Nan Seymour: The Great Salt Lake has a right to live and be restored

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Exposed and dying microbialite fields of the Great Salt Lake, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Microbialites thrive in an extensive shallow-shelf environment and are at the mercy of the ever-changing lake level. Brine flies feed on microbialtite which is important for life cycle of the brine flies that shorebirds feed on.

Dear neighbor,

The water which flows from my faucet is melted from snow made by Great Salt Lake. Like many of you, I sleep in the lake’s prehistoric bed. For 47 days and nights last winter, during the 2022 session of the Utah Legislature, I kept a vigil on Antelope Island along with a community of writers.

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

Vigil writers assembled a book of over 2200 lines of praise and lament for the lake. The poem called irreplaceable is a collective cry for the lake’s restoration. Within it, diverse voices identify the lake as a mother, a mentor, a father, a midwife, a grandfather, a refuge, and a friend. One witness calls the lake a great heart.

Who is the lake to you?

Among other possibilities, the lake is a great protector. For over a century and a half, the saline waters have saved us from ourselves by blanketing toxic heavy metals dumped into our watershed. Even now, what is left of her body lies between us and a perpetual dust storm. If we stop choking off her life force, she would continue to protect us from our poisons.

After walking to the water, one vigil keeper said “I now know the lake to be a sentient being.” This knowledge is readily available. Go to the lake or imagine yourself at the shoreline. Pause at the water’s edge long enough to listen. Consider her vast and vibrant life. You too will be able to sense the dynamic intelligence of a life born before recorded time.

The lake has an inherent right to live, flourish, and be herself. What we once deemed wastewater is the inestimably precious lifeblood of a hemispherically-essential ecosystem.

There are many precedents for granting “Rights of Nature.” Among them: In 2017 the New Zealand Parliament granted legal sovereign rights to the Whanganui River. For the last five years, these rights have been upheld.

In 2020, The Nez Perce Tribe General Council recognized the Snake River as a living entity with rights: “to exist, flourish, evolve, flow, regenerate — and a right to its restoration.”

When we recognize Great Salt Lake’s right to live and to be restored, we will begin to repair our relationship with water overall.

We will block US Magnesium’s applications to dredge new canals meant to continue extracting the ever-receding lake. We will raise our voices and make our objections heard before the public comment period closes on October 27.

We will demand that Bear River Development funds be reallocated to restore Bear River. We will uplift Indigenous leadership and voices who remember water as the sacred source of life. We will begin to repair the breach between humans and the rest of the living world. We will divest from harm.

The lake is crying “I thirst.” We must respond with water.

We’ll be keeping vigil again during the session in 2023. Meanwhile, we implore you to be vigilant with us. Raise your voice on behalf of a suffering neighbor, our generous protector. May we, at last, reciprocate the lake’s protection.

Restoration and repair will be led by ordinary broken-hearted people who are paying attention, by me and by you. Let us turn our hearts and faces toward the lake and do everything we can do.

In devotion to life,

Nan Seymour

Nan Seymour is the founder of The River Writing Collective.