Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Not Walden, but still a pond

with 30 comments

Bluebells Flowering 3939

Click for greater clarity.

Thoreau lived in a cabin at Walden Pond for two years, two months, and two days. On August 8th of this year I spent less than two hours at the small pond adjacent to Naruna Way in northeast Austin, and barely had I arrived when I encountered a woman from Kyrgyzstan, the first person from that country I’d ever met. (Have you ever met anyone from there? I’ll bet not, and I’ll bet Thoreau never did, either.) I asked the woman about the Kyrgyz language, but she spoke Russian, and not much English.

Anyhow, I came away from my slow circumambulation of the pond with enough photographs for me to entertain you for the next several posts. This first one shows that although I thought my bluebell days were over for this year, I was wrong. Feast your eyes on these flowering Eustoma exaltatum. To take the picture I had to hunch over and put my eyes practically on the ground

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 3, 2013 at 6:17 AM

30 Responses

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  1. Pretty purple……..


    September 3, 2013 at 6:46 AM

    • Yes, in spite of their name, bluebell flowers are a pretty purple. The leaves in this species shade toward glaucous.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2013 at 6:54 AM

  2. There’s nothing like a good circumambulation of the bells, bells, bells! no matter what color they are. It’s a beautiful photo, and some great good humor for the morning.

    I didn’t know “glaucous”. Are these leaves marked only by the color, or do they also have the waxy/dusty covering that rubs off? I’ve seen that in the past, but never had found a word for it.

    I knew Thoreau was at Walden “two years”, but I’d never come across the additional two weeks and two days. Was there some special significance for him of those extra “twos”?


    September 3, 2013 at 7:26 AM

    • I appreciate your excursion into Poe-etry.

      As far as I know, the glaucousness of bluebell leaves is a matter of color only.

      Not long ago I came across a reference to Thoreau’s stay at Walden lasting two years, two months, and two days. I can’t say whether I once knew that and had forgotten it, nor whether Thoreau chose that length of time on purpose. I suspect it was happenstance, but all the twos appealed to arithmetically-minded me. The number 2 is unique in being the first prime, and the only even one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2013 at 7:58 AM

      • And now I know what a prime number is, and why 2 is the only even prime. Oh – and that there are composite numbers as well as composite flowers. And, thanks to WolframMathWorld (what a site!) I have this little mnemonic for the first seven primes: ” “In the early morning, astronomers spiritualized nonmathematicians”. I’m not sure it’s easier to remember than the numbers, but it’s fun.


        September 3, 2013 at 8:33 AM

        • Agreed: the Wolfram site is an excellent one, and I’ve been reading articles there on and off for years. Although most whole numbers are composite, most flowers aren’t, in spite of the fact that the botanical family with the greatest number of species in Texas is the composite family. As for primes, to my mind it’s easier to remember 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17 than to use a letter-count mnemonic, but you clearly relish the words.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 3, 2013 at 3:16 PM

  3. What a nice surprise to go along with your encounter with a woman from a far away land.


    September 3, 2013 at 7:39 AM

    • Now I’ll always connect that little pond in northeast Austin with faraway Kyrgyzstan, even if probably nothing that grows around the pond also grows in Kyrgyzstan.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2013 at 8:02 AM

  4. Ground shots are perhaps my favorite angle. People are always looking at me in a funny way, like, “What the heck is she looking at?” The best photos of insects and flowers are right at THEIR eye level, which is decidedly down around the giant’s feet. Nice capture, Steve. I’ve missed your photos…been off a while.


    September 3, 2013 at 8:11 AM

    • Welcome back, Shannon. One good thing about blogs is that the posts usually stay up for a long time, so people can go back to them and I can refer to an old post when there’s something relevant to a new one in it.

      As you say, down at the ground is where plants start, and where many remain, so that’s where nature photographers often have to go, whether kneeling, sitting, or lying. I always carry a lightweight mat with me to reduce the amount of things that attack my skin when I’m on the ground. In one old post I described how someone saw me lying on the side of a highway and called EMS, thinking I’d collapsed there.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2013 at 8:23 AM

      • I love working backward anyway. If I get a stretch of time (rare), it’s not unlike me to read 40 posts in a row of one of my favorite blogs. It really screws up stats, tho, so I hope that’s not important to you. Just because I’m absent and/or don’t interact, don’t think that I’ve somehow lost interest in your work. I haven’t. 🙂


        September 3, 2013 at 8:35 AM

        • Thanks for your continued interest, Shannon. Over the 2+ years I’ve been here I’ve noticed occasional spikes and have assumed someone came across the blog for the first time and is browsing a lot of posts to get a feel for what’s here. Stats don’t perturb me; no one sees them but me, and whether they’re high or low my salary remains the same: zero.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 3, 2013 at 2:33 PM

  5. Sounds like a very well-spent morning. Your idea of bringing a mat along is a good one…I find I’m less willing to expose myself to spiders and ticks than formerly when belly-botanizing!


    September 3, 2013 at 9:05 AM

    • It was a well-spent morning. I’ve been carrying a mat on my nature forays for a dozen years, and that protection has reduced by the hundreds the slings and arrows of outrageous nature vis-à-vis my skin. You know that I like your alliterative phrase belly-botanizing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2013 at 3:22 PM

  6. Gorgeous photo, gorgeous colour and how interesting to meet someone from Kyrgyzstan combined with a circumambulation around a pond. Though what you Texans call a pond I hardly dare think – I mean you say we English live ‘across the pond’ whereas some of our ponds are not much more than a puddle.
    J xx


    September 3, 2013 at 9:53 AM

    • The use of “the big pond” and “across the pond” is strictly jocular, and I don’t know which side made it up. The pond in question probably measures no more than 100 meters in its longest dimension, so it’s rather modest in size, but definitely bigger than a puddle.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2013 at 3:31 PM

  7. Well worth the contortions to get in position, Steve. The flower looks lovely against the blue sky.
    Not only have I never met anyone from Kyrgyzstan, nor learned the Kyrgyz language, but I doubt that I pronounce it correctly. But then I can’t pronounce President for life of Berzerkistan Trff Bmzklfrpz either. Seems a false economy of vowels. 🙂

    Steve Gingold

    September 3, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    • As you point out, the contortions were worth it to have the blue sky as a background and to avoid seeing uninteresting things on the ground beyond the bluebells, particularly some non-native wild lettuce.

      As for those words with the false economy of vowels, I had to do an Internet search to find the source. I’m afraid that for over half a century I’ve not been a reader of comics, which are buried in the dunes of childhood memories.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2013 at 3:37 PM

  8. This morning we went hiking in a state park known for its caves. The park exceeded our expectations. I got some pictures which I hope will convey how it looked. I also tried to get some special close-up shots for you. Look for a blog post soon with them in it.

    Jim in IA

    September 3, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    • Good, I look forward to your closeups. I’m usually pro-propinquity.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2013 at 3:39 PM

      • I had to look that up. But, suspected it meant nearness.

        Jim in IA

        September 3, 2013 at 5:47 PM

        • The propinquity of a dictionary (online or printed) served you well.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 3, 2013 at 6:03 PM

          • That it did. The propinquity of you might help with this word origin.


            Our book source has it coming from Nordic or Germanic. Online says Dutch or Middle English. Cleave seems obvious. But, how does our understanding of clever come from that? Is a clever person sharp and able to easily separate one thing from many others?

            Jim in IA

            September 3, 2013 at 6:49 PM

            • To my mind, the most authoritative etymologies are those of the American Heritage Dictionary. You can see its etymology for clever at


              This dictionary says that clever traces back to the Indo-European root gleubh. I looked up that root up in my printed copy of the book (it’s not online) and found that gleubh meant ‘to tear apart,’ so that native English cleave is indeed a descendant too, and you seem correct in your idea that a clever person is able to metaphorically split a situation up and understand it. Semantically (but not etymologically) similar is the idea that a sharp mind can penetrate situations and get to their meaning.

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 3, 2013 at 7:13 PM

  9. What a showy bouquet!


    September 4, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    • So showy have Texans considered this wildflower that they overpicked it in many places and made it scarcer than it would otherwise be.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 4, 2013 at 12:47 PM

  10. I love the sharpness here. I see you use blue skies often. I also use them when I can, I don’t always get them.

    M. Firpi

    September 5, 2013 at 9:28 PM

    • I used a wide-angle lens and a small aperture to keep as much as possible in focus. You’re correct that I often use a blue sky as a neutral background, and aiming upward from down low lets me eliminate things behind my subject that would detract from it. As a result, I spend more time on the ground than many other photographers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2013 at 10:08 PM

  11. I can just picture you taking this picture. That’s what I call dedication to getting the shot!

    Susan Scheid

    September 7, 2013 at 9:06 PM

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