Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Great clouds over El Paso

with 25 comments

November 9, 2016, gave us our first daylight time back in Texas since we’d left on our great southwestern trip three weeks earlier. What impressed me the most that morning was the fantastic clouds that stayed with us as we drove from El Paso to Hueco Tanks. The picture above features a yucca, and the one below shows sand sagebrush, Artemisia filifolia, both on the east side of El Paso.

In lieu of a quotation today, let’s welcome some relevant etymology. English acquired nuance from French, where it was the noun made from the verb nuer. That verb, which meant ‘to shade,’ ultimately goes back to Latin nubes, which signified ‘a cloud, mist, vapor.’ A nuance is a metaphorical ‘shading,’ which is to say ‘a slight difference in meaning, expression, or feeling.’ The fancy verb obnubilate means literally ‘to darken or obscure with clouds, to becloud.’ It also has the figurative sense ‘to make unclear, indistinct, vague.’

Here ends the retrospective of the great 2016 southwestern trip. Next time I’ll jump back into central Texas, where nature has kept on happening throughout the past few weeks.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 9, 2020 at 4:40 AM

Posted in nature photography

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25 Responses

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  1. I am not familiar with sand sagebrush, but it’s quite interesting and unusual. The clouds in that image give it a blustery look, as if the sage is being swept around by the wind. Since I am outdoors most days, I tend to notice clouds a lot. You managed to capture some interesting and uncommon formations.


    November 9, 2020 at 7:16 AM

    • You made me realize I didn’t give any information about sand sagebrush, so I went back and added a link to Artemisia filifolia. While doing that, I also checked the USDA map and found the species is shown for Caddo County, Oklahoma, though the map doesn’t indicate how common a plant is in each county where it’s been observed. I think of it as more of a Wild West, deserty sort of plant.

      I see how the lenticular clouds suggest a blown-by-the-wind feeling in the sand sagebrush, and the plants at the left are leaning noticeably to the right. How much actual wind there was that morning, I don’t remember. I definitely remember that the clouds had me taking lots of pictures, sometimes of them in their own right.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 9, 2020 at 7:33 AM

  2. It is quite rare to view such awesome cloud formations. At flickr.com, there are people who devote entire groups to this particular category. Presently there is no way I could take such photos because for two days in a row there have been no clouds, quite rare for this time of the year.

    Peter Klopp

    November 9, 2020 at 8:36 AM

    • It’s too bad (I assume) that you have no colorful autumn foliage left to stand out against your unexpected clear blue skies. Even so, I’ll bet you’re relishing the sunshine.

      Yes, there are Internet sites specializing in unusual kinds of clouds. When it comes to attractive ones, the main kind that Austin has is the wispy type, as I’ve shown here from time to time. We rarely get anything dramatic in central Texas, and I’ve been eager to feature them when I see them here. You’ll remember the most recent example, from half a year ago:


      Steve Schwartzman

      November 9, 2020 at 9:07 AM



    November 9, 2020 at 9:59 AM

  4. Obnubilation–what a wonderful term to add to one’s active vocabulary. I’ll try to use it at least three times within the next week so that it sticks in the memory bank. Could one possibly use it to describe the tantrums of a recent loser? No, it’s certainly too mild a descriptor.


    November 10, 2020 at 1:00 AM

    • Paul Simon came close to using obnubilation in “Cecilia.” The second time you use it you’ll love it again.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 10, 2020 at 3:48 AM

  5. What fantastic backdrops! Interesting etymology, too.

    Peter Hillman

    November 10, 2020 at 2:29 AM

    • I’m not sure I’d ever seen clouds like these, and they obliged me by continuing for a good while that morning. As for etymology, it seldom obnubilates.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 10, 2020 at 3:51 AM

  6. I always enjoy the way clouds can reveal what’s going on in different layers of the atmosphere, and the second photo’s a great example. I like the symmetry between the wind-smoothed lower clouds and the wind-bent sagebrush, too. I’m almost tired enough of ‘it all’ to just head west — good thing for my customers I’m the responsible sort, but I’d much rather be saying, “Oh! Yucca!” than “Oh, yuck” when I find something else has been cancelled or closed.


    November 10, 2020 at 7:23 AM

    • It’s clear you’ve had more than photography on your mind. Yucca rather than yuck would be a welcome change. Yesterday afternoon in pursuit of cedar elms turning yellow I went over to the Arboretum, a local open-air shopping center that has been a mainstay in my part of town since “forever.” I couldn’t help noticing the stores that were empty. The previous morning I was startled to realize that the Williams-Sonoma store across the street from the Arboretum had gone out of business.

      It so happens we arrived back in El Paso on Election Day in 2016. These great scenic clouds presented themselves the next morning, after the election had already been called. Signs of the times….

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 10, 2020 at 8:40 AM

  7. You didn’t obnubilate anything, on the contrary, between the images and text, you cleared everything up for me. 🙂


    November 11, 2020 at 6:34 PM

  8. Oh … these are especially nice! I like the composition and how you used the cloud to your advantage in framing the plant. I love the second even more. It looks like a windy day and using a quick shutter speed captured the sharpened detail in the moving clouds and vegetation.


    November 13, 2020 at 10:52 AM

    • Thanks. I’m pleased with them, too. If only we had clouds in Austin like those that I could play our local wildflowers off against. I checked the metadata for the second photograph just now and found I’d used a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second. Like you, I imagined I’d have gone with a faster speed, but I guess the wind at that moment wasn’t blowing as hard as it looks and I figured I could get away with 1/250.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 13, 2020 at 1:59 PM

  9. The second looks like a portal to the heavens beyond has opened up. Did you have to get very low for the yucca shot? I know their flower spikes are fairly tall.

    Steve Gingold

    November 14, 2020 at 3:45 AM

    • The shape of that portal to the heavens has sometimes reminded me of an old-fashioned television screen (which was actually a portal to a lot of forgettable stuff). For the yucca shot, I may have lain on my mat on the ground but after four years I honestly don’t remember how low I got. I do remember there was distracting stuff on the ground beyond my subjects, and that I got down fare enough to exclude it. At the left in the second picture you see a bit of a background slope creeping in, but not so much as to be a problem.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 14, 2020 at 5:21 AM

  10. What is that Yucca?!


    November 19, 2020 at 8:39 PM

    • Yucca baccata, elata, torreyi, and treculeana all grow in El Paso County. I’m afraid I don’t know which one this was.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 19, 2020 at 9:25 PM

      • If it is one of those native species, it would be Yucca elata. It looks just like it. Supposedly, it is the State Flower of New Mexico. (Some insist that, because the species of the genus was not specified, that all yucca flowers are the state flower of New Mexico.)


        November 21, 2020 at 2:49 PM

        • I’ll take your word for it, as I’m not familiar with all those yuccas.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 21, 2020 at 4:10 PM

          • Even some of the natives may be uncommon, like the oso berry is here. It is native, but I never see it.


            November 22, 2020 at 4:25 PM

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