Keeping Vigil with Great Salt Lake

When the life of someone you love is at stake, you stay with them.

The life of Great Salt Lake is inseparable from our own. Even as the active collapse of our ecosystem challenges our notions of hope, we devote ourselves to a future shaped by human reverence, humility, and reciprocity.

Led by Nan Seymour, poet-in-residence from the 2022 vigil, the River Writing community stayed with the lake again for 47 days and nights on Antelope Island, January 16th through March 4th, throughout the 2023 Utah State Legislative session. Although we have moved the camper off the island for this season, our vigilance will continue until Great Salt Lake is restored.

We gather to bear witness to her beauty. We gather to grieve. We gather to create beacons of possibility. We gather to increase our tenderness towards brine shrimp, microbialites, and winged citizens of the air. We gather to carry each other through spells of despair. We gather to revere all that is vital and alive.

Everything we do matters. In the face of this crisis, who will we become?

Ways to Be Present with Great Salt Lake

  • Write with us! River Writing is a friendly, community-held writing practice. You don’t have to identify as a writer to participate. A great life is at stake and we are crossing a threshold. Your words matter. Details & registration.
  • Monday- Friday at 7am MST we host a 25 minute lake-facing meditation on zoom. Participate from wherever you are as we turn our hearts and faces to the lake in silence together. Register here
  • Write to Utah lawmakers and urge them to make greater strides. Do not wait for the next legislative session. Write to them throughout the year.
  • Follow the Great Salt Lake Vigil with Nan on Instagram

Principles of the Vigil

  1. Devotion: We turn our hearts and faces towards the lake.
  2. Presence: We offer the lake our calm, steady presence. We are here to witness water and to listen.
  3. Acknowledgement: We acknowledge Indigenous lands and support Indigenous leadership. We acknowledge the life of the lake as inseparable from our own.
  4. Repair & Restoration: We seek to repair harms we have done and to restore right relationship with water.
  5. Rights of Nature: We proclaim and uphold sovereign rights for Great Salt Lake and all water bodies.
  6. Behold the Future: We dedicate our efforts to kin who are coming, human and beyond-human.
  7. Reverence: We cultivate a tender regard for all life forms: land forms, water bodies, elements, and species.

Invitations for Utah Lawmakers

  • Proclaim and uphold Great Salt Lake’s legal rights to live, flourish, and be restored. Acknowledge and protect personal rights for the lake that are at least on par with the personal rights of corporations.
  • Join us in the morning online for lake-centered meditation.
  • Proclaim and support a minimum lake level goal of at least 4198 feet above sea-level.
  • Permanently protect Bear River from any future development. Cease collecting sale tax for Bear River Development and other harmful water projects. Divert all existing funds to the Great Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement Trust.
  • Seek guidance from Indigenous leadership to repair our relationship with water. Study The Bluff Principles for the Colorado River. This carefully articulated vision also applies to Great Salt Lake.
  • Lead us to live within our means in terms of water.

Resources for Lake-facing People

Reading List

A Statement from Vigil Scientist-in Residence, Jaimi Butler:

“Great Salt Lake’s ecosystem is collapsing before our eyes. Increasing salt content and habitat loss in the main body of the lake are making it uninhabitable for the brine shrimp and flies that feed entire species of birds. The birds have no other place to move. We have no time left to prevent the dire ecosystem consequences wildlife and humans will experience over the coming years. It will take us decades of sustained effort to return enough water to the lake to restore habitat and rebalance salinity. Furthermore, we must commit to adaptive management in perpetuity. 

The amazing thing about our lake and its creatures is their resilience and flexibility within  a wide range of environmental conditions.  Brine shrimp release durable and long-lasting eggs, tiny living time capsules, which hatch when conditions are right. With optimal water conditions I don't think we could stop shrimp from repopulating the lake. Microorganisms become dormant when encased in salt and can re-animate when released. Even some bird populations have increased despite vastly increasing human populations. For me, the uncertainty lies in how the parts of the ecosystem will reassemble once we return water to the lake and if this new balance will support the vitality we have known in the past.  

Great Salt Lake remains full of possibilities. It is imperative for us to work together to get water to the lake for the wildlife and humans that live in this important ecosystem.”

Thank You! 

  • Wendy, Trish, and all the stewards of Antelope Island State Park. 
  • To the many members of the River Writing Community whose support and presence made both vigils possible and improbably joyful.
  • Utah Humanities for your essential support.
  • John Meier and the filmmakers of PBS Utah for documenting this community offering to Great Salt Lake.
  • Rachel for loaning your camper in 2022 to give the vigil its first home, and Amanda and Pablo for offering yours to house the vigil in 2023