Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A seeping cliff, a shrine, a medallion

with 35 comments

The cliff on the west side of the Capital of Texas Highway just south of FM 2222 seeps water, especially in the days after rain. The picture above shows how a section of the cliff looked on January 2nd after we’d had rain a few days earlier; I’d say you’re looking at a height of about 20 ft. (6m) here. In one place on the face of the cliff some southern maidenhair ferns (Adiantum capillus-veneris) adorned a small natural shrine whose not deep but deep-shadowed interior a flash provided visual admission to. Notice how a few drops of water, inviters and sustainers of ferns, hung from the little grotto’s upper lip

Elsewhere the same kind of ferns made up part of a large medallion. The many darkened ferns testify to the previous period of several months when we’d had almost no rain.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 19, 2021 at 4:39 AM

35 Responses

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  1. A good wellspring, we’ll award a medal for spotting these, well sprung. And today it’s only sixty days to spring.

    Robert Parker

    January 19, 2021 at 6:56 AM

    • So you, like the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians, are thinking sexagesimally of spring yet to spring upon us, and of wellsprings already sprung from an Austin cliff.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 19, 2021 at 7:21 AM

      • Yes, not to be a baby, but I’m already a bit tired of winter, and in sum, ready for spring

        Robert Parker

        January 19, 2021 at 7:33 AM

        • Ah, you poor northerners who suffer cold-weather fatigue at this time of year. In contrast, my part of Austin reached 75° yesterday. Even so, as you’ve been seeing, I gladly endured some cold last week to play with snow and ice.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 19, 2021 at 7:38 AM

          • We’ve had a very mild time of it so far, although tonight, 12°, which is almost getting chilly.

            Robert Parker

            January 19, 2021 at 7:43 AM

            • Your “almost getting chilly” makes it abundantly clear that you’re stalwart when it comes to cold. In fact the 12° that you mentioned is a reminder that the ancient Greeks considered 12 abundant because all the lesser natural numbers that exactly divide it add up to more than 12:

              1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 6 = 16.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 19, 2021 at 7:54 AM

  2. It’s fascinating to see how so many plants spring back to life after a long period of drought when the rain finally provides the means for recovery. The fern along with all the grasses appears to have that ability.

    Peter Klopp

    January 19, 2021 at 8:35 AM

    • From what I’ve observed, you’re right about those maidenhair ferns. Even after a lot of the leaves have turned brown for lack of water, the plants spring back after a good rain.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 19, 2021 at 8:41 AM

  3. Not a lot of seeping cliffs around here, but there are a few seeps which are also pretty cool, botanically speaking.


    January 19, 2021 at 8:37 AM

    • I can’t say I’ve noticed a lot of seeping cliffs around here, either, but as far as my photography is concerned, this one has made up for the lack of others, and it’s less than a 10-minute drive from home. Being on a highway, however, makes it a noisy place to work.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 19, 2021 at 8:44 AM

      • It is too bad it is on a highway. You’ve reminded me~there is a highway that runs N-S about an hour west of me. It must have been cut through hills because as you drive it you can see layers of stone. I really like that. I wonder if they seep?


        January 19, 2021 at 9:58 AM

        • This cliff is like the one you mentioned. When I moved to Austin in 1976 the bed of the current highway had recently been cut through the high rocky bluff over the Colorado River, forming the cliff. There must have been a source of water within the land, and that’s what seeps through now. Perhaps the sections of hills you referred to near you don’t have an internal source of water. Or maybe they do, and you haven’t passed by at the right times.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 19, 2021 at 11:34 AM

  4. Not 12 degrees of cool, however.


    January 19, 2021 at 8:37 AM

    • That depends on how cool—how abundantly cool— you find mathematics.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 19, 2021 at 8:45 AM

      • I find it abundantly cool and beautiful…just don’t make me do it! When I was homeschooling my son he was in a higher math class. Don’t remember what~but he’d have to graph equations. The results were compellingly beautiful to me.


        January 19, 2021 at 9:56 AM

        • Yes, I used to spend lots of time playing around with graphs of equations, looking for especially appealing ones.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 19, 2021 at 11:36 AM

          • I can imagine that being a beguiling plaything for a mathematician.


            January 20, 2021 at 8:01 AM

            • Graphing software has made it hugely easier and faster than in the days of having to plot points manually.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 20, 2021 at 8:15 AM

      • I’ve begun watching the video. It is really interesting. I had no idea that art saved Santa Fe. I know it has been tried elsewhere, to varying degrees of success. Thank you for letting me know about it.


        January 19, 2021 at 9:59 AM

        • The documentary takes the stance that art saved Santa Fe, but I don’t know if that’s generally accepted; perhaps art contributed and other factors also led Santa Fe to flourish as the 20th century advanced.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 19, 2021 at 11:38 AM

          • I did think it was a little pat. Still, a very enjoyable video. Interesting that they refused to have O’Keeffe there. I’ve never been to Santa Fe, have you?


            January 20, 2021 at 8:00 AM

            • Yes, a bunch of times, the first being in 1970 (or maybe ’71) when I stayed with friends I knew from the Peace Corps who settled in nearby Chimayó. I seriously thought of moving there but couldn’t find a math teaching job in the area. I first took Eve there in 2002, and our most recent visit was in 2017. You may remember some of these pictures:


              Steve Schwartzman

              January 20, 2021 at 8:13 AM

  5. Very well spotted, dear Steve, and well explained too. We especially like your answering the comments.
    By the way, we are happy winter people, we love it freezing. This draws us outside.
    Keep well
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂


    January 19, 2021 at 9:01 AM

    • Answering the comments and bantering with the commenters is de rigueur here. The explanations follow from years of teaching. As for liking the cold weather: de gustibus non est disputandum, or as you might say, über Geschmack lässt sich nicht streiten.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 19, 2021 at 9:12 AM

  6. I enjoyed these photos from the seeping cliff!

    Lavinia Ross

    January 19, 2021 at 4:45 PM

  7. Nice vision to see that medallion as a photo opportunity…or that photo opportunity as a medallion.

    Steve Gingold

    January 20, 2021 at 3:28 AM

  8. […] January 16th, two weeks after my first foray this year to the cliff on the west side of Capital of Texas Highway south of FM 2222, I returned. I did so because when driving past there the previous day I’d noticed that the […]

  9. I always stop at roadcuts in the hill country, and often find ferns there. In fact, I found my first xeric ferns at a roadcut; quite different from these maidenhair ferns, but just as attractive.

    I especially like the second photo. It looks as though the rock is flowing, as well as the water: melting like MacArthur Park, perhaps. As the lyrics have it, “MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark/All the sweet, green icing flowing down” — it’s fun to think of the maidenhair ferns as icing on the geological cake.


    January 20, 2021 at 7:09 AM

    • Ferns run through it, we might say of each such roadcut cliff—well, probably not each and every one, but certainly some. Not familiar with xeric (or xerophytic) ferns, I looked them up.

      Your allusion to icing on the geological cake and therefore to “MacArthur Park” reminds me that I first got to know the song by hearing it played repeatedly on the radio in Honduras. Decades later the composer, Jimmy Webb, played a small venue on the University of Texas campus in Austin. The solo version of the song as he performed it then was necessarily so different from the lushly orchestrated one that had been so popular.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 20, 2021 at 7:44 AM

  10. […] Beyond orange and green things, I mostly focused on geological textures duringmy January 16th return to the cliff along the Capital of Texas Highway south of FM 2222. […]

  11. The delicate ferns provide a nice contrast!


    January 26, 2021 at 12:00 PM

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