop
inch by inch the lake retreats
shrinks into herself, can we say without a trace?

where does the water come from?
and where does it go? we give it away
to an alfalfa field shipped across the world
we grieve our last, vanishing drop

praise isolation on antelope island
the support of her salty womb
connecting with myself, i connect to gods
ancient here before us

we are a love story, are we not?
my lover took me to the lake and we skipped rocks
today on antelope island all i wanted was the warmth of the sun
what else can be saved with such love?

Lines from River Writers: Moudi, Taylor, Cordelia, Kim, Lara, Amy, Kate, and Therese, gathered at Antelope Island on 1/22/22

5. Verse: why by Scott Baxter

why paddle the stench of the desert sea
why burn your eyes in the salt and sun
why explore emptiness in a desolate place
why tempt fate in the waves and the wind
why labor from the faint morning light until dusk
why leave the comfort of home for a bed of salt
why care about such a pitiful wretch
those are the questions that were asked of me
my question is how can I help the blind to see
I went to see a friend of mine
of years not just a few
aged, defiled, and dignified
she calmly laid in her bed
you heard my voice she said to me
by the faint smile on her face
breathing in a sweet fragrance
bringing life into my veins
there my eyes found comfort in her grace
and solace for my soul
there I feasted from her labor
like millions of strangers that pass her way
she asks nothing in return
although her body was withering away
there the wind and waves washed my skin of strife
making the calluses soft
there I woke at first light in her glow to bask
and watched the stars sparkle like jewels upon her face
there I found nourishment like others whose hearts starve
as their hands carry more than they can hold
there I found beauty in the midst
of a place the worldly despise
like Chief Sagwitch
who once called her marshes home
she has a story tell
the lake gave him all that he needed
and he wanted nothing more
a voice that was pure but drowned out by the flow
of pride and greed that covered her shores
for every voice deserves to be heard
and every story told
and not from a foe or for another’s gain
but for the essence of a soul
that is the reason she called to me
a person with the voice of a gull
to leave my plow and join a choir
of voices that vibrate the air

Scott Baxter is an avid photographer and kayaker. Listen to Scott reflect in detail on his 2021 circumnavigation of Great Salt Lake in this episode of Radiowest: The State and Fate of the Lake Part II.

6. Chorus of friends of great salt lake

praise dawn on the causeway
a rusty coyote splashing through
rounding the corner, antelope island opens to view
praise the startling vista

praise distant calm from the highway
praise space for bison to thrive
praise wild desolation so close to home
praise ancient world in present day

praise winter ski trips with friends
praise salty foam whipping up at rozel point
praise ten thousand avocets with rusty heads
praise imagination, praise billions of brine shrimp

praise tornadoes of midges
praise hopper salt crystals
plucked from lake bed like so many teeth
praise floating between sky and sky

praise her salty kiss burning like fire on the horizon
appalled by flies, enthralled by sunset
grassy slopes grace us, riding alongside
praise the midnight bicycle ride

praise the color explosion at days end
white foam, watery pastiche, changing blues,
depending on where you stand
praise orange, in sky and on water

praise the days when the water is its pinkest
salt crystals sparkle at a pale blue sky
praise sage green with deep maroon
silhouettes against gradient colors

the site of gulls without an ocean,
in the desert fighting for fries
i will miss the funky smell
praise slow, salty undulations

i will miss the feel of salt
no lake, no lake effect snow,
no snow, no winters, no water
praise hollowing waves of sorrow

praise feeling weight in damp smash
praise the place out past the railroad
the place that saved me in 2020
where the water is sometimes pink

praise ripples, praise stillness
praise kit carson’s cross
praise moments spent lost
praise sun on salt, praise sky

praise eared grebes
with golden feathers
and scarlet eyes
praise eared grebes!

praise the flight of the migratory
praise rest for birds and earth
praise a solitary mammoth tooth
caught between time and depth

praise children marveling at brine shrimp
praise bringing a friend for a first visit
praise people swimming
praise the job of a lake girl

praise the drive to the jetty
the jetty, pink and i can’t believe it
knee deep in the waters of Smithson’s spiral,
praise the illuminated salty sculpture

how would it be for the spiral
to slip under the waves
and sleep again?
praise layers of time

praise a picnic with two ninety year-old women
no-see-ums defending the beaches
swirled clouds mimic water ripples
praise contemplating stars from buffalo point

praise sunsets overlooking saltair,
more impressive than the show inside
praise floating on a summer day in ’72,
feeling like a pretzel after drying

praise learning and teaching a unique ecosystem
kids laugh when i tell them the water will sting their eyes
feeling the planet’s pulse
forms and cures loneliness

praise home, the home i am made of—
praise reflections of mackerel sky
vast expanses, mirror-smooth
feel alone and connected at the same time

praise the great blue heron
taking off and flying through reeds
praise capturing the amber eye of an egret
through a cloud of thousands of gnats

praise the panoramic view from frary peak
praise joy on the shores of stansbury
praise gazing at the intense blue
golden grasses blowing in symphony

praise the texture of pickle grass
praise the smell of rainfall, stinky, fresh
praise briny socks and briny smiles
praise senses scrubbed raw

praise visiting the lake with my mother
memorias com o meu pai
praise the ever mutable backdrop of childhood
visit even when you are afraid

bear witness even when you are afraid
how can water be so heavy?
the lake, my sister, lives in my body,
carries my weight.

Lines gathered from 80 individual attendees at the Alfred Lambourne program presented by Friends of Great Salt Lake on November 5, 2021

7. Verse: Sin Ti by Jasmine Hennigs-Cornell

Sentada a tus orillas
Contemplamos vida
Espejo que reflejas
Sal de la tierra
Escondida en el agua
Serena, blanca.
Evaporada flor cristal
Nos envuelves en tu manto
Dulce madre.

Refugias aves
habitas mi ser.
No te vayas...
Sin ti, las palabras no sirven
Sin ti, la estampida del bisonte desaparece
Las semillas no dan de comer al pájaro...
Sin ti, no salmuera ni camarón
Sin ti...
Sin ti, otro cementerio y carretera,
Sin ti...

Without You

Sitting at your shoulder
Sitting with you
Reflecting, mirror of life...
Salt of earth
Hidden in the waters
Serene, white .
Evaporated flower crystal
You sustain us with humid breath

Shelter of life
Don't go away...
Without you, words mean nothing
Without you
No stamping bison,
No seeds, no birds
Without you no fairy shrimp
Without you...
Without you another cemetery highway.
Without you...

Note from the poet: "Great Salt Lake, is Life. I belong to life...We are related. Is this answering my relation to the lake? There are some birds that every year fly from Great Salt Lake to Mar Chiquita, Cordoba, Argentina. Every year they migrate. I was born in Cordoba. I live somehow in both places....I don't have feathers, but I do..."

8. Chorus from a web of experience

praise the sunset sliver of pink
praise memories of calamine and salt-caked feet
praise selenite crystals
drawn from soft sodium clay
praise combing the shore for micro trash
on a soggy saturday
praise the salty blood of the lake
praise the salty water
where my desert-raised father learned to sail
praise spiraling lava rock
praise the corklike body afloat
praise the smell of life recycling
praise microbes detoxifying, restoring balance
praise the oolites on her shores
praise sea monkeys!
praise snowy plover, pelican, and sandpiper
descending in clouds
praise watery sanctuary
bald eagle, phalarope, and grebes
praise wild and the life it breathes
praise for what is borrowed
be considerate to these gifts
step gently with reverence
leave only part of your soul as you pass.

9. Verse: praise to the tar seeps by gretchen ernster henderson

praise to the tar seeps
sticking together this
matter: this water, this
art, tar, mud, sky, brine, 
salt, sea, rocks, birds
feathering into focus:
wingbeats and wind,
sand crunches 
all matters: 
all waters
retreat, inscribing
—lake level
—lake level
—lake level
less snow
more seeps
where language eludes
(disarticulated: bones,
words) getting stuck
in “death traps”  
as a “dead sea”
lives as a body 
of water, of land
among bodies
(human, animal, botanical)
interacting as mineral
ions seep
into our cells,
infinitesimal spirals
as we sing: praise

10. Chorus: the empathy of perspective

an avocet bends to water
kissing their own reflection
their smiling beak turns skyward
then dips into the wake
curves of birds
mimic shapes of clouds
gulls run in the mud, gulping up flies
only one songbird acts like a raptor—
praise the loggerhead shrike!
the teal stripe in the mallard’s reach
the black-rimmed green eye of owl
praise eight tundra swans against blue
praise the X of a foster’s tern flying toward you
praise the scaly foot of coot, their dirty elbows
praise golden, praise black on white
hot yellow laser point eye—color is light.
crepuscular rays, sparkling bokeh
praise the hulk of heron
perched as if balanced on a pin
curves upon curves
gemstone eye of eared grebe
woodhouse scrub jay’s eyelashes
pictures are feelings
praise beak, neck, back, wing, tail—
praise the pink, pale inside a songbird’s mouth
perspective is important
perspective can be changed.

Bird photogrpher Mary Anne Karren offered a craft talk during the vigil. The lines for this chorus were gathered from the notes of participants.

11. Verse: The Complex Web of Home by Gary Hedlund

Praise point sources of water—
God's liquid gift to the earth. 
Beginning at high elevation, exuding from the moss-covered earth. 
Liquor, clean and clear, cold to the touch, nourishing to the soul. 
Imagine the rivulets of water, making their way in capillary-like formations, aspen and live-oak guiding water's descent. 
Sacrament to the Great Salt Lake.

12. Chorus: praise the halite crystal edge

praise for the smell
so rancid and ripe
burning your nose
and you know it gives life

praise for the bugs
that bite and annoy
the leave their itchy memory
and you know it gives life

praise for the sounds
sometimes they annoy
planes, peoples, cars
the laughter and wonder

and you know this place gives life
praise christmas dinners atop frary peak
praise the salt and savory of it all
praise eyes opened in wonder

praise feet turned to wander
praise spirit laid bare
praise soul finding respite here
praise the quiet and space

praise the orb weaver spider
eating brine flies on my shirt
as i learn to row, afraid to drop my oar
praise my own heart

praise eyes leaking salty drops
praise our interconnection
bring me the stillness of mountaintops
bring time into focus at sunset

i experience the evaporation of a life force
tired and overwhelmed, but i will listen
i am listening now
soaking in the sounds and smells of this ancient teacher

praise the poet before me
lake glistening behind her—
i don’t fancy myself an activist
i change my mind

praise the sun forcing eyes focused
praise bodies present
praise air blowing fresh
over an inland sea

praise the last sunflower
on a southern slope in november
praise our power and potential to heal
praise resistance

praise the big boulders
and the trail winding through and around them
praise the views from frary peak
inspiring me to something greater

seeing my first seagull here
it seemed improbable and out of place
praise a rich fable of how they saved settlers
they still make me smile

now i take them for granted
another unlikely resident of this place
bring a bug’s wing catching the last light
the sunlight warming my face

bring winter beige and glassy blue
voices frizzling into vastness
bring purple chill creeping up
from under the sagebrush

praise the place of fourth grade field trips
praise a cut knee on big rocks and the first place i saw a bison
praise the place we kissed under the stars
praise children playing in the sand and even the smell of them after

it began with the light on the clouds
on the water, on the peaks
it began on their little faces
it began on the lake’s edge

bring me to the halite crystal edge
to the edge of the microbialite
the edge of pickle weed
to the edge of my understanding

bring me to the edge of insight
the edge of plight realized
the edge of what lies ahead
to the edge of my seat

bring me to the edge of what’s here
bring me to the mirror
bring water, bring water
bring the mirror and show me what i am

Lines from 17 River Writers gathered at Lady Finger Point on Antelope Island on 11/12/21

13. Verse: Great Vortex by Rachel White

Great Salt Lake, great vortex
and crossroads of hemispheric importance,
testament that water is life,
great oasis in a vast desert,
the Great Basin, for ten million birds
who rest in mysteriously beautiful ever-changing light,
the great and complex web of home
for 330 million species who continue to live
as they have for millennia, because of you,
your great life-giving waters.

14. Chorus: praise the taste

praise pelicans above
flying from an island to feed at deer creek
praise an intersection of love
meditative adventure and salt

praise the life in spine and arms
scooping lake-snow off pavement
today i skied the perfect powder of lake effect
yesterday i laughed at the sweetness of phalaropes

praise big fluffy flakes
praise the smell of chill in the air
praise the smell before snow
praise spiral jetty

praise sunrise. it is new
praise peach sorbet sunsets
praise flying in and out of salt lake
bowing to glistening waters reflecting life

praise biking to the lake from liberty park
a fifty mile day with snacks and chats
praise a dancing astronaut in lake sand
praise another halloween as an arctic explorer

praise the words of terry tempest williams
connecting my mom and i through refuge

praise the mirror reflecting
everything above as below

praise walking so deeply you float
praise the delight of buoyancy with friends
praise lights reflecting on salty water
praise the taste, so salty and bitter

praise the name of the city
praise people saving great salt lake
praise jaimi. praise being unmute. praise being
and becoming a steward of the land

15. Verse: Hymns in the Wind by Pablo Gonzaga

I heard your hymns in the wind
A call to arms I must answer
through the seasons
your colors refract love and sustain life
I heard your song Great Lake - Life-Giver
I will sing it with you
Eu ouvi seus hinos no vento
Um grito de guerra que devo responder
suas cores refratam o amor e sustem a vida
Eu ouvi sua canção, Grande Lago - Doador de Vida
Eu cantarei com você

16. Chorus: just wanting to stay

it was very shallow
the smell of salt very present
i went there with my family:
two brothers, one sister, our parents

saline solution to our dreams
burning our feet, stiffening our jeans
all the while we felt serene
salt flats whistling

praise the place where frogs take refuge
our noses greeted before our eyes
kids ran about while the sun fell
just wanting to stay a little while

salty breeze filled us with ease
praise the lake that feeds the earth
praise the lake that may forever die
the earth singed, now cries

soon you may be gone
how you have dimmed
yet you made your mark on the land
just wanting to stay a little while more

praise laughter in the air, yet silence in the world
praise loud chatter, children’s fun
praise saline dreams and the falling sun
praise just wanting to stay

Lines collected from Liberdee, Finley, Sam, Bridgette, Billy, and anonymous students from Amanda Hurd’s Kearns High poetry class on 1/4/22

17. Verse: In Praise of Her Beauty by Lara Chho 

I've come here to the shores of Great Salt Lake to notice,
to gather details, to pay attention to whatever she might teach me.

Today it is a raven's slick black body gliding and effortlessly perching from a rock,
surveilling its territory, lone sentinel. Silence, broken
only by the chukar's chuckles, hidden in sagebrush, heard, but not seen.

A young coyote leaps, their buff coat the color of the grass.

The feel of bison patty in my hand, rough but oh so light,
stiff and pulpy like Japanese washi paper.

The sky, so blue, so vast, punctuated by the few clouds captured on Frary peak.
Phragmites, orange tassels reaching for blue sky, seeds patiently waiting for winds.

Bare feet gingerly picking over crusted dried lakebed,
then sinking with sweet relief when we finally reach the wet softness of her shore.

Children splashing, fully clothed, rolling, full of sand.
Mid-February and warm, their delight
in her salty water reminds us what it is to touch innocence.

My dog pulls me eagerly across the distance to the receding shore,
eager for water until his nose and tongue tell him that she may not be what you expect.

A brisk morning,
rewarded with the beating wings of eagles,
beating a rhythm down to us from a celestial dimension.

Some days it is a pilgrimage,
a chance to be reminded of what it feels like
to be small in her Greatness. 

Some days I come to her shores to discover a balm,
though the salt stings my skin,
it heals the ills I did not know I carried.

To sit under her vast sky, engulfed by silence
and rocks, with their mysterious whisperings of deep time.
I feel elemental, brought back to the simplicity of bone and brine.

A clear voice reaches out over her parched shores,
singing praises to the four directions
language I have never heard before,
yet I hear the call of ancestors
are they yet lost to us?
are we yet lost to them?

A shiver down my spine,
and I remember that I am sacred too.
"Please bring the waters back."

18. Composer's chorus: before you arrive

the way you can feel her before you arrive
a large body distilled into desert

body of water distilled into desert
sounds of meadowlarks surround us

sounds of meadow, larks surround us
spraying pockets of air, salt water, and joy

spraying pockets of air, salt water, and joy
light and lake, grays and blues, ethereal hues

light of lake, gray and blue, ethereal—
i know that if the lake can stay, so can i

i know that if the lake can stay so can i
because she is also a mother

because she is also a mother
you can feel her before you arrive.

a duplex by the Composers cohort of 2021-2022

19. Verse: Late Winter by Paula Volpin Evershed

This afternoon,
as the late winter light turned luminous,
The lake became light cerulean blue,
a favorite color that lifts my spirits
Keep trying, dear lake; we are trying too

20. Chorus: the bison of myself

praise the whistling of a singular swan
high-pitched wings overhead
praise the chatter of hundreds
boisterous, like a cocktail party

praise salmon-colored water so buoyant
we float for what seems like forever
feet sticking out when swimming breaststroke
in the water's warm everywhere-arms

praise salt crystals big like diamonds
transported to another planet
praise our bodies made mostly of water
lulled to sleep, still in motion

praise the return of the blackbird
praise the trill of their call in the tree
black wings concealing red flash
until taking flight

belly-down by the water’s edge
i found the bison of myself
while sunflowers flashed in the light

Lines gathered from participants of Writing to Witness the Irreplaceable online workshop on January 29, 2022

Part Three: All our Relations

Who are we in relationship to this place? Is the lake our mother, our grandfather, our beloved? Yes, yes, yes. He, she, they? All of the above. A mentor, a midwife, a refuge, home of feathered citizens and holy origins. The lake is sentient, fluid, and capacious. They are actively and intelligently engaged in fighting for their own life.

21. Verse: why save our great salt lake? by nan seymour

because rocks sing with life in her shallows 
because of bison, because of buoyancy
because of ten million birds
because her colors defy naming
her shoreline defies tracing
and her earth print defies state lines 
because we will be lonely for the cries of gulls
and starved for the sight of flight   
because we have desiccated other lakes 
because every night we sleep in her bed
and each day we drink water
melted from snow she makes 
because we are made of clay
but more of water,
and are born into just one body
because our lungs branch into tributaries
and stream into rivulets
because mercury and arsenic lurk in her basin
and we are as permeable to poison as the others
why save our great salt lake?
because she is irreplaceable  
because we can
because we must 
because her body lies between us
and the dust

22. Chorus: brine shrimp matter

Brine shrimp matter to us.
We care about them.
We like how fast they swim.
They may be small, but we need them so much.

Brine shrimp matter.
They are small but do a lot for us.
The impact they have is so big.
Praise the way they feed so many amazing birds.

Brine shrimp can only live in salt water,
only in the south side of the lake,
only in certain salinity.
Their arms look like spaghetti.

Praise their little black eyes sticking out of their heads.
Praise them for providing hundreds of jobs from farming cysts.
They swim like they are crawling through a vast nothingness.
Like whales in the ocean but brine shrimp in Great Salt Lake.

We love their bright colors when we see them.
We like the little wing things that they swim with.
Praise the way their wings propel them through water.
It’s cool and unique how they swim.

Brine shrimp matter.
They’re the ones who bring the life.
Something that surprised us is how they help
prevent toxic dust from releasing.

Brine shrimp matter
because they are a keystone species.
Brine shrimp matter
because we use the cysts to feed our fish.

Brine shrimp are beautiful creatures,
they help our ecosystem and our economy.
They matter because 1. They are very cute
2. Without them the lake would be more unhealthy then it is.

Even if we stopped diverting water, brine shrimp
would still need to be there for the lake
to sustain so much life like it does.
Brine shrimp matter.

Praise pink lines with wings swimming freely.
Praise black pure eyes staring into mine.
If we did not have them,
we would not be here today.

Brine shrimp have multiple generations in one body of water.
Praise the way they have so many eggs.
Great Salt Lake would not be great
if there were no brine shrimp.

Praise the way their eyes pop out of their tiny bodies.
Praise the way you can see them so easily with their eyes.
Brine shrimp matter to us because they live
in the great Salt Lake City School District.

Praise brine shrimp for giving us learning opportunities.
They are the foundation of the whole lake.
The mass of brine shrimp in Great Salt Lake
adds up to the mass of 1.8 million people.

Brine shrimp matter to us because if they weren’t in the GSL
we wouldn’t get to learn as much as we have
and we wouldn’t have the opportunity
to go to the capital and see how a bill gets passed.

Brine shrimp matter because of everything
that has happened in 2021 to 2022…
studying Great Salt Lake has brought us
happiness in this hard time.

The praise poets of Mr. Craner's 6th grade class at Emerson Elementary are activists working to make Brine Shrimp the official Utah State Crustacean.

23. Verse: Also Curious by Ashley Sanders

I didn't come to the lake looking for the lake.
In fact at first I didn't come to the lake at all.
Instead I started on dry land
At the place where City Creek folds into a U
And the hills go up and up

I wasn't trying to know the lake
I was trying not to die
Trying to survive
An ending
So I suppose it makes sense that I
Started with ghosts
With the ghost lake
The shores of the ancient sea
Now dry as the fish bones you can still find there

And that, haunted, I walked the ledges
of a desert valley also-haunted
By past waters, past floods
All the unnamed animal dead
By things that happened too quickly for words
And too long ago for lament

They say the flood was biblical
Rushing out at Red Rock Pass
Draining half the West like a bathtub
What was left was the lake
"Great," as it was later called
Rightly but with no sense of historical proportion

At the time,
I thought the only thing I was
Was grief
No, said a friend
You are also curious
And what do you want to know?
I want to know how the shoreline fits together, I said
And so I started walking.

I walked the lake line
jagged with the sharpness of what had happened to me
Wanting nothing except everything
And, if not that, then to know how the shoreline fit together
I was circumnavigating the past
trying to get the shape of something

The shape did not appear
But trees did
And animal tracks
And one time a ribcage and a thick slurp of blood
And in the distance the live lake with is real waters

I was a pilgrim
And the lake was a relic
And so eventually I went like a pilgrim to the lake
Wanting to find something,
Wanting to be made oolitic
Round and imperturbable

I'd been there before
Visited in elementary
Hot vinyl close air
The bus dropping us off at the edge
Where we jumped in
To something black-bilious
Which slicked us up to our shins
In oil and eggy vapors

"A trash lake," I heard my teacher say
But she was wrong. 

I'd been there in winter
The island fog-enveloped
A silence close to godliness on Frary Peak
Until we spooked a flock of chukars
And they percussed across the snow

And once recently, before the end
I had walked with my beloved
Out past the Spiral Jetty at gloaming
And floated.
Pink water pink sky pink orb

The world flamingoed around us, flamingoed close.
We pushed each other down into the water
Just to bob back up
And laughed—
This water will not let you drown, I said.

And when it ended, and I needed
To believe in that sort of buoyancy
I came back
To sit among quiet quieter than me
And oldness older than me
To be cormoranted and grebed and heroned
Into something else

The lake is a dead place
People told me
Too salty for life
And aren’t you lonely
With only brine shrimp for company? 

They were wrong
But I forgave them
Like me
they had confused extremity with death
Not knowing
That extremity creates the conditions for life
Not knowing
That a brine shrimp egg can lie dormant
For twenty-five years
Waiting for the right conditions
Not knowing
That we are made beautiful
By what we must survive

Ash Sanders is a writer and climate activist who grew up next to a magical inland sea but didn’t think twice about it until she did, and now she thinks about it all the time. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, pining for salt from afar.

24. Verse: Interloper on Antelope Island by Daryl Wells

(at the altar of dried grass expect decline,
for a southerner in pursuit of flowers
to graze through endless sagebrush) 

i am the interloper my lover brings to Antelope Island.
the Great Salt Lake is fresh to me.
i see the western mountain mirror the lake,
vibrant as a mirage in fading. 

brash coyotes bark the brine.
seepwood dredged with silt. and we kiss.

here we are on this chukar-feathered island,
a wind-stench reels memory back—
ten years: now we’re splayed on different shorelines,
in a whorl and haze. your hands, clasped with sand,
form shell. Seed enclosed with prayer.

Note from the poet: I'd say in relation to the Great Salt Lake I am like the clown in Emily Dickinson’s poem, “A Little Madness in the Spring”, who with God “…ponders this tremendous scene — / This whole Experiment of Green — / As if it were his own!” But I also acknowledge I'm an outsider (Texas) who, for a brief moment, watched from within as the lake recedes; and that deeply saddens me.

25. Verse: The Arms of the Great Mother by Scott Moore

Praise to the ancient great lake
whose legacy is etched into our expansive landscape,
whose minerals build our bones,
whose generosity holds us
and our wild family of birds and brine
with the arms of the great mother.

Praise to the ancient great lake
whose namesake graced my elementary school
and taught me without books,
about honesty, integrity, and wholeness.
It is this rightness that is now calling to back me to help heal this lake.

Praise to even the forgetfulness which has made my heart sleep
regarding the importance of this lake
and praise the abrupt awakening to the truth
that now is the time to act.
Praise be to the ebbing tides of apathy
as we fight to fill our lake again.

26. Verse: Grandpa and Great Salt Lake by Dane Christensen

You have been around as long as I can remember.
You have seen more than anyone else.
You steady us with a grounding masculine energy.
You anchor a diverse and thriving ecosystem.
You are a miracle of nature and a gem in the desert.
You give us a rich quality of life.
You are our identity.

Today, your waters are running low.
You give us sustenance for life,
But we have not done enough for your health.
Today, we are gratefully reminded how you keep us alive.

You are my Grandpa.
You are my Great Salt Lake.

Dane Christensen is a documentary filmmaker in Salt Lake. Growing up near the mountains, his relationship with GSL was enjoying the powder snow it brings and detesting its stinky lake effect. It wasn’t until GSL was in crisis that he realized how this relationship went much deeper.

27. Chorus: part of something important

I see the foam, hear the melting ice,
and know that I’m part of something important. 
At least pretty. Peaceful or promising.
I begin to wonder what to do. Am I a helper, a giver?
What meaning does this place have, and myself in it?

Growing up means thinking about things 
You’ve never thought about.
Seeing water and wondering how it got there,
Why it’s going away, and who are we
to be here in its presence? Is it regal, is it sad?

An ecosystem, many animal tracks, we walked a long time
and where we stood used to be 20 feet of water…
If this lake disappears so will the animals.
Islands aren’t islands anymore
coyotes are invading, people are invading.

Needing, begging, pleading for help,
Slowly shivering and drying her tears,
Yet, no one seems to hear her.

A little lake not being able to reach its full potential.
Not because it can’t but because it needs help, much like us.

You rain down on us, a melancholic rhythm
We hear the wails of your rain
We will save you, oh Great Lake.

There’s mountains with snow,
I hear a raindrop coming from the roof.
I walked to the lake and touched the cold water.
It felt like a relief.

Magnificent white snow mixed with dull brown sand
together making such a weird sensation
a pretty and slushy mixture to walk on…
The sight of the horizon. The walk to the shoreline
taking longer than expected.

Walking along the shore, I saw numerous things.
Dead birds, flies, and Brine Shrimp crystalized
Draining, dying, drying -- the lake has gone
What are we doing that is wrong? 

Snow, and the cold air whirling around me,
I saw a rabbit on my way to the lake,
The sun came out for a while.

How many lives does it take to notice?

It feels so peaceful when you’re down by the lake
because you’re one with nature.

I see the patterns left by the winds,
snow and rain
footprints from the other than
human who find refuge 
who have found refuge here
from generation to generation…
Save her  
Save our Great Salt Lake
Our Refuge
Our Home
She is not OTHER she is
part of US.

If I could describe this place without knowing what it was called,
I would call it a hopeful place, a place that is a resource of life,
a place that can still be saved.

This chorus of praise and lament for the poem irreplaceable was collectively written by members of the Lancer Action Team from Granger High School who came to witness the lake on 2/3/22 with their teacher Jesse Alex. Voices include Hannah, Haidee, Maria, Diana, Kimberly, Glory, John, Michelle, Norally, Karen, Joanna, Tyler, and Jesse Alex. Garet was also here and wrote this piece. KUER’s report by Emily Means includes Glory reading her words aloud.

28. Verse: From Dusk to Dawn by Garet Martin

Silent snow
Clouds in rows
Sacred ground
Sands atoll
A brisk balm breeze
Blows and blows
Silence in the air
Blankly I stare
Ripples of water
The lake is slaughtered
Crowds call as the rain falls
To no avail the lake won't prevail
The creatures will weep and the dusk will seek
Getting our eyes and lungs to breathe
When the last house will fall
We will take up our own call
Pleading and writing
The tide is declining
The risk is here and almost gone
It will turn from dusk to dawn
And when we wake
There will be no Great Lake

29. Verse: Brine Shrimp Rebels by Brooke Larsen 

Praise the Brine Shrimp Rebels, 
the ones who speak up for salty water that
stings skin and offends nostrils. 
Praise those who find beauty 
in the strange and unfamiliar. 
Yet how familiar you are, 
Great Salt Lake,
our namesake,
your glisten at sunset that whispers, 
you are home.
Your shoreline recedes and now
we hear you sing with Joni Mitchell,"
You don't know what you've got til it's gone."
Praise your unseen labor, 
absorbing our waste, 
protecting us from ourselves. 
We say 1700 lines of praise for you, 
1700 versions of thank you and I'm sorry. 
Praise the salt, the sagebrush, the precious waters of home.

30. Verse: Inspired By A Lake by Kai Lameman

Its warm waters carry my dead
Weight body effortlessly.
Its vast blue ripples
Paint the Oquirrh Mountains beautifully.
Its rose liquor shores
Intoxicate me.
Its tributaries give supplies
To migrating bird families.
It offers crops of brine flies
To feed their young babies. 
It provides lumber
For sturdy nest shelters.
It hosts vibrant beach parties
For the hard at work
Tundra swans, Ruddy ducks,
And Bald eagles,
Who jam to the song,
“When I’m Sixty-Four,"
By the Beatles.
The Great Salt Lake
Is a mentor.
It showed us
How to build a city. 

Note from the poet: When I first stood at its shores at 13 years old, I remembered seeing it being so active and dynamic like a big sprawling city. I now realize that it is what inspired the growth of our state capital. 

31. Chorus: when the women walked to the water

Ancient land
Thousands of feet walked before mine
Who am I to take it for granted
The immense qualities she has
That make life as it is.

Before we convened to speak of healing the lake
I got a call to help heal a family member
– today was a day to heed the call the heal.

The awe of the swans, the pelicans,
the multitudes, is disappearing.
Buffalo wandering into backyards,
the degrading air quality.
Lake effect? What lake effect?

A pickled bird, neck broken from salt
In flight from California, the lake reminds me of the ocean
I knew the lake when this water
came past the ranger’s check in.

Sparkling salt-show and the remnants of birds
a heady, nostalgic scent.

A sustainer of life that feels,
at first, unfriendly to humans–
stark, odiferous, with biting insects–
but a sustainer of our lives too
through extravagant ecosystems
which bring birds and lift water to mountains.

Silent glass of a lake
Snow, sand, blue, gray
Mountain surrounding as guardians.

When grandma Dolly died, grandpa Grator sunk
The lake buoyed him up as he solo
Sailed himself back to life.

On my first trip to Great Salt Lake in 1997
I was taken by the salt crystals growing on the rocks
just below the water line. I took one of those rocks home.
As I was driving I saw my arms dry thick with salt.
Evidence of my incursion in the Great Salt Lake.

Dreary snow covers what used to be submerged sand.
The thought of legends from an inspired 4th-grader
Have become the dredged pit of human ignorance .
If only the human experience rewarded
wonderful imaginations of salty merriment.

Forty years’ plunge, from high to low
Not graceful, like a swallow
From the eighties, overflowing, to now
Four decades later, plunge to death on the rocks below.

Grade school girl scouts peddled across
the causeway to camp on the island.
40 years later, we are still bonded by that adventure.

When I stepped off the ramp onto the earth
I felt like I didn’t belong,
that my human shoes didn’t belong
stepping on her long covered tender parts.

Bonneville’s bounty
Legacy disrupted
Matricide manifested

Women who weep and ache for the
Demise of the lake –
Action will reverberate and make
Waves in the soul of
Our great body.

It’s a sad story
We came to our Great Salt Lake
Miles of empty beach.

I mourn the loss of the lake of my childhood.
The loss of floating – once long ago with my grandparents,
never today with my grandchildren to come!
I mourn the loss of boat rides with friends, from now dead marina docks.

In an amazing ecosystem of water, sand, reef, and birds.
A healing atmosphere as far as you can see.
I am a sailor who honors and respects the water
grateful for all the beautiful sailing memories she has given me.

I will educate, advocate, and be a voice for Great Salt Lake.

Inertial humps are worth the effort.

Every evening I look west to the lake.
I am comforted watching the sun set
over this body of water.

I now think of Great Salt Lake as a sentient being.
I wish for the lake to bloom again.

This chorus of praise and lament is a tapestry written by the members of The Utah Women's Forum who spent time together studying and witnessing Great Salt Lake at Antelope Island on 2/5/22.

32. Verse: Dead Sea by Maxine Hanks

I wait to take my mood from the colors my mind finds out here
where horizontal water mirrors sky, in cobalt blue or cool slate gray.
Graceful gulls glide and caw high above a mundane humanity,
far beyond a sentient insanity so indifferent to nature.
Desert life is born in sand to expire or learn to fly, as
an ancient body of life-giving water is slowly dying.

33. Verse: Home at Last by Kim Pederson

walking, bracing for the errant twig on the worn path to the canoe     
the assault of acrid scents of decay and brine shrimp colluded my inhale   
stopping the natural action of breath   
i mouth breathed pushing time forward and through
the unpleasant stench from entering my body     
failing, not matter how i wanted it to be mild and easy
anticipating the movements and sounds of canoe in water   
my stoic rowing partner showed her complaint in contorted facial expression   
i growled and mumbled not expecting a response,
something she was not good at giving in any circumstance   
stepping in rocking side to side
sitting as firmly one might imagine on canoe seat moved by wind and water     
we rowed in silence     
a silence i craved which settled my mind and opened my heart,
uninterrupted splendor, otherwise seldom felt     
the water was clear, rhythmic patterned, 
my heart beating. synchronized in water wave time   
i left my body and joined the air,
wave and the silence of the great salt lake   
home at last

34. Verse: Two Floats by Rachel Posner 

1st float - Another World
A slow walk into the water,
awed by the slow rise of the brine flies
Like a murmuration of the smallest starlings
Settling into the stillness
A mirror reflecting back all that is
Brine flies covering my body
The sweetest sensation
What a surprise

2nd float - A Prayer
A slow walk into the water,
awed again by the slow rise of the brine flies
Finding my way onto my back -
my enormous belly on top of the water
Finally buoyant, finally weightless
The lake generously holding both of our bodies
An offering of my love, my heart
A prayer for ease
24 hours later, my prayer answered
A baby girl birthed

Rachel is a student, a witness, a worshiper, a citizen and a devotee of the Great Salt Lake. She's been making the pilgrimage since she moved to SLC in 2006 and her little one (pictured above) was nearly born on the lake in 2009.

35. Verse: Lady of the Lake by Linda Dalton Walker

Wild, Magical
Soul tugging
Lady of the Lake is a powerful presence wherever I cast my gaze.
Her hair as white as the Salt Flats, blinding me with its shimmer.
Her skin, the color of the dark rich sand where my toes sink.
Her cerulean blue sarong mirroring the hue of the lake
and blowing in the wind that laps gently against my ankles
Millions of birds flock around her,
calling out to her for protection
Can we hear them?
Will we listen to her?

36. Verse: The Strongest Thread by Tiffany Burns

Praise the sun hovering on the horizon lighting our steps as we wander toward the water edge, further out than it's meant to be.
Praise those holding vigil at our beloved Great Salt Lake.
Praise this silent honoring.
Praise the memories of my sweet mom that come to me each time I think of the lake and its cycles of life and death.
Praise the words of Terry Tempest Williams that will always be the strongest thread between my mom and myself.
Praise the book, now shelved in my home, worn pages which have been held by both her hands and mine.
Praise the quote written in her tiny penmanship “hope is the thing with feathers”
written on a sticky note and tucked inside the pages of Refuge.
Praise the faded highlights of some of her favorite passages.
Praise the way I can still find her in those faded pages.
Praise the sun setting across the lake that lasted for nearly an hour.
Praise the light that shifts and changes,
and the perspective that gives us permission to do the same.

37. Chorus: kestrel beckons the drummer’s praise

Talk to your friends…
almost nobody knows about this lake drying up.
I wanted to learn about owls.
You have to learn how to see,
prepare your mind.
I came out with my brother looking for owls.
We didn’t know didn’t know they were gregarious.
Praise seven owls flying right over us.
Now I see them everywhere.

Amen, I hear ya! I concur! da dum da da, da da dum, da dum da da…
and bring it, down low….

My love for the lake is about silence
just coming out here and being still,
about being aligned with the stillness. Praise silence.
Praise the listening.
Praise the communal love we have for the lake,
praise everybody being here together.
And awareness, praise awareness.

Praise shiny dope jackets.
Praise the spirit and the life of the circle.
Praise the power of words, how they move,
how they magically connect
the lake, the people, our ancestors,
the needs of mama Gaia and her cries for help.
Praise the laughter of children. Praise each of you.

I concur! da dum da da, da da dum, da dum da da…
and bring it, back low…

Praise family and our connection to the earth
and the future for our beautiful granddaughter
Praise friendship.
Praise this time with people I don’t know, a few friends I do,
Praise this island for my granddaughter to explore,
Praise finding lichen, praise picking up rocks.

Praise these drums.
Praise beloved earth and sharing this space.
Praise sharing this gratitude.
Praise the preservation of ancient, sacred lands.
Praise the lake for sustaining millions of birds.

da dum da da, da da dum, da dum da da…
and bring it, back low….

I love this place.
I love Antelope Island and the lake.
Started coming out here a few years ago
just to pick up litter and trash,
to teach our child about the beauty of nature, to keep it beautiful.
In this time, we’ve seen the lake level drop.
We want to have it get it back to what it was and just do our part.
We love coming out here, we adopted Ladyfinger Point,
we come out several times a year and just make it beautiful
we hope to keep it beautiful forever.

da dum da da, da da dum, da dum da da…
and bring it, back low….

Praise moonlight bike rides.
I’ve come out with my grandmother and my wife,
come out to see the bison so many times.
Praise hearing that deep snort so close by!
Just come down the mountain.
Praise the blessing of the mosquitos
that feeding so many birds.
Praise water and our interconnectedness—
water flowing in our bodies, this beautiful lake, the ancestors.
Praise microbialites still underwater.
It’s an ancient place and feels that way, blessings to it.

da dum da da, da da dum, da dum da da…
and bring it, down low….

Praise learning how to see.
Praise the ways of the lake.
Praise the love that brought us together in a circle.
Praise drum beat at the center of it.
Praise heartbeat at the center of it.
Praise lake voice at the center of it.
Praise our little part, 
whatever we can do.
Praise science. Praise love. Praise poetry.
Praise spaciousness
and possibility.

Amen, I hear ya!
I concur!
and bring it,
back low.

Gathered from the drum circle with Nels held on Antelope Island 2/4/22.

38. Verse: Farmington Bay by Bree Matheson

Praise to all refuge
To this one kept sacred for birds
(Kept sacred for us)

Praise its hill that used to be an island
From which you can see the thinning channels
And grasses coloring in the dry lakebed

Praise the six AM frost
Praise the gathering shards of ice
Praise the sunsets echoing across the shallow water in every direction

Praise the unworried birds:
The zigzag birds
The leggy supermodel birds
The gossipy squawking birds
The steady nesting birds
The eagles on layover
The blackbirds, the herons, the owls

Praise the worried human visitors
Compel them to action
Grant them solace


Note from the poet: When I was five, we moved into a house that directly overlooked the lake that was, then, filled to the brim. For all those years, she shrank while I grew. As an adult, I bought my first home minutes from her shores; I’ve found solace on her banks, meeting her migrating residents, and watching her luminous sunsets. The lake is my best girl and I'm happy for everyone to love her.

39. Verse: Praise THE Lake by Janice Gardner

Praise THE Lake that connects the Americas
A quarter million Red-necked Phalarope travel
from the oceans of South America to the Arctic tundra,
fueling their 3,000 mile flight with Great Salt Lake's brine shrimp.

Praise THE Lake that supports entire populations of birds
The largest breeding locale for the tiny shorebird, the Snowy Plover. 

Praise THE Lake that is life for the birders
One of the greatest destinations for birders
with nearly 300 species thrilling amateurs and experts alike. 

Praise THE Lake that is life for the hunters
A 150+ year old tradition of sport and waterfowl conservation. 

Janice Gardner is a wildlife biologist whose greatest memories are birding on Great Salt Lake. She provides science based solutions for wildlife conservation at Sageland Collaborative, a Salt Lake City-based non-profit. 

40. Verse: Take my Measure by Mary Anne Karren

At Great Salt Lake three frigid mornings
hanging out with thousands of Northern Shovelers.
The birds, beleaguered on all sides:
coyotes walk to the water and snatch sleeping ducks,
unsnatched comrades barely register the event.

A group of bald eagles wheel around
flushing up a mad frenzy every few minutes.
Hunters out in force, cruising the ice in airboats.
Northern harriers feast. And then there is me,
lying there on the ice in the dark.
Ducks seem to register a lesser threat.
I keep coyotes and eagles away.
They take my measure,
and then climb onto the bank next to me,
tuck their heads under their wings,
and fall asleep in a semi-circle
around me. Meanwhile, the sun rises quietly.

Mary Anne is an amateur wildlife photographer who has spent many hours photographing birds at the fantastically beautiful and rapidly disappearing Great Salt Lake, largest saline lake in the hemisphere and an essential habitat for ten million migratory birds. Her goal is to capture evocative images that inspire curiosity and emotional connection to the birds and the unique environment they depend on. You can view Mary Anne’s work on Instagram & on her website.

41. Verse: LANDING by Karla Feindt

Newly wed,
she peers out the window
at the Great Salt Lake below,
pools of colored water she has never seen before. 

Three years later,
this is to be her place.
She loves the mountains,
loves The Lake,
loves her life.

Nine years more,
What God had joined together,
another woman tore asunder.  
“Now you can return home,” her mother
decrees from afar.

Broken and small, she sits at the shore.
A lone bird circles and lands,
water rippling as wings fold in.

She realizes I too have landed.
I am already home.

42. Verse: Almost by Gary Evershed

Almost tipped me over    
in my little 14 foot boat       
with your 2 foot swells   
off Antelope Island…

Almost shot my head off   
hunting chukars with my shotgun      
on Stansbury Island…

Almost choked me with trash    
and nasty debris      
trying to find your         
salty, marshy waters   
by following the Jordan River…

Almost bankrupted me in   
turning the redwood from       
your Lucin Cut-off railroad trestle   
into Trestle Wood Furniture

Almost got arrested twice there, You!    
One time rummaging around      
in the ruins of the old Saltair…

And the other building a campfire   
to cook our lunch      
and rest our horses on the west side of Antelope Island.    
Both times spotted trouble       
coming early    
and narrowly escaped,    
running hard one time,   
riding hard the other, You!…

Almost crashed my plane    
trying to fly your turbulent        
winds as a student pilot,           
and had to land
just past your south shores in Toole…

Almost bit me with a rattlesnake   
while hunting fossils in your foothills…

Almost, Almost, Almost…
I still love ya!
I know you gotta go now…

43. Verse: May There Be Water by Erin Geesaman Rabke

Praise the scent of low tide that arrives on my high desert city porch
A whiff, as if of Cape Cod, from our tideless ancient inland sea

Praise the time we gathered on her shores with maroon robed Tibetan monks
a baby wrapped to my chest
Pouring dried brine shrimp back into the lake to rehydrate their lives
Saving lives creates good karma and who knows, did they come back to life?
Billions of tiny lives returned to the salty water where they belong

Praise the time we took the tandem kayak onto her waters
Laughing, paddling away from the view of the highway
Toward reflections of mountain islands given back to us on her mercurial waves

Praise the tiny fluff-ball baby birds, red and black poofs as if plucked from a Dr. Seuss book,
Who we saw there on the shore.
Even my friend who wrote the book on Utah birds doesn’t know what mystery miracle we witnessed, 
But we saw it
Because there was water in the lake where it belongs

Praise the raucous calls of thousands of tundra swans
A visitation so astonishing, so loud, so abundant
You hold your breath to take it in
You can’t imagine the place without them
You can’t believe you’re lucky enough to see them

May there be water here for thousands of generations
of humans and swans
So the future ones can stand with their own breath held
Their eyes wide and jaws soft 
Gawping at the miracle of thousands of swans gathered and calling
Calling us to notice and to care 
about lives beyond our own

Praise the grief rituals held on her shores
praise the brave grievers who came
Praise the time we stood in a circle in 70 mile per hour winds
And the wind blew right through the grief
scoured us
we had to pause and root so as not to blow away
You have to want your life
And the wind, through our grief, lit up that primal impulse 
to want to live despite the ache

Praise refuge
Praise the impulse to praise
Praise rest areas for birds
Praise marsh hawks flying low over the grasslands

Praise Nan leading the charge
The charge to notice, to love, 
to save our Great Salt Lake
To see that change can come from love

Not outrage, not greed, not looking away
Bearing witness
With a heart overflowing
Recognizing the miracle of being here
Blessed by this ancient inland sea
Our saline lake
who has always been here for us
May we be here for her
Now when she needs us
And always

Erin Geesaman Rabke is a passionate proponent of praise who lives to the Southeast of our Great Salt Lake and who loves its mercurial waters, abundant wildlife, and even its funky fecund aroma.

44. Verse: When Life is a Loan by Pauliina Miettinen

Siunaa päiviä auringonlaskussa ystävien kanssa,
kun elämä on laina-ajalla, 
juhlistaen jokaista uutta mahdollisuutta nähdä
aurinko heijastuen järven
horisontista viimeisen kerran.

Praise the days in the sunset with friends
when life is a loan,
celebrating every new day
and a chance to see the sun again over the lake.

45. Chorus: A Sonnet for Saltair

Worked the hot dog stand when I was fourteen,
to earn enough to keep riding the coaster.
Showers spared us from salt crust sting.
Couldn’t swim, but I learned how to float there—

Our spit-shiney shoes made marks on the wood,
as we danced through the night at the gala.
If you asked, they’d confess, we were quite good,
we turned heads when it came time to salsa.

The floor was so fine, the songs right as rain—
Stan Kenton, Glenn Miller, and Count Basie
At times we burst into song on the train,
riding home from the lake to the city.

How well we all loved, though we smelled of brine—
Riding home we burst into song sometimes.

This sonnet was inspired by the memories gathered from her neighbors at Friendship Manor by Kathryn Anne.

46. Verse: Currents of Memory by Rob Bero

Walking with "God's Dog" the Coyote
on Antelope, Stansbury and Carrington Islands.
Visiting caves on Promontory Point,
walking along the spiral jetty,
catching brine shrimp eggs by the ton,
chasing rogue ostriches on Stansbury Island. Really.
Nothing better than watching the sunset as we sailed
across sparkling waters with gulls, pelicans, avocets, ducks, grebes and F-16s.

No more sailing or naked water skiing, yet great hiking on the islands and beyond.
Imagine no more glimmering water as the sunsets over Farmington Bay and beyond.
Great Salt Lake is a gift from the gods
and there are those who have stolen this saline lake
from us and all following generations.
Great Salt Lake is the heart of Utah, and the heart is drying and dying
as the main vein the Bear River, along with the Weber, Jordan
and the rest of the watery veins along the Wasatch Front
are being stolen from not only the Lake but all future beings.

Imagine the Great Salt Lake as a Heart that has died.

47. Chorus of the blue coyote

Praise sunrise at a unique ecosystem
with stink and birds and beauty.
Crustaceans and reflections with crystalline moonscapes.
Did you see the blue coyote?
Praise salty brine shrimp
surviving in this expanse.

Written by members of the Wasatch Commons Cohousing Community

48. Verse: On the Edge by Kevin Randall

I grew up in small park on the edge
of Great Salt Lake in Hooper
where we were able to wade and swim.
We floated on an abandoned loading dock
we called the alligator
and jumped off into the water.
So much fun!
There was a muddy spot near the park.
When we threw rocks in the ground,
it would make a farting sound.
It’s dried up now.
I recall laying on the trampoline
as a kid, looking up to the sky,
thousands of birds overhead.
They just kept coming and coming!
It felt like the flocks never stopped
making their way to the lake.

They don’t come in those numbers anymore,
now that the water is gone.

49. Verse: sin eater (anonymous)

great sin eater of the valley
consumes corruption
inhales excess
offers up community offal
carried away by serafin in transit
from heaven to hell
or hell to heaven
terminal need not be the end

50. Verse: The Full Moon Sea of Yourself by Sam Wallen

praise for your call
the way you reached the center
of a woman dreaming
slipped your way in tidal
began pulling me too
with the full moon sea of yourself
toward the glimmering horizon of hope
that keeps us moving toward
what seems impossible to reach
toward every present
and disappearing body
of water

praise for your salinity
buoyant still in our insanity
praise for your distillation

praise for brine shrimp
all the birds I don't know how to name
and that special kind of sand
that exists nowhere else on the planet
a name that sounds like reverence enacted
a reverence one can hold
or let flow
through a hand

praise for your ancient girth
your narrow valley hips
stretching up Parley's Canyon
across the Continental Divide
into the Rocky Mountain plateau
praise your wide Wasatch arms
your igneous gateway
that has always led me

praise for your witnessing
me learn how to ski like one of the boys
praise for your witnessing
me marry a man I love
praise for your offering
a pink, indigo orange sky painted sunset
to the beginning of a new friendship
with a poetic soul friend 

praise for your teaching
me how I too might become
hospitable, and perhaps
irreplaceable to the entire
sea of creation--breath
of human and non-human
beings, alive

praise for your absence
becoming presence
becoming absence
becoming presence

51. Verse: Suya Türkü by Abdal Aşık

Kuru dallar var etrafta
Toprakta çiğ taneleri
Yağmış geceden sabaha
Çağıralım diye güneşi

Biz ikimiz ve Sophia
Kalamayız bu kadarla
Yaşamımıza su gerek
Gerek su da sağ olmaya 

Abdal Aşıktır bu derde
İster ki buluna çare
Yoktur bize başkaca öz
Vermek gerek eli ele


Dried branches are all around
Ground is full of dew
Dropped from night to morning 
Making us one with the sun 

Sophia and the two of us
Together we can be vigorous
Water is life; life is water
To save it we need you to join us.

Abdal is Aşık for this matter
He wants everyone’s ear
There is nothing more essential
Let us hold each other’s hands

Abdal Aşık lives in Greater Salt Lake as a bard from Anatolia. He gets his strength to write his poems from his cultural roots. Along with his poetry, Abdal is also a bağlama (Anatolian stringed instrument) performer. As he learned from his grandparents, he believes that everything on earth carries a soul and therefore pays attention to the importance of water to sustain life.

52. Verse: Never Lost at her Shores by Sophie McCarron

What a serene sound, somehow deep and shallow all at once. 

What a calming color, as if she has never hurt a soul, as if she couldn’t. 

And what pain she’s gone through I think, as I see the polluted expanse of her body. 

She has shallowed, leaving behind the crust of her past self, now small and fragile, but still beautiful as she ever was. 

I remember visiting the Great Salt Lake as a child, walking through the clear water, as she reflected the beauty of the sky, almost achieving the soft blue above her. 

I remember the soft layer of salt her body left on mine, and the kiss of her sandy floor. 

I miss the birds. I miss the salty smell that some dislike.
It reminds me of days at the beach and how peaceful it is to walk through water so shallow.
It feels as if you could walk for an eternity and the water would never rise above your sandy ankles. 

I remember being so careless, not minding that my clothes were soaked, just wanting her to surround me and hold me. 

When you watch the sunset at the lake, you feel surrounded by sky, as the lake imitates the beauty of the clouds.
You feel the comforting chill of her lulling the life around her into a sleepy rest.
The flow of the breezes lazily stumbling across the sand and through the grass. 

As I stop to examine the prints of a coyote that wandered across the expanse of her shore before sunrise,
I understand that her comfort is shared by all the beings she loves. 

Some call this land lifeless, her salty tears housing nothing but the brine shrimp.  

But as I see the beautiful rocks nestled in the sand, the paw prints of coyotes and feathers left behind during flight,
I understand that the life that surrounds her is not nonexistent, it is only a lazily kept secret meant for those who observe. 

I thank her for the comfort of her breeze, for the sweetness of her pink tones at sunrise.
For the wonderful feeling of home and safety she affords me, as if I could never be lost at her shores.  

I taste her salt as my brother splashes in her expansiveness. I watch him play and grasp his hand. 

I confirm to her that my children will feel the comfort she has shown me and my mother.
How she has held us. 

But will they?

53. Chorus: depending on the season

praise small details overlooked
praise the causeway, pathway to magic
praise the sparkling fairy dust
falling from a winter morning sky 

praise the call of meadowlarks in spring
praise sunsets spilling gold across the lake
praise the vast, open space and vistas
and the island’s raw, rugged landscape

praise the wonder and joy of visitors
as they discover this amazing place.
praise watching those who don't believe us about gnats,
swatting at their heads, running for cover…

praise solitude and deafening silence
praise being able to see the milky way at night
praise the way the topography looks different
depending on the season and the light.

Lines by stewards of Antelope Island State Park, Wendy Wilson and Trish Ackley.

54. Verse: 8 things to say to future beings by nan seymour

we watched a murmuration of blackbirds
and longed for you to see them

the feathered appendages of brine shrimp
reminded us of wings

we heard the lake cry for thirst,
some went there with water

we grieved desiccated reefs
those bone yards of fresh death startled us

we thought of you as we memorized birds
we wondered if the last bird on earth
would be small and brown

we prayed the day would never come.
we prayed with more than words

when we watched a bison steam through his nostrils,
we traced his great snow-plow head
with the ink of our attention

you are with us now as we write,
may you recognize these forms of life.

Part 4: Offerings from a Lake-facing People

What do we have to offer? In the midst of our vigil on February 19th, 2022, over a hundred people gathered on Antelope Island to praise. These lines were read aloud to our beloved Great Salt Lake by the poets themselves. The lake beckoned us and we came.

55. the first praise chorus: a salty yes!

praise bright green grass on the edge of saline water
praise raindrops falling gently
praise the halo of brine flies
praise eared grebes
praise muted desert tones fading into each other
gradient yellows and greens, a reminder of life
praise boats drifting as birds follow
praise the reverence of the duck hunter,
a promise of connecting for shared purpose
praise buoyancy
praise white pelicans flowing through brisk desert wind
seven in formation
a jet flies overhead to say hello
a lake of life, a lake of flight
salty yes, lifeless no

lines written at Farmington Bay Refuge at the brutalist picnic table on owl hill; by derek, chandler, denise, cleve, & nan

56. Verse: To the Baby Pelican by Willy Palomo

praise the baby pelicans
salt-white feathers tarred
like filthy and immaculate
prophets.   we must all
be notorious, ready to die
for your gospel of crack
and eggshell.  each of
your feathers is a quill,
a page of the book of life,
black with our gasoline.
nobody reads books
anymore for fear of what
is written about them.
heirs of air and cloud,
blood brothers of breath
and wind.  your bones
are snow that never melts,
only glistens.  you are
disgusting and pure.
the guilty condemn you
only because innocence
pains them.  it pains me
to see the twisted hay
of your feathers,  the weak
air melting beneath your
wings until you land like
a ripped grocery bag,
eggs broken, milk claiming
a continent on the tile.
ravens will dive. foxes sniff.
they will join you in your
sticky grave, devoured
by their own hunger.
Rest now, young one.
This pain is for the living.

57. Verse: Ways of Knowing by Christy Bills

There are ways of knowing a lake.
From 7th grade Utah history class:
Grainy black and white photos and maps,
historical texts that dry out all the juiciness.
“A very salty, lifeless lake, not much for pioneers to harvest,
But a point of wonder for restless travelers.
Salt in the desert! A remnant of an ancient lake
that filled this western basin
where fish once swam, and camels
and giant sloths prowled the periphery.”

I learned that from books
Before I found other ways to know –
from teachers who encourage the eating of pickleweed,
from noisy children eager to explore,
And know the wisdom of soft mud between their toes,
From fervent birds who travel thousands of miles to pay homage,
From enduring invertebrates who claim their stake in a marginal landscape,
And mostly from letting the aloneness of the lake tell its own story.

To know the peace the lake offers,
wade into it.
Ignore the dancing wall of flies
guarding its shore and walk, and walk, and walk.
Relish the giddiness that comes from allowing yourself to march off into a body of water. 
You can do that in this lake’s surreal shallowness.
Lay back, arms wide, and float.
The saltiness wants to hold you up,
not let you down.
She’ll welcome you.

Your skin will know the itchiness of salt drying on it,
Which also makes you sparkle if the sun is shining.
You can see the ephemeral sculptures
crafted by sand, salt and gentle waves,
sometimes foot high rounded shapes
that have a watery intelligence to them,
a pictographic language, telling you a salty secret.

The way the lake knows how to calmly reflect the sky.
The way this lake knows how to absorb
the noise of people and our zooming cars and our growing cities.
She’s not a loud, lapping body demanding attention.
For a lake, she’s quite still. She knows how to be quiet, how her size can make silence.

When the busy people were new in this valley,
they played in the lake, marveled at it, built resorts
and ferris wheels and danced beside it.
They knew it in a Dionysian way that we don’t.

Through a microscope, you can pry into one of the lake’s more intimate details
And know her roundness, how smooth each grain of sand is.
Not a jagged bit of rock, that is the crumblings of bigger stones.
The sand is of the rare oolitic type. That’s a syllable for each “O” - which seems right.
Each granule a smooth pearl, a tiny blooming, layering up of calcium.

Only a few plants have the peculiar, necessary knowing – how to thrive here
Greasewood, iodine bush, shadscale, pickleweed –
Their names tell you they are hardy,
full of tricks.
They deftly embrace, exude and extract that which poisons other photosynthesizers.
Halophilic they are called. Salt loving.

Millions of birds know the lake.
You can hear the red-winged blackbirds brutish call
on the reeds while the geese honk overhead.
Gulls will run along the muddy shore, beaks open,
catching a bellyful of breakfast.
Pelicans choreograph their commutes.
A fashion show of duck varieties that defy imagining, bob serenely.
Delicate avocets and stilts pick their way through the shallows like finicky shoppers.
They all know the way the lake provides.

Another way to know the lake—
Through the memories of ancient animals that flourished here.
For thousands of years this lake was their home,
they swam where we breathe now.
Do their ghosts still glide down I-15,
around the Walker Center building,
up over a Costco, hunting?
The lake must have seemed eternal to them,
their generations before them, after them,
knowing nothing but forever lake,
Birthing and dying among plants only our geologists can name now.
You can still see the ripples of the lake’s waves
Carved into our arid hillside’s peach-colored rocks.

My heart and eyes know the tiny, pink,
continually waving brine shrimp.
“Hello,” they say, “do not forget us!”
the last remaining citizens of an ancient watery kingdom,
so grand you’d never believe it.

Once I met a jogger on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail,
a visitor from out of state. She stopped to ask me,
where the lake was – the Bonneville.
I wanted to part the curtains of time – all around us.

Ways of knowing from science class –
the Great Salt Lake was once enormous.
It gets its saltiness from the build-up of minerals
that come from its feeder rivers and concentrate there,
having no outlet.
Its waters reach no ocean.
Water flows into it, and the only way out is up.
The water rises, clean of all impurities, into the clouds
and then falls back to Earth, onto us,
Onto our urban gardens, our hopeful orchards, the hillside’s wildflowers
and the houses big and small,
And in season, gracing us with quieting snow.

Because she goes nowhere but up,
she’s called a terminal lake.
She has nowhere else to go.

58. Verse: The Smell of Boats by Jaimi Butler

I remember electric air
Disconcerting being in a metal boat
The only thing for 1,700 square miles.
The radio would start buzzing
I worried the lightning would find me

I remember my friend Pat
I would collect brine shrimp
He drove and fixed salty boats
Tom Waits played in the scavenged tape player
He introduced me to the people of the lake

I remember the sound of ice breaking
Flows of freshwater would freeze
Lake currents would force the ice
The anchor line would slice the ice
Popping and shooting the breaking ice 

I remember the boat settling into the water to stop
After the anchor line caught it would be silent
I remember the silence and the stillness
We would close our eyes. And take it all in.
The smell of the shrimp, grebes, salt, boats

I remember the smell of the boats. 
They smell worse than Great Salt Lake
The petroleum smell of the gas, kerosine, the exhaust, the oil.
The men who lived on their boats

I remember that it sucks when you have to poop
On a boat
Even worse… peeing off a boat while pregnant
Having your period
There is no privacy on the salty boats.

I remember the leg numbing waves
the hard shocking bumps from dense water
I would try stabilize my pregnant swollen belly with my arm
My John may have been scrambled
On an exuberant lake in the boat of a brine shrimp harvester

I remember diversity
Salt content, people, birds, weather, lake levels, food
Alaskan salmon, sushi, smoked meat,
Chile verde, ziploc baggies of frozen dinners
Lattes on the lake, vodka from other saline lakes, wine

A note from the poet: I have experienced the very highest of highs and lowest of lows at Great Salt Lake in my short 46 years, half of those years spent in the salt and water and mud learning from our lake. I will never shut up about our lake.

59. Verse: 1,237 Steps by Chloe Skidmore

It takes 1,237 steps to get from the top of the dune to the water.
1,237 steps in silky beach sand,
a squishy clay mixture,
the dusty, cracked lakebed.
1,237 steps which must be at least 800 too many.

"Imagine your ankles covered in water,"
she said as we approached the emptiness where the lake should be.
A prayer for restoration,
a belief in her bright future.

I could tell you how Great Salt Lake buoys my heart, provides me a spacious refuge.
I could tell you about walking into the fields of dry microbialites
which is like walking into a field of bodies;
shock and grief that our actions have led to such destruction.
What will the eared grebes eat? Where will the Northern shovelers go?
I could remind you of how critical she is to the Utah economy.

Instead, let's sit next to her,
not expecting anything from her,
her worth not tied to production.

Let's love her as she is,
with appreciation for her stink, her clouds of bugs, her stinging salt,
reverence for everything she's seen.
Let's walk 1,237 steps to her shore
and 1,237 steps back
for as long as we need to,
until our ankles are covered in water.

Note from the poet: I'm someone who knows what it feels like to shrivel and then come back to life. I'm here to witness her next rebirth.

60. Verse: Nuestro Padre el Lago Salado by Jose Arevalo-Rivers

El se viste en azul cielo, blanco y rosa,
nos muestra en sus piernas su bello tatuaje de espiral de piedra,
sus cicatrices nos recuerda de la vida en la cual está llena.

El tan leal nos muestra que es el lugar,
el lugar donde nos ha ayudado a construir casas,
y nos a dado sustento.
Como sus hijos nos ha criado ayudándonos a crecer.

Nuestro padre el lago salado.


Our Father the Salt Lake

He dresses in light blue, white, and pink,
showing us his stone spiral tattoo,
his scars remind us of the life he is filled with.

He is loyal, he shows us he is the place,
the place where he has helped us build our houses,
and has nourished us.
Like his children he has raised us and helped us grow.

Our father the salt lake.

61. Verse: Great Salt Lake Limerick by Nini Rich

There’s a great inland sea we call lake
She gives and she gives and we take.
We will have to work fast
or her gifts will not last.
Act now for the birds and kid’s sake!

Nini grew up on the eastern shore of the ancient Lake Bonneville where the Great Salt Lake was a shining line on the horizon. Now she is pulled toward a deeper immersion.

62. Verse: Language of the World by Amy May

I am desert. I am mountains. I am Great Salt Lake. There are other languages being spoken by wind, water, and wings. ~Terry Tempest Williams

praise the language of the world
written in the salty sand
with coyote nailprints
in thick water drifted ripples

see the determined run of webbed feet
stamped into wet earth before liftoff 
with hollow buoyant bones
and the strength in feathers
all lined up just right for flight

hear the songs of foam balls 
rolling around like shoreline fingers
playing the delicate instrument
of wind and water and iridescent light

feel the perfect circle circumference
of rabbit’s hole in the ground
with prints thumped into the oolites
joyously and cautiously every which way

hold the memory of all the smells
the fecund and airy and open
in doses needed to not just float off
in a place like this
so full of heaven

Note from the poet: I am forever grateful to those who have protected and still work to protect this Great Salt Lake ecosystem, my chosen home base. Here my heart is filled with the language of the birds and animals, basking in the ever-changing palate of land and sky and sea and sun.

63. Chorus: praise be the lanterns

praise her simple, proud name
praise absorbing her divinity
through the window of an airplane
praise the contour of a bison's neck

praise wide-brimmed hats
shading wide-grinned smiles
praise the miles of bumpy dirt road
silence giving justice to laughter

praise gold sun melting into the lake
like butter on a warm pancake
praise be the spiders crowding the path
when it’s warm, signs of abundance

praise be the valley
which once cradled an ancient sea
now vast but not empty
dramatic but not performative

praise the towering sky
praise the way grass flows like water
through blood, salty tears
and ebbing shores

praise be the lanterns we sent
we watched them rise
above her clear and still
praise be that stillness

oh salted shores next to brine broth
oh colorful salt-water patchwork,
thank you for listening
when my voice shook

who can i turn to if not salt-heal
waters rippling in, away, around me
pluvial mum's arms swaddling?

Lines by sue, angela, rachel, michelle, liz, zac, and margo, gathered on 12/14/21

64. Verse: Call and Response by Erika Munson

I am walking to the shore.  
What song do I sing?
Do I praise?
Do I curse?
I praise the dusty buggy stink.
I praise what I know, and what I do not know.
I am walking
“Look!” my father said when I was six.  
I praise the Avocet (bill up) and the Long-billed Curlew (bill down).
I praise the disappointment of my ancestors when they saw the shore.
I praise those who knew the desert long before.
I am walking
Not cursing

Erika Munson is a teacher, a writer, a listener, a grandmother, and a person of faith.  She tries to bring water to places that need it. 

65. Verse: The Birds Will Save us by Therese Berry

The birds will save us
Not gulls saving the pioneers save us
The other salvation
The birds will save us
A direction known
A path to follow
Show up
Keep together
Return to the reliable
Gather when necessary
A calling to survive
To reproduce
Return again and again
Pay attention
Learn from them
Marvel at their wildness
Hold them in your heart
Keep them in your dreams
Stand with them when the time comes
The birds will save us

66. Verse: The Lake was Always There by Chris Cline

Moving to Salt Lake City during the great floods
Watching I-80 ripple as the trucks drove by
Wading through the brine flies, a mile offshore
To float in the salty water and feel the sting of salt on scratches
Flying above the salty surface in a jetboat
Counting the endless specks of stilts walking on water in the wetlands
Going to a show at the Great Saltair
An Englishman observing "Great place you have here--Like the Taj Mahal on Mars"
Picking up drifts of dead gulls on a bitterly cold windblown shore
Mass casualties of botulism, trying to keep more bacteria from infecting the muck
Watching sunsets reflected on the endless inland sea
Visiting an island on the North Arm
Armored by an expanding perimeter of salt on the east side, 
No longer an island on the west side
Baby pelicans looking up dumbfounded at the coyotes
Riding my bike on the causeway
Looking at a stream that was once a bay
The lake now reflecting like a series of puddles in the setting sun
Walking past graders parking lots and warehouses
Further and further to get to the wetlands and away from the people
Hemmed in from all directions
Death of a thousand cuts with no water to wash the wounds
Now I wonder
Will the Lake always be there?

Chris is an environmental toxicologist who has worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for almost 20 years, cleaning up and restoring rivers and wetlands feeding the Great Salt Lake.  She is amazed, inspired and concerned by the lake's toughness and fragility, simplicity and boundless complexity, and hopes that it is here for us all to love and learn from for a long, long time.

67. Verse: Relative Newcomers by Suzy Eskenazi

Praise for her salty, ancient shores,
for the coyote scrambling across the frozen January ice sheet,
for winter’s sunset, and February’s whispered spring promise.
Praise for the jetty, spiraled from black basalt, and her reveal,
which we migrate to witness time and time again.
Praise for these waters that have welcomed and never questioned our desires to be in her presence.
Praise the ancestral homelands of the Goshute, Ute, Eastern Shoshone, and the Shoshone Bannock.
For we are relative newcomers in our love affair with this ancient place.

Suzy Eskenazi is a Utah-based archaeologist and writer who is honored to bear witness and listen to our lake’s ancient stories.

68. Verse: Every Ounce of Wind by Debbie Fetters

I remember the GSL Yacht Club, my dad the harbormaster and the one to beat in all the sailing races on the weekends.
When all the colorful spinnakers went up, it looked like hot air balloons on the water.

I remember eating sardines in mustard sauce atop saltine crackers.

I remember riding on the hydrofoil boat we picked up in San Francisco.
It lifted off the water a good foot or two, riding on top of the lake on the metal skis.

I remember my brother speaking into the intercom system, letting everyone know the history and ecology of the lake. 

Praise the sound of the lap of the water on the bow of the boat.
Praise the sound of the metal sailing lines clanging against the mast in the wind
lulling me to sleep in the cabin, waves rocking me like a baby in a cradle.
Praise the smell of the salty air. The salt crystals drying on my skin. 

I remember the many times my dad rescued people out in the lake
when a Tooele Twister came up and caught them off guard.
I remember watching millions of pink and white brine ship in the water,
floating along like tiny jellyfish without stingers.
I remember getting out of the water after a refreshing swim, brine shrimp clinging to my skin. 

Praise the overnight boat races to Antelope Island,
sleeping on the boat anchored just off the island and sailing back to the main marina the next morning. 

Praise the enormous, brine fly-fed spiders and their giant webs all over the boats. 

I remember sailing our tiny two-person boat to black rock with my brother,
the Robinson Caruso thrill of being old enough to sail to an "island" without our parents. 

Praise the sound of the wench clicking to pull the sails tighter.
Praise getting every ounce of wind off the sails that we could.

69. Verse: A Salty People by Olivia Juarez

You give us the most beautiful sunsets on Earth
Our future wholly depends on whether you are well
We can only thrive when you thrive
We are a salty people
Parched unless you fill
Hungry unless you feed
Jaded unless you bring back the birds
We depend on your magic
It beautifies, it inspires, it gives life
Thank you for your gifts, great salt lake
May our people behold your wonders.

Olivia grew up in the Tooele valley under the greatest sunsets on Earth, courtesy of the Great Salt Lake.

70. Chorus: A Wonder and a Friend by Scarlett Nunez & Riel Canales

If we lose our lake, we lose our identity.
If we lose our lake, we turn into just a city.
If I lost my name, I would turn into just a girl.
We need the life that thrives
in her wind rippled pockets.
We all need the birds that soar overhead.
We need the brine in her waters to call this lake home.
We need this lake.

Great Salt Lake is part of us!
Great Salt Lake is a wonder and a friend.
You wouldn’t hesitate to help a friend
so why would you hesitate to help the lake?
What would Salt Lake City be without Great Salt Lake?
We would be the Salty Crater!
Great Salt Lake has always been there for us,
so why can’t we be there for her?

Scarlett Nunez (age 14) and Riel Canales (age 12) are good friends who participated together in the River Writing workshop on Antelope Island on 1/29/22.

71. Verse: A Ripple by Moudi Hob

That the conditions of life so conspired to birth us is a miracle.
That we are here at all is a mystery.
That our lives are brief and unknowable - a gift.

A time may come when our hearts will dry in ever ending thirst.
Without a home, we'll grow isolated
Islands among each other.
Without the great Salt Lake
We cannot know who we are,
Only that we won't last long.

Among life’s wild uncertainties,
there is a place where
Our hearts pool into a still reverence of salinity,
A momentary ripple of love cast through an unknown.

Note from the poet: Salt Lake City is home, and the Great Salt Lake is what makes it so. I had been expatriated from my first home due to environmental and political disagreement among its people. My hope is that we can value our right to exist peacefully above all else, and see to it that we do.

72. Verse: Valentine for the Great Salt Lake by Sunni Wilkinson

From the sky, your clusters of brine shrimp eggs
          huddle and drift into thick brown swirls
                      like pools of chocolate milk. You, mother
to millions, amniotic sac waiting to hatch
           innumerable legs, flat and upright,
                       that paddle and push tiny boats
of creatures toward each other.
            You are buoyancy of bodies
                       toppled with light. You are love potion.

From the sky you are the brightest glint,
          shine of a gum wrapper, a wild lick
                      across our desert face. From the sky you are
a lost child. I bring my children to you
         and something primordial breathes
                     under our feet. My sons wear
your salty crust, your brush
         of mineral across their bare and freckled legs
                    all the long drive home. They sleep inside

your mottled and endless light.
         You are the place
                   that held me while I listened
to the meadowlark’s song
         on a Spring afternoon so wide
                   and long that nothing but the wind
in the brown grass
         and that single bird
                  moved. You are the heart of stillness,
heart of lark and coyote, pink heart

of Floyd, the flamingo who fled
                       the Salt Lake aviary and lived
                                    in the heart of you
for years, migrating then returning,
                         a sighting of him like a flash
                                      of pink, a thump in the chest,
            a one-legged valentine
                           lost in blue.

Note from the poet: For me, Antelope Island is a place of magic, where light is caught and reflected in every direction, and underneath is always that almost mythical lake, opening the earth into another sky. And a day I spent with my family one Spring a couple of years ago, listening to meadowlarks near the lake, is still one of my most cherished memories.

73. Verse: Take Time to Praise by Elaisha Hallel McKenzie

i remember as a child, my Mother had a dream;
more like a vision, it was waking.
She told me
She saw the rivers & caves,
paved by waterways filled with stalagmites & stalactites
underneath the Great Salt Lake, & the land surrounding.
She saw the earth that currently holds us collapsing
in a terrifying & beautiful way
to open up the passageway to a new world underneath our feet.
i imagined it, so beautiful, as it is now,
intertwining caves waiting for life to make a crowd.
i imagined after the crowd on top fell down into it's fragile infrastructure;
would it look like boiling pots of soft, deep, earth vents through water?
i didn't know why or how it would happen, but, i do now.
i see the inland port being passed over our heads,
like the hundreds more planes it is bound to collect.
i see the water drying, into the bed.
i feel the change a comin',
& it makes the blood bled
& the gratitude for all the time i've had
to cherish the love for this lake instead.
in as many shifts it will change,
it will always be the same.
like water, everflowing,
taking every shape;
the shape of time,
the shape of rhymes,
the shape of yours,
the shape of mine—
the shape of feet that walk on the salt,
the shape of treats we put in the vault,
or duplicate & share at no fault.
memories in our minds,
may we open up our vaults
& connect in deeper ways
lift this collective haze—
take the time to praise
the land that built us to survive;
the land that we make, that keeps us alive.
the symbiotic nature
of this ecosphere
so blue;
the symbiotic nature
of it's creatures here,
so True.
when the time comes for our earth to swallow corruption
we will know we all played our part in the disruption
of the breaking of homeland, by letting love into flow.
taking every shape;
we are resilient as water
at our drop or at our wave.
what ever stage we may be in,
we were made to make this life & the land we inhabit,
not to take.
so we do.
we don't reap or sow,
we listen & stay True.
the land, She speaks low,
so sit silent, we knew
deep in our bones
that She wants us to bloom;
let's do it for us,
& this land of water too. 
Elaisha Hallel McKenzie, e/they/them: I am a child of this valley, which is a child of the lake my ancestors likely fished & swam in. The dying of an ancient lake created the space for all of us to currently inhabit this land— for land life to grow. I'm here to mourn this body of water, as my ancestors likely did for the last Great Lake, & thank Her for the abundance of joy, resources, & memories She's birthed for all of us.

74. Verse: once we had everything by nan seymour

we had an island full of bison
we had a sky full of flight
we had a sea full of northern shovelers
in fall we had an ocean full of grebes—
divers with ruby eyes and dark lashes

we had everything
meadowlarks tuned the morning
coyotes crooned the night
we had beaches full of sand
and each grain a spherical world
not ground, but grown
complete concentric rings
calcified around the feces of fairy shrimp

we had circles full of people bearing stories,
some not easy to tell
and yet the tellers told them anyway–

we had a basin and a range
we lived on a sea floor
we wanted nothing more than what we dreamt at night
as we slept in her generous bed
which once held all the water
the same water which once held my mother
a 9-year looking to hers
and her mother who said look, how the water
holds my large body,
she can hold you…
and then, my mother laughing with delight

and we,were once water too
mirroring the skies, we doubled heaven

we were lyrical, fluid, and lake-voiced–
we had a smell, ripe-with-life
we had salt in our eyes
we felt the sting!

we were a great body reclaiming–
we were a basin yearning to be full again—
we were a great lake dreaming herself whole again–

once she had everything
once we had everything

Section 5: For the Beauty of the Earth

How will we begin to repair the breech between ourselves and the life that loves life? What do we owe our neighbors? What kind of ancestors will we choose to be? How do we thank the lake for her sustenance? If we follow the path of beauty where could it lead?  

75. Verse: a miracle is due by nan seymour

fourth grade in utah public school
i’m ten and tired of pioneers
but i’m listening
because today in history 
we’re studying a miracle:
how crickets once devoured 
our crops, how we plead
until god sent seabirds
who rolled in like clouds
how without them 
we’d have met our end

it was the first pioneering spring
and we thought those tender shoots 
meant survival. we were oblivious  
to what Goshute people knew
how crickets can be caught and dried
ground into flour, made into cakes
instead, we saw a swarm 
and thought ourselves gone

i’d known seagulls from the playground 
crying and diving for crusts— 
but after that lesson 
i saw each of them anew
agent of miracle
more agile than angel
at recess i looked up 
as if to cry back
to the flash of wings
we owe you
now i know
we owe you

there was still farmland then
the freeway, merely planned
and yet, in forty years 
i’d become part of a swarm
desiccating the lake
swift and insatiable, 
it’s past time to be reciprocal
we owe them
and we know
we owe a miracle

76. Verse: lake words by milo

i walk on the shore of an ancient sea.
my steps crackling the exposed lake bed.
i walk across countless bodies 
dead microbialites 
bleached white, tiny beings 
they photosynthesize, provide nourishment
then turn to rock. something about 
biology doing chemistry to become geology. 
some of the first critters to live on earth's surface. 
here they are, laid bare, 
the receding shoreline 
exposing them to air 
and sun. like fish out of water, 
they can not last long. 

may we cry our grief and praise.
see our tears buoy this great body
to swollen shorelines.
may this uprising sweep away 
the dams choking what we know 
this body needs.
may we show up on purpose
may we say i was wrong
wash away the apathy
let the causeways drown
may i-15 go underwater forever. 

open wide the floodgates 
wash away extractors from the shore.
may we never again measure 
this body by economic value.
may we count our blessings 
by the flaps of wings. 
may we be the ancestors who stepped 
in the path of destruction 
and said no more.

77. Verse: Dear Great Salt Lake by Donda Hartsfield

Dear Great Salt Lake,

Thank you.
Thank you for receiving
our rivers,
our birds,
our dreams,
And our regard.

May We all come
to guard
your value, your significance
your treasures.

To treasure your expanse
and all the life that you nourish.

Your history nourishes
our understanding and connection to the past,
which reaches back thousands of years ago, reaching thousands of species
that roamed in and near your waters.
Your expanse in time and space touches us today,
connecting us to the past, while inspiring the future.

At different times of day, the light waves play on your surface,
illuminating truth and beauty,
bringing a lightness to my heart
and a smile to my face.

Thank you for your presence.
Thank you for your patience,
your persistence, and your peacefulness.

Thank you for this chance to recognize you
to witness you,
and to celebrate you.

Your legacy is carved deeply into the heart of these relatives.
Thank you,

78. Chorus: the bone deep feeling of home

Part 1

praise the stillness, praise the stank
praise specular reflection
praise salty slope and lake foam

praise brine fly murmuration
praise each muted desert tone
the briny glisten hidden in the marsh

praise twilight and birdsong
praise microbialites, ancient mothers
beckoning wings from distant lands:

breeding pelicans
swooping avocets
phalarope glitter

praise the mist of early morning
praise her smell on summer evening
praise pastel light

praise spinning, spinning, spinning
praise the courtship dance of grebes
praise the salt-crusted gull on the lakebed

for the-way-you-can-see-her-on-the-globe-praise
for the-complication-of-scale-praise
for oolitic shimmer, for ooids between toes

for island ships on the inland sea
for the-north-south-flyway-praise
for slinking mammals on the periphery

for the-back-and-forth-of-blue-green-praise!
praise the horizon, praise our namesake
praise the first place we saw a blue grosbeak

Part 2

birds, birds, birds, light, light,
coyotes, stinging skin, dancing flies
saline symbol, oasis from busy city—

what is this whiff of ocean on wind?
praise this mirror of mountains
praise sitting on rocks, praise silence

praise waders in the mist
praise being buoyant in heaviness
praise sunset from buffalo point

for the marble swirl of brine shrimp
my feet painting through mud
for clouds on water, praise!

for pickle weed and tremendous storms
for the grounding salty air
for perfectly round grains of sand

for the lore of lake whales, praise!
for this source of artist’s inspiration, praise!
for a child’s wonder, praise!

praise the lake for giving us snow
for providing all with water and life
praise water for bringing more water

praise brine shrimp dangling from my husband’s beard
praise the bumpy, spiral jetty road
praise meditating with bison

for floating together off stansbury island
for taking refugee students to see antelope island
for a father with his nikon, awaiting the moment, praise!

praise being here with fourth graders
how we drew her and sat with her
praise our stories and memories

praise pink floyd the flamingo
praise the awe I felt on my first sighting of the lake
is that salt encrustation or snow?

for the salt in our blood, in our sweat
and yes, for salt in our tears of joy and sorrow
for the salt in our fierce resolve, praise!

Part 3

praise the salt she shares
praise her slopes eroding with time
moody sky and distant mountains

praise ripples
praise crisp reflections
praise the forecast

salt-scented wind bringing snow
praise the indistinct meeting
between sky and water for a sunrise row

praise the texture of salt hummocks
this ecosystem of pronghorn, chukar, and hare
praise dragonflies whizzing through willow tufts

for mosquito-birthdays-with-smoke-red-sunsets-praise!
the most sublimely bloody thing I've seen,
so pink and red and bruised, endearingly grotesque

for the-catalina-sailing-the-wide-open-praise
for the-leg-sucking-mud-praise
praise birbs and borbs, for her lucky charm, praise!

praise floating without needing to try
praise swimming with phalaropes
praise beach-running gulls gobbling flies

praise brine fly and great blue heron,
plentiful sea monkeys, rare
mirabilites, indigo to gold wetlands

praise clean water reclaimed from sewage
praise her colors and shapes from the air
praise magenta reflection

i see her out the window, miles away
thank you for telling us that hope is not enough
now we communicate directly

stand at her shore and praise
the bone deep feeling of home
praise her history and future

behold her diaphanous blush
behold rain-bursts traversing her surface
listen, she is listening to us

praise the praise which has begun to flow
praise porcupines in trees
coyotes hunting in snow

it’s hard work
to save a life
praise persisting

now we are lake-facing people
praise coming home
praise listening.

Details gathered from the attendees of the Save Our Great Salt Lake rally held on 1/15/22

79. Verse: Reckoning by Theresa Holleran

Come to my shores,
It is a longer walk now.
Breathe and taste the ancient life that is churning inside me,
that you cannot live without.
My depths have carried you for so long
Hidden your waste,
Hidden what you would not face.
As my water recedes, these dark, dark secrets come.
Will these revelations then destroy us?
Don’t turn away.
I am your home.
Will it be for you a cleansing or annihilating wind?
You decide.
We are in this together.

80. Verse: I Will by Monica Dobbins

I will move lightly, gently, upon this place with my feet, caring for the earth with my steps.
For the beauty of the earth, I will.

I will touch the water; and I will feel it touching me. 
For the beauty of the earth, I will.

I will find the horizon with my gaze and let myself dissolve into it, like salt dissolves into water. 
For the beauty of the earth, I will.

If I am moved to weep, I will weep; I will let my salt water tears feed this lake. 
For the beauty of the earth, I will. 

I will let this place change me today, going forward with a great salt lake inside my heart,
fed by the sky and the mountains, sustained by creatures great and small, reflecting my own beauty to the world. 
For the beauty of the earth, I will.

Part 6: Opening the Circle

the incantation:
the alive earth sings by Giuliana Serena

once upon a time
there was a poet
who loved a great lake
very much

this poet lived
in a time of trouble
of violence and climate crisis
pandemic and estrangement
diversion and drought

and it came to be
that the lake they so loved
was drying and dying

the poet would sleep
each night
in the lake’s ancient bed
along the foothills
of mountains
shaped by waves

while sleeping
would dream of water:

clouds and ice
snowfall and rain
so much good water
down high alpine streams
pouring down canyons
and dells
making rivers
coursing the landscape
and sinking down
into the great aquifer
deep underground
drawn by the great weight
of the world

while dreaming
could hear this fresh and clear
water / flowing towards the great
saline center of the great
desert valley / filling the great
beating heart of the great
basin bioregion

basin as in bowl / as in refuge
as in lifeblood pulsing
as in migration
as in millions and millions of birds
traveling / as in irreplaceable
as in home

the alive earth sings
the alive earth sings
the alive earth sings

and meanwhile
the machinery clamors on

distracted by the din of
their own making the villagers
had not been listening

continued ignoring
every stark warning
from elders and evidence
from weather and wind
did not comprehend
the peril we were in:

habitat eradicate
water body desiccate
toxic dust obliterate
all that remains
of breathable air

interdependent / our poet
knew this moment called for
another kind of attention:

when the life of someone
you love is at stake you stay
with them / even if it’s too late
even if it’s not enough 

slow down … steady now

time to keep vigil and be with
our beloved: Pi’a-pa / Great Water
Great Salt Lake
mother / ancestor / friend

time to relearn again
and again how to listen
bear witness
stay with and not look away 

remember that
we can still touch
those within reach
we can still taste
the great waters

and when the poet arrived
at the water’s edge
the shallows would swell
to greet them

the poet is here at all times
the here is now in all places

the poet is not alone in this
voices becoming a chorus

tracing the shoreline
they sing with the sea
stars burning in their eyes
feathers sprouting
from their skin
a living bison in their belly
salt underfoot
and miles upon miles
of animated planet

saturation / satiation / restoration

healthy and heavy and whole

there is warmth
within their chest
a great heart
that goes on humming
through the long nights
and a bone-deep
knowing / growing
out in the big wide open

once upon a time
there was a poet
who loved a great lake
very much

you know / some say
the poet never left
our beloved:

mother / ancestor / friend

still sleeps each night
in her soft salty bed

by great waters

while sleeping
keeps dreaming

keeps singing
the dream

into being

 Note: The body of water now commonly known as Great Salt Lake is also called Pi’a-pa / Great Water, in the language of the Goshute whose ancestral homelands along with the Ute, Paiute, and Shoshone Peoples, comprise the surrounding bioregion.


This poem has been created with support from Think Water Utah, a statewide collaboration and conversation on the critical topic of water presented by Utah Humanities and its partners.