Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Portraits from our yard: episode 1

with 34 comments

Today and in probably nine posts to come I’ll be showing you portraits of native plants in our yard. Some are the progeny of a few plantings Eve made years ago, while others are here because those species have grown in this area for millennia. Let me begin by jumping back to April 25th, when the self-sown colony of white avens (Geum canadense) behind our house was happily doing its thing. You’re looking at buds in two stages of opening. Can you tell that this wildflower is in the rose family?

◊      ◊

You probably didn’t hear about an incident that made the news this week. To understand it, you should know that large numbers of people have been illegally crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. The current American administration has been letting them in anyway, in violation of American law. (Some eventually get sent back, but many are allowed to stay, and the government even pays to bus or fly them into the interior of our country.) How many illegal border crossers have been let in? On July 26, 2021, Border Patrol informed the police department in the little border town of La Joya, Texas, that the number of apprehensions of illegal entrants this year had surpassed 1 million through the month of June. That’s in addition to the unknown number of illegal entrants who’d managed to evade the understaffed and overworked border authorities altogether.

In the latest incident I mentioned at the beginning, federal authorities in La Joya had released a group of illegal entrants who had Covid-19. (I’ve heard that 7.9% of illegal entrants who have been checked for the disease have tested positive for it but I don’t know if that figure is accurate.) The organization Catholic Charities of The Rio Grande Valley had rented out all the rooms at a local motel and was housing the released Covid-positive group there. Instead of quarantining in the hotel, some of the infected people had gone to a fast-food restaurant called Whataburger, where a “concerned citizen at the restaurant waved down [a police] officer. The citizen told him about the family ‘coughing and sneezing without covering their mouths and not wearing face masks.’ Whataburger management also told the officer that they wanted the group to leave as well due to ‘their disregard to other people’s health.’” So much for following the Centers for Disease Control’s pandemic guidelines. While fully vaccinated Americans are being told to “follow the science” and mask up indoors once again, some people who actually have Covid-19 were released into our country and allowed to wander at will without masks as they mingled with the local population.

As for the number of apprehensions reported in the first half of 2021, some may say that the United States is a large and bountiful country, so that in addition to its already very generous quota of legal immigrants it can afford to have a million people entering illegally every six months. To give a sense of scale, let’s see what a proportional influx of illegal entrants would mean in a small country. Take New Zealand, for example, which is also a wealthy nation. Current population estimates for New Zealand and the United States are 4,864,000 and 332,900,000, respectively. That puts New Zealand’s population at not quite one-and-a-half percent of America’s, so the equivalent of a million people entering the United States illegally in six months would be about 14,600 people entering New Zealand illegally in half a year. Maybe I’m naïve, but somehow I don’t think many citizens of New Zealand would be okay with over 14,000 people every six months showing up at their borders illegally yet being allowed into the country anyhow. You know what a bunch of racist xenophobes those Kiwis are.*

Going in the opposite direction, China’s current population is estimated at 1,444,600,000. To match a million people crossing illegally into the United States in six months, China would have to allow about 4,339,000 people to illegally cross its borders every half-year. I’m sure once somebody pointed that out to Chairman Xi, who’s eager to surpass the United States as a world power in all respects, he’d agree to it. He’d probably kick himself for not having thought of it on his own.**

— — — — —

* Call it satire or call it sarcasm, but don’t take that last sentence seriously. The fact remains, though, that New Zealand polices its borders much more stringently than the United States does. When Eve and I visited there in 2015 and 2017, upon arrival we were photographed before being allowed to leave the Auckland airport, and again before being permitted to board our flight back home. By that system the New Zealand immigration authorities could tell whether we’d left before our authorized time in the country as tourists was up, or whether we’d stayed on illegally.

** That’s also sarcasm. I think we all know the kind of reception even a small group of people who entered China illegally—much less 4.3 million of them—would receive from authorities in that Communist dictatorship.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 30, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

34 Responses

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  1. Ha! Lol 😀 btw, the China population at 1,444,600 is looking a bit low 😉 –initially I thought the first photo was of a rosebud until I read the text. I’ve grown both orange and yellow-flowered geums in a past garden and didn’t know there’s a white form. It’s a very pretty wildflower!

    Ms. Liz

    July 30, 2021 at 5:01 AM

    • When it comes to familiarity with plants, my path was the reverse of most people’s. Almost everything I know about garden flowers is by extrapolation from my familiarity with local native plants. I’ll have pictures of white avens flowers in a future post in this series.

      Thanks for catching the mistake in China’s population. I know how it happened. When I put the numbers into my calculator to find the ratio of China’s population to America’s, I didn’t include the three final zeros in each, as they would cancel out anyhow. Later, when copying from the calculator to the text of the post, I didn’t add back those three zeros. I’m living proof that errare humanum est.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 30, 2021 at 6:10 AM

      • Amuses me now that I think of it .. how zeros don’t always mean nothing. Well they do and they don’t, quite weird really 🙂

        Ms. Liz

        July 30, 2021 at 6:21 AM

        • My elderly grandmother liked the song “Little Things Mean a Lot.” Sometimes, as you pointed out, zero means a whole lot!

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 30, 2021 at 6:35 AM

  2. Both are beautiful images of it. Yes, it does look like a rose!


    July 30, 2021 at 5:32 AM

  3. First question from a perplexed Kiwi who hasn’t visited the US for more than 20 years. Do you not have biometric scanners and e-gates in US airports?


    July 30, 2021 at 5:48 AM

    • I think we probably do have such devices in the international terminals at U.S. airports, but I’m not sure they’re used on departing international passengers. Even if they are, the big problem we’re dealing with now is that the current administration is unwilling to stop the flow of millions of people entering illegally by land across our southern border. What’s worse, not only is the administration unwilling to stop it, it’s actually abetting it. The government is spending millions (billions?) of dollars to bus and fly many illegal entrants into the interior of the country. And here’s something germane to your question: just yesterday I heard on television that in some cases the government has let illegal entrants who have no identification papers fly on American planes anyhow—while American citizens can’t even get into the main part of an airport without showing some form of government-issued identification. Article II, Section 3, of the United States Constitution says that the President “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” In my whole life I’ve never seen such flagrant violation of that requirement.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 30, 2021 at 6:33 AM

      • My take on it is that across the globe, all politicians are acting in flagrant violation – of everything right and proper!


        July 30, 2021 at 6:49 AM

      • I do not envy you your border situation. We are, indeed, extremely lucky to be able to have strict control over our borders, particularly at the moment. Even so, you may be surprised to know that, at any one time, there are 13,000 to 14,000 illegal immigrants in NZ ( overstayers). Recently there have been several petitions to Parliament seeking an amnesty for these overstayers. Decades ago many of the overstayers from the Pacific were targeted by the Govt’s notorious Dawn Raids. This Sunday, the Government will issue a formal apology for the Dawn Raids. https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/446971/nz-s-formal-dawn-raids-apology-rescheduled-date-announced I support the apology. I also have some sympathy for an amnesty for our current overstayers. Some of that sympathy comes from the fact that my great grandfather was, according to family lore, one of NZ’s early overstayers; and, even worse, a deserter from a ship crew. I hope there will eventually be a satisfactory solution to the US problems at the southern border.


        July 30, 2021 at 8:15 AM

        • That’s yet another piece of history I knew nothing about. I just read up on it a little bit. Regarding the current 13,000–14,000 figure you mentioned, do you know how many years it took to reach that total? Does the number hold approximately steady, or are new overstayers increasing the total?

          If New Zealand had a land border with the Philippines the way the United States does with Mexico, no doubt many Filipinos (probably including some of Eve’s relatives!) would be doing their best to cross into your country.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 30, 2021 at 3:06 PM

          • I think the number remains approximately steady.


            August 1, 2021 at 1:14 AM

            • Then the follow-up question would be: how do you think the majority of New Zealanders would feel about having 14,000 more people illegally adding to the total every six months?

              Steve Schwartzman

              August 1, 2021 at 8:47 AM

              • They would probably be ‘outraged’ (as it is fashionable to say) and call for the resignation of the Govt or a vote of no-confidence which would lead to the resignation of the Govt. Another Govt would be formed and it would get its chance to solve the problem. And it would probably fail , too, unless it was like the Australian Govt and prepared to pay other island countries to jail its illegal immigrants for years. You may be surprised to know that the Australia Govt was so determined to never ever let the incarcerated boat people settle in Australia that it did a deal with the US, through UNHCR. “In 2016, Australia and the United States agreed a resettlement arrangement. It provides resettlement opportunities in the United States for up to 1250 refugees under regional processing arrangements.

                As of 30 June 2021, the United States resettlement arrangement has enabled 968 individuals (398 from Nauru, 420 from PNG and 150 from Australia) to resettle in the United States. This includes families, families with children and single adults, from a range of nationalities. Many refugees have had their resettlement applications approved and are at various stages of pre-departure activities, while many others have applications in train.” In Sept 2016, the Australia Govt said it would resettle refugees from camps in Costa Rica, including refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The Aust Govt denied there was any link with the US Govt’s acceptance of Australia’s boat people but many of us wonder about that.
                Illegal immigration is a difficult issue. By the way, I suspect ‘regional processing arrangements” is a euphemism for ‘detention centres’ but I could be wrong.


                August 1, 2021 at 7:50 PM

                • Thanks for your thoughts and information. Actually I had heard that some of the refugees who wanted to settle in Australia would be sent to the United States instead, though I didn’t know about it in as much detail as you provided. The 1250 figure you mentioned is roughly half the number that have been crossing illegally into the United States every day. The current administration has given no indication they plan to do anything about it. In fact they’re spending large amounts of money to abet the illegal inflow. Unlike your system, the American system doesn’t allow for no-confidence votes, so at the current pace 8 million people will have entered illegally by the time the next president is inaugurated.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  August 1, 2021 at 8:34 PM

  4. The geum does indeed look very rose-like. We have garden varieties growing here but we also have lots of wood avens that have a tiny yellow flower. They get everywhere, so they can become a nuisance, especially when the little hooked seeds embed themselves in the fur of my two cats! (Or even in my own hair if I’m doing a bit of weeding!)

    Ann Mackay

    July 30, 2021 at 5:59 AM

    • You anticipate me: in a post later in this series of portraits from our yard I’ll be showing a closeup of a white avens seed head, complete with those animal-fur-loving hooks you mentioned. I understand now that the first word in white avens distinguishes our Texas species from the yellow-flowering one European settlers in America would have known from back home. I looked up a picture of wood avens just now and found that except for the color of the petals the flowers look indistinguishable from the ones in our yard.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 30, 2021 at 6:44 AM

  5. These images are lovely. I am looking forward to seeing more portraits from your yard.


    July 30, 2021 at 8:17 AM

    • And so you shall. Today’s havens for avens will give way as soon as tomorrow to a quite different kind of wildflower.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 30, 2021 at 2:51 PM

  6. That’s funny to blame immigrants for not following covid 19 guidelines when you look at all of our natural born American idiots. Immigrants aren’t our problem.

    Jason Frels

    July 30, 2021 at 8:24 AM

    • 1. Describing people who came here illegally as “immigrants” is semantic sophistry. People doing something illegally differ from those doing it legally. Imagine that you own a cabin in the mountains that you visit several times a year. It’s been four months since you spent time in your cabin, so you go there. Upon your arrival you find that since your last visit someone has broken in and is staying there. That person is no more a “resident” of your cabin than someone who comes here legally is an “immigrant,” and when you call the police to report the person who has broken in I’d be extremely surprised if you told the police you were calling because of a problem with a “resident.”

      2. You may have missed my many connections to immigrants, which I described in a post about seven weeks ago: https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2021/06/03/it-doesnt-take-long-for-chaos-to-ensue. I’m all for legal immigration.

      3. As for blame, the bulk of this post blames our current (mal)administration for not following Article II, Section 3, of the United States Constitution, which says that the President “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Immigration laws that Congress passed and that are still on the books not only aren’t being enforced, but the executive branch is abetting the breaking of our laws by paying to fly and bus the people who are here illegally into the interior of our country.

      4. Blame also attaches to the group in La Joya. I understand why they want to be in the United States, but they broke American law. I imagine the group at the Whataburger also understood that as Covid-positive they shouldn’t be wandering around at all, much less without masks.

      5. If you’re aware of any incidents in which “natural born American idiots” who actually had Covid-19 and knew they had it were wandering around in public indoor spaces without a mask, please provide links to reports of those incidents.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 30, 2021 at 11:41 AM

  7. Beautiful !!


    July 30, 2021 at 3:49 PM

  8. I like the flowers. As usual, inspiring and something to aspire to emulate.
    My nephew is a pilot for the Border Patrol in Arizona, so I’m sure he sympathizes with your point of view.
    I think that the main reason people emigrate to the USA is that life is so crappy where they are – you don’t see many Canadians emigrating to the US, and they have socialized medicine up there.
    As far as “Communist” dictatorships go – I think that most authoritarian regimes are oligarchical, and it’s just matter of degree. True democracies don’t exist in the present day, as far as I know, and even a republic like the US is mostly run by the rich for the rich, or the wealthy for the wealthy.
    And to quote a poet, we’re only pawns in their game.

    One reason I like nature (what’s left of it) and wildflowers, and don’t listen to the news very often these days. Rather while away the hours conversing with the flowers… if I only had a brain…


    July 30, 2021 at 9:01 PM

    • I wish I knew someone who, like your nephew, works for the Border Patrol, so I could get a personal account of what’s actually going on at the border now. I’ve even thought of driving down there to find out.

      I understand why people from poor countries want to come here, and I sympathize with them. Who doesn’t want a better life? My father and his family came here a century ago to get away from tyranny and discrimination. The United States is resilient and can welcome some people in. I believe the current yearly number of legal immigrants is about one million, which I’ve read is more than any other country lets in. The problem is that if too many people come here, and too many in a short time, they put a strain on existing systems like education and health care, and on the citizens who have to pay for those things.

      What you say about oligarchies rings true. If not, why would we have a tax code that runs to thousands of pages? Every Byzantine provision in there is payback to some group or other.

      Spending time in nature gets us both away from politics, that’s for sure. But not thinking about the harm that’s being done doesn’t stop it from being done, and that’s why I’ve felt compelled to begin speaking out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 31, 2021 at 5:48 AM

  9. I’m not sure I’ve seen this beauty. I looked at some other images, and after seeing it in full bloom, I wonder if I might have confused it with dewberry. The first photo looks more like dewberry than rose to me, although both are in the rose family. What strikes me about these photos is the absence of the blush of pink that often shows up on dewberry buds. The purity of the green and white you’ve captured is striking.


    July 30, 2021 at 10:16 PM

    • One easy way to distinguish white avens from dewberry is the former’s lack of prickles on its stems: dewberry follows the majority way in the rose family, white avens doesn’t. And I think you’re right about white avens’s lack any blush. I don’t recall seeing one. Next spring, if I remember, I’ll take a closer look to see if I can confirm that.

      I checked the USDA map and found white avens marked for your area, as well as for all the counties in the New York metropolitan area, so the chances are good I saw some as a kid, even without it registering.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 31, 2021 at 5:58 AM

  10. Glad to see this series from your yard. You really should change the name of your blog considering the bulk of your posts are now political.

    Steve Gingold

    August 1, 2021 at 2:04 AM

    • Before the recent cultural-social-political commentary appended to posts, even within the realm of nature I was showing much more than portraits of wildflowers, so the blog’s name was never truly accurate. It was a repurposing of the title of a book I’d hoped to get published but failed to interest any publisher in. As you’ve noticed, I’ve put commentaries at the end, separated by a marker, so that anyone who wants nature and nature alone can stop at the marker.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 1, 2021 at 11:17 AM

  11. […] the white avens (Geum canadense) buds from April 25th that you saw four posts back? Here from the same day are lighter and darker takes on the flowers of the species. The first […]

  12. […] you remember the white avens (Geum canadense) buds and flowers you saw here recently?From our back yard on July 22nd comes this view of a white avens […]

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