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This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake — and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late.

Utah author pens a tale of parental anxiety that parallels a drying Great Salt Lake

Great Salt Lake, drying microbialites, courtesy, Aug. 19, 2022
courtesy Dane Christianson
Exposed microbialites dry out and die as the Great Salt Lake shrinks, Aug. 19, 2022

“The Edge of Something” is author and playwright Elaine Jarvik’s emotional short story. The backdrop is the dwindling Great Salt Lake. Her work appears in the Great Salt Lake Anthology.

In Jarvik’s tale, a father takes his daughter on a car ride to Antelope Island to celebrate her 11th birthday. Signs of the lake’s demise come into view, including what was once a marina. The father is struggling with his daughter getting older, and with what her future might be like as the lake shrinks and the specter of airborne toxins looms. He keeps his concerns to himself, but they are not far from his mind as they share a birthday cake on a beach that was once on the water’s edge. Now it’s a half-hour walk away.

Jarvik’s story reflects her own concerns as a parent.

“I worry that this arsenic, especially, or the heavy metals floating here will make people want to move,” she said of the exposed lakebed. “I want my people to stay here.”

Elaine Jarvik reads her full essay, "The Edge of Something"

When Jarvik first moved to Salt Lake City 50 years ago, she didn’t like the Great Salt Lake. Back then, she saw it as a terrifying oddity. A boat trip only furthered her disdain.

“It was a little boat where they would serve you dinner with brine flies getting up your nose,” she said.

Things changed when her son visited a couple of summers ago. Together, they went to Antelope Island and she “just came to see the beauty where once it had sort of frightened me and now it seemed in its vastness in the same way the universe is vast, it has a beauty to it.”

That reverence made its way into her story. As darkness falls, father and daughter gaze at stars from the hood of the car. The father marvels at the sight, but thoughts soon turn to the fate of wildlife and the frightening thought of toxic wind reaching his daughter as she sleeps.

That uncertainty gave “The Edge Of Something” its title.

“If you stand on the edge of a ball like the Earth, you can’t see what’s coming towards you,” Jarvik said. “It could be a sailboat. It could be a tsunami. In terms of the lake, there’s either a disaster or some kind of rescue ahead.”

Though Jarvik’s fears permeate her storytelling, she remains hopeful that solutions can be found to save the Great Salt Lake.

“I think at least people are trying now. I just think you have to have hope. Otherwise, we're all going to just pack up and move away tomorrow.”

Elaine Jarvik’s short story “The Edge of Something” appears in the Great Salt Lake Anthology, produced by the Salt Lake Community College Community Writing Center as part of the Great Salt Lake Collaborative.

Pamela is KUER's All Things Considered Host.
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