By BOB PALMER,
Jimplecute News Editor
Dallas-based videographer Scot Miller made a slicing motion across his throat with his hand as the pontoon boat glided through lily pads near a stand of Caddo Lake’s towering Bald Cypress trees.
“This is church,” Miller whispered. That moment replayed on television screens across the country Sunday.
CBS Sunday Morning News host Jane Pauley introduced the 40th Anniversary show’s traditional final segment, a moment with nature. Reporter Connor Knighton began with Miller’s tribute to the largest natural lake in Texas.
In addition to Miller, the Jimplecute interviewed local photographers Hollis Shadden and Hattie Lee Hackler whose bodies of work prominently feature the 225,400-acre lake on the Texas-Louisiana border.
All agree Caddo Lake offers photographers and visitors moments to remember. “Caddo Lake is in a class by itself,” Miller, a nationally-recognized photographer and author, said.
“It is so unique. It is different.” Miller has hiked the Sierra Nevada Mountains and visited Walden Pond, but Caddo still charms him.
“I bring other photographers in and they are blown away,” Miller said. “We came there the first time four years ago and been back there eight times since. We just keep going back.” Shadden concurred.
“Caddo is probably one of the most beautiful places, in my opinion, on earth,” Shadden said. “I’ve shot all around different parts of the United states, Central America and South America.” Caddo has three distinct personalities, Shadden believes.
“It depends on the season,” Shadden explained. “Summertime it is all green and beautiful, the flowering plants and everything. Come autumn you get all the leaves turning, the bright rust colors. This time of year, you get all the grays from the tree trunks and the Spanish moss.
Hackler also praises the lake with an average depth of only a little more than eight feet.“Caddo is one of a kind beauty,” Hackler said. “There is no place like it. I have not found a bad day on Caddo. Morning or evening there is something beautiful. I never come back disappointed.”
HOOKED ON A FEELING
For those who appreciate Caddo’s inner beauty with more than 240 species of birds, the lake affords visitors more than just eye candy.“I think unique is the word that comes to mind,” Miller said, noting the trees and the wildlife. “You go out there and stay out there. You go out at night and the sounds you hear. You think you are in Jurassic Park or something. The wildlife is incredible. The trees and the moss are incredible.”
Hackler sensed an almost otherworldly quality. “Caddo is hauntingly beautiful,” Hackler said. “You have these ancient water forests that just stick out.”A camera is not required to enjoy Caddo Lake. “Wives or husbands of photographers come out,” Miller related. “It’s relaxing. It’s engaging. You become mesmerized. You go through Government Ditch and it reminds me of one of those rides in Disneyland. You expect pirates to jump out or alligators.”
Shadden said Caddo “definitely” has appeal for more than photographers. “The nature and the wildlife out there, you see and just marvel at what the Good Lord has given us,” Shadden said. “I think it will lower your blood pressure ten points just by being out there.”“It might even be better without a camera in your hand,” Hackler said.
“You might be better able to focus. I come home all the time and look at photos and see things that I didn’t know that I had.” When asked what areas of the lake they preferred, Miller picked Government Ditch and the area near Uncertain.
Shadden likes the Texas side with more trees. Hackler enjoys Taylor Island, as well as the Wildlife Management area.
Each photographer found their own favorite Caddo moment – two involved alligator encounters.“We had a husband and wife team of professional photographers out with us,” Miller said.
“We were in Government Ditch and they asked if we ever saw alligators. I was telling them that it was very rare and all of a sudden – ALLIGATOR. There was an alligator right there.” Shadden recalled taking two other photographers out in a Go Devil boat with Johnson Ranch’s Billy Carter at the helm. “Billy asked us what we wanted to see. We said, can you put us on an alligator? We took off across the lake at full blast. He yells at us to get our cameras ready. He turns right and right there was a 12-foot alligator. We got some great pictures.”
Hackler said memories of Caddo go back to her childhood. “We would go camping at Caddo,” Hackler said. “It’s where I did my first tent camping, my first hiking, my first fishing. It’s sacred ground to me. Has been forever and always will be. ”None reported a dangerous or bad experience on the lake, but Hackler offered one word of caution.“Anyone who has been out on Caddo on any worthwhile trip has been lost,” Hackler said.
“That can be a little bit scary, but you haven’t really experienced Caddo Lake unless you’ve been a little bit lost.” Fans of CBS Sunday Morning say the nature moment at the end of the broadcast can provide tranquility. All three say they can find a sense of peace on Caddo. “When you are out in nature like that, there is something very spiritual,” Miller said. “In the video I called it a church. It is a church of nature, not brick and mortar.” Shadden said he enjoys shutting off the motor to his boat and “just listen to birds and the sounds of nature.” Hackler said she finds a sense of peace on Caddo.
“I think it has to do with the history,” she said. “It is ancient.”Paradoxically, Caddo also provides excitement for photographers.“Not much boring about Caddo,” Miller said. “I find Caddo exciting. Big trees, flowers, dragonflies. Always something there.”
“To me Caddo is exciting,” Shadden said. “I’ve never been bored out there.” “You can’t see something like that somewhere else in the world,” Hackler said. “Caddo has never disappointed me.”
If you are headed to Caddo with only your cell phone, Miller, Shadden and Hackler say you can still take some great pictures. “Phones today are incredible,” Miller said.
“If you do it right, they can make incredible photographs. Depends where you are. If you are under a tree, sometimes looking up the tree can make a good photograph.”Miller had one tip for amateur shooters.
“So many people when they take the picture, they hit it hard,” Miller said. “I see so many photographs that come out blurry. Be real gentle when you push the button on your phone.” “Cell phones are getting lot better pictures,” Shadden said.
“I have seen beautiful pictures shot with cell phones. It’s easy to get a good landscape with the cypress trees and everything. Just open your eyes and see the beauty and capture it.” “I’ve only had my good camera for six or seven months,” Hackler said.
“Before that everything I shot was with my iPhone. You are not going to get the woodpecker up in the tree, but you can certainly get the sunlight glinting off the water and reflecting off the trunks of the trees.”
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