Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Tenants of the forest floor

with 21 comments

During an October 11th return visit to Bastrop State Park I made some pictures of the forest floor, which in places was a carpet of dry pine needles. An even thicker carpet of them had contributed to the devastation wrought by the wildfire that raged there in 2011 and destroyed most of the pines and oaks in the park. Charred remains are still conspicuous in many places a decade later, as the first two photograph confirm.

In the tradition of Horton Hears a Who and Horton Hatches the Egg, I’ll add that Eve Found an Ovum, which is to say a bird’s egg. The inside was liquid except for an air pocket, which conveniently formed an oval within an oval in the picture below.

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In the 1920s my father came to New York City as a teenager, a poor immigrant speaking Russian but no English. Because of that, he was initially put in school with children years younger and much shorter. The humiliation proved a great incentive for him to learn English really fast, and before long he was with schoolkids his own age. Not only that, but he soon qualified to attend Townsend Harris High School, an elite school for the smartest students. Jonas Salk, who went on to create the first polio vaccine in the 1950s, was a classmate of my father.

Decades later, when I was now the teenager, my father would occasionally complain about how Fiorello La Guardia, a “populist” mayor of New York City, had shut down Townsend Harris High School in 1942, supposedly to save money. History repeats itself. In our own time it has become increasingly common for “woke” politicians pursuing “equity” [a horrid word that means ‘the forced sameness of outcomes for racial groups’] to shut down programs for the gifted and talented, as smart kids have come to be called. In the 1930s and ’40s the “problem” was “too many” Jews in those programs; today it’s that there are “too many” Asians. The fact that students are admitted to those programs based on objective tests is irrelevant to ideologues, who often hold that there’s no such thing as objectivity, or if there is, then it’s a tool of white supremacy. As part of their hegemony, white folks apparently made the mistake of lending too much of their whiteness to Asians, who now outperform them.

Zaid Jilani recently wrote a good article about this entitled “Culture — Not Racism — Explains Asian American Educational Success.” I recommend it to you. You may also want to read an essay by Jilani from earlier this year, “The Cult of Smart.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 28, 2021 at 4:33 AM

21 Responses

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  1. If I’d seen the photo of the egg without any accompanying commentary, I probably would have assumed it was a mushroom. It looks remarkably like a pure white one I found on the forest floor in east Texas recently, complete with that pine needle background. The other thing that caught my eye was the size of the pine cones. It seems to me as I look at them that the longleaf pines of east Texas have cones that are larger than these. I’ll have to take a better look when I’m in a spot with mixed loblolly and longleaf trees.


    October 28, 2021 at 8:05 AM

    • I doubt I’d’ve thought of a mushroom. Now that you suggest it, though, it’s easy to imagine. Perhaps you’ll show your pure white one soon. I’d expect pine needles in east Texas. The “lost” pines of Bastrop are the outlier, literally.

      You’re vindicated: one website gives the length of loblolly cones as 3″–6″, while another site gives the length of longleaf cones as 6″–10″.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 28, 2021 at 8:18 AM

      • I forgot to mention this amusing tidbit which relates to your cultural note. A family I know has three children. One is entering Purdue this fall, one is in high school, and one is in junior high. The middle child is programming up a storm, while the youngest spent the summer learning composition at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. They’ve all attended private schools in Houston — the sort with uniforms and Latin requirements. They happen to be white, and they all call their mother their “tiger mom.”


        October 28, 2021 at 8:42 AM

  2. Lovely forest floor still lifes. I didn’t recognize the last one as an egg, either – I thought it was a smooth stone.


    October 28, 2021 at 8:43 PM

  3. Did I tell you what happened to much of the timber that needed to be removed as hazardous waste from the area that was burned by the CZU Fire? Well, it is a long story. Anyway, it seems that some timber might now be getting harvested, since it is leaving intact instead of ground into chips first. I do not know what happened to make that possible, but it is gratifying to see burned trunks leaving on trucks. I hope that it is getting processed into useful lumber, so that it does not get wasted, and so that it is less necessary to harvest trees from a forest that has not burned. (Although, harvesting would benefit the forests here; but that is another story.)


    October 28, 2021 at 10:22 PM

    • That sounds like good news. I’ve heard reports about mismanagement of California’s forest but I don’t know the truth of the matter.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 28, 2021 at 10:28 PM

      • It is . . . beyond ridiculous. The so-called ‘environmentalists’ do all that they can to promote the hottest and most destructive fires. Fires are natural, but the mismanagement of the forests after the primary harvest, as well as fire suppression, have enhanced the combustibility. Unfortunately, because so many people live here, fire suppression is necessary. However, responsible management would help. I probably explained earlier that after the primary harvest, the redwoods regenerated more densely than they naturally are. (After harvest, MANY formerly single trunks regenerated with MANY trunks each.) These superfluous trunks should be harvested, not only to decrease the volume of fuel, but to also generate lumber, so that other ‘virgin’ (not yet harvested) forests do not need to be harvested.


        October 28, 2021 at 11:17 PM

  4. As beautiful as your carpets may appear these are food for wildfires, Steve. Indeed these carpets provided plenty of fuel as you stated for a devastating fire ten years ago in your region.

    Peter Klopp

    October 28, 2021 at 11:00 PM

    • On the good side, by the following spring, wildflowers had already come up in some of the burned places. Decades from now, people will see the area reforested.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2021 at 5:07 AM

  5. Fire can be a natural renewal of the land and is key to prairie ecology. I wonder whose egg that is…or was.

    Steve Gingold

    October 29, 2021 at 5:23 PM

    • Bastrop State Park may eventually revert to the forested area it was before the great fire, but that will take time. I’ll have to settle for remembering how it used to be, as I won’t be here to see it decades from now.

      I know nothing about birds, so haven’t a clue about what kind of bird the egg might be from. Some local birders might know.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2021 at 5:54 PM

  6. It’s sad and very shortsighted that ‘gifted’ children aren’t getting the chances to fulfil their potential. Think of all the wonderful things they could have brought to their communities if they’d had the chance to take part in those programs.

    Ann Mackay

    October 29, 2021 at 6:49 PM

    • It is sad—all in the name of “equity.” Smart kids need advanced programs and unusually smart teachers, the grown-up versions of themselves.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2021 at 8:33 PM

      • Just a continuation of the dumbing down of society. It’s a disgrace.


        October 30, 2021 at 5:37 AM

  7. These remind me how much I enjoy pine forests. There’s just something very appealing to a forest floor covered in the browns of dried pine needles, not to mention the added interest of pine cones.

    Todd Henson

    October 31, 2021 at 10:53 AM

    • The needles and pine cones on the forest floor are there. All that’s lacking is the forest. I remember how it used to be, and how it could be again decades from now.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 31, 2021 at 1:57 PM

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