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Episode 2: Making Love for the Lake Visible

Updated: Apr 25

Nan and Sarah smile at each other on the steps of the Utah State Capitol Building. They are each wearing handmade local bird costumes.

Our second episode is all about love – how the Great Salt Lake sparks love connections, and the power of love in saving this body of water. Co-host Olivia Juarez speaks with their grandparents about falling in love at the lake, and local artists Nan Seymour and Sarah May about collective expressions of love and devotion for the lake. In addition to interviews, we also include three voice memos we received from listeners who were generous enough to share with us their love story at Great Salt Lake.


Below is our transcript for episode 2. Listen to the episode on our Podcast page.


INTRO MUSIC 


Voice Memo 1: Hey there, just want to share a special moment a first date a while back at Antelope Island under the starlit sky. The Great Salt Lake provided a pretty amazing backdrop for stargazing, and that night sparked a beautiful connection. The serenity of the lake mirrored the calm beginnings of a new relationship. So if you're seeking a spot for a memorable first date, you know, I would say the Great Salt Lake just might be that for you. 


THEME MUSIC FADES IN


OJ: Ay que tierno! That was a date story from a generous lake facing community member. You’ll hear a couple more of these tender moments throughout this episode about love at Great Salt Lake, love for Great Salt Lake, and love for our salty community. I’m Olivia Juarez. You’re listening to Stay Salty: Lakefacing Stories. In this podcast we ask, Why stay? How do we stay? And who gets to stay (or leave) as we grapple with the dying Great Salt Lake.


OJ: You may think that Great Salt Lake is a gross, smelly place to go in general… let alone for a date. But you’d be surprised. I recently learned that my grandparents GOT ENGAGED on the shores of Great Salt Lake in 1969. 


Maria Elena Lucero: My name is Maria Elena Lucero. I'm Olivia's grandmother.


Wilfred Lucero: My name’s Wlfredo Lucero and I’m Olivia’s grandpa.


WL: We live in Erda. You can see the water from here but now it’s receding so bad, sometimes it looks like you could go and walk from I-80 all the way to the islands.


OJ: When you decided to propose to Grandma, why did you choose that you were going to do it at the Great Salt Lake?


WL: Well, I don't know. We had gone on a date and it was kind of in the evening. And we were just walking along the shore. It was over here by the black rock, somewhere around there. 


MEL: We used to go there all the time.


WL: We used to go there all the time.       


MEL: We used to go, you know, just wet our feet or… just walk.


WL: I don't know if was the salt on the air? Or what it was. I just felt like it was right. 


OJ: So you didn't plan on it? 


WL: I never planned on anything I guess so I didn't I didn't I didn't say well I'm gonna I'm gonna take her today you know to the black rock in the Great Salt Lake and I'm gonna propose to her it just it just happened. Really just happened. 


OJ: Grandma, were you surprised?


MEL: I was surprised. Yes. 


OJ: What do you remember about that day?


MEL: All I remember is going to my mom's because we decided we're going to tell my parents. And grandmas like, “what happened to you guys by the Great Salt Lake?” She said,  “Ah, que le hizo a la sal? O que? O la lagunas?”  


OJ: What does that mean? 


WL and MEL: It – was it the air or what?


WL: Was it the lake?


MEL: Was it the salt?


OJ: I think Great Salt Lake had something to do with it! This story gave me a strong feeling that other lovers and friends must have seen sparks fly between them at Great Salt Lake. So our team put out a call for stories, and y’all delivered. 


Voice Memo 2: I once took someone on a date to the top of Black Rock, a large, protruding 40 foot high rock on the southern shores of the Great Salt Lake. You can actually climb up to the top of it. This is kind of class three class four ish scramble. And at the top you have a just fine majestic view of the Great Salt Lake. And it's a perfect place for sunset. The sun sets just to the left of you to the west, and you get a grand view of the lake’s gleaming colors and beauty.


OJ: I’m convinced. Great Salt Lake is an excellent place for a date. But chances are, the lake herself will steal your heart. Two Utahns who outspokenly love Great Salt Lake are Nan Seymour and Sarah May: you may have seen them walking waves or dancing on the capitol steps in brine shrimp and bird costumes every day during the Utah State legislative session this year. They also stayed with Great Salt Lake during the legislative sessions in 2023 and 2022, holding vigil and camping out on Antelope Island in the bitter cold. We talked in the middle of the 2024 state legislative session in February. 


Sarah May: My name is Sarah May. I use she/her pronouns. I love this question. When I think of the lake like the, the smell of the salt water is something that really comes to mind and feeling like the breeze in the wind over the water, like on my face and through my hair. There's so many like senses that come to life when I think of the lake and that memory I always carry with me. As an artist and a poet, the lake is kind of this entity that's always on the back of my mind and I am always like holding in my heart. I am an artist, a community organizer, a weaver, a poet, living here in Salt Lake City. Along with being a part of the Making Waves for Great Salt Lake artists collaborative. I also am a part of Plumas Collectivo, a Latinx artists writers collective. We do a lot of events centering the BIPOC Community LGBTQ+ and disability community at the Jordan River Nature Center. I've been going to the lake since I was a teenager. The lake was a refuge for me as a teenager in the, in between of so many identities and cultures. 


Nan Seymour: I'm Nan Seymour. I use pronouns she/her and I live in the wave-made world is how I think of it here in Salt Lake Valley, about 20 miles, if I were able to kind of walk out my door and walk to the west and north, I'd be at the shoreline by the marina. And I'm really aware also that a mile and a half kind of up the hill to the north, or up the mountain is the Bonneville shoreline trail, I spent some time up there. So in terms of like relating to the water, especially kind of with a little imagination over geological time, I think of myself in the lake bed. I mostly identify as a lake facing poet; I felt called to become a lake facing poet. But I'm really lucky to work with Sarah May and also Therese Berry in this little artists collaborative we call Making Waves for Great Salt Lake. And it's with that collaborative over the last year that we built all the art in community. So by we, I mean the big we, lots of hands on the art from three year olds to 87 year olds, and all kinds of folks that made the waves and made all these species puppets. So that's one of my professional or playful realms. And then another is, I'm a founder of a practice called River Writing, which is a community writing practice. The River Writing Collective were kind of the original vigil keepers. So all those things are connected.


OJ: Nan also is the person who brought the word Lakefacing to our community, from Great Salt Lake.


NS: I really think that term – it – like some things are just clearly the lake’s idea. And that term, I think was really coming from that source of intelligence so that we could become like-facing people. It's like, that's her call.


BIRD SOUNDS


OJ: Throughout the state legislative session year after year. you frame the vigil with this: When the life of someone you love is at stake. You stay with them. When did you realize you loved the lake?


NS: I realized I love the lake, when I learned she was dying. This is really sad thing to say, it's kind of catching me by surprise how much I still feel about the truth of that. I loved the birds. I spent a lot of time at Farmington Bay, I’ve loved birds my whole life. But I'll just admit to this: I grew up in the culture here of what I call a culture of apathy and disdain about Great Salt Lake and I bought it, you know, I thought, I just bought “too stinky, too buggy, too far away.” We never went there. I didn't, I missed the fourth grade field trip. I actually never went there. I never went to Antelope Island until 10 years ago. So I was going to Farmington Bay looking at birds when I first got the news through Radio West and Dr. Bonnie Baxter of Great Salt Lake Institute talking to Doug Fabrizio about the state of the lake. And I was totally caught off guard and you know, it felt like receiving a fatal diagnosis like about a neighbor that you always took for granted, maybe. It was like, Oh, wow. It wasn't until then that I connected the birds and our whole existence to this beloved water, what I now call beloved water body, but I really didn't know her until I learned she was dying.


OJ: I had a similar experience in being always on the distance, on the periphery of Great Salt Lake ecosystem. I myself also didn't go to Antelope Island until recent years. So I think a lot of people share that experience that you have being Utah residents for so many years, but never quite having that connection. 


OJ: Sarah, the vigil this year includes people who gather for dancing and singing and remarkable brine shrimp and bird costumes. How do arts in activism inform your love of the lake? 


SM: For me, the lake and the activism and the art, they've always been intertwined for me. I've been making art and writing about the lake for many many years and, and I was on my own doing this, like just for myself and and then it was really just recently that I realized that there were other people like me, like, like Nan and Therese, and all these wonderful people who are part of this lake facing community that saw the lake as this beautiful sacred entity and watershed. And so it was wonderful to then become a part of a community around the lake. We actually attended a little conference on Antelope Island right before we started the vigil, and Jaimi Butler was there and she said that no one really cared about the lake and the science around the lake until the artists showed up and just made their love and appreciation and awe for  the lake visible. It’s really such an honor and a privilege and a delight to facilitate these spaces like this last year, we did some amazing art builds, like we started out with like a little hand puppet workshop on Antelope Island and doing like little brine shrimp and avocets and brine flies and then expanded to cyanotype waves, which is pretty much like sun prints where we are making these beautiful fabric prints with the sun and collaboration with water from Great Salt Lake and the Jordan River. And bones and feathers and plants from the life and ecosystem that relies on the lake and and and also the oolitic sand


OJ: What is oolitic sand? 


SM: Oolitic sand, so it's pretty much – it's brine shrimp poop, right?


NS: It's a calcified layers formed around, generally, a speck of brine shrimp poop. It's beautifully –it's spherical, perfectly spherical, is one of the qualities of – it's really a rare kind of sand. It's the only kind of sand that is grown instead of ground. So all the rest of the sand in the world is ground down from rocks, but oolitic has grown around. Isn't that wonderful?


OJ: It's amazing. 


SM: Yeah. Yeah, it's really cool. So we also use oolitic sand to create these, these cyanotype waves and flags and banners.


OJ: Which I have to say, are this incredible blue color, unmistakable when you see them. 


SM: Yeah, the UV light from the sun, once it hits, it's a – it's a chemical reaction. So it's a photographic process, how blueprints used to be made back in the day. And so when that UV light from the sun, like hits that the surface of the fabric with that chemical embedded in it, like it already like it starts like exposing then we rinse it with water and hydrogen peroxide, and that's what gives us these brilliant cyan and cyan blues. So that's that we got started with at the beginning of the summer. And then as time went on, we started doing like species specific puppets and so like red winged blackbirds, the male and female, the different variations of their, their colors and patterns. And then we have like phalarope and plover mask and wanes. And then we have a bison, a pelican, a swan and a heron… we know there's going to be more to come, but it's really been really special to see how, like, this is something that like that we are inspired to create and then our community has just come together to show their love for the lake and also for the species that rely on the lake and, and also to like, we have people asking us like what is what is this bird and I'm not familiar with this. And so we're able to also share people like this is the phalarope like this is part of their migration path and the lake is where they come to gather and to breed and it's so it's also really cool that we get to share a little bit about the species that rely on the ecosystem of the lake. 


OJ: The imagery of all these species, like you just told us that you're making puppets about and more makes me think about how, when people, human or more than human are in love with each other. They kind of emulate each other like The old couple that kind of dresses the same dog owner that kind of looks like their dog and I think about how our community is starting to emulate the lake and all of the species that depend on her through this art.


SM: Yeah, and I think going on to that point and highlighting the vigil that we're, we're doing, walk the waves in the morning and celebration of the species in the evening. Just seeing the devotion and love of the people who've been showing up, we have some regulars that we've had people who are there almost almost every day or once a week, they have a specific day that they come. 


OJ: In the dead of winter. 


SM: In the dead of winter, where we're bundled up with mittens and hats and scarves. But the warmth and devotion and love that is present, it's such a beautiful, sacred space. And something that was shared by one of the Indigenous leaders at the rally. That was –


NS: Forrest Cuch.


SM: Ute Elder. He, during his speech, he shared the phrase, “our sacred lake,” and he had the crowd repeat it. 


SOUND CLIP FROM RALLY


FORREST CUCH: That lake over there used to be ours, the Native people of this area. But now, it’s all of ours. And the mantra is, “our sacred lake.” So I’m going to ask you whose lake it is.


CROWD: Our sacred lake!  


FC: Whose lake is it? 


CROWD: Our sacred lake! 


FC: Whose lake is it? 


CROWD: Our sacred lake! 


FC: Whose lake is it? 


CROWD: Our sacred lake! 


SM: And that was, it was such a tender moment. And that phrase, I feel like, really describes like, what the vigil is about, we're walking around the Capitol holding these waves celebrating with these puppets knowing that the life of the lake is at stake but that's like our sacred lake, that light that we hold with this devotion, this love that we have for her, and the creatures and ecosystems that are connected to her.MUSIC SOUND CLIP BREAK


VOICE MEMO 3: Hi Olivia. This is Eva Lopez Chavis councilmember in Salt Lake City's district four and I have a Great Salt Lake date story. I was invited out on a first date. I quickly was so excited. I met them at the Great Salt Lake State Park Marina. And we went and sailed across the Great Salt Lake. It was so exciting. We had dinner, we jumped into the water and it was a little bit stormy for us. The weather out there changes rapidly. But then we were gifted a rainbow and a beautiful sunset. Best date story for me.


MUSIC SOUND CLIP


NS: One of my very favorite quotes from a poet named Robin Morgan, who's also an activist, just four words. And it's so important to me, the quote is hate generalizes, love specifies. In this work that Sarah was talking about, it's like we've used other art forms. to bring this specific forward and you can't help but fall in love with a phalarope when you're wearing their mask and their wings, like, it's so intimate. And suddenly this word that was totally a word that meant nothing to me four years ago, phalarope is like, Oh, this is a real life form. It's imbued with love and and then you don't really switch back from that once you fall in love, your – it beckons a devotion. So I think that's one of the powers of the art that Sarah's talking about is it's that intimacy of love specifies.  


OJ: Does love for the lake relate back to the movement to recognize Great Salt Lake’s personhood or rights?


NS: I love this question so much. It's really relevant, because yesterday I was on the Hill, testifying against a bill that prevents personhood passed out of committee, and with a 13 to one vote. Personhood, which is basically just recognizing the lake’s right to… inherent right to live, flourish, be replenished. It's recognizing that intelligence in the life of the lake, the sentience To me this is so it's such an obvious thing to do. And such a loving thing to do that it was surprising, this kind of barreling to block it. 


OJ: Since Nan testified against this state bill, HB 249 in January, both chambers of the Utah state legislature approved this bill. It was signed into law by Utah Governor Spencer Cox on March 20. The new law prohibits any government entity to grant or recognize legal personhood of more-than-human entities, like a body of water. Like Great Salt Lake. 


The legal personhood of non-human bodies have granted legal rights to nature worldwide. India, New Zealand, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Panamá are places where legislation and court decisions have recognized the rights of a river, forest, or nature in general “to exist, persist and regenerate.” 


NS: Look, here's a, here's a globally proven path towards restoration. This has happened all over the globe, where assigning personhood, or legally defending personhood has allowed us to restore, replenish imperiled ecosystems. And so why would you be blocking this path now without even exploring it? It's just a very fundamental act of love, and respect, right? And relational, I think it's right relationship to look at the lake and at least be curious about the great intelligence, water bears memory, this, and that is something we know, you know, scientifically, that water has the capacity for memory, this water being in a terminal base, and has not even left. It's been here for the whole time. So this, like, my mother swam in it when she was nine, she's 81 now. Her, my grandmother taught her. My great grandmother swam in this water, this water remembers the shape and weight of their bodies, like and what else does she know? That's just one little thing through the lens of my life, right? What else does she know? It's like her intelligence. So, you know, just look at Salt Lake and see, here's the creator of this world, we're literally sitting in right now. She created it. She's a maker of this landscape, the shaper of this beauty. How can that not inspire reverence? And and also just an acknowledgement of personhood? Honestly, and, and so to just bring that into the legal realm and to hold up those rights, the sovereign right of a great body? To me that's, it actually feels very fundamental. 


NS: I was surprised by the hearing, I wasn't prepared for it to come so quickly. And, you know, the day before that it was in the witnessing and testifying in the anti trans legislation against it. And I don't think those things are separate at all. I mean, it's the same question right? The sovereign rights of bodies. 


OJ: Since the legislative session has ended, Utah’s Governor has signed a dangerous and disturbing law which bans trans people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity. Utah has now joined at least 10 other states that regulate which bathrooms trans people can use. Indeed the sovereign rights of bodies are under attack. If there’s anything my grandparents taught me, it’s that no matter how much hate or challenges you face, you respond with love. 


MUSIC SOUND CLIP 


OJ: Why is it important to articulate love for the lake in this moment? Does love help us stay?


SM: We're making our love for the lake visible. And it's something that we actually say too when people ask us what we're doing when we're up there, which happens quite a bit. It's like, what do you, what are you doing here? Like what is this a protest is this rally, and we just say we're making our love for the lake visible, and I think that's such a powerful beautiful statement. And and we're really here to– this vigil is building not only awareness but intimacy and relationship with Great Salt Lake. I love how much music is a part of what we do with vigil keeping. Nan, will say when we're singing like if you're singing off tune or you you're not sure what you're singing, sing louder. And I love that it's like just being unapologetic with your offering. And, and also imperfect offerings. I have a song that the lake gave me that I've started sharing and leading during our morning walk the waves which is a big deal for me like I've had it the song in my heart for pretty much since last summer and I've been really shy to share it but I just standing there the second day of the vigil, I just was like, the lake wants me to share this, this is an offering for her. And a part of that is also an offering of bravery, that to make change and to spread love and awareness for her, I needed to step out of my comfort zone. And so I shared the song, the lyrics are through the wind, and the rain. I come to you today. And it repeats again, and then as we're sitting, Nan was like, What about through the wind and the waves or through the snow and the waves because It was snowing, and I just love how this offering is starting to evolve it's still my offering, but it gets to become a part of the community. I'm giving an imperfect offering. And that's enough like I don't have to have the right words. I don't have to get it right on the first go. Like, we're we're here as imperfect humans. are imperfect humans just trying our best.

 

Last year, I had a lot of personal inner transition with my identity and how I was choosing to show up in the world and the lake held me in all of that. So for me, being a part of helping to lead this vigil with Nan and There and all of our other amazing volunteers and community members, this is just me showing my love and appreciation for this sacred entity that has held me. And for me, it feels like the least I could do. I feel like nature and water and the land always shown up for us. They're always holding us and giving us space to be and to feel what we need to feel and like I can think of countless times that I like sat on the shore of the lake and just cried and poured out my heart to her because life is hard. And there are some really challenging things that I was working through and the lake like my tears became hers. And I guess going back to the movement to recognize personhood of the lake like the lake has held me in such a way that  it's my turn to hold her and as a community we need to hold her.


MUSIC SOUND CLIP


VOICE MEMO 4: I was visiting Salt Lake City after about half a year of living outside of the US. And while I was in town I camped out at Antelope Island in the winter in a van with my partner and another loved one and I hadn't seen either of them in that half year. And one night we walked out to the edge of the water, which was a longer walk than it should have been because of the receding shoreline. So we had this bittersweet, Sandy walk to the edge of the water. And once we finally made it out to the water, and we're standing before this expanse of water under the big starry sky, we remembered that it was Valentine's Day. And the, for me it was this nice romantic reunion with both a partner and a lake who I hadn't seen in months and loved very dearly. I still live abroad and I haven't been able to visit since. But thinking of that moment by the water keeps me grounded.


OJ: Why is it important to articulate love for the lake in this moment? Does love help us stay?


NS: So this moment with the lake reminds me what's come up for me a lot in the last little while is my dance teacher growing up, her name is Pearl Wagstaff, she passed away from cancer about I think four summers ago. And when she was knew that she was terminal. And before she was all the way into hospice, she threw a party; it was her own celebration of life. And she wanted to be at it. And I’m not saying that's what this is with the lake. But I think of it a lot because when I went to Pearl’s celebration of life. She was there in this beautiful pink brocade jacket. And she has this white hair. And she had a cannula in because it was necessary for her to wear that. But she got up from the couch and she danced with everyone in the room. All of us had been her students, we were all ages. And so a whole like life of art and love. A great life was celebrated. With that person still in the room. It's really amazing. And so whether this is that or not, none of us are going to be here forever. Even the lake. And if you're human, you especially won't be here forever. So like what are we going to do? Now we're keeping vigil and we're celebrating her life. So in the two pieces of the vigil the morning is very reverent, silent. It's really just about being with the waves. The evening we go all, out we had my brother brought his saxophone last night and you know, people are in these costumes and we're dancing and singing and so on. So it's important to do this now because it is now and now is the only time we have and then I really find find this other question painful but I want to speak to I appreciate how direct this question about staying is. Because I really want to acknowledge that it's hard to stay. My mom who's 81 has had to move for health reasons. So she's moved from here where two three of her children live. To a place where she has no family, a wonderful place, and she's, it's privileged that she could go. Not everyone has that privilege. Most people don't. But she, for health reasons to breathe better, better air has moved to San Diego. But she's 81. And she's there without family. And that doesn't really make sense in one way. But it's also completely important to her for her vitality. So it's it's real life or death. Like it's, you know, and so now my my mom who might need me is, you know, not living here, that that pulls me, you know, that I want to admit I'm like, pulled away. On the other hand, and this is even harder. The the bill that was that will will pass criminalizes my daughter's existence.


OJ: Nan is referring to Utah’s anti-trans bill here. Nan's daughter is trans.


NS: She lives in Tucson, she's grown up, she's doing fine, but she can't come home and visit me. Her or her spouse who's non binary–they're not going to come here to visit me. Does that make me want to leave? Yeah, it does. So I just want to acknowledge like, it's hard to stay, because I think people listening might also find it hard to stay, and to say the truth, I'm not sure how long I can stay. So as long as I can stay here, I will do everything I'm doing that I'm called to do. And I don't think I would leave without the lake’s blessing and how I would receive that I don't know, it's a question between me and the lake, I think that how long I'll stay. I do want to just tell the truth, I don't, I don't know if I can stay as long as I want to, I'd rather live here my whole life. That's my very strong preference. So if we can turn this around, and by this I mean, not just our relationship with the lake, but our relationship with each other and these justice issues. We, we have to turn it around to make a place where people want to come and be and live. And at the center of that there's this incredible loving community represented by the people in this room, and everyone who's listening, if you're listening to this, you're part of it. And it's so hard to leave that I don't think that's replaceable. I'm not gonna go someplace else and find y'all, you know, fighting in the way that we're fighting, loving each other in the way that we're loving each other. That's not something you can just go and whip up. You know, that's years of devotion and connection and caring. And so what a torment this question is, and I don't really have an answer, but those are my thoughts.


MUSIC SOUND CLIP


OJ: On the next episode of Stay Salty, you’ll hear from leaders and elders of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone and Ute Indian Tribe on ancestral connections with Great Salt Lake and how colonization has impacted those relationships. Until then, let Sarah’s words sink in.


SM: I remember on one of the reels or posts through Save Our Great Salt Lake or that Nan posted there was a comment that said like, “what good is, like, singing and dancing with puppets going to do?” Like a kind of you know a downer comment. But I think Nan commented It was something along the lines of, “we're making our love visible for the lake.” And and I think it's easy to think that love is a flimsy thing but really love is the driving force. It makes us powerful like acknowledging and acting on our love makes us powerful and this is a reminder that expressing our love and acting on our love is powerful and it will make a difference. 


THEME SONG FADE TO BACKGROUND


OJ: Stay Salty: Lakefacing Stories is an “Of Salt and Sand” production recorded from the SUWA podcast studio and in the field. We explore what it means to stay in Utah through economic transition and climate crisis by producing multimedia projects with, by, and for impacted communities. Stay Salty is supported by: Utah Humanities, The Movement Forward Fund, and listeners. 


The Producers are Maria Archibald, Amelia Deal, and Brooke Larsen. Podcast cover art is by Frances Ngo. Our Visual Director is Jeri Gravlin…. Ashley Finley is our Event Curator. Music is by Amelia Deal. We’re your hosts Meisei Gonzales and Olivia Juarez. Learn more at lakefacing.org and follow us on instagram @OfSaltAndSand. 


THEME SONG







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