Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Filling the frame on a sunny afternoon

with 25 comments

Here’s to expressing complexity explicitly: on the sunny but cool and breezy afternoon of December 3rd I made this fill-the-frame or more-is-more view showing a forest of bare stalks and dry cattails (Typha domingensis) at a pond along Kulmbacher Drive in far north Austin. The stalks might have been the remains of giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida), or perhaps of the slenderpod sesbania (Sesbania herbacea) you saw in pictures from the same pond last year.

And here’s a relevant quotation: “Abandon the urge to simplify everything, to look for formulas and easy answers, and begin to think multidimensionally, to glory in the mystery and paradoxes of life, not to be dismayed by the multitude of causes and consequences that are inherent in each experience—to appreciate the fact that life is complex.” ― M. Scott Peck, Further Along the Road Less Traveled, 1993.

In searching the Internet for a quotation about complexity, I found this one often misquoted, with an extra to inserted, creating the phrase “…and to begin to think multidimensionally….” That’s wrong because it makes “to begin to think multidimensionally” a third thing we should abandon the urge to do, after the urge to simplify and the urge to look for formulas and easy answers. Somebody accidentally inserted the extra to, and since then many people on the internet have propagated the mistake.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 27, 2020 at 4:30 AM

25 Responses

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  1. Beautiful


    December 27, 2020 at 4:44 AM

  2. That is a beautiful composition with the dry stalks and reflections, Steve.

    Lavinia Ross

    December 27, 2020 at 9:00 AM

  3. I always think of the Kinks tune “Sunny Afternoon,” but I think that just had electric guitars and no reeds. Have you read that book? I was just reading the Wikipedia bio for Peck and his theories sound very interesting.

    Robert Parker

    December 27, 2020 at 9:06 AM

    • I remember that song, which I hadn’t heard in decades till I played it just now. The sunny afternoon part is about all the lyrics have in common with my experience. I never read Peck’s 1993 follow-up to his big best seller, The Road Less Traveled, which I did read at the time. He came to Austin and gave a day-long session, which I attended. It was so long ago I remember only bits and pieces.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 27, 2020 at 9:49 AM

  4. Love the way you filled the frame with color and texture, Steve.

    Jane Lurie

    December 27, 2020 at 9:16 AM

    • You won’t be surprised to hear that I took a bunch of pictures showing this stand of stalks, trying various compositions, including a few vertical ones.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 27, 2020 at 9:41 AM

  5. I love the layers, the landscape color, and chaos of the stalks. Simple, yet a lot going on. This is an image that I can enjoy without analyzing it too much. I read Peck’s books many years ago during a period of awakening in myself. The image you posted paired nicely with the quote.


    December 27, 2020 at 9:31 AM

    • You summarized it well: simple, yet a lot going on, which is how I felt. That kind of sight is pretty common at ponds and some creeks at this time of year, yet I don’t know how many people pay attention. I don’t get tired of it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 27, 2020 at 9:51 AM

  6. I might have titled this one “The Road Less Visible.” I certainly chuckled at Peck’s suggestion “not to be dismayed by the multitude of causes and consequences that are inherent in each experience.” I’d suggest this as an addendeum: “Don’t let your dismay keep you from untangling the mess.”

    I was intrigued by the way your image untangled itself as I looked at it. At first, I saw only the vertical stalks. Then, after a time, the lines of the diagonal and horizontal stalks began to emerge, making for an even more interesting photo.


    December 27, 2020 at 10:02 AM

    • That’s a sound addendum, of not letting your dismay keep you from untangling the mess—or at least trying to. I get the sense, though, that some messes are so tangled that for all practical purposes they can’t be untangled. It’s like the universe: the more that physicists have delved into it over the last century, the more complicated it seems to have gotten, with many new subatomic particles, quantum laws, black holes, dark energy, dark matter, etc. Quantum physicist even speak of entangled particles:


      I do better sticking to photography. One bit of simplification in this picture is that I cropped off a strip across the bottom, which included dried grasses and more water closer to the camera.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 27, 2020 at 10:26 AM

  7. I have Scott Peck’s book on one of my many stacks of books. My father enjoyed reading his thoughts and so does my sister. I have been fascinated by the idea of “emergence” as it relates to complexity. Humanity seeks certainty and simplicity, and yet we are at our best when we recognize and embrace the idea that life is filled with complexity and uncertainty.


    December 27, 2020 at 2:34 PM

    • And because of that complexity and uncertainty, I’m reminded that political slogans—of which we heard so many in 2020—are necessarily simplistic and unrealistic.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 27, 2020 at 7:18 PM

  8. I like this shot. There’s something cheery and hopeful about it–I think it’s that pure blue.


    December 27, 2020 at 3:54 PM

    • If you derive cheer and hope from the photograph, especially in this difficult year, then so much the better. I agree the blue’s pretty, and I particularly liked it together with the tan and grey of the dry stalks.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 27, 2020 at 7:22 PM

  9. A crucial distinction.

    Michael Scandling

    December 28, 2020 at 2:35 AM

  10. Cattail is still my favorite candidate for Official Town Flower of Los Gatos. We have not selected one yet. It happens to be native. (There are not many marshy places in the region, but there happened to be one at Vasona, where Los Gatos Creek flows from the Santa Cruz Mountains and into the Santa Clara Valley.


    December 28, 2020 at 12:36 PM

    • You may be up against a lot of opposition, given that most people don’t think of cattails as having flowers.

      Photographically speaking, cattails offer a lot. In this picture they form a tan wall in the background, but in a post coming up soon they’ll play a starring role.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 28, 2020 at 1:58 PM

      • Opposition is part of our culture here.
        No matter how much I explain that an official town flower and tree should be either native or culturally significant, so many people here come up with candidates of flowers and trees that they happen to like on some exotic vacation in some far away place, most of which will not even survive here. Cattail is not only native, but also has the purrfect name for the Official Town Flower of Los Gatos.
        At work, we refer to our marshy area as the corn dog orchard because of the cattails.


        December 28, 2020 at 4:59 PM

        • I sympathize with your plight. The people want their pansies and petunias. In the meantime, we’ll keep on appreciating our cattails.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 28, 2020 at 5:02 PM

          • Not many people in town are from here, or have even been here for long. There is not much appreciation for history, or native flora. I would like our Town Tree to be either the native coast live oak, or the apricot tree, like those that grew in the orchards here. The oak is unpopular because it is ‘messy’. The apricot is unpopular because we do not want to be reminded that this had formerly been an agricultural region.


            December 28, 2020 at 5:50 PM

  11. That does indeed fulfil frame filling.

    Steve Gingold

    December 29, 2020 at 5:47 PM

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