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Lake Effect: Insights into mortality

young girl standing in the waves of the Great Salt Lake; an adult and smaller child are in the background
Miah Arnold
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"The weightlessness, the white mist, the silence in the air and the silence in my head. Strangely, it comforted me, made me less afraid of death."

My name is Lila, and I live in Houston and I am a junior in high school there.

The first time we went to the Great Salt Lake, I was nine. I remember it as a string of vivid images: the turn in the road where we lost connection, the bird's eye view of the Spiral Jetty, the water just behind it, the scramble down, the first glance of the wondrous pink water, the peculiar sensation of salt crystallizing on my legs. And then my brother skinned his knee in the salty waves, and we began our journey back into our world.

As we walked, a sandstorm — a salt storm — picked up. Grains of salt stung our skin. We shielded our eyes with our hands. The ground beneath us was dry, a sort of salt rock, and cracked into scale-like plates. I paused in the midst of the wind and pulled a small plate of rock from the ground and lugged it through the rest of the salt storm. We brought the salt plate back to Houston and hung it on our wall with a wire next to all our art. When guests asked about the rock on our wall, we would say, “taste it!”, and then we would tell them the story of the Great Salt Lake.

Last time I went to the Great Salt Lake, I was 15. When we arrived at the Spiral Jetty, you couldn’t see the water. We scrambled down onto the cracked earth, but still no water. We walked and walked and walked out of faith. The hard salt rock gave way to sheets of white salt and craters of warm water, the former lake bed. We kept on walking. By the time we reached the water's edge, the Spiral Jetty was out of sight. Behind us, the salt flats, in front, the bright pink water. A thick mist enveloped us. We walked in and I began to float.

The strangest thing about floating in the Great Salt Lake — it feels almost like a secret — was that I almost felt dead, in a good way. The weightlessness, the white mist, the silence in the air and the silence in my head. Strangely, it comforted me, made me less afraid of death.

Death is an uncomfortable topic to talk about, in a way so is the Great Salt Lake and its slow demise. They're both so close to our lives, intertwined, but we don't like to talk about them. But no amount of ignoring changes the fact that they are there and they are a part of us and we need to talk about them. We need to tell the Great Salt Lake’s story. If a lake can do something as powerful as give insights about mortality, it is certainly worth protecting.

Aimee Van Tatenhove is a science reporter at UPR. She spends most of her time interviewing people doing interesting research in Utah and writing stories about wildlife, new technologies and local happenings. She is also a PhD student at Utah State University, studying white pelicans in the Great Salt Lake, so she thinks about birds a lot! She also loves fishing, skiing, baking, and gardening when she has a little free time.
Ellis Juhlin is a science reporter here at Utah Public Radio and a Master's Student at Utah State. She studies Ferruginous Hawk nestlings and the factors that influence their health. She loves our natural world and being part of wildlife research. Now, getting to communicate that kind of research to the UPR listeners through this position makes her love what she does even more. In her free time, you can find her outside on a trail with her partner Matt and her goofy pups Dodger and Finley. They love living in a place where there are year-round adventures to be had!