Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Yellow beneath the pines

with 68 comments

As part of the Native Plant Society of Texas’s annual symposium in League City, on October 4th I joined a field trip to a property in Galveston County managed by the Marathon Oil Company. There I found some seaside goldenrod, Solidago sempervirens, whose buds were opening. Parallel rows of pine trees in the background formed a convenient frame. Well, actually not so convenient, as I had to get down and contort myself to line up the goldenrod properly while struggling to keep everything vertical.

Also growing near the pines were some swamp sunflowers, Helianthus angustifolius:

How about an artsier portrait that shows a swamp sunflower bud beginning to open?

Neither of these species grows in Austin, so both were new to me.
Here’s one of the goldenrods that a pine needle cluster had fallen onto:

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 14, 2019 at 4:47 AM

68 Responses

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  1. I wish I had you here now to photograph the showy goldenrod that blooms at IBSP. It resembles this a bit, and when I take photos of it the photos just look like a yellow mass, not distinct little florets as you of course captured. I could draw them on the spot of course but it takes me hours to draw them and I don’t like to kneel in situ that long~too easy to damage what is there. I love the last photo~ the pine needles really serve to show scale, don’t they? Plus it is just a lovely image with both the needles as they twist down the length of the bloom, and the subtle gradation of the background.


    October 14, 2019 at 8:21 AM

    • I’d be quite happy if I could suddenly find myself at Illinois Beach State Park again, both for the plants and the company. I have the advantage over you because in just a short time I can record details like those in the goldenrod, while it takes you hours of work.

      I’m glad you appreciate the last picture. As soon as I noticed that combination I knew I’d have to photograph it. More background details come through than I would like, but I needed the depth of field to get as many of the goldenrod flowers sharp as I could. We don’t have pine trees in Austin, other than a rare one that someone has planted, so in my regular haunts I could never record an interaction between pine needles and a flowering goldenrod spike. We had a pine forest in Bastrop, some 30 miles east, but the wildfires during the drought of 2011 destroyed 90% of the trees there.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 14, 2019 at 2:26 PM

      • We don’t have many pine trees either, which is sad because I really love pines. In Spokane we had lots of Ponderosa pine. There are old stands of white pine here and there…all regimented in rows which is sort of chilling to me. I suspect they were old tree farms, for the wood, not Christmas trees.


        October 15, 2019 at 9:31 AM

        • East Texas is full of pines, but neither you nor I live in a place that is. That’s what travel is for.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 15, 2019 at 11:28 AM

          • Hahaha yes, for sure. I’m scheming of buying a property large enough to plant some. I’ve grown quite fond of Scotch Pines, and miss them from where they grew along the Dead River. A specimen in front of a window, close enough to waft its scent in, would be nice.


            October 15, 2019 at 11:29 AM

            • Understood. I remember loving the scent of pine as far back as when I was a teenager.

              Steve Schwartzman

              October 15, 2019 at 1:46 PM

              • After hearing predictions that the evil orange one will win the election by a landslide (!) Paul has decided we need to decamp to Canada. Guess I’ll get plenty of pine scent up there.


                October 16, 2019 at 9:15 AM

                • Yes plenty of pines up there in our neighbor to the north, but also plenty of anti-scientific craziness. Be careful what you wish for.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  October 16, 2019 at 9:21 AM

                • Is there really? It shocks me, this wave of anti-scientific craziness. Between you and me, I’m not thrilled with the idea of moving there. I like America…I just want it to come to its senses.


                  October 16, 2019 at 9:26 AM

                • In the latest example I’m aware of, the people in charge of Seattle’s public schools have proposed infusing math classes with heavy doses of ideological propaganda:


                  Steve Schwartzman

                  October 23, 2019 at 7:17 AM

                • Oh, my! Won’t this just foment rage? I think there are healthier ways to make sure all feel included.
                  Yesterday a white woman was stabbed multiple times by a black woman at Grant Woods. The white woman was there with her child, just walking the trails. I’ve been hearing that people strung out on opioids become deranged and attack others. I’ve also heard that people are preparing for a race war. No matter how you slice this, it is tragic, upsetting, and scary.


                  October 23, 2019 at 8:29 AM

                • For the people who designed this curriculum, education means indoctrination. I clicked the link in the newspaper article to see the draft of the proposals and found it horrifying. Here’s a part that embodies what I meant about being anti-scientific:

                  “How important is it to be Right? What is Right? Says Who?”

                  In arithmetic there’s only one right answer. How important is that? Just think of a nurse figuring out the right dose of medicine to administer. People die every year from improper doses of medicine.

                  “What is the difference between being right and being a learner?” — This will lead to kids believing that “being a learner” is more important than getting right answers. And on tests teachers will be required to give lots of points for trying even if the student’s answers are so far off the mark as to make no sense at all.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  October 23, 2019 at 9:14 AM

                • That is just crazy. Those poor teachers, having this foisted upon them, and the poor kids. Just think how confused and angry they are going to be coming out of school. I agree, this is really horrifying.


                  October 24, 2019 at 9:21 AM

                • Crazy, yes, but unfortunately typical of what’s going on in “education.” Historians have long pointed out that civilizations collapse from within.

                  Like you, I wondered how teachers will react to the latest secular religion they’re being asked to subscribe to.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  October 24, 2019 at 9:53 AM

                • Did you read the book, “Collapse”? I’m thinking it was by Jared Diamond. Very good reading, if chilling. Frankly, things don’t look good for America.


                  October 25, 2019 at 8:31 AM

                • No, I haven’t read that book. Not long ago I read his Guns, Germs, and Steel.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  October 25, 2019 at 9:26 AM

                • I haven’t read that one. Did you like it?


                  October 25, 2019 at 8:30 PM

                • Yes. He makes a case, reflected in the book’s title, for why Europeans ended up taking over many other parts of the world rather than vice versa.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  October 25, 2019 at 9:23 PM

                • He’s good at laying things out, isn’t he? I think you’d like “Collapse”.


                  October 26, 2019 at 8:54 AM

                • Just as you’d probably enjoy Guns, Germs, and Steel.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  October 26, 2019 at 9:08 AM

                • If we could get certain leaders to read it we might stand a chance. But they’d only say it was fake news.


                  October 26, 2019 at 8:54 AM

                • In my opinion.


                  October 25, 2019 at 8:31 AM

                • I’m sorry to hear that Grant Woods turned out not to be a safe place, as I believe you’ve always thought of it.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  October 23, 2019 at 9:25 AM

                • My level of caution has been up a bit because of all the toughs with their barely controlled pit bulls that I see, but this is a truly alarming development. Whether it’s down to drugs or race, either way, it was a random attack and therefore very scary thing.


                  October 24, 2019 at 9:19 AM

                • It’s probably best if you go with at least one other person, and maybe you should carry some mace with you just in case.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  October 24, 2019 at 9:55 AM

  2. How lucky you are, Steve, to live in an area of eternal spring. Your photos look as if they had been taken in the southern hemisphere where people experience the transition from winter to spring.

    Peter Klopp

    October 14, 2019 at 9:09 AM

    • Truth be told, central Texas is closer to a land of eternal summer than eternal spring. As you have six months of winter in your part of British Columbia, we have half a year of summer here. It’s the middle of October and the weather forecast predicts a high of 93°F (34°C) tomorrow. Unfortunately Austin has been in a drought, so the fall wildflowers seem more subdued than usual. What you see in this post comes from close to the coast, where they’ve had more rain.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 14, 2019 at 2:31 PM

      • 93 F or 34 C is already too hot for me even in our short summer months.

        Peter Klopp

        October 15, 2019 at 12:44 PM

        • I’ve always done a lot better in warm weather than in cold. That’s one reason I moved to Austin. I don’t think I could survive in a place as cold as where you are. Each to his own.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 15, 2019 at 2:34 PM

  3. Beautiful photos, Steve! I love goldenrod.

    Lavinia Ross

    October 14, 2019 at 9:35 AM

  4. Despite showing the same plant, the first and fourth photos are so different in tone. The first seems to show a doorway to a new season; the fourth could be a fanciful botanical drawing. The pine needle looks like an artist’s easel, or a trellis; in either case, it emphasizes the sense of the goldenrod twining upward, rather than the pine needle falling downward, even though both are true. The colors are beautifully delicate, and almost faded. It’s just lovely.


    October 14, 2019 at 12:46 PM

    • Very different in feeling indeed. The possibility of using the pines as a frame got me excited, and I took some two dozen pictures of that configuration. As for the other goldenrod picture, I mentioned to Melissa that pine trees don’t grow natively in Austin, so the combination of pine needles and goldenrod doesn’t occur here. The needles and flowers weren’t in the same plane, so I resorted to small apertures of f/16, f/18, and f/22 to try and get both things in focus. I don’t believe I saw the pine needles in any pareidolic way; you and Eve are more given to that. In this case you were also good at inferring a twining of the goldenrod, which is not its normal behavior. Someone math-inclined could take the converging pine needles as a two-dimensional representation of parallel lines receding into the distance, and that might explain your heightened sense of movement in the goldenrod.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 14, 2019 at 2:48 PM

  5. Linda said everything I was ready to say, so I’ll just smile and enjoy the images.

    Michael Scandling

    October 14, 2019 at 1:25 PM

    • She was on the same field trip with Eve and me, so she speaks from experience. She chose to reconnoiter rather than take pictures then, leaving open the possibility to return at her leisure.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 14, 2019 at 2:34 PM

      • Here’s something off the wall: you live in or near Austin, correct? Jennifer Warnes has an excellent album called “The Well.” That is the title of the first song on the album as well. It refers to a place near Austin. A swimming hole perhaps. Do you know of it? Do you have any photos?

        Michael Scandling

        October 14, 2019 at 2:37 PM

        • The lyrics to that song at https://genius.com/Jennifer-warnes-the-well-lyrics mention one place by name, the Blanco River. That river has a tributary which flows into it in Wimberley, Cypress Creek, and not too far up that creek is a natural area called Jacob’s Well. That could well be what she meant by “the well.” The two pictures on my blog taken at Jacob’s Well don’t show the water


          but you can see what Cypress Creek looks like in a photo of Blue Hole, which isn’t all that far away from Jacob’s Well:


          Steve Schwartzman

          October 14, 2019 at 3:02 PM

          • And yes, I live in Austin, about an hour northeast of Wimberley. In this case “off the wall” became “off the well.”

            Steve Schwartzman

            October 14, 2019 at 3:07 PM

          • You’re a wizard. And a true star. I think I found it.

            (30.0345008, -98.1260771)

            Her reference to the Blanco river was not enough for me. Thank you very much. Mystery solved.

            Michael Scandling

            October 14, 2019 at 3:07 PM

            • The Blanco River is 87 miles long, and I didn’t initially connect it to Jacob’s Well. When I followed the river’s course on a map I realized that it passes through Wimberley, and then I immediately thought of Jacob’s Well.

              Steve Schwartzman

              October 14, 2019 at 3:14 PM

              • I think that’s it. I recall seeing a photograph of it from what looked like the top of a rock ledge looking down on the water, many years ago. The satellite photo looks like that spot.

                Michael Scandling

                October 14, 2019 at 3:33 PM

              • I see that Jennifer, in the past year or so, released her first new album in 17 years.

                Michael Scandling

                October 14, 2019 at 3:34 PM

                • I’ve had her “Famous Blue Raincoat” album for over 3 decades. I wasn’t aware that she came out with “Another Time, Another Place” last year. Do you know why she waited 17 years between albums?

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  October 14, 2019 at 4:22 PM

                • Time spent on other pursuits. From what I’ve read, the loss of some close friends (including Leonard Cohen) was apparently part of what prompted her to return to the studio. In my opinion, one of the best ways to deal with loss is to create. It affirms life.

                  Michael Scandling

                  October 14, 2019 at 5:23 PM

                • That’s a good attitude.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  October 14, 2019 at 5:27 PM

  6. The two goldenrod photos are very clever indeed, Steve!


    October 14, 2019 at 6:17 PM

  7. All are nice shots and I’ve been in your position for the first a few times. It’s even more fun trying to make a tripod fit into the contortions. But I also find the last the most interesting. For some reason it reminds me of the Philadelphia clothes pin sculpture. But it’s a neat picture. The first is reminiscent of my image with the walnut grove.

    Steve Gingold

    October 15, 2019 at 3:19 AM

    • Ah yes, I remember your walnut corridor. I don’t envy you having to accommodate a tripod in addition to yourself. I find it easier (though not necessarily easy) to keep a landscape orientation straight compared to a vertical one. Even though there’s a grid in my viewfinder, I ended up with many of my takes crooked and had to rotate them to various degrees.

      I wonder what it says about out culture that a redevelopment authority would commission a 45-foot tall sculpture of a clothespin. You’ve reminded me, for the first time in ages, of how my mother used to hang wet laundry on a rotating, four-sided rack in our back yard.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 15, 2019 at 6:59 AM

      • The tripod is no big bother as I have always used one with just one or two handheld shots a year…not counting my chasing insects in the yard with my SX-60 (I do have a tripod mount for that too and use it when extended out to pseudo 1365mm for the moon). Pretty much second nature. About the only lens I use that is a problem on the tripod is ground level close up shots with the 15mm macro. I can usually find a rock or twig to help level it when it is on the ground and also always use a cable release so that works okay.
        We still use one of those clothes lines. We own a dryer but rarely use it and then only to soften towels etc after they dry. Summer time sees the outdoor clothes line and for winter I strung some rope in the basement and they dry from the wood stove down there.
        There’s a lot of modern art that I don’t appreciate. Part is my ignorance, I guess, and part is “what were they thinking?”

        Steve Gingold

        October 16, 2019 at 3:40 AM

        • As you say, using tripods for so many years has made it second nature for you, which is good. If I eventually get shaky I’ll have to strike up an acquaintance with a tripod and hope the partnership quickly gets familiar.

          So you guys are clothesline holdouts. I wonder how many other people are: do you know anyone else who is? Having a wood stove in your basement turns that whole area into a big clothes dryer. People in Texas need a footnote explaining what a basement is.

          I’m with you in thinking that some (much) modern art isn’t what I’d call art. Cynical me observes that museums still keep shelling out big money for things like a bunch of bricks stacked up in the corner of a room. And there are plenty of curators who let predictable and unimaginative political screeds pass themselves off as art.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 16, 2019 at 7:22 AM

          • Yeah, I’ve seen other exhibits resembling those piles of bricks and just shake my head…and we photographers have some of our own, like the famous Mister Gursky.

            Yes, we have a few neighbors who still hang out their clothes to dry in the yard. It’s the best drying, nice natural smell with no artificial dryer cloths required.

            Steve Gingold

            October 17, 2019 at 4:19 AM

            • We don’t use dryer cloths, as an artificial, perfumy smell annoys me. Similarly, we use use a scentless detergent.

              Steve Schwartzman

              October 17, 2019 at 6:42 AM

  8. Astonishingly beautiful photos of all these yellow blooms. Thank you for sharing some of the event’s sights with us all!

    Birder's Journey

    October 15, 2019 at 5:35 AM

  9. P.S. Great job on the framing in that first photo!

    Birder's Journey

    October 15, 2019 at 7:27 AM

  10. Beautiful!!


    October 15, 2019 at 8:37 PM

  11. […] you saw a couple of posts ago, on October 4th we went on a field trip to a property in Galveston County managed by the Marathon […]

  12. Fabulous shots Steve … the first is fabulous worth your effort! That goldenrod hates the camera 😉


    October 20, 2019 at 1:07 AM

    • I’m especially happy with the unique framing in the first picture. My camera proved friendly to the goldenrod, whatever the goldenrod’s attitude might have been.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 20, 2019 at 8:19 AM

  13. Swamp sunflower doesn’t sound very appealing. I recognize the Latin name though. I noticed it while trying to find some more common garden varieties online. It seemed to be popular with those who knew it.


    October 21, 2019 at 4:28 PM

    • The place where I photographed these swamp sunflowers wasn’t swampy but I guess people found them often enough in swamps to make the name stick.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 21, 2019 at 5:36 PM

      • They might only grow outside of swamps because they get watered in home gardens.


        October 23, 2019 at 8:15 PM

        • Because this species isn’t found in Austin I’m not familiar with it, and therefore I don’t know the kinds of environments where it grows.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 23, 2019 at 8:57 PM

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