Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

After and before*

with 35 comments

Mexican Hat Seed Head Remains 1492

Click to enlarge.

The previous post showed a couple of Mexican hat flower heads, Ratibida columnifera, that I noticed on January 2nd had sprung up in the median of Morado Circle. Although most of the flowers on the plants were fresh, I found a small number that had been there long enough (perhaps a lot longer) to go to seed and begin to decay, as you see above. I also saw some specimens that were still on their way to flowering, like the one on the sinuous and aesthetically pleasing stalk shown below.

Mexican Hat Head Developing 1446

Click to enlarge.


* Our strong conception of time progressing from past to future almost always leads us to say before and after, so I thought I should give equal time—well, hardly equal—to after and before. I could also have written the post with all its words in reverse order, but that would have been a contretemps.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 17, 2016 at 5:05 AM

35 Responses

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  1. Might you have used a color-card as background here?

    Pairodox Farm

    January 17, 2016 at 6:51 AM

    • I’d thought of explaining in my text how that background came to be grey, but I decided to wait and see if anyone asked. Bang: the first comment, yours, asked. These Mexican hats were growing on either edge of a median just inches away from pavement. I aimed at the plants sideways to make that road surface into an out-of-focus grey background.

      I know some photographers carry neutral cards or even photographic prints to use as backgrounds, but I never do that. In this case my background was man-made, but usually I go for the sky or dark trees or some other natural thing to serve as an amorphous background.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2016 at 8:52 AM

  2. Your last sentence made me think of palindromes. My googling came across this. There are some good ones there.

    Jim Ruebush

    January 17, 2016 at 7:03 AM

    • Thanks for your link to that good collection of palindromes, many of which I hadn’t seen. I wonder how many have them have been found by computer algorithms.

      If I were still teaching math, I’d show “Never odd or even” to my students and ask them to explain what numbers that describes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2016 at 9:01 AM

  3. Zero


    January 17, 2016 at 9:53 AM

    • I’m sorry to play math teacher on you, but 0 is an even integer. The definition of an even integer is an integer that leaves no remainder when divided by two, so 0 fits the definition. Another way to look at it is that if you start with an even integer and subtract 2 you get the next lowest even integer, so 8, 6, 4, 2, then 0, –2, –4, etc.. Perhaps you were thinking that 0 is neither positive nor negative. That’s a true statement.

      As for numbers that are neither odd nor even, a fraction like 3/4 fits the bill, as do irrational numbers like the square root of two, and transcendental numbers like π and e.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2016 at 1:14 PM

  4. Which is neat because life is a cycle, really, going round and round more than forward or back.


    January 17, 2016 at 9:55 AM

    • Hindus and Buddhists believe in the cycle of life known as reincarnation.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2016 at 1:18 PM

      • True. A concept I sincerely hope isn’t true, or at least, is optional. I have found one life exhausting and difficult enough. Although to be fair, it is getting easier as I get older and learn better how to lighten up.


        January 19, 2016 at 5:44 PM

        • I hadn’t thought about it like that. The concept as I’ve understood it is that future lives give a person a chance to keep improving, but yes, there would be new difficulties each time around.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 19, 2016 at 7:03 PM

          • I had a couple of bad decades and the suggestion that once I made it to the finish line I might have to start all over again was seriously disheartening. That is all past now and I can think, hm, that might be kind of fun. If only you could take the lessons learned with you. Or choose. My friend wants to come back as a duck because they are at home on land, water, and in the air.


            January 20, 2016 at 10:58 AM

            • As I understand the traditional belief in reincarnation, an entity wouldn’t remember former lives because then those lives would be too influential and the current life wouldn’t be an independent one.

              I’m sorry you had a couple of bad decades but glad to hear that they’re well behind you now.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 20, 2016 at 11:57 AM

  5. Both of these images make clear that simplicity can be dramatic. In a forced choice, I’d have to take the sinuous stalk, but the first would be near the top of my list of favorite desiccating plants.

    I think I remember you mentioning that the Tvetens sometimes use a black background card. For their purposes, I suppose it’s fine, but I do appreciate the fact that you don’t use such things. I’m sure it makes it harder to get a decent background at times, but just like before and after, foreground and background belong together.

    I didn’t know that first definition of “contretemps,” even though it’s right there, in the word itself.


    January 17, 2016 at 10:03 AM

    • Given the large number of Mexican hat plants we have in Austin, over the years I’ve taken many pictures of the seed heads as they dry out and decompose, and also quite a few of new flower heads as they form. For whatever reason, I haven’t shown many pictures of those stages here, probably because the flower heads with their bright rays command so much more attention.

      When it comes to using a black card as a background, I probably mentioned Marshall Enquist, who regularly did so to make it easier to see the details of the species in Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country. It makes sense for a field guide, but I’m aspiring to other things.

      That first definition of contretemps is the one I originally knew, given its French components. In an earlier version of this post I’d said that writing the words backwards would be counter-productive; then I countered that with a fancier word from French.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2016 at 5:00 PM

  6. Delicada belleza, me gusta mucho la segunda fotografía.

    • ¿Sabías que delicado y delgado son etimológicamente la misma palabra?
      La sencillez y la sunuosidad de la segunda foto me gustan también.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2016 at 5:04 PM

  7. That second and younger more supple stem seems to be buckling under the bud’s heavy load. Nice curve.

    Steve Gingold

    January 17, 2016 at 7:23 PM

    • You reminded me that at the beginning of a course students would sometimes ask me if I grade on a curve. My standard answer answer was that a straight line is a curve.

      I can see how your imagination would impute enough weight to the nascent flower head in the second picture to cause the stem to bend. In reality, though, the stems of that plant are rather wiry, and at least some of them seem to have a tendency to curve that way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2016 at 8:57 PM

  8. Afore or beafter (an expression used by one of the littlies in our family), there’s always a good time to photograph a Mexican Hat.


    January 17, 2016 at 10:24 PM

    • In the 1950s and ’60s a popular American television show was named Kids Say the Darndest Things. Your littlies seem to be following in that tradition. “Afore” reminds me of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore.

      There’s always a good time to listen to that,
      Even while photographing a Mexican hat.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2016 at 10:38 PM

      • I will doff my un Mexican hat to that.


        January 18, 2016 at 6:30 AM

        • The word doff originated as a contraction of do off. It reminds me that as children when there was a disputed or ambiguous play in a game someone would yell “Do over.” Somehow that never evolved to “Dover.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 18, 2016 at 8:13 AM

          • If children said ‘do over’ here or in Australia ( I don’t think they do) it would certainly be ‘dover’ by now.


            January 18, 2016 at 8:35 PM

            • I’ve noticed that in Australia (and perhaps New Zealand too) the word power is pronounced in one syllable, whereas in America is has two distinct syllables.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 18, 2016 at 9:28 PM

  9. Fascinating photos, really appreciated the background notes.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    January 17, 2016 at 11:35 PM

    • We might say I gave you the background on the background after the first comment brought the background to the foreground.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 18, 2016 at 8:10 AM

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