Christopher Perkins: A love letter to the Great Salt Lake

(Planet) A satellite image of the Spiral Jetty, in the north end of the Great Salt Lake, taken on July 3, 2011.

Dear Great Salt Lake,

Each time I step foot into your waters, I am filled with a wondrous terror. You give refuge to a variety of plant life, algae, coyote, bison, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, mule deer, California gulls, brine shrimp, numerous shorebirds, waterfowl and insects. Even migratory birds stop by for their annual visit.

Your vast wetlands support so much life to hundreds of flora and fauna. I marvel at the ecosystem you helped create. I love how you create incredible snowpacks in the Rocky Mountains dozens of miles away. You give so much in supporting so much life in and around your salty waters.

I realize some are repulsed by your smell. Is this why so many treat you badly? Or want to forget about you? Your lake stink is real, but it makes you even more beautiful to me. All the life you support means there will be decay. You cannot hide this smell, and it has helped protect you from crowds of people for all these years. You are naturally shy and prefer to be left to your own devices. I can see and honor that — and your spacious body.

I remember as a child swimming in your sumptuous body. You supported me then just as you support us today. You helped me feel buoyant. With family, I even sailed atop your waves to Antelope Island. In your presence, I walked each step with care upon your ancient face. Even though the land you envelope looked inhospitable, I knew you support life. I saw the evidence everywhere in the form of roaming creatures and remnant bones.

The Newe, or Goshute, lived and shared in your presence since before recorded history. Early white settlers were attracted to your bounty and possibility. Industrialists poked holes all over your body looking for oil to extract from you, but you resisted giving in so easily. Settlers brought their animals to graze until you had nothing more to give, so they eventually went away. You have hosted so many inquisitive bodies.

Others who’ve heard about you may not know your beauty. And indeed your spicy character can make you difficult to love. I love this about you. Some may even detest you and intentionally pollute your body. But I know you are strong. You take in so much.

Three tributaries — the mighty Bear River, Jordan River and Weber River — help feed you. Today you are choking because these rivers are being dammed and diverted more than ever; less rain falls into you, so you are shrinking. The face of your beauty is changing.

Even though your barbed character has turned off many tourists, artists have noted your natural beauty. Alfred Lambourne wrote on you, “Our Inland Sea”. Robert Smithson even honored you with a large earthworks coil, the Spiral Jetty. Even though it was fully submerged when he finished building it, the Spiral Jetty seems to now be permanently exposed to the air elements as your energy levels are running so low. It changes as you change. Every time I see you, I experience you in a new way.

You trap toxins so that people in the Salt Lake Valley can live without being bothered by them. You absorb emissions littered from the toxic plumes of smokestacks around your shores and automobiles darting back and forth across the valley floor and mountain ridge.

It’s no small thing what you do for us. You help keep heavy metals and rich mineral dust sunken to your vast floor. You keep a potentially toxic dust bowl at bay. I know you wax and wane with the seasons, but today you are constricted today like never before, and you are experiencing a lot of stress.

You take everything the valley has to give. Your filtering capacities amaze me. You even accept water that has traveled underground along the valley floor for thousands of years. You reject nothing. You are so forgiving. You are the embodiment of ancestry itself. You trace your history to a prehistoric body of water, Lake Bonneville, your mother. A remnant of this massive lake, you have created strong defenses, but you might not live for much longer.

You may not be the lake everybody wants you to be, but you are my lake. We need you more than you need us.

Love, Your Neighbor,


Christopher Perkins

Christopher Perkins was born and raised in Salt Lake City. He is a writing and literature instructor for the English Department and Honors College at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

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