Thank you to so many of you who have shared your condolences for the passing of my mother. The gathering of her large family and many friends this past weekend did bring a sense of completion. A woman of strong opinions right to the end, she had requested that all seven of her children speak at her service, which we did. I was proud to be part of her unruly gaggle of grown children who will never run out of endearing anecdotes to share about her and who she was in her life.
I spent one day alone with the Great Salt Lake. This enormous salten sea west of Salt Lake City has no outlet, so the salt content is eight times that of sea water. It is an ecosystem like no other I know. Every section of its edges–which can fluctuate dramatically year to year–has a different tonality and feel.
The remains of Saltair, a once elegant 19th century resort, are on the dry, sandy southern shore. The Bonneville Salt Flats are barren and endless.
Saltair resort, built in 1893
Along the eastern side, the Nature Conservancy has built Shoreline, with boardwalks that venture deep into the grasses of the wetland habitat that is home for millions of migratory birds.
Grasses along the eastern shore of the Great Salt Lake
Also on the east is Antelope Island, a landscape more moon-like than earthy.
Antelope Island looking west
To the north, at the end of a very long and very potholed dirt road, is one of the icons of earth art, the infamous Spiral Jetty built by Robert Smithson in 1970. The northern shore of the lake near the jetty is rocky and the color of the water is decidedly pink. On a visit a few years ago, I found the rocks of the jetty encrusted with dazzlingly white crystallized salt. The jetty had disappeared below high lake water for 20 years, and its reemergence was big art world news. But like everything in this complex ecosystem, nothing stays the same. The naked rock has its own boldness set in that field of pink water. Who knows what I will find on my next trip out there.
Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty
Most Utahns wax rhapsodic about hiking and skiing in the mountains, or venturing down into the sandstone of Southern Utah and Lake Powell.
Wasatch Mountains dusted in snow in October(!)
The beauty of the lake is austere and unconventional. It is rarely mentioned by people as a geographic treasure in a state full of many beautiful landscapes.
For me, the attraction has always been strong. My grandfather had a farm near the eastern shore, and I remember how reverentially he watched the shorebirds come and go every year. I camped in the original Saltair ruins before it was torched by a fire in November of 1970. And my pilgrimages out to the Spiral Jetty, complete with a stop off at a roadside hot spring, have become my touchstone for connection with the earth that made my mother, and therefore the earth that made me. Perhaps the Lake is now a sanctuary stand in for my now deceased mother, a thought that brings me deep peace.