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Coastal Dune Lakes Episode 4 - Jewels of 30A

July 17, 2014 by Elam Stoltzfus

Today’s blog features the crew at Live Oak Production Group contemplating on the coastal dune lakes and what they feel when they are out there. Attached is the fourth short video titled Jewels of 30A.

Joey Dickinson at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.

I don’t know about you, but the first thing I notice is the sound. Perhaps the most inspirational and sentimental element in my life is music, and being in or around the lakes is like sitting in the front row at a quiet, calm symphony. It’s not the same as being in the middle of a forest, where the natural noises seem to swarm and even overwhelm, flying at you from every angle. The sounds here are subtle, consisting of carefully chosen notes; to hear them you have to be listening. Early in the morning, the setlist begins with the song of an ecosystem waking up: birds chanting to welcome the breaching sunlight, and the wind starting to pick up, whistling while it works. Toward the end of the day, happy birds and frogs project their unique voices, seemingly saying their goodbyes to the sunlight, as crickets chirp incessantly, ringing in the darkness, and mosquitoes buzz around your ears like tiny, floating radios, broadcasting nothing but feedback. No matter what time it is, however, if you listen hard enough, you can always hear one constantly reoccurring musical motif – the Gulf.
Constantly breathing in and out, you can hear the distant static current roaring in the distance. I’ve heard it said that people are calmed by the sound of the ocean because it sounds similar to being in the womb. Whether there’s any truth or science to that, I don’t know, but it does have a way of bringing out an inner peace that exists in each and every one of us. Being on or at the lakes makes me feel like I’m attending pretty much the most pleasurable and exciting event you can stumble upon, a free concert. But it doesn’t stop there; like any good concert, the mesmerizing sounds are accompanied by a spectacular visual performance. Watching the soft orange cracks of early morning light stretch across the sky allow for a “behind the music” understanding of the birds’ songs. Seeing the world’s light slowly turn on, exposing colors and shades that couldn’t be seen before, one realizes why the occurrence deserves praise. Watching the slow, smooth transition into night gives a whole new meaning to those last few notes thrown into the air. And it’s all, always orchestrated to the rhythm of the Gulf’s waves spilling onto the sand, like a constant backbeat upon which all the other parts build off of.
As you move from any given lake to the Gulf, the backbeat becomes louder and louder, overpowering the smaller, shorter tones of the lakes, just as the calmer, stiller images of the tranquil lakes are replaced by the powerful velocity of the stirring Gulf. In a way, this causes a phenomenon in which, depending on where you’re standing, one always experiences not a different show, but a different part of one big, organic production. For me, the lakes have it all. A constantly changing, yet consistently gorgeous presentation, engaging sight, sound and soul.
–Joey Dickinson


Nic Stoltzfus taking a photo at the outfall of Western Lake.

How do I feel when I am out on the coastal dune lakes? When I am at Topsail, I really do feel a sense of peace. It is true what Sarah Schindele says in the video: The lake is a contemplative sphere: Still. Smooth. Tranquil. Static. The ocean behind is kinetic, frenetic; moving, moving, moving.
My favorite place is at the outfalls: the central mixing point. For weeks, months, sometimes years, sand dunes block the lakes from the Gulf of Mexico. The dark tannin-stained lakewater yens to bust through the sand and comingle with the clear ocean water. Time and pressure builds and eventually the lake pushes through the liminal membrane of seashore: birth. Pine-straw tea mixes with the salty sea; an estuarine blending of yin with yang.

The Way in the world
is as a stream to a valley,
a river to the sea. 

–Lao Tzu (English version by Ursula K. Le Guin)
–Nic Stoltzfus

Elam Stoltzfus taking a photo of the sunset.

As of this July I have been filming and photographing the Coastal Dune Lakes in South Walton for seven months. I began recording images in January, even during some very cold days. Ahhhh…it would be nice to have some of that coolness about right now as we have these sweltering hot summer days, so hot you can wear them.

The video interviews, collection of b-roll of the dune lakes, and research will be used in an hour-long documentary that will be featured on Public Television next year.

I just wrapped up a week of photography and video productions along Stallworth, No Name, Campbell, and Morris lakes. This time of the year it works best to get up at daybreak, that is 5 a.m., and work for about 4 to 5 hours. After this I take a long break and go back to filming again around 5 p.m. On this trip I was hoping for summer thunderstorms, but every day was blue sky, not much of breeze, and muggy—perfect beach weather.

And word about these great climes has spread: Most license plates were from out of town. Folks from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Louisiana, all on a mass exodus to this beach mecca. I guess they came here for family vacations, sunburns, and feeling the sand between their toes.

For me this wasn’t vacation, it was work. However, I did have some to time to have a contemplative mood while waiting for the camera to complete the time-lapse process. This takes patience. Here is a small example of one day here at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park:
July 12th Sitting here on the north side of Lake Campbell watching, observing a mirror-like reflection from the north side. This morning the surf is silent and there is no breeze, no movement of leaves on the trees, not a ripple on the water. Even the wildlife is hushed: muffled chirping of a few crickets, an early-morning bird sounds a muted wake-up call for her family. Traffic noise on highway 98 is distant, a faint murmur. Silence and stillness. When I arrived here at the lake just before dawn the summer moon was setting in the west. I scrambled to assemble my cameras, but I was about 15 minutes too late as the moon set behind the dunes on the southwest side of the lake.

But I will be back tomorrow morning. I was able to capture a few great images of the sunrise with the tree line along the banks of Campbell Lake. Later in the evening I set up early to film a rising full super moon along No Name Lake and enjoy the quiet setting of this almost unknown and hidden lake. A few grey wispy clouds began to move across the lower horizon in the space where the moon was to rise. I waited and kept my eye on a young gator that was grunting and edging closer to the bank. Was he curious or was I invading his space? This made for good entertainment while waiting to see if the clouds would move through. As the sun began to set, the gray clouds blocked the moon. This evening was a no-go, or should I say, a no-show. But my life was enriched by waiting; observing the curiosity of a juvenile gator; and listening to the chorus of bullfrogs, peepers, and other nature sounds.

–Elam Stoltzfus

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