Coastal Dune Lakes Documentary Update Winter 2013/2014

By Nic Stoltzfus

11/24/14

This is a general update for the coastal dune lakes documentary project.

First, we have selected a final title for the coastal dune lakes film. It is (drumroll please!) Coastal Dune Lakes: Jewels of Florida’s Emerald Coast. This title was selected because from our interviews we heard people refer to the dune lakes as jewels or gems for the region. Since this part of the Florida coastline is referred to as the Emerald Coast (the former being a precious stone), the subtitle has a nice ring to it.

CDL Logo

Coastal Dune Lakes: Jewels of Florida’s Emerald Coast

Dad and I returned from the Great Lakes region of Australia in August and most of our time has been spent completing the film for final review. Joey Dickinson, our editor, has been editing the film since late June. Along with the main production team, these are a few more people who are working towards completing the film:

Manley Fuller with the Florida Wildlife Federation; Celeste Cobena, soap pedaler and local activist; and Susan Paladini of the Coffeen Nature Preserve have all provided us with historical information that we will use for the film.

Rick Hord, a local from Okaloosa County, was selected as the narrator for the film after doing an extensive search and even asking our Facebook audience for suggestions.

Eric Schrotenboer, a local Panama City resident, is crafting an original film score for the hour-long documentary. He also scored the intro to all the coastal dune lakes shorts.

Justin Dyke, a graphic designer based out of Tallahassee, has crafted maps and graphs for the film.

Pete Winter, of Winterstone Productions in Tallahassee, will be doing the final sound mix. He did the final sound mix for works such as Ulee’s Gold and has worked on the sound design  for all of the feature length documentary films at Live Oak Production Group.

As you can see, we place a high emphasis on working with local talent. Why is that? In short, it is because we want to bring our community with us in whatever we do and that includes supporting the arts in our region.

Speaking of art in Northwest Florida, several photos from the coastal dune lakes project have been on display:

Three of my photos were placed in the Blountstown Public Library Reading Room for two months in September and October. These same three pictures were displayed at the Chipola College Sunday Afternoon with the Arts. The photos are currently back at the studio, and I am looking to find new public venues for display.

If you are in the Tallahassee area, one of my pictures will be hanging in the Tallahassee Regional Airport’s ArtPort Gallery until January 19th.

 

"Dancing Outfall" The image is now on display at the Tallahassee Artport until January 19th

“Dancing Outfall” The image is now on display at the Tallahassee Artport until January 19th

 

We will continue to release video shorts until the film premieres next year. Here are the dates and subjects for the shorts:

Dec. 4th: What is a Choctawhatchee Beach Mouse?

Dec. 18th: Water, Sand, Life as narrated by Claire Bannerman

Jan. 1st: Sea Turtles on the Dune Lakes?

Jan. 13th: The Great Lakes of Australia

Jan. 27th: Who is Elam Stoltzfus?

Feb. 12th: Who is Joey Dickinson?

Feb 26: Who is Eric Schrotenboer?

March 12: Who is Nic Stoltzfus?

March 26: Release of the Documentary Trailer

We are working closely with WUSF Public Media broadcast station out of Tampa to put in place all the final details it takes for the hour-long documentary for placement on Public Television as a national release. The plan is to make the documentary available for broadcast to all the stations the week of Earth Day.

We have three dates locked in public showings of the film. *All three of these showings will be before the film is released on public television.*

Here they are (save the dates!):

March 28th, 2015: At the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center there will be a special sneak peek of the film along with talks by scientists about the lakes in a first-ever Coastal Dune Lakes Symposium.

April 2nd, 2015: World premiere of Coastal Dune Lakes: Jewels of Florida’s Emerald Coast. Come check it out at the green by WaterColor Boathouse! (Time TBA)

April 22nd, 2015: On Earth Day, the film will be shown at Gulf Place along with other activities. The event is from 6-8 PM on the Gulf Place green.

 

Also, we will be releasing a six-part blog series I wrote on our trip to Australia’s Great Lakes (the coastal dune lakes found in New South Wales) and that will be released over the holidays. Here is the timetable for that:

Dececember 9th: Part I: Getting There

Dec. 16th: Part II: Smiths Lake

Dec. 23rd: Part III: Myall River and the Broadwater

Dec. 30th: Part IV: An Aerial View and Interviewing Dr. Stock

January 6th: Part V: Myall Lake National Park and Smiths Lake Sandbar

Jan. 13th: Part VI: Mungo Brush and the Aftermath (with Australia video short attached)

 

We are working on a companion coffee-table book that will be released spring of 2015. I am heading up that project, and I am in the last stages of finishing the book. Cynthia Barnett, author of the upcoming Rain: A Natural and Cultural History, has agreed to write the foreword for us. Dad met her as a fellow artist-in-residence at Seaside’s Escape to Create program. I am working closely with Greg and Keri Atchley of Design 360, based in Santa Rosa Beach, for the layout and design of the book. This will be the first book by Live Oak Production Group, and it is exciting to be a part of that process!

Finally, I am working on a list of frequently asked questions about coastal dune lakes that I plan on completing before the film is released; I will share it on this site for public use. Any ideas or questions are welcome. Please e-mail them to info@liveoakproductiongroup.com with the tagline “Coastal Dune Lakes FAQ”.

Thanks much and stay tuned!

Mourning and Recovering from Loss

November 20th, 2014

 

When I first wrote this, I was hesitant to share it because it is so deeply personal. However, this past year has proven to be full of sad moments. In July my high school history teacher passed away. Last month, I lost my 22 year old cousin to ARDS. Today, there was a shooting at my university, Florida State, and it has me almost unable to work as I envision the terror of being shot at in Strozier Library—a place that was a sanctuary for me from my noisy college room.

 

I’m not posting this to try to gain from the death of others, that is the furthest from the truth. What follows is a story of how I tried to deal with the pain and grief of losing someone I care about.

 

Independence Day at Chattahoochee

 

I wanted to celebrate July 4th by myself at home. But, I was torn because my parents wanted me to go up the river with them to Chattahoochee and watch the fireworks there over the Apalachicola River. My friend was supposed to call me to hang out, but the phone never rang.

 

My high school history teacher, Theresa Curl, passed away the Tuesday before July 4th (on a Friday this year). I had several high school friends come into town for the occasion and I went to the funeral, and it was difficult. I felt like I had stepped back in time, to the past, and I was a misfit. The rest of my week was dark, macabre, and full of memento mori. Even roses reminded me of death and the fragility of life.

 

Mom and Dad wanted me to go down the river so they could get out of the house and cheer me up a bit. I gave them noncommittal answers all day: “I dunno.” “Maybe.” “We’ll see.”

 

I sat up in my room at 5:50 p.m., 10 minutes before Dad and Mom wanted to leave to go down the river with tears streaming down my cheeks.

 

I cried at the cruelty of a world that would let Mrs. Curl die so suddenly from some random genetic disease she inherited from her father that caused her kidneys to fail.

 

I cried because her death was so sudden—her cancer was in remission and she was healing. It’s not fair!

 

I cried because her mother put her hand on my shoulder at the funeral, shook her head, and said, “Nic, she wasn’t supposed to go. She wasn’t supposed to go. She was getting better.”

 

I cried because her daughter had to watch her mother die—alone.

 

I cried at the difficulty of it all—it is true, what the old man said in Cinema Paradiso. The old man is talking to the young man before he leaves the small town for military training.

 

The old man says, “Living here day by day, you think it’s the center of the world. You believe nothing will ever change. Then you leave: a year, two years. When you come back, everything’s changed. The thread’s broken. What you came to find isn’t there. What was yours is gone. You have to go away for a long time… many years… before you can come back and find your people. The land where you were born. But now, no. It’s not possible. Right now you’re blinder than I am.”

 

The young boy queries, “Who said that? Gary Cooper? James Stewart? Henry Fonda? Eh?”

 

The old man replies, “No, Toto. Nobody said it. This time it’s all me. Life isn’t like in the movies. Life… is much harder.”

 

I sat there, thinking, crying, shoulders shaking, and frozen in thought and time.

 

Mom and Dad kept yelling from downstairs, “NIICC! We’re leaving! It’s time to go! Come on!” Mom came up and she huffed off, frustrated with my indecisiveness, and then Dad came up and he said, “Why don’t you come with us and we can talk about it later.”

 

I was torn. I wanted to go—but I didn’t want to go. Why? I didn’t want to go anywhere, I wanted to stay at home and feel sorry for myself, I didn’t want to see people, I didn’t want to be drawn away from the house; it was comfortable here. At the end I decided to go. Why? Because I figured riding down the river would be good for me.

 

We three got on the boat and starting motoring up towards the dam. As we rode upriver the gentle humming, white noise of the Tohatsu motor blanketed over everything else, the noise canceling all other noises both physical and mental. We sped towards our destination and the river banks and my problems swung by, flashed by. And I was an advancing Zen Buddhist, the pope in a rocketing pope-mobile, a monk in a roving solitary cell—the adventurer as moving meditator.

 

We stopped at the campground where we stopped the first night of the Apalachicola River expedition. It was warm—but not as hot as it had been the previous week. Warm in a nice May warm sort of sense—not the heat-seeking, earth-searing, air-scorching July sense of warm that we have in Florida. The crickets and cicada were buzzing—it reminded me of summertime in Japan. I stood there and listened. Mom was listening. Dad was listening. We each were doing our own individual thing, just walking, in our own world. I stood there and looked at the shells and rocks on the beach. And Mom looked at the boat, looked at me. Wondering what I was thinking, maybe. Dad waded out into the muddy water and let the current flow over him, his mind. All the while crickets and cicadas hummed, hummed, hummed. Sun over our heads—hum, hum, hum. Vibrations in my mind and the wheels turning in my head, thinking. Hum, hum, hum. All the world working expertly, in good timing. Hum-de-dum-dum.

 

We loaded back up on the boat and drove up to Chattahoochee Landing. We anchored in the middle of the Apalachicola River on a slippery shoal, held fast by a rusty, spray-painted blue anchor. Once we stopped moving, I cut open the watermelon—cut it in half and put the other half back in the white cooler, with ice and diet cokes and a ginger ale for ailing dad (still somewhat sick from his cold). I cut slices for mom, me, and him. I stood in the water next to the boat and ate the watermelon; sprinkled salt on it and ate, ate, ate. I ate about half of the half. One of my favorite things about summer is eating watermelon. I remember going to the Chipola River the summer of my 10th grade year on my way to hang out with some friends and buying a fresh watermelon from the guys at the watermelon stand in Altha and eating the melon on the river as it floated down with us—cold as the water we floated in. Cold as the water we floated in.

 

Me munching on a melon

Me munching on a melon

 

I looked around as I munched on the melon. Canadian geese on the shore to our right. A grey heron’s beakéd head swiveled from time to time, observing the scene around him. Cicadas crickets chirruped around us; a resonating chorus. The faint tinkling and twanging of country music sounded from the shore, where people were sitting on blankets waiting for the fireworks.

 

I watched the water lap against the edge of our boat, and then turned upward. The evening sky turned all sorts of colors—pink clouds set against a continually darkening sky, daylight fading from view, from our minds. The day died as the night was born. Boats were surrounding us, and I was reminded of George Strait’s song, Stars on the Water.

 

When it’s midnight down in Mobile

Shining moon beams on the bay

They come from miles around

To dance the jukebox down

To hear the good time sounds they play

And all across the harbor night life shinin’ on

Makes you feel just like stars on the water

 

As the evening got darker I hopped back on the boat and asked Mom to pour me some wine in my red solo cup; It was Wal-Mart red wine with a masculine logo with a name like “UP DRAFT” or “IRON BREW” or something of its ilk.

 

A mist lifted up from the depths of the water, and the river cloaked herself in a milky cloth of dew. I screwed my eyes shut in an attempt to more deeply remember the beauty and the feelings and emotions going on around me. I would remember overcoming my sadness by going out on the river, bravery. My parents and the river healed me for that day, for that moment.

 

Nostalgia. Nostalgia for a moment that hadn’t occurred, nostalgia for the moment that was occurring all around me, but already I knew that it was a memory that I desired to keep forever. There was a simpleness, a loveliness, a sort of slice of heaven in the reality around me: it was my parents and my self, like it was for the first two years of my life before my baby sister was born. I opened my eyes back up again, having forged a deep memory of the event that I would take with me to the grave.

 

About 100 feet in front of us on the opposite shore, people on a boat lit up bright reddish/orange emergency sticks and were waving them around frenetically. I heard that deep bass *poof* and watched a bright stream of light shoot skyward from the boat. I heard a loud bang and watched as the beam of light exploded into a large circle of color and light, equally bright as the smaller nucleus that had propelled into the sky. Dad, Mom, and I all audibly ooeed and awed at the first one. Mom and Dad took a few pictures of the next couple of fireworks. I sat the whole time, watching the show, with my legs dangling in the water, sipping on red wine from a red Solo cup, and felt the warmth of the water and the wine all over. This was perfection: I was on a boat, on my own island—enjoying the show. Boom! Boom! Boom! Poof. Boom! Poof. Boom! Pauses in between each firework, perfectly timed out. The frenetic waving of the fire-lights still happening, men conducting the orchestra of light and sound. My favorite fireworks are the ones that flash out and fall downward, like the branches of a willow tree.

 

The grand finale boomed and everyone clapped and hollered in appreciation. After the fireworks were over someone in a pontoon behind us set off a bottle rocket and it fluttered in the air and popped. They snickered and giggled at its smallness compared to the largesse, grandness of the show.

 

Willow-tree firework over the Apalachicola River

Willow-tree firework over the Apalachicola River

 

We pulled up the anchor and headed back downriver. There were tons of tiny bugs that came down to the river after the sun set, and all three of us put on glasses to shield our eyes from them flying in our eyes. Mom and I put our sunglasses on, and dad put his eyeglasses on.

 

As we headed back downriver to the landing I flashed the spotlight from time to time to find the buoys so dad wouldn’t hit them.

 

A quarter moon was out, and the stars shined bright, as bright as I had seen them in this area.

 

Later, as we drove, I saw a shooting star, and made a wish. “Please keep her safe.”

 

I kept spotting the buoys. I enjoyed spotting the green ones because the reflector mark glowed a brilliant green, reflecting a stripe of green on the water. After I turned the spotlight off it would fade, the spotlight’s reflection slightly burning in my eyes.

 

Mom didn’t like the darkness. It’s too strange and mysterious she said. I spotlighted two gators, eyes glowing orange.

 

We made it back to the landing, drove the boat back on the trailer, and drove home, windows down, listening to the symphony of night sounds.

 

July 4th, Independence Day.

 

Fin.

 

Fine.

 

The End.

CDL Video Episode 10: Close to the Sea, or On Storytelling

October 16th, 2014
By Elam Stoltzfus
And one thing when I actually walk out on the beach and look out on the Gulf it hits me that people thousands of years ago saw the same thing that I am seeing now. It is the same sight for them, same colors, the same horizon. The same sounds.
–Dr. Jack Davis, Professor of Environmental History, University of Florida
Man looking out at the sea. Image by Nic Stoltzfus.

Man looking out at the sea. Image by Nic Stoltzfus.

Having the ability to tell or hear a story is part of our DNA.  Ancient tribe group sketched, drew and painted on the walls of caves to depict their lifestyle. Have you every thought about how silence is unbearable and uncomfortable?  Silence makes us squirm, pushes our boundaries into the unknown.  However, spinning a story, telling a yarn, spending our time putting together a series of words to connect to emotions is like traveling into the galaxy without ever going anywhere.  In more recent times storytelling has become a positive venue of education, representing universal truths,  and constructing a compelling story of knowledge.
Early on when I began asking questions and spending time along 30A around the dune lakes, there were two comments that I kept hearing.  One was “these coastal dune lakes are rare, imperiled, and endangered”. and the second statement was “these lakes are only found in Australia, New Zealand and Madagascar”.  As a follow up to these comments, I would ask, why are they rare and have you seen the lakes in these other countries?  Most of the replies would be something like this, “well…. I’m not sure why, that’s what I heard or been told,” and, “no, I have not seen these lakes in other countries or know much about the coastal lakes around the world.”  It obvious that there was a gap of information and an opportunity to draw an image on the cave wall to tell a story explaining the answers to these questions.
The question is, how to tell the story about the dune lakes in south Walton County, what was the common thread in the story?  Was this a story of Märchen (fairytales) or Sagen (legends) stories?  Could this be a reality show?  Was this story practical, could this be told in an informative manner, was there an opportunity to reach a new audience, could a creative team be assembled, etc.?  These are a some of the questions that needed to be answered before we could begin drawing on the cave walls.
To be able to have an adaptive story for all ages, we needed a group of partners and people who passionately loved the dune lakes along 30A.  As some of you may know, this wasn’t very hard to find.  There is a group of folks in south Walton County who provided that gateway of information for us to tell the dune lakes story.  This is one of the ongoing strong foundational connections in spinning the dune lakes tale.  These stories that people shared with us, their personal experiences, their scientific research, their knowledge of legends, their information of historical facts all began to come together to be woven into a Public Television style documentary.
Artist unknown.

Artist unknown.

In the past 9 months the production team has gathered together a series of video interviews, worked hard to capture segments of life along the dune lakes on video, documented the changing of the seasons and listened to the successes and struggles of managing the region along 30A.   The production team is now in post-production.  This is were all the pieces of the puzzles are on the table and are assembled.  We have a completed script, we are getting ready to begin scoring the music, graphics are being designed, natural sounds are being collected, historical documents are begin researched and collected, future premieres are being planned, working closely with Public Television groups, and so many details for a successful roll out for the April – Earth Day weekend release on Public Broadcasting Stations across the country.
We thank you for entrusting your stories, comments, suggestions, support, friendships, relationships, encouragements to paint this story on the cave walls in a documentary medium.
Stay tuned, there are more cave walls to paint to pass on this knowledge about the coastal dune lakes.

CDL Video Episode 11: A Prayer of the Woods

October 23rd, 2014

By Joey Dickinson

The Hobbit Hole at Grayton Beach State Park. Image by Elam Stoltzfus

The Hobbit Hole at Grayton Beach State Park. Image by Elam Stoltzfus

It was a sweltering summer day with little to no cloud coverage, and we were filming a tour of South Walton with the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance. The tour started in Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, where Park Services Specialist Jeff Talbert and Dr. Sarah Schindele pointed out a plethora of unique plants, explaining the ecology of the park, as well as the steps that are taken to maintain such a distinct and fragile natural area. Elam did most of the filming, while I dragged along behind him with a boom microphone, trying to capture what our hosts were saying, desperately trying to keep the long pole high above my head while keeping up with the camera in the intense heat. We then moved on to Grayton Beach State Park, where Park Ranger Patrick Hartsfeld met us, detailing the flora and fauna unique to the landscape. The pure-white sand bounced the sun’s massive rays back up at us as if it were a mirror. By this time my arms were about ready to give from holding the boom for so long, and we were all drenched in sweat, but this tour was so full of vital information, there was no way we could cease filming. Before long, Patrick directed everyone into what is known as the “Hobbit Hole,” a cluster of trees that the average person has to duck under to walk into. Here we were finally sheltered from the heat by the trees and shrubs. Before it was even pointed it out, I noticed a large sign with the title, “Prayer of The Woods.” I don’t know if we were recording just then or not, because my eyes were glued to the sign: “the friendly shade screening you from the summer sun,” it was too fitting. This poem, of which the author remains unknown, seemed to epitomize the coastal dune lakes, and the habitats found around them.

Prayer of the Woods found at Grayton Beach State Park. Photo by Elam Stoltzfus.

Prayer of the Woods found at Grayton Beach State Park. Photo by Elam Stoltzfus.

 

CDL Video Episode 8: Places of Peace

Places of Peace

September 18th, 2014

Essays by Joey Dickinson and Nic Stoltzfus

 

Three boys searching in the sand of the Lake Powell outfall.

Three boys searching in the sand of the Lake Powell outfall.

 

Ever since my first taste of the coastal dune lakes on Lake Powell for World Paddle for the Planet Day 2013, I’ve felt an overwhelming sense of tranquility whenever I’m on any one of the lakes, even if I’m working! However, one evening in particular stands out when it comes to feeling peace on the lakes. One day after filming all day in the peak-summer sun, running all across town wildly to capture both interviews and landscape images, Elam, Nic and I found ourselves lying in our freezing cold hotel room, myself on the carpeted floor, with late afternoon light still peering through the window shades. At least a half an hour of silence was broken by Elam, “I’m going out on the boat. Anyone else want to come?” His proposal was answered by even more silence, and I finally gave in, “Sure, I’m coming.” We had been filming in Walton County an awful lot at the time, making the hour and a half trip from Blountstown and back at least once a week, and although we’d been filming the lakes seemingly incessantly, we’d not actually been on the water in recent memory, and we brought the Scandy-White boat down with us this time for that sole reason. I wasn’t going to let fatigue and my intense lust for rest get between myself and that rejuvenating water. Barely able to get up off of that carpet, I knew that in just a couple of minutes, I’d be woken up by some good ole H2O. Nic decided to stay back and get some interview questions ready for the next day, and Elam and I staggered out of the hotel to Lake Powell, and launched the boat. As we began to head straight toward the middle of the lake, the engine began to spit and cry. No way.

The engine kept from shaking so long as we stayed under a certain speed, so we made our way to the outfall at a very steady pace. Although all we wanted to do was open up the engine and take off, feel some wind in our hair and zip around the lake like a playground, we were forced to slow down, turning that playground into a peaceful cathedral. As the sun started to set, orange patches of light backlit the dark blue rain-clouded sky. The wind died down almost suddenly and the entire lake was as flat as a mirror. At a certain point, the outfall became too shallow, and I jumped out into the water, towing the boat by a rope. I’m not sure why, but this filled me with one of the most peaceful feelings I’ve ever had. It was completely silent except for the smooth hushing of the gulf, and Elam and I only exchanged words to safely get the boat through the shallow patch. We pulled the boat of on the sand to walk around in the outfall and enjoy the sunset. The only other people in the outfall with us were three boys, catching minnows with their hands, staring imminently into the still water. You might have seen the image I captured as they waited for the small fish to swim into their palms. Everything was still. All of the fatigue that I was feeling had vanished and I felt completely restored. After the sun had set, we didn’t want to go back in, but alas, we had to finally get some much-needed rest. One never wants to get off the water of a dune lake, especially after an experience like that. All I could do was smile because it happened, and because of the fact that I felt completely at peace because of it, and wait for the next time I’d be able to come back.

 

–Joey Dickinson

 

Two friends taking a morning walk at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.

Two friends taking a morning walk at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.

 

What is the place I feel most peaceful when I am down in Walton County? I don’t know if it is a location as much as a state of mind. And that state of mind comes about when I am walking and talking with a dear friend. Walking and talking with myself is good, too, but that produces a different state of mind (as the old saw goes, “It’s okay to talk to yourself…as long as no one answers!”). The place I enjoy walking and talking the most is at Topsail Hill Preserve. There are miles of trails and plenty of wildlife to enjoy along the way. Plus, it is pretty quiet, so it is easy to hear what my friend has to say. Two memories come to mind when I think of achieving this state of peace.

 

Late one night Dad was getting ready to bike out from our cabin at Topsail to Lake Campbell to film a time-lapse of the Milky Way arcing over the lake. Joey and I decided to walk with him a bit before he biked down to the lake by himself (we weren’t staying up with him because we were planning on waking up early the following day and filming the sunrise). The three of us walked together for awhile and then Dad got on his bike and rode off. As Joey and I walked back the stars were shining bright in the sky above, the crickets buzzed, and our conversation hummed. We didn’t talk about anything in particular, just whatever came to mind. At one point we stopped and laid down to look up at the stars. I could see a bat fly over from time to time. Neither of us said a word, and all felt right with the world.

 

The second memory I have is when my Mom and my sister came down to stay with me at a Topsail cabin for a few days in August. My sister had not visited Topsail yet, and I was eager to show her the coastal dune lakes where we had been filming for many months. Laura just got married May of this year and moved out to Los Angeles soon after the wedding. She hadn’t visited home since then, so I was excited to catch up. One afternoon we packed up all our swimming gear and started walking down the main trail towards the beach. It was a VERY hot day in August, so walking was a bit of a chore. However, we walked the trail all the way down to the beach and she told me all about life in LA and the how things have changed since she got married, and I pointed out all sorts of plants and animals as we walked down. That moment everything was perfect: here I am with one of my best friends just walking and talking. That is peace for me.

 

–Nic Stoltzfus

 

 

CDL Video Episode 6: Education on the Coastal Dune Lakes

By Nic Stoltzfus August 14th, 2014   This past week my dad showed his latest film, The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition: Everglades to Okefenokee, at the Martin Theatre in Historic Panama City. After the film ended, I was helping out with merch sales and a lady asked about my occupation. “Are you in school?” I replied that I had already graduated from college. “Are you in graduate school?” I said that I worked for my dad. “Oh, so you are home-graduate-schooled!” We both laughed, but I had a sharp moment of recognition: that is exactly how I would sum up my experience of working for my dad over this past year.

The Florida Wildlife Corridor Film on the Martin Theatre marquee.

The Florida Wildlife Corridor Film on the Martin Theatre marquee.

I’ve not been to graduate school, but my sister obtained her degree earlier this year and, from what I saw, it took a lot of work. And she was constantly reading—reading all she could get her hands on about her research topic. And that is what I have been doing for more than a year: my research topic is the coastal dune lakes of Walton County. My thesis advisor is Elam Stoltzfus. I need to submit my research (for the script) by next month. That’s one way of looking at it. Dad’s metaphor for my job is that I need to be a sponge and soak up all the info I can about them (“They call me Bob, Spongebob.”). It has been one long year of learning and education. Part of our assignment with creating an hour-long documentary about the coastal dune lakes, and a companion coffee-table book, is to adequately document the lakes. And how do you do that? It was on the coastal dune lakes that I got my first taste of professional photography. Sure, as the son of a professional videographer, I got basic lessons on pictures but, prior to working with Dad, I used my phone or a point and click digicam. When I started working with him he taught me how to take better pictures, and I also picked up a few tutorials on how to become a better photographer, as well. I knew I had to learn how to take good pictures (and edit good pictures!) if I was going to work with him. And I have. By taking pictures of nature I learned to slow down and take a closer look at everything. I started looking at the natural world in a different way. It’s not just one large slap of green paint, not at all. Underneath the trees and underneath the sand there is a thriving city with inhabitants unseen to my human eyes. Ants and beetles and worms and crickets moving beneath my feet. Dragonflies and butterflies above my head. Birds soaring overhead, snakes slithering beneath me. These natural areas are FULL of life—it just required me learning how to stop. And listen. And watch from the right perspective, the proper perspective. I have always loved the outdoors; I grew up halfway in the classroom and halfway out of the classroom by tagging along with Dad on film shoots all over the state. But, by working on this project, I really learned how to love and appreciate nature. Another part of my education of the coastal dune lakes was through interviewing people for the documentary. As we began interviewing people about the coastal dune lakes, my mind has expanded even further. We have interviewed geologists, artists, local residents, environmentalists, activists, community planners—the list goes on and on. And each one has a different perspective on the dune lakes, each one views them with a different lens. The artist sees them as works of art, the geologist as layers of sand piled over time, the activist as land to be protected, the local as places of recreation and fun. Every person we interviewed took us to their position and showed us what the lakes look like from their standpoint. Therefore, whenever I think about the coastal dune lakes, I think about education. There are thousands of ways that people can educate themselves about the lakes. The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance has a great webpage with links to research and videos about the lakes. They even offer tours from time to time. We documented one coastal dune lake tour that took a look at three coastal dune lakes and their ecosystems. Dr. Sarah Schindele and Brittany Tate of Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance managed the tour. We began that morning with Jeff Talbert of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park leading the tour to a wet prairie teeming with rare carnivorous plants and showcasing Lake Campbell, one of the most pristine coastal dune lakes in Walton County. Later we drove east to Grayton Beach State Park where Patrick Hartsfield led a group through the dune ecosystem that separates Western Lake from the Gulf of Mexico. After lunch the group took a tour of Oyster Lake.

Dr. Sarah Schindele (front) with members from the coastal dune lakes tour

Dr. Sarah Schindele (front) with members from the coastal dune lakes tour

Walton Outdoors has put together a great site with all the public access points along the lakes. You can attend Coastal Dune Lake Advisory Board meetings and find out what the recent news is along the lakes. We’ve even done a video on the advisory board, as well! The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance is working on an updated Dunes in Schools program targeted towards middle school students in south Walton. This is an opportunity for children to learn about the coastal dune lakes and how they work in the classroom, grow sea oats, and then plant them along the dunes at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. Opportunities abound for educating yourself about coastal dune lakes. When I spent a year studying abroad in London with the FSU Communication Program, my professor encouraged us to use the city as our classroom. Over the last year, the coastal dune lake country of south Walton has been my classroom. From the lakes I learned the importance of stillness and that the most spectacular part of the sunset is sometimes after the sun has dipped down past the horizon; the multicolored clouds illuminating sky and water alike. The people in and around the area have been my professors. From them I’ve learned plant names, area history, and how to ward off yellow flies. The grey heron on Western Lake, the alligators at No-Name Lake, the snowy plover chicks and the loggerhead sea turtles by the dunes at Topsail have all been my teachers. The animals in the area taught me to be respectful and ever mindful that they are wild creatures and deserve more space than my pets. I have learned a little bit of something from all the life that exists down there, and I am a very fortunate student. I can’t wait for my second year—when do I sign up for fall classes?

***

Here is our latest video about the coastal dune lakes and education. I wrote the script, Dad did the cinematography, and our editor, Joey Dickinson, put all the pieces together. Enjoy.  

Coastal Dune Lakes – Episode 05 – A Prayer for the Dune Lakes

Deer Lake Dunes State Park

Deer Lake Dunes State Park

My Coastal Dune Lake

  Ancient crystle dunes

         engulfed by a risen sea.

         Ocean shrinks to gulf in time,

        baring mounds of sugared quartz.

      Rare pools of sparkling life are born

       to milliniums of nurturing kisses

       from a coddling saline surf.

       Embracing tides wash life to benthic worlds

     as needle rush nurseries feed

      flora, fauna, future.

       Flyoff vapors, cool and collected,

      fall to stream across shore to sea,

     barrow for the rapt organic cornucopia

      of our ever renewing coastal plash.

A poem inspired by Lake Powell and written by Richard Bryan after 4 decades.

YouTube Video Episode 05

CDL Video Episode 4: Jewels of 30A

July 17th, 2014

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.

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.

 

Whoosh.

 

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.

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.

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

 

CDL Video Episode 3: The Coastal Dune Lakes Advisory Board

July 3rd, 2014
By Elam Stoltzfus
Western Lake view

The icon view of Western Lake

Ad·vi·so·ry:  having or consisting in the power to make recommendations but not to take action enforcing them.
The Coastal Dune Lakes Advisory Board is comprised of residents and partners with Walton County, to ensure the protection, health and environmental integrity of the county’s globally rare and imperiled Coastal Dune Lakes and to provide sound recommendations to the Walton County Board of Commissioners. The Coastal Dune Lakes Advisory Board monitors the watersheds and the Coastal Dune Lake Protection Zones of 15 Coastal Dune Lakes for activities that affect the environmental conservation of the lakes. To learn more about the Board and the lakes, see the Coastal Dune Lakes Advisory Board Manual.
Over the past 8 years I have been able to attend numerous advisory board meetings to hear about updates on the Coastal Dune Lakes in Walton County.  Every time I attend the meeting I learn something new, meet new people, and leave the meeting with ideas.  These people are the ears and eyes for the coastal dune lakes.  After the meeting the information is compiled and presented to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners.  It is well worth the effort to sit in the meetings to gain new understanding about the dune lakes in Walton County, to find out what is working and not working, listen to ideas shared to improve the protection of the lakes, discover the process of the local governance and how this works, and contribute to the ongoing conversation about the dune lakes.  This is a group of folks who deserve credit for many of the improvements seen along and around the lakes and 30A.
Coastal Dune Lakes Episode 03 is a brief overview of the CDLAB.

CDL Video Episode 2: How Do Coastal Dune Lakes Work?

About two weeks ago, I was sitting in the office and preparing for the first blog I wrote on the coastal dune lakes, and I stumbled across the term “coastal lagoon” on the National Geographic website.

 

A lagoon is a shallow body of water protected from a larger body of water (usually the ocean) by sandbars, barrier islands, or coral reefs. Lagoons are often called estuaries, sounds, bays, or even lakes.

 (Emphasis added)

 

My eyes widened and jaw dropped. “Oh no, oh no. This isn’t good.” I said aloud. The definition for coastal lagoon was very close to that of a coastal dune lake (and this is coming from Nat Geo, so I knew it was official). I continued researching coastal lagoons. Here is a definition of a coastal lagoon from a 1994 article by Dr. Bjorn Kjerve (PhD, Marine Sciences):

Coastal lagoons are inland water bodies, found on all continents, usually oriented parallel to the coast, separated from the ocean by a barrier, connected to the ocean by one or more restricted inlets which remain open at least intermittently, and have water depths which seldom exceed a few meters. A lagoon may or may not be subject to tidal mixing, and salinity can vary from that of a coastal fresh-water lake to a hypersaline lagoon, depending on the hydrologic balance.

I thought about the definition a bit more in regards to the coastal dune lakes in Florida and compared it to the definition put forth by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in their 2008 e-newsletter, Coastal Currents. 

Coastal dune lakes develop from various coastal processes, most commonly when sand deposition fills an inlet to a tidal basin or lagoon…The coastal dune lakes of Walton County are fed by streams, groundwater seepage, rain and storm surge and experience intermittent connection with the Gulf of Mexico. The periodic connection, called an outfall, empties lake water into the Gulf and, depending on tides and weather, salt water and organisms from the Gulf flow back into the lakes.

Among the Walton County lakes, each is different and each outfall is unique. Salinity in the 15 lakes ranges from totally fresh to highly saline, resulting in biologically diverse ecosystems.

Coastal lagoons and coastal dune lakes—they sound a lot alike. But do they look alike? Here is a picture of a coastal lagoon from his article:

 

Coastal Lagoon Diagram by Kjerve.

Coastal Lagoon Diagram by Kjerve.

Here is a picture of a coastal dune lake in Walton County, Florida:

 

The outfall of Western Lake, the coastal dune lake found within Grayton Beach State Park.

The outfall of Western Lake, the coastal dune lake found within Grayton Beach State Park.

Hmm…that visual of a choked coastal lagoon looks a lot like a coastal dune lake, doesn’t it? I wanted a little more information, so I looked up examples of choked coastal lagoons he cited.

 

There is a choked coastal lagoon in South Africa, St. Lucia. It is part of South Africa’s iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site. (Map.)

 

There is a choked coastal lagoon in Thailand—Songkhla Lake. It is the largest natural lake in Thailand and contains brackish water about half as salty as the ocean. (Aerial photo.)

 

To be fair, both of these are much larger than the lakes found in Walton County—and neither of them have dunes that separate the lakes from the ocean. But—I hadn’t heard of them before, and I was still a little unnerved—what exactly are these lakes we have in SoWal? Should they be coastal dune choked lagoons? Or something else entirely?

 

Dagnabbit! I felt like I had opened Pandora’s box or taken a bite from the apple in the garden—what once was clear was now obfuscated, muddled.

 

In order to work my way out of this puzzle, I e-mailed Dr. Sarah Schindele, grant coordinator for the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance and superhero extraordinare. Sarah has been my main contact in finding out more about all things science-related to the dune lakes. She wasn’t sure how to answer my question, so she put me in touch with a professor she knew at University of West Florida’s Department of Environmental Studies, Dr. Klaus Meyer-Arendt. Dr. Meyer-Arendt received his PhD in Geography and Marine Science from Louisiana State University (like Dr. Kjerfve). He currently specializes in coastal research, so I knew he would be able to provide me with accurate information in regards to my question. Here is what he replied in an e-mail to me and Dr. Sarah Schindele:

 

…coastal dune lakes–including those of Walton County–comprise a subset of choked coastal lagoons. Dr. Kjerfve is a very respected oceanographer, and his article is very comprehensive.  I personally always interpreted coastal lagoons as being linear, parallel to the shore, and normally free of freshwater input.  Dr. Kjerfve’s article points out that this is not always the case. So, in terms of a typology of coastal waterbodies, I would tend to go along with him.

 

…these lakes are not very common but that they have been classified as a subset of coastal lagoons.  I don’t believe that lessens their importance…..and their special status in Florida.

 

Ah…it made a little more sense now. I still want to make 100% sure that this is true and that coastal dune lakes are a subset of a choked coastal lagoon, so I am currently in the process of contacting Dr. Kjerfve. Once I find out more information from him, I will include it in my next update about the coastal dune lakes.

 

I thought more about it all—coastal dune lakes are a subset of a larger grouping. Kinda like—like birds! The Snowy Plover (Charadrius nivosus) is found in the plover bird family (Charadriidae). The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is found in the cardinal bird family (Cardinalis). Both bird families are branches under the much larger bird class (Aves). Defining coastal dune lakes in this way doesn’t make them any less rare or unique; this definition situates it in a larger framework and is a starting point for conversation about coastal systems around the world.

Attached is a video that we did here at Live Oak Production Group featuring the coastal dune lakes of South Walton and how they work. Enjoy!

 

08/12/14 UPDATE: In an 08/09/14 e-mail from Dr. Kjerve, he wrote that, “Whether a system is called a lagoon or a lake is usually the local terminology although the fresher the water is, there more likely it is that the system will be called a lake as in South Africa, Thailand, Australia when the water is mostly fresh. To me, coastal dune lakes and coastal lagoons are identical systems geodynamically.” 

Meaning? Well, to update the above metaphor, it would be akin to the word “bird” being “tori” in Japanese or “pássaro” in Portuguese; the winged animal we see in front of us is still the same thing, despite the different names we have for it.