They start at sunrise.

A group of artists and community members gather at the Utah Capitol and begin hoisting up azure and turquoise colored fabric waves. The wind gently moves through the fabric as the crowd marches its way silently around the building.

And this vigil, as members of the group call it, happens every single day during the legislative session.

It brings together an eclectic crowd. Nan Seymour, a poet who is part of the Great Salt Lake Artists Collective, said the group’s rally transcended divides: environmentalists, artists, school professors and religious leaders side by side. “It’s because we all know that we need the lake,” she said. “It’s because it’s recognized that we have to step over these divides to take care of this essential thing. And we’re really willing to — and that’s been so inspiring to me — to work hand in hand with all these different kinds of people.”

While the rally is a key part of the group’s effort, twice a day community members show up to the Capitol grounds to remember the Great Salt Lake. Seymour, explained it like this, “When the life of someone you love is at stake, you stay with them.” She described it as “a ministry of presence” that requires a daily presence.

“You do stop the world to the capacity that you have, because you know that impermanence is sitting staring you right in the face,” Seymour said.

While the mornings are a silent walk on the Capitol grounds, the evenings feature a jubilant celebration. Each day at 5 p.m. until the end of the session on March 1, community members gather in what’s called the “Celebrate the Species” vigil. It’s where brine shrimp and other animals at the Great Salt Lake are celebrated with jubilant music. It’s brought Seymour closer to a member of her family who comes to the vigil every evening and she describes it as “so tender.”

Nan Seymour and members of the Great Salt Lake vigil group walk the grounds of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024. The group walks around the grounds every morning as part of the vigil. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
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On a brisk wintry morning, the Deseret News followed along with the group to see what it means to keep vigil for the Great Salt Lake. The group gathered just as the sun was rising and met up at 8 a.m. to start. Community members each held up a part of a fabric wave. If you looked closely at the waves, you could see hand prints on them and a blue-dyed water pattern.

As each person holds part of a wave, the breeze ripples through the fabric almost like a current and the group begins its slow march in a line. It’s a time for contemplation and silence that begins with the brass ding of a bell. Passersby smile and occasionally thank the group for remembering the lake as the group mades it round.

When the lake was in view, the group stopped to gaze at it. Even through the haze of the winter inversion, the lake could be seen that morning. At this point, the silence briefly ended as the group broke out into songs written by members of the community. And the group concluded the march by slowly making it back to the starting point.

After the vigil, Seymour sat down with the Deseret News to talk more about how the vigil started and why she comes every single morning.

It all started when Seymour listened to the radio. She said she always loved the outdoors, but she didn’t know “the lake was in peril” until she listened to biology professor Bonnie Baxter talk to radio host Doug Fabrizio about the lake in fall 2021.

The Great Salt Lake’s receding water levels have been a cause for concern for scientists and policymakers. As the lake dries up, the entire ecosystem is damaged — it’s not only a body of water, but the migratory home for millions of birds to rest and build nests. If the Great Salt Lake were to continue to reduce, there could be significant pollution impacts.

It’s something Seymour said once she noticed, it motivated her. “Our ability to live here even from just a human perspective, the stakes are unimaginably high, but of course, the whole ecosystem is dependent. So every bird, every pet, every tree, it matters and I find those stakes incredibly moving.”

After Seymour became aware of the issue, she said she felt “called to live on Antelope Island.” So, during the 2022 legislative session, she packed up her bags, borrowed a camper from a friend and lived on the island. Those 40 days she lived on the island were not only full of cold weather and snow, but also contemplation. Others joined Seymour on the lake and they penned a poem called “Irreplaceable.”

In 2023, Seymour and community members returned to Antelope Island. “We did walks, riding circles, drumming, art making, singing, and lots of people came,” she said. “Over a thousand people participated in the two years that we did it.” There was an online component in addition to in-person options.

Driving out to Antelope Island can take some time, which is why Seymour said she wanted to have the vigil at the Capitol. “It was important to bring the lake to people in a way to make the love for the lake more visible and a more central place,” she said.

Members of the Great Salt Lake vigil group walk the grounds of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024. The group walks around the grounds every morning as part of its vigil. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
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According to Seymour, Darren Parry, the former chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, has been a critical voice when it comes to the Great Salt Lake.

During a public, virtual lecture hosted by the University of Utah, Parry spoke to the importance of saving the Great Salt Lake. “There is a growing consensus that the future of the Great Salt Lake is threatened by crisis,” Parry said. “This crisis is overuse and climate use.”

Parry said Indigenous tribes have long recognized humans, animals and the ecosystem are connected and relational. “Scientists are finally discovering what Indigenous leaders have taught for generations: that we’re all connected. Politicians are finally discovering what the Iroquois already knew: that we must govern for the benefit of future generations,” he said, explaining science, policy and Indigenous values of stewardship can work hand-in-hand to save the Great Salt Lake.

Seymour also used the word relational when describing what was happening. “This is a relational crisis, not just a physical one,” she said. Listening to Indigenous people about the lake is something Seymour said she found immense value in, naming Parry and Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah Chairwoman Corrina Bow as examples.

Bow told, “As Indigenous people, we know that we are the protectors of this land. We know that if we take care of this land, it’s going to take care of us. So it is up to us to take care of this land.”

While the vigil isn’t about a particular policy, Seymour spoke for herself about some of the legislation happening on the Hill.

Noting that she believes there are lawmakers working hard to help save the Great Salt Lake, she was critical of the bill that blocks personhood to the lake. HB249, sponsored by Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, is a bill intended to bar government entities from giving nonhumans legal personhood.

“It’s just, in my opinion, completely inappropriate,” Brooks said during a committee meeting in January, adding that lawmakers “need to make sure we keep what a person is clearly identified.”

Seymour was among those who testified against the bill. “The clock is ticking here in Utah. We all know we’re on a precipice,” she said during public comment. “Citizens are counting on you as leaders to make these very difficult decisions that would give water to the lake this season because we cannot live here without it.”

Speaking to the Deseret News in an interview about the bill, she said she understood the concerns lawmakers had, but she believes the bill could have consequences for the Great Salt Lake.

“Whether they intended it to be about the lake or not, it blocks that path to restoration for the lake,” she said.

Members of the Great Salt Lake vigil group pause and talk while walking the grounds of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024. The group walks around the grounds every morning as part of its vigil. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
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Now that Seymour has this passion for the Great Salt Lake, she tries to visit at least a couple times a month. She tries to remember the lake every morning by physically turning in the direction of the lake when she wakes up. It’s how she fosters the connection she feels to the lake.

Seymour also said she spends time learning about different facets of the ecosystem. One of her favorite things to learn about is a lot of the rocks. She warmly smiled as she talked about how the area is home to rocks over a billion years old and relatively new rocks only around 15,000 years old.

This connection is something others have spoke about as well. Rios Pacheco, a spiritual leader for the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, spoke at the Great Salt Lake rally in 2023 about how Shoshone people have a relationship with the lake. “Our people respect the water. Each time we go to the water, we respect it by giving an offering to thank our Creator for giving us life,” he said.

Ultimately, for Seymour, it’s about getting people to fall in love with the lake.

“Whether you fall in love because you got interested in a bird or you saw the beauty or you went out there and you had an experience, we will save what we love,” she said.