Changes in Atchafalaya Basin
Tuesday, November 9, 2004
CC's Journal 25

Flat Lake Sunset

I noticed quite early in my Atchafalaya Basin wanderings how much it changes each trip I take, with the seasons of course, but much more. Water levels, winds and the tide can change the look of the spillway on a daily basis.

For example, many times in the Basin I have paddled my canoe against the current into Mims Lake, singing joyfully to my self that the ride out will be easy, going with the flow. But no, by the end of the day the tide is coming in along with an increase in the south wind and I'm fighting the flow all the way out too. Not only does this give me more exercise, but it also can move the floating aquatic vegetation to the other side of the lake giving a whole different landscape appearance.

Today I am four miles north of Morgan City at the mouth of Bear Bayou (which empties southward into Flat Lake) and noticing the seasonal changes. What was open cold clear water last March is now (early November) warm muddy water that is chocked full of aquatic plants, such as hydrilla, duck weed, and water hyacinth. They give the mouth of this bayou and the northern edge of Flat Lake a more land-like look. Many birds are walking and feeding on the aquatic vegetation. So even though more than half the plant material is made up of exotic species, it does help to create a habitat for much bird life. In addition to the usual egrets, herons, and ibis, I am seeing flocks of noisy black-necked stilts, large groups of recently arrived American coots, and smaller groups of sundry shore birds.

At a site where I took foggy sunrise photographs last March, the water was open under the bald cypress and shined with an orange glow. Now thick vegetation four feet tall is covering that water surface. This morning grebes were swimming by the houseboat, as a flock of eight White Pelicans landed nearby. All were in search of the abundant mullet, which leaped and splashed all night long near the Wetland Wanderer. Today a cold front has been en route, and I loved the sequential dim-to bright-to dim change of light intensity as first the fog burned off, then the sky became sunny, after which the clouds arrived to eventually yield rain ? with each phase of the change giving a different feel to this beautiful spot in the Atchafalaya Basin. I have taken more photographs here than any other place I have been.

That I am always alert to the continuous possibility of capturing on film an extraordinary, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime "pièce de résistance," vista is because of what one of my favorite teachers, Nolan Bailey, taught me in photography. He said, "When you see something your eye likes, take its picture, for it could be a passing moment that will never happen again." My most famous and most published photograph, Flat Lake Sunset, seen here with this journal, was taken in the fall of 1976 two hundred yards from where my houseboat is now anchored. At that time there were no water hyacinths, and the northern edge of the lake was deeper. I paddled my canoe toward the bald cypress, selected a nice grouping of trees and knees, and waited for the right moment of the setting sun. Bingo! I created a contest winner, a cover photo, and a bona fide classic. Until we have an extremely cold winter to really knock the hyacinths back and a low and high water cycle range adequate to get rid of the hydrilla, that shot cannot be repeated, even if the sunset and cloud pattern cooperated. But until if and when all that happens again, I will continue to enjoy the esthetically pleasing daily changes in the diverse and dynamic Atchafalaya Basin.