Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Three takes on bushy bluestem

with 20 comments

At Chalk Ridge Falls Park in the outskirts of Belton on January 17th I did several takes on the native grass known as bushy bluestem, Andropogon tenuispatheus. Above, you see a stand of it on the opposite bank from where we walked along the Lampasas River. Soon afterward I had a chance to get close to some on our side of the river.

Elsewhere I worked quickly to record a bushy bluestem plant while it was still backlit. A few minutes later
and the moving sun—actually of course the moving earth—would have deprived me of the chance.

⟠          ⟠          ⟠

Last week I finished reading the 2015 book Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar’s Search for Justice. My personality normally sets me at odds with activists, many of whom I see increasingly pushing ideologies despite objective reality contradicting those ideologies. Yet this activist, Alice Dreger, is also a historian, and she upholds historians’ traditional ethics: do the research and document the truth, whether it matches your preconceptions or not.

Here are a few people’s recommendations for Galileo’s Middle Finger:

Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor, University of California, Irvine
Galileo’s Middle Finger is a brilliant exposé of people that want to kill scientific messengers who challenge cherished beliefs. Dreger’s stunning research into the conflicts between activists and scholars, and her revelations about the consequences for their lives (including hers), is deeply profound and downright captivating. I couldn’t put this book down!”

Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University; author of The Blank SlateEnlightenment Now, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and Rationality:
“In activism as in war, truth is the first casualty. Alice Dreger, herself a truthful activist, exposes some of the shameful campaigns of defamation and harassment that have been directed against scientists whose ideas have offended the sensibilities of politicized interest groups. But this book is more than an exposé. Though Dreger is passionate about ideas and principle, she writes with a light and witty touch, and she is a gifted explainer and storyteller.”

Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and The World until Yesterday: 
“Alice Dreger would win a prize for this year’s most gripping novel, except for one thing: her stories are true, and this isn’t a novel. Instead, it’s an exciting account of complicated good guys and bad guys, and the pursuit of justice.”

Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor, Emeritus, Harvard University (who died this past December 26th): 
“In this important work, Dreger reveals the shocking extent to which some disciplines have been infested by mountebanks, poseurs, and even worse, political activists who put ideology ahead of science.”


I’ll give more information about Galileo’s Middle Finger in a follow-up commentary.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 4, 2022 at 4:32 AM

20 Responses

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  1. I think native grasses can be so beautiful and are often overlooked. So I really appreciate your three artful photos, Steve, of the beautiful grasses you found on your hike.

    Jet Eliot

    February 4, 2022 at 4:38 AM

    • Growing up and for decades afterwards probably the only kind of grass I knew about was lawn grass, which I now see as boring and uninteresting when compared to some of our native grasses. Bushy bluestem is probably my favorite, and it has the advantage of being common here. Imagine my surprise when I recently learned that a species of bushy bluestem even grows in the county I grew up in on Long Island.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 4, 2022 at 6:25 AM

  2. All of your images are beautiful. I can appreciate that first shot of the opposite bank of the river. It reminds me of our old river channel area or even the slough on our property. So many of the native grasses offer layers of color and texture on landscape images.

    I’ll be busy catching up on some posts today. I’ve finally returned from a long stint in Nebraska to care for my mom, who is in hospice now. The hues of browns and golds were outstanding in areas where native grasses have not been taken out by large-scale farming.


    February 4, 2022 at 7:37 AM

    • How comforting that you have a scene like the first one in at least two places on your property; I have to travel to a park or greenbelt or even a private property that’s been allowed to go natural (until it’s eventually developed, alas). It’s also good that you got to see those browns and golds of native grasses in Nebraska.

      I’d wondered about your absence from the blogging world. I’m sorry your mom is in hospice now. What’s inevitable isn’t always easy to accept.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 4, 2022 at 8:47 AM

      • It looks like I have had a week’s reprieve from hospice work, only to head back on Tuesday this coming week. All but one of my siblings have jobs – my brother and I are retired, so we care for mom during the week. I’m not sure how long this will go on. We cannot get mom placed in any facility because of a chronic condition that is highly contagious, and many places have no available rooms or are short on staff. It’s truly a horrible situation to face for many people. My siblings and I are doing all we can – we’re just thankful to have some help from the hospice folks.

        One thing mom and I have enjoyed together are the Nebraska sunrises. We’re both awake at that time and watch the slivers of fiery reds and oranges that turn to softer pinks and lavenders before blue skies ease in. Mom lives in a tiny Danish village, where there is little traffic this time of year. I can walk two blocks to get her mail, stop at the locker plant for farm fresh eggs and meats to buy. People that I don’t know walk up to ask how mom’s doing and offer to help if we need anything. It’s a close-knit community. I’m delighted by little squirrels out early mornings, and doves cooing while they sun themselves before flight. Nature is always present and a gift to us each day. I’m thankful for that beautiful morning view – that and strong coffee!


        February 5, 2022 at 6:42 AM

        • I appreciate your explanation. As I got part-way through it I thought maybe you could move your mom down to your house. Then I learned how she lives in such a tight-knot community up there, which she would lose if she came to you. She’d also miss out on those great Nebraska sunrises you described, especially shared with you. I’m sorry for the dilemma this puts you in.

          Your final words made me wonder what people in most places did before coffee got spread around the world a few hundred years ago. Asians had tea. People in the southeast of what is now the United States (including central Texas) had yaupon, whose leaves contain caffeine.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 5, 2022 at 7:14 AM

  3. As much as I enjoy backlit grasses, and the pleasant contrast of brown against blue, the first photo is especially appealing. The four layers are so discrete my first thought was that they could have been designed by a landscaper; then, I realized that the best (or most appealing) landscapers take nature for their model.


    February 4, 2022 at 8:18 AM

    • The second and third view repeat approaches I’ve often used with bushy bluestem. I’ve less often managed to portray a stand panoramically, so when I saw the broad colony along the opposite river bank I new I had to photograph it that way. I also did a take showing more of the river and the full reflection of the bushy bluestem in it. It works; it’s also too similar to the top picture to show in the same post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 4, 2022 at 8:58 AM

  4. Moving clouds could also spoil the opportunity for a perfect shot.

    Peter Klopp

    February 4, 2022 at 8:56 AM

    • Yes, I’ve had the movement of clouds, and especially the shadows they cast on my position, interfere with pictures. Sometimes I’ve waited till an obstructive cloud has passed. If it was clear the light wouldn’t return soon, I’ve occasionally changed my approach to the subject and gotten a different sort of picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 4, 2022 at 9:01 AM

  5. That 2nd shot really highlights the “bushy,” they ain’t lying. And the 3rd shot really highlights the beauty of the highlighted grasses, just lovely. High Five for these shots.

    Robert Parker

    February 4, 2022 at 1:17 PM

    • I appreciate your high five for three pictures: that’s a high 1 and 2/3rds for each picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 4, 2022 at 2:15 PM

  6. Love the variety of approaches which give a great overall description of the grass. The backlit head is especially beautiful with all the delicate detail and glowing fluffy seeds.

    Ann Mackay

    February 5, 2022 at 6:07 AM

    • Bushy bluestem is one of my favorite species. I’ve been known to say that “variety is the species of life” (spice and species are historically the same word). And you’ve seen how often I’ve posted pictures of backlit subjects.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 5, 2022 at 6:11 AM

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