Words for Water and Lake Superior


we walk
we will make

we protest
we will go planting

Make poems
seed grass
feed a child growing
build a house

Whatever we stand against
We will stand feeding and seeding

I walk
I will make

~ Muriel Rukeyser

My name is Mary Dougherty and I live in Bayfield, WI on the south shore of Lake Superior. I'm the mother of five kids, a wife to a good man, a concierge to three very spoiled dogs, a big believer in the power of story, a factory farm fighter, a sucker for a pretty sentence and a passionate lover of water.

I believe that struggle and adversity live in concert with creation and storytelling.  And I've learned an important secret about that adversity: it’s not all bad. Struggle is what prompts us to ask ourselves these three questions:

- Who are we?
- What do we value?
- How do we protect what we value?

And it's these questions that provide the bedrock for our Words for Water story. 

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. 

"Use your words" was one of my favorite parenting mantras when our kids were little and it still rings in my ears as an adult. The Words for Water photography project is a simple way to encourage people who live in the Lake Superior basin (or who love Lake Superior) to think and act collectively when it comes to any legislation, industry or regulations that affect water quality.

The idea for Words for Water (like most good things) happened around our kitchen table. My husband and I came up with this idea of getting lots of people to speak for the water in their own words, and then allowing me to collectively stitch them into a story.

I pose the question, “if you could speak for water, what would you say?” and the participant writes their word or phrase on a chalkboard. I take their photo, add it the collection of words I’ve gathered and stitch it into our collective love story to Lake Superior and our homes. Those of us who live near Lake Superior -- less than .0049 percent of the world's population -- are the direct stewards of Lake Superior and we need to lend our words, and voices, to that enormous and vulnerable body of water. 

The Words for Water story is grounded in the values that are important to us: clean water, strong communities, our rural heritage, and a healthy environment. Our role, as residents of the Lake Superior Basin, is to create a bedrock of commonality that all questions about our future are filtered through....just like Lake Superior and the healthy watershed we are speaking for.

The words I’ve gathered so far: pristine, fragile, help me, job security, love, bimaadiziwin (living a good life) and freshwater stronghold, have weight and if there ever was a time to wield that power, it’s now. 

If I've learned one thing from fighting a factory farm with 26,000 hogs less than 8 miles from Lake Superior in Bayfield County it's this: our words have the capacity to change the world. 

There is safety in numbers and there is comfort in knowing that you don't have to say it all, that someone's got your back, that they'll fill in the blanks for you, and that you'll collectively figure it out. Writing a shared story takes the pressure off because no one person is charged with 'saving' or speaking for the water;  we're in this together and we'll move forward together. 

I am passionately and completely in love with storytelling. I think that storytelling has the power to change the world and I think that's what we're missing in these fights to preserve what we love. We have to tell our stories, the stories of who we are now, and who we were before, to give the generation that comes after us context and connection. That information is really important in community. It provides a tether back to where you came from.

We’ve gathered hundreds of words and have completed three chapters in our love story to Lake Superior and one chapter from Standing Rock in North Dakota. 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.

I'd like to expand the Words for Water project from the Bayfield Peninsula to communities around Lake Superior and I'm hoping you will help me! I'd like to raise $6,000.00 to help with expenses as I travel up the northern shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota into Canada, through southern Ontario and over the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. 

I'll use the funds to cover travel expenses (gas, hotels, and meals), marketing materials to promote the project in communities around Lake Superior, licensing fees for the music in the 'chapters', a few more chalkboards, and a bunch of chalk.

Donations (0)

  • Jane Evans 
    • $50 
    • 2 mos
  • Marnie Schulenburg 
    • $50 
    • 27 mos
  • Susan Mueller 
    • $50 
    • 29 mos
  • Inland Sea Symposium 
    • $1,000 (Offline)
    • 30 mos
  • Karin Kozie 
    • $50 
    • 32 mos


Mary Dougherty 
Bayfield, WI
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