Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Winter leaf colors from a native grass

with 27 comments

Inland sea oats is a common native grass in the woods in my northwest part of Austin. The second word in the grass’s scientific name, Chasmanthium latifolium, means ‘wide leaf,’ and while I don’t consider this grass’s leaves especially wide, they’re certainly wide enough to have offered up some colorful foliage in Great Hills Park on the second day of the year.

↯          ↯          ↯

The other day I came across a quotation on the Internet: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” The website attributed the quotation to Thoreau. Having long ago learned not to trust Internet quotations to be accurate, I went searching to find out whether Thoreau really expressed that thought, and if so, whether the wording was correct. My quest led me to an excellent site, The Henry D. Thoreau Mis-Quotation Page, where I learned that the idea was indeed Thoreau’s; the wording wasn’t. On August 5, 1851, Thoreau had written in his Journal: “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

If such things interest you, check out The Henry D. Thoreau Mis-Quotation Page, which includes incorrect wordings as well as sayings attributed to Thoreau that he never said. Of all the improper wordings, probably the most widely disseminated is the one that changes a word in the last part of this sentence from Thoreau’s essay “Walking”: “The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world.” People often quote the last eight words in isolation and turn wildness into wilderness.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 16, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

27 Responses

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  1. I really appreciate all your sleuthing about quotations. Thanks for the clarification! And thank you for the beautiful image of this spectacular leaf – so remarkable to truly see this one close-up.

    Birder's Journey

    January 16, 2022 at 6:45 AM

    • I feel I’m not alone in searching for the origins of quotations. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes the trail runs out. You may enjoy Quote Investigator (https://quoteinvestigator.com/), whose latest entry I noticed is a quotation I tracked down last year and planned to use in a post then but decided to hold till the spring, when it will fit better.

      Central Texas is too warm for much large-scale fall foliage. Years ago I noticed I could compensate with the small-scale colors in native grasses and some other plants.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 16, 2022 at 9:20 AM

  2. I’ve always paid more attention to this plant’s seed heads than its leaves, but these almost demand attention. The dark backgrounds are especially effective here. Sometimes I can sense when flash has been used, but with these I’m unsure. Did you just employ a small aperture?

    I’ve used that Thoreau misquotations page in the past. Another useful site is the Walden Woods Project. They have a searchable database of quotations, as well as plenty of other good information. I was surprised to learn that Don Henley of The Eagles was so deeply involved.


    January 16, 2022 at 7:33 AM

    • I’ve paid attention to inland sea oats seed heads for quite a while, then came to realize that the leaves offered possibilities for year-end color. For both of this post’s pictures I used flash so I could stop way down (to f/20 and f/18 respectively) to improve depth of field for such a close subject.

      Like you, I’ve been an occasional online visitor to the Walden Woods Project. I found this page there about Don Henley:


      Steve Schwartzman

      January 16, 2022 at 9:59 AM

      • A good friend of mine met Don Henley when they auctioned off a unique custom Steinway piano to fund the Walden Woods Project – she’s a classical pianist and played for the auction, along with Henley and Billy Joel. She didn’t know who they were so we filled her in beforehand 🙂


        January 16, 2022 at 5:42 PM

        • How nice that you have that personal connection. I take it your friend who didn’t know who Don Henley and Billy Joel are is a good deal younger than you. After a certain age the situation reverses: I don’t recognize most of the popular performers from the past few decades.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 16, 2022 at 7:18 PM

          • Actually, she is older than me. Many classical musicians pay no attention to pop music; they spend all of their musical time on deep dives into the literature that they are mastering.


            January 16, 2022 at 8:38 PM

  3. The colors in the leaf are wonderful …who doesn’t love red and gold?!

    I’ve used that quote and the misquoted one I’m sure! It’s a good one either way.


    January 16, 2022 at 9:31 AM

  4. I often check quotes as well… like the old-fashioned game of Telephone, humans are prone to remember the gist but not the original and just wing it.

    Eliza Waters

    January 16, 2022 at 1:24 PM

  5. Love the colors of the grass, I can imagine a beautiful fabric imitating its colors and patterns. And thank you for the quote accuracy resources – I always wonder if I’m using the correct one but sometimes it is hard to confirm. I’ve bookmarked the Thoreau misquote site and the Quote Investigator.


    January 16, 2022 at 5:39 PM

    • I’d be happy to see some of the patterns I’ve recorded in nature make their way into fabrics. In a similar way, commenters have occasionally suggested jewelry.

      You’re right that tracking down quotations can be hard. Some remain forever elusive, and that’s the case as well for some individual words.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 16, 2022 at 6:58 PM

  6. How nice to find such a wide range of colors in one leaf.


    January 16, 2022 at 5:52 PM

  7. You did bring up the beautiful colors of this leaf!

    Alessandra Chaves

    January 17, 2022 at 9:08 PM

    • The top one was actually backlit and I worried that the flash would kill the rich color; it worked out okay after all.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2022 at 9:38 PM

  8. Beautiful


    January 20, 2022 at 3:08 AM

  9. […] seed head arcs of inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), and my post on January 16th showed two views of this grass’s leaves looking backlitly colorful. I commented then that although the species name latifolium means ‘wide leaf,’ […]

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