Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 15 comments

Those of you in central Texas know, and those of you elsewhere may have heard, that we had at least half a dozen wildfires here over the holiday weekend. The long drought that I’ve mentioned many times in this blog has left the vegetation so dry that a spark can easily set off a fire. What made this weekend’s blazes much worse than they would otherwise have been was an unrelenting wind that spread the flames from one place to the next.

One of the fires took place in Pflugerville, a fast-growing suburb adjacent to the northeastern part of Austin. In fact that fire began at a house just down the street from where some good friends of ours live. The wind quickly pushed the fire toward their house, and it ended up burning down the wooden fence at the back of their yard. They had to evacuate when the flames got that close, but they were lucky not to sustain any further damage. The house where the fire started was destroyed, as was one other near by.

Today’s photograph shows what was left of one part of the wooded area behind our friends’ home. This is a departure from the usual pictures you’ve seen in this blog, but for better and for worse fire has always been a part of nature. The lowest third of the image could almost be a black and white photograph: black from the charred trees, white from the ashes that cover the ground. Most intriguing to me is the strange configuration of the front-most dead tree, with the remaining section of one branch of its upper trunk hanging straight down.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 7, 2011 at 5:50 AM

15 Responses

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  1. Thank goodness your friends are alright. I saw a terrifying piece of video yesterday about how fast those wildfires were moving. Trees consumed in seconds – as your picture shows. It is as if the tree was gutted from the inside by the fire.


    September 7, 2011 at 7:11 AM

    • Yes, our friends were fortunate. It was scary when the flames got that close, not only because of how large they were, but as you said, because of how quickly they can move.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 7, 2011 at 7:34 AM

  2. I am so sorry for this. Having lived in Southern California most of my life I understand about wild and/or forest fires in the wind! It is devastating to see the charred aftermath. Conversely, when your rains do come, you will have a burst of wildflowers in spring that is not to be rivaled. It is a mixed blessing, but beautiful nonetheless.

    I am glad your friends are safe.


    September 7, 2011 at 7:44 AM

    • Thanks, Lynda. As you noted, the fires that are thankfully a rarity here are commonplace in California; maybe that’s one of the reasons that led you to leave. We look forward to rain in Texas not only to end the drought, which is the worst in memory, but because of the wildflower bounty you also promised.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 7, 2011 at 7:59 AM

      • Hmmm… perhaps it is different for you in Texas? Where I came from there were certain flower seeds that did not open and grow until after there had been a fire. It seems they needed the flame to open their hard seed cases for them. This made the spring extra special! As for leaving California, well, it was the crush of humanity that sent me running for the country life. 😉 ~ L


        September 7, 2011 at 10:29 AM

      • I’ve heard of seeds that require fire, though I don’t know if we have any of those here. On the prairie (on the east side of Austin), fires traditionally kept in check certain species that might otherwise take over. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and other entities have copied the natural pattern and done controlled burns from time to time, though not in the drought. The worst of the current fires is in an area with lots of (dry) pine trees; over 600 homes have been destroyed in that fire alone, and hundreds more in the others.

        Steve Schwartzman

        September 7, 2011 at 2:32 PM

  3. I have followed the news of the fires in Texas. My heart goes out to those whose homes have been destroyed and the families of those who have died. We have had many fires here too, but most have been small this year.


    September 10, 2011 at 12:00 AM

    • After I wrote this post I was saddened to learned that the very nice house/gallery of a woman who makes pottery impressed with forms from nature, and who was going to host a photo show of mine in November, burned to the ground.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 10, 2011 at 6:49 AM

      • That’s so sad! Think of the personal treasures that she lost. Twice we have come close to having to evacuate and I know how hard the decisions about what to take are.


        September 10, 2011 at 8:21 AM

      • Like you, I’ve thought about it. What do you grab if you have only a short time to evacuate? There are too many things, and some would inevitably get left behind.

        Steve Schwartzman

        September 10, 2011 at 8:36 AM

  4. I am also sorry about the heartache and destruction. The problems go on long after the media and the public have moved on to other thoughts. We were flooded in December and only got back to normal at the end of May. Your photo helps us to remember… the ashes are matter taken down to the finest possible visible particles and the tree has a very tragic ‘expression’… Jane

    jane tims

    September 11, 2011 at 6:46 PM

    • Thanks for your insights from personal experience, Jane. You know this kind of situation better than most of the rest of us can.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 11, 2011 at 7:04 PM

  5. […] that I mentioned in many of last year’s posts, as well as the way the drought made possible the devastating wildfires that struck central Texas in September of 2011. The worst of those destroyed some 1600 houses in […]

  6. I too accept fire as part of the natural process, but this series of blazes was extraordinary. I’m glad your friends’ house escaped the tinderbox. Wish I could say the same for the Houston Toad, which may not recover to previous numbers.


    September 18, 2014 at 4:10 PM

    • I attended a field trip in Bastrop State Park this spring, and although the place as a whole looks desolate and the pines won’t return in our lifetime, lots of wildflowers and other vegetation had sprung up. I don’t know the current status of the Houston toad there now.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 18, 2014 at 4:20 PM

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