Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A one-day departure

with 33 comments

Union Hill Cemetery, Williamson Co., Texas; click to enlarge.

Today marks one month since I put up the first post in this blog, and it’s coincidentally not only my birthday but also our nation’s birthday, so I hope you’ll indulge me in a one-day bit of independence from my normal approach, which is to show nature per se, free from the intrusion of any human elements into the picture. Yesterday’s post about the old Union Hill Cemetery sent me to my archives for May 4, 2010, and in looking through the photographs from that session I was reminded of the eventful day it had been.

First there was the matter of parking. I’d originally parked on the edge of a small side road that intersects the one that crosses the upper part of the photograph. I walked into the cemetery but something kept nagging me about where I’d parked, so I gave in to my apprehension and moved the car. A little later, after I’d been photographing in the cemetery for a while, I was startled by a sound that I’ve come to recognize as that of one car crashing into another. A vehicle passing by on the main road had hit one coming out from the side road, and the one that was hit ended up careening over to the very spot where I’d originally parked my car.

No one was hurt, so I went back to taking pictures. In the last decade, site after site where I’ve photographed wildflowers has disappeared—sometimes within weeks of my visit—getting variously turned into a truck depot, office building, road, supermarket, parking lot, subdivision, etc. At the top of today’s photograph you can see that the piece of prairie across the way from the cemetery is now covered with one of the many subdivisions that have been springing up in the outer reaches of the Austin area, where land is cheaper than closer in.

Score one for the subdivision, and score one for me in not getting my parked car wrecked in a freak accident. Call it a draw with respect to another nemesis that I encounter all too often: the mower man. You can see him cutting his path of destruction across the top of the photograph. This blog is only a month old, and already you’ve heard me complain about these people who only seem happy when they’ve turned a beautiful display of flowers in a stubblefield. At least on this day the mower stayed on the subdivision side of the road and left the flowers in Union Hill Cemetery alone.

Because you know that the photograph shows a cemetery, there’s no reason for you to be surprised to see three tombstones standing among the Engelmann daisies and bluebonnets that by themselves would be my usual subject. What you can’t tell from this reduced view is that three people buried beneath the tombstones were all from a family named Brooks, and that all were infants. That’s what life was like back then. Going left to right, here’s the information about each, including the little poems that their parents, D.R and M.D. Brooks, had inscribed at the bases of the tombstones of their little children.

Freddie J. Brooks. Born May 13, 1891; died Oct. 9, 1892.

Alas how changed that lovely flower,
Which bloomed and changed our hearts:
Fair fleeting moments of an hour,
How soon we’r called to part.

James Oliver Brooks. Born Dec. 14, 1877; died Sep. 2, 1878.

How we miss thee how we miss thee,
There’s no earthly tongue can tell.
Yet we hope one day to meet thee,
Where we need not say farewell.

Ellen Adeline Brooks. Born Oct. 24, 1880; died Aug. 13, 1881.

She has crossed the shining river,
Safe she rests on yonder shore;
She is in her home eternal,
With the loved ones gone before.

The first of those inscriptions, which is the last one chronologically, even contains the word flower, so we’ll let this photograph of a wildflower meadow be a fitting tribute.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 4, 2011 at 1:43 PM

33 Responses

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  1. Engel means angel in German, so Engelmann was the angel man (which he certainly was for botanists and native plant appreciators).


    July 4, 2011 at 2:25 PM

    • Thanks for letting readers know that Engelmann, for whom the Engelmann daisy was named, had a family name that means ‘angel man.’ That seems especially apropos in a story about the graves of three infant siblings.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 4, 2011 at 2:51 PM

  2. Old cemeteries have been a prime source for collectors of old roses. This one in Williamson County is especially beautiful with its prairie flowers and grasses. I’ll stop next time I go thru there and look at it, early September will not be prime time but suspect it will still be beautiful. The old cemetery from Ft Stockton, while the military graves removed, has quite a few graves in it. A small part of it has been enclosed by a rock wall, built by either the WPA or the WPA in the last big depression, which was worse than the current though also caused by poor governmental policies and individual greed. A few years back the city of Ft Stockton hired a man to run the physical plant for the city and he had wild flowers, some native trees and shrubs and native grasses to be planted between the graves. It’s really beautiful, and a very peaceful place. It’s right behind the roadrunner on Dickenson Blvd but not everyone who stops to take pictures there notices the cemetery. Those who do find a real treat. Thanks, Steve.

    John Mac Carpenter

    July 4, 2011 at 5:54 PM

    • This cemetery was indeed especially beautiful, but I’m sorry to tell you it’s been mowed recently, and between the mowing and the drought it’s looking pretty barren now. The best time to check it out will be in a wet spring — provided the mowers can be persuaded to let it be.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 4, 2011 at 9:40 PM

  3. A very moving post. Happy Birthday!


    July 4, 2011 at 8:35 PM

  4. Happy Birthday Steve! The fourth was my father’s birthday also.


    July 4, 2011 at 9:41 PM

  5. You know him as well, the disastrous mower man!
    Touching little poems. Old cemetries always seem to whisper stories to our imagination.


    July 5, 2011 at 7:13 AM

    • I’m sorry to hear that you’re familiar with the disastrous mower man too.
      Yes, the poems are touching. I wonder if any descendants of that family still live in the area more than a century later.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 5, 2011 at 7:28 AM

  6. The 4th is my birthday also. Love the cemetery picture and the sweet little headstones. I couldn’t tell from your photo what was carved into the stones. It looks like there is something resting in the niches — is it a sleeping child or cherub or a lamb? The carving is beautiful. There is an old cemetery by a house we lived in when my boys were small and we walked in there often and looked at the stones and talked about the people buried there. Those old cemeteries are treasures. Re: mowers — one of the frontage roads along the downtown “canyon” of I-30 in Dallas has grassy slopes on the north side. This past April I drove home from work and the slopes were completely covered with winecups. It was breathtaking. Sadly, there was no way to stop and not be killed, so I hoped to drive by when traffic was lighter. Alas, the evil mowers came through a day or two later and completely decimated the burgundy carpet. Heartbreaking.


    July 7, 2011 at 10:15 AM

    • Welcome to the 4th of July club. The cemetery picture is poignant, and I can understand why you’d want to see more of what’s carved on the headstones. If you go back to my post, you’ll notice that the three names of the children are actually links. Click on each one and you’ll be taken to a site that preserves cemetery information. In this case, a man named John Christeson, whom I don’t know, has taken close-up photos of each tombstone so you can see all the details.

      Your experience with the winecups on I-30 reminds me of one I had a decade ago here in Austin, when on a downtown embankment of Interstate 35 I found a mower cutting down most of the wildflowers, which of course the taxpayers had paid to have planted there in the first place. The guy didn’t want to stop, but because I had my camera with me and made gestures to take pictures of him, he fled the scene. One little victory among so many losses.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 7, 2011 at 11:47 AM

  7. Happy belated birthday, Steve!

    I am so sorry to hear about the destruction of wildflowers in the Austin area. They are threatened here too, of course, but things aren’t quite that bad. Our current chief city gardener has made it a point to re-establish wildflowers and leave sections of public parks unmowed. Some of my flower pictures were photographed on a wildflower meadow strip beside a busy, recently remodelled road in within the city.

    Tourism is serious business here and I am sure that’s one of the reasons you can still find amazing wildlife out of town.


    July 8, 2011 at 2:54 PM

    • Austin is supposedly “enlightened” when it comes to the environment, but there are conflicting factions within city government and within the citizenry as well. There are plenty of people in Austin who are happy to see every unoccupied piece of land mowed to the ground and who complain to the authorities whenever the foliage gets more than a foot tall. At the same time we have nature preserves and sections of parks where wildflowers are appreciated and even planted. We also have the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which has done a lot of good in promoting native plants all around the United States. I’m glad to hear that nature is promoted in your town in Germany.

      Thanks for the birthday wishes. My present to myself, as usual, was going out and taking pictures that morning. But I do that a lot anyhow, birthday or no birthday.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 8, 2011 at 3:32 PM

  8. Those graves amongst the wildflowers are incredible! such a great sea of yellow to have the lovely curvy stone slabs poking through- ’tis a shame that they mowed it 😦


    September 12, 2011 at 3:39 PM

    • Yes, they were wonderful. This year the mowers have gone crazy and razed more plots than I’ve ever seen them do before.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 12, 2011 at 4:00 PM

  9. I’d never quite pictured the Grim Reaper on a riding lawnmower before! So sad — the little graves, the mowed wildflowers, the encroaching developments.

    Emma J (imaginary bicycle)

    October 17, 2011 at 10:42 AM

    • That’s imaginative: I’d never thought of the mower men as the Grim Reaper, but they have cut down many botanical lives in their prime.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 17, 2011 at 1:19 PM

  10. […] 16, two evenings ago, I went out with my longest lens to record the grackles’ flocking. As I mentioned on July 4, I don’t normally include human elements in my nature pictures, but this is one of those […]

  11. Thanks for sharing the link. That’s beautiful!


    December 8, 2011 at 9:40 AM

  12. Perfect timing–I hadn’t read this post of yours before and happened to on the same day I was posting something in a similar vein. I think Emma J is exactly right in picturing the terrible mowers-of-things-that-oughtn’t-be-mowed as grim reapers. What a pity we can’t appreciate the life of wildflowers and native grasses most of all in a cemetery! Not surprising, then, that developers build neighborhoods that look eerily like echoes of the tombstones, as you show so fittingly in your photo above!

    Kathryn Sparks

    December 8, 2011 at 4:16 PM

  13. Ah, synchronicity. Yes, I complained about the mowers this summer in many of my posts as I found one piece of land after another mowed down prematurely, so Emma J’s comment about the Grim Reaper was a good one. And your comment about “neighborhoods that look eerily like echoes of the tombstones” is also apt. Between the drought and the extensive mowing that did cross the road into the cemetery this year, the place looked terrible when I drove up there on July 4 to check it out, but if we have enough rain and if the mowers can be persuaded to wait far enough into the spring of 2012, the wildflowers can yet come back; the seeds are already there waiting in the ground.

    Steve Schwartzman

    December 8, 2011 at 4:42 PM

  14. […] July 4, 2011, when a few of you were reading about my visit in 2010 to the old Union Hill Cemetery, I went back to see what the cemetery was looking like a year later. Not long before getting there […]

  15. I’m so glad you pinged that post. I enjoyed. What an incredible twist of fate about that accident. And the tombstone epitaphs were particularly moving.


    July 7, 2012 at 8:27 AM

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed this, Shannon. Yes, giving in to the urge to move my car was the right thing to do, even though I had no reason to anticipate an accident.

      As you said, the old-time epitaphs are moving. The passage of more than a century has in no way lessened their intensity.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 7, 2012 at 9:38 AM

  16. What a sad tale for the parents of those small children who died, but a beautiful spot to be buried in.


    January 18, 2013 at 3:34 AM

    • Yes, it must have been so sad for the parents to lose three children so young. I imagine the location was even lovelier at the time, more than a century ago.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 18, 2013 at 6:11 AM

  17. […] July 4th of 2011, one month into this blog, was the only other time I showed a […]

  18. Good thing you moved your car, Steven, my goodness! So fascinating to see headstones in a pasture with the subdivision behind, you just don’t see that up here. What a beautiful place to be buried, and oh, those poor parents that had to bury those three babes. Such was life back then. I can’t even imagine, I would have found it extremely devastating and hard to go on. Thank you for showing me this post….so lovely!


    March 3, 2014 at 9:16 AM

    • You’re welcome, curious gal, and I’m glad to have shown you this place. I’m aware of one other cemetery in the Austin area that used to be covered with wildflowers in the spring, but that one and the one in this post have both been heavily mowed in recent years and they look desolate by comparison to the way they looked when wildflowers flourished there. Too bad.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 3, 2014 at 10:51 AM

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