Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Red oak leaf and soft clouds

with 38 comments

While down close to the ground on November 22 photographing the Great Plains ladies tresses’ orchids you saw last time, I noticed some oak leaves near by that looked bright red from backlighting by the sun. As shown here, I managed to isolate one of those leaves against soft clouds. The species could well have been Texas red oak, Quercus buckleyi.

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“We write to express our alarm over recent trends in K-12 mathematics education in the United States.”

So begins an open letter signed by hundreds of experts in mathematics, computer science, engineering, and related fields. The letter goes on to explain that the movement for “equity” in mathematics education, whatever its professed goals, actually harms American students and reduces our nation’s mathematical preparedness. The letter isn’t long, and I encourage you to read it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 7, 2021 at 4:15 AM

38 Responses

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  1. I love the bold colour of the leaf against the pale background of the clouds. The letter is interesting although I don’t fully understand what is happening with math education in the US. I know my daughter and some of her peers greatly enjoyed their advanced math classes at her local school in New York and at the American College in Cairo. That was a long time ago now.


    December 7, 2021 at 6:35 AM

    • Ethnically Asian students take (and succeed in) advanced classes in disproportionately large numbers, while African-American and Hispanic students are underrepresented in those courses. In the name of “equity,” the leftists who control much of American education want to deal with the disparity by eliminating many of the advanced classes rather than by providing a better education to minority students in their early years so that they would qualify for and succeed in the advanced classes. It’s all crazy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 7, 2021 at 10:29 AM

      • Ah, thanks for that explanation.


        December 7, 2021 at 5:42 PM

        • Sure thing. Along the same lines, I’m reminded of the high school I first taught in when I moved to Austin in 1976. Like most American schools, this one occasionally would have an assembly that all the students would attend. Unfortunately some of the students at the assemblies got too rowdy. Rather than the administrators dealing with the situation by controlling the unruly students, they “solved” the problem by no longer holding assemblies.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 7, 2021 at 8:01 PM

          • Hmm, an odd way to go about things. However, if the student body was anything like the one at my school, we would have been delighted to have been released from assemblies. The rowdies would have become heroes. But there would have been no chance of that happening. The rowdies would have been punished with much dreaded detention (also not a great option for crowd control but that was the way it was done).


            December 7, 2021 at 11:24 PM

            • “Hmm, an odd way to go about things.” Yes indeed, but not as odd or harmful as forcing “equity” by attempting to drag good students down to the level of poorer ones.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 8, 2021 at 8:54 AM

  2. What a beautiful image. I spent some time trying to find the name for those thread-like ‘thingies’ extending from the edge of the leaf, but failed. No matter. You kept them in focus beautifully, and the color shines. The image is a perfect match for Coleridge’s lines from “Christobel.”

    “The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
    That dances as often as dance it can.”


    December 7, 2021 at 7:19 AM

    • You raise a good question about the name for the thread-like thingies. Someone must know.

      As for focus, the uppermost lobe caused me trouble because its tip curled away from the plane of the rest of the leaf. I took 20 pictures in the hope that at least one of them would manage to get the tip in focus along with the rest of the leaf. In a few of the 20 pictures I succeeded.

      You did well in citing that picture-appropriate couplet from Coleridge. The words “last” and “leaf” remind me of the short story “The Last Leaf,” by O. Henry, who once lived in Austin (and three other places I’ve also lived: North Carolina, Honduras, New York):

      Click to access the-last-leaf.pdf

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 7, 2021 at 10:41 AM

    • I forgot to mention that this backlit leaf is a precursor of one with sparkly orbs behind it at Inks Lake State Park that’s coming up later in the month.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 7, 2021 at 12:46 PM

  3. This is a fine example of an oak leaf that has turned red. There is an abundance of oak trees in our area but most certainly not the Texas variety.

    Peter Klopp

    December 7, 2021 at 9:26 AM

    • I expect you have a lot more oaks that turn colors in the autumn than we do here. The general scarceness here makes Texas red oaks all the more valuable to us.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 7, 2021 at 10:33 AM

  4. Education is a thorny issue but I agree that students should have advanced study available to them. In my high school advanced biology was technically available to me; however, we had exactly one science teacher so all he could really do was hand me a textbook and wish me luck. I think California is getting liberalism wrong, or else they are taking it way too far. I want the country to swing back to the middle, where both sides can talk and work together for reasonable goals and outcomes across the board. The media doesn’t want that, though. I think they deliberately demonize the “other”, whatever side they are on, and amplify that to whip up hate and distrust.


    December 8, 2021 at 8:41 AM

    • Education needn’t be a thorny issue. With all the money we spend on it, there’s no reason—outside politics and ideology and sensationalism—we can’t get better results. Sitting on the desk to my right so I won’t forget about it is our $3300 school tax bill for this year (and $3500 in other local taxes) that’s due to be paid next month. We don’t get our money’s worth.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2021 at 9:07 AM

      • No, we don’t. There is a coffee shop near me where I often hear the new young teachers sitting together gossiping about parents and students. They are the mean girls, the ignorant and intolerant ones, who for some reason get it in their heads that they want to be teachers when they grow up. But they do not long to inspire. They long to squelch and hurt. I marvel that the school board or whoever hires these women cannot see through them. Or perhaps meanness and ignorance is the prevailing trend in school, and exactly what the board is seeking?


        December 11, 2021 at 8:37 AM

        • That’s too bad about the young teachers you’ve overheard gossiping. It’s unfortunately been the case for decades now that college students who go into education score at or near the bottom in their average standard test scores. (Students who major in math and physics score near the top.)

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 11, 2021 at 9:08 AM

          • Ah, so the facts support the sense I was getting.


            December 11, 2021 at 8:01 PM

            • I found a 2014 article that gives the combined math-language SAT score of physical science majors as 1683 and of education majors as 1438.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 12, 2021 at 6:03 AM

              • It would seem to me that the standards for educators would be higher than they evidently are. However there is also the other side of the equation. Recently my family and I traveled to Missouri and saw a gigantic, lit up sign along the highway that read: “Public Education is Communism”. When kids are receiving that message at home and in their community, it wouldn’t matter how excellent the teachers were~they are going to resist learning.


                December 12, 2021 at 7:49 AM

                • I’ve never seen a sign like that in my whole life. Weird. However, it wouldn’t explain the poor performance of public school students in places like Los Angeles and Baltimore and New York City, where such a sign would never appear.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  December 12, 2021 at 1:32 PM

                • I agree.


                  December 13, 2021 at 8:16 AM

                • We thought Missouri was beautiful, and the people we met were kind and seemed sane. But traveling along the freeway it felt like we were in a different, rather disturbing country.


                  December 13, 2021 at 8:17 AM

      • So…woke religion? really, Steve? The extreme right puts this sort of stuff out to convince you that Democrats are evil. Evidently they are claiming that we “worship” these ideas. You don’t really believe them, do you? Please tell me you don’t. If there is something you would like to discuss, tell me so we can exchange thoughts.


        December 11, 2021 at 8:43 AM

        • An ad hominem argument is one in which someone criticizes the person who says something rather than the substance of what the person says. Claims must be evaluated based on the evidence for their truth or falsity, not on who’s making the claim. For example, if someone who’s politically far right said that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, you wouldn’t discount that true statement just because a person on the far right says it. And if someone on the far right insisted that a cabal of Satanic, cannibalistic pedophiles operates a global child sex trafficking ring you’d rightly reject such a crazy claim.

          If it’s any comfort to you, the people from whom I first heard the assertion that wokeism is a religion are on the political left (though again, the only thing that should matter is the evidence for the claim). Prime among those people on the left is John McWhorter, who has just written a whole book to back up the claim that wokeism is a religion. The book is Woke Racism.

          If you want a summary of the arguments he makes, I encourage you to watch an 18-minute PBS interview of McWhorter by Walter Isaacson. In the latter part of the interview, McWhorter offers proposals for dealing with the disadvantages experienced by the black community on average. He also answers the question of whether what he is saying will become right-wing talking points. Have a look:


          Steve Schwartzman

          December 11, 2021 at 9:51 AM

          • Thank you for the link. If I had seen that book on the shelf I would have assumed it was a radical right author and passed it by. It was a refreshing interview, wasn’t it? Some dear friends of mine have jumped onto the anti-racist bandwagon with both feet and I confess over the past few months I’ve begun to feel concerned about some of the things they insist are true. Unfortunately I am not good at formulating my thoughts. Not until I hear a different voice can I say, “Yes~THAT makes more sense to me.” So, thank you for pointing me to the more sensible voice.


            December 12, 2021 at 8:31 AM

            • If you’d like more details from McWhorter on this topic, Eve and I just watched a 57-minute interview with him on C-SPAN’s BookTV:


              Steve Schwartzman

              December 12, 2021 at 1:39 PM

              • Thank you. I think I’ll look for his book at the library today.


                December 13, 2021 at 8:16 AM

                • If the Austin Public Library is representative, you won’t find an available copy. I just checked here and found there are 36 holds on the 9 copies the system has, and even 31 holds on the 6 e-book copies the library has. Good luck.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  December 13, 2021 at 9:01 AM

                • Yep, 9 holds on the 2 copies held by my favorite library. It sounds like both of our libraries are good about buying more copies of popular books. I don’t mind waiting.


                  December 14, 2021 at 9:01 AM

                • It pleases me that so many people want to read it. He struck me as informed and articulate~a very good voice for reason on a touchy and complicated subject.


                  December 14, 2021 at 9:02 AM

                • A voice for reason indeed. McWhorter is on the board of advisors for FAIR, the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism:


                  You can see a brief introductory video that includes McWhorter at

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  December 14, 2021 at 12:05 PM

          • There are people around here who walk around in MAGA hats, insisting the election was stolen, with vulgar signs on their roofs (!). They are the ones I hear speaking sneeringly of Woke Culture, and so that is what I was reacting to when I saw your mention of the chart.


            December 12, 2021 at 8:33 AM

            • That’s why it’s important to assess the evidence for a claim rather than just the person making the claim.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 12, 2021 at 1:38 PM

        • By the way, I think you meant for your comment to go on today’s post showing the froggie. That’s the post in which I linked to a chart showing the taxonomy of the Woke religion. The creators of the chart, Michael Shellenberger and Peter Boghossian, both have long histories on the political left.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 11, 2021 at 10:01 AM

          • Yes, that’s true. I did love the froggie, but I was distracted by the chart. They may have history on the left, but they are divisive there.


            December 12, 2021 at 7:58 AM

  5. This perspective certainly brings out the great color in the leaf. It’s a good time to study leaves, and what a wonderful study they are.

    Todd Henson

    December 8, 2021 at 8:50 AM

    • Our seasonal noun fall references what becomes of so many autumn leaves. As you noted, photographers get to study individual ones. I did that here and will show another one that’s lit from behind but with a different sort of background next week.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2021 at 9:12 AM

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