Photo courtesy of Nancy Ellis.

Neighborhood social media: It’s a mixed bag, much of it seeking recommendations for everything from plumbers to tacos, plus plenty of snark about sketchy types in alleyways and Those Darn Kids driving golf carts down Abrams. 

But wade through it all, and you’ll be rewarded with often breathtaking photos of White Rock Lake, courtesy of neighbor Nancy Ellis, who seems to have found her niche.

It’s a true lemonade-out-of-lemons story. At the beginning of the pandemic, Ellis was furloughed from her work as an interior designer. With time on her hands, she decided early one March morning to head out to the lake at sunrise. 

“I only had my iPhone with me, but it was magic the moment I arrived at the lake and watched the sun come up. I couldn’t stop taking pictures that morning,” she says.

Ellis says she always loved photography and was influenced by her dad, who was a photo hobbyist. In college, she took a few photography classes and found she loved the artistic expression. She had taken pictures of travels, pets and children throughout the years, but somehow didn’t think to shoot at the lake during 30 years of living nearby.

But shelter-in-place orders forced Ellis to slow down. 

“I was suddenly seeing, because I wasn’t working and had so much free time to do what I loved,” she says. “I began taking my Canon 35mm with me and photographing people, rowers, kayakers, wildlife, sunrises and sunsets. The wildflowers were prolific that spring. 

“I was flabbergasted that I was just now discovering all of this, five minutes from home. I felt like I had missed out on so much over the years. I had no schedule to keep, no place to be, so I felt free to follow my passion, get up early and go to the lake.”

Her first photo, which she posted on social media, was shot next to the Filter Building, where Ellis stumbled upon a field of wildflowers. 

“I came across a gorgeous patch of red poppies. It looked like a Monet meadow,” she says. “I’d never seen anything like that at the lake. It was stunning!”

And so began Ellis’ routine of almost daily visits to the lake, camera in hand, then posting the photos several times weekly on Lakewood Facebook and other sites. Over time, she has received hundreds of positive comments, especially during the first year of the pandemic.

Photos courtesy of Nancy Ellis.

“People were happy to see these beautiful things with all the pain and suffering going on around us,” Ellis says. “Politics were terrible, and seeing these nature photos was like a breath of fresh air, I think.”

Some days she shot at sunrise, some days at sunset, some days both. 

“I started out with my sunrise jaunts shooting at the rowing docks on the west side of the lake,” she says. “There were rowers, ducks, blue herons and glorious sunrises. I loved that whole side of the lake in the mornings.” 

She also found great shots at the footbridge near the dog park on the north side.   

But Ellis waxes poetic about sunsets at the lake, and she has a particular fondness for Winfrey Point and Sunset Bay.

 “There has been so much wildlife there — I could just sit for hours and watch the ducks, geese, pelicans, pigeons,” she says. 

Ellis became attached to some of her subjects — the Ruddy shelduck, for instance. It’s a rare bird (literally) in these parts but found mostly in Asia. 

“She really touched my soul,” Ellis says. “She was beautiful, unique in her appearance from all the other waterfowl, and just so solitary. She had no partner, no babies, just herself. She was regal and delicate, but still hardy and persistent when it came to foraging for food with the other ducks. I felt a connection with her. And then, this year, she’s gone. I don’t know what happened to her, but I’m so sad she’s gone.”

Ellis says the last two years of discovering the bliss that is White Rock Lake has touched her soul. And by sharing her photos, she has opened neighbors’ eyes to the incredible beauty right here in our neighborhood. 

As one commenter put it: “Through your beautiful photographs, it’s fed our souls too. How fortunate we are to have such treasure!”