March 13th, 2020

Words for Water

By Mary Dougherty

Link to JSE March 2020 Water and Climate Issue Table of Contents


Editors’ Note: This photo essay is an excerpt of a longer work to be found here:



“For unnumbered centuries of human history the wilderness has given way. The priority of industry has become dogma. Are we as yet sufficiently enlightened to realize that we must now challenge that dogma, or do without our wilderness? Do we realize that industry, which has been our good servant, might make a poor master? Let no man expect that one lone government bureau is able — even tho’ it be willing — to thrash out this question alone. … Our remnants of wilderness will yield bigger values to the nation’s character and health than they will to its pocketbook, and to destroy them will be to admit that the latter are the only values that interest us.”

— Aldo Leopold’s Southwest

Two indisputable facts: We are more than 60 percent water and water is essential to our survival.

Lake Superior is my home and it is one of the last places on earth with clean and abundant fresh water. It is also the largest freshwater lake (by area) in the world—supplying 10 percent of the globe’s fresh water. Ten percent. 

Fresh water becomes more and more valuable to the world’s future every year. And yet, mining extraction and industrial agriculture still attempt to set up shop along Lake Superior’s shores. It make no sense.

As a community of humans we need to write our shared story. To speak the words that were born in our watershed and flow downstream— an indigenous narrative that declares this place is worth saving.

Words for Water is a gathering place for people who value the Lake Superior Basin and its fragile ecosystem. We want the images to speak for the water that is an integral part of our communities. We ask the question, “what are your words for water?” in order to capture the essence of what we, as a community, value about Lake Superior and the land, streams, rivers and watersheds that feed it.

These words, when joined with the hundreds of other words for water etched on chalkboards, will become the bedrock for our communities as we move forward, towards what’s next.








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