Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Icicles on southern maidenhair ferns

with 32 comments

Little did I think on January 29th when Robert Parker posted a photograph of ferns in ice that I’d have a crack at the same subject just a week later. Cold rain and sleet came to Austin on February 2nd, followed by more than a full day of continuously sub-freezing temperatures. No way yesterday morning was I not going to head down to Great Hills Park and check for ice formations that the wet and then frigid weather might have created. Not far into the park I found the bulbous head of an icicle partly encasing the southern maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris) that you see above. Another location offered up a bunch of icicles hanging from a cliff that also was home to maidenhair ferns.



🎇          🎇          🎇



In the last post I brought up Alice Dreger‘s 2015 book Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar’s Search for Justice, and I quoted some scholars’ praise for it. Now let me quote the book’s conclusion (except for an epilogue).

If—as the investigative press collapses and no longer can function as an effective check on excess and corruption, and people live and die forever inhabiting self-obsessed corners of the Internet, and the government and the ad-selling Google industrial complex ever increase surveillance on us, and we can’t trust people in the government to be our advocates or even to be sensible—if we have any hope of maintaining freedom of thought and freedom of person in the near and distant future, we have to remember what the Founding Fathers knew: That freedom of thought and freedom of person must be erected together. That truth and justice cannot exist one without the other. That when one is threatened, the other is harmed. That justice and thus morality require the empirical pursuit.

I want to say to activists: If you want justice, support the search for truth. Engage in searches for truth. If you really want meaningful progress and not just temporary self-righteousness, carpe datum. You can begin with principles, yes, but to pursue a principle effectively, you have to know if your route will lead to your destination. If you must criticize scholars whose work challenges yours, do so on the evidence, not by poisoning the land on which we all live.

To scholars I want to say more: Our fellow human beings can’t afford to have us act like cattle in an industrial farming system. If we take seriously the importance of truth to justice and recognize the many forces now acting against the pursuit of knowledge—if we really get why our role in democracy is like no other—then we really ought to feel that we must do more to protect each other and the public from misinformation and disinformation. Doing so means taking on more responsibility to police ourselves and everybody else for accuracy and greater objectivity—taking on with renewed vigor the pursuit of accurate knowledge and putting ourselves second to that pursuit.

I know that a lot of people who met me along the way in this work thought I’d end up on one side of the war between activists and scholars. The deeper I went, however, the more obvious it became that the best activists and the best scholars actually long for the same kind of world—a free one.

Here’s the one thing I now know for sure after this very long trip: Evidence really is an ethical issue, the most important ethical issue in a modern democracy. If you want justice, you must work for truth. And if you want to work for truth, you must do a little more than wish for justice.


And that was in 2015, before the onslaught of religiously fanatical unreasoners and cancelers who hit us in 2020 and who have kept up their assaults ever since.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 5, 2022 at 4:24 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , ,

32 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. The delicate nature of the fern makes a great contrast to the hardness and chill of the ice. Yet the ice has its own delicate markings. The ferns and the ice make a very pleasing combination!
    Alice Dreger’s words are so appropriate right now! And I believe that truth and justice are entirely interwoven, though too often ignored.

    Ann Mackay

    February 5, 2022 at 5:23 AM

    • These delicate looking yet hardy ferns usually survive getting encased in ice for a short period.

      Since Alice Dreger’s powerful words seven years ago, other critics have decried the decline of investigative journalism. In the United States it has become common for “journalists” to pose fawning questions to politicians they favor and to keep from asking questions even about negative occurrences and statements so prominent there would seem to be no way to avoid them—while at the same time pummeling politicians whom they dislike with a slew of aggressive questions.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 5, 2022 at 6:33 AM

  2. Awesome icicles.


    February 5, 2022 at 5:26 AM

    • Awesome indeed. I felt fortunate that Austin had large icicles two Februarys in a row—and this time it didn’t come at the price of having to live with no electricity and no heat at home in the winter for several days.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 5, 2022 at 6:20 AM

  3. I don’t see maidenhair ferns as often as other types, usually down in protected ravines under sugar maples or beeches, so I’m always particularly glad to run across them. These are nice shots you’ve got here!

    Robert Parker

    February 5, 2022 at 7:57 AM

    • Thanks. In contrast to your situation, I see maidenhair ferns more often than other kinds here. They grow on creek banks, ravines, and similarly protected places, as you noted.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 5, 2022 at 8:37 AM

  4. These ferns encased in ice are beautiful captures. Both images have a timeless quality to them – life, frozen in time. I thought of you venturing out in the rare winter weather and precipitation that made it that far south! Oddly, when I headed south from Nebraska last week, I was heading into a winter storm, and leaving nice weather behind! Of course everyone here blamed me for bringing it with me! ha ha!


    February 5, 2022 at 8:04 AM

    • Thanks. I was especially happy with the first photograph, which didn’t match any previous icicle pictures I’d taken—oh, the quest for novelty, especially after the four or five chances last February’s storm offered.

      National weather maps on television have once in a while surprised me by showing warmer temperatures way up north than down here. You ran into something similar when you “brought” a winter storm south with you from Nebraska. I guess it was another instance of “Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 5, 2022 at 8:50 AM

  5. The first image is amazing. I see a man’s skull in profile and adorned so beautifully. It’s like an old Egyptian mummified skull or in this case frozen in time one.


    February 5, 2022 at 8:13 AM

    • I saw great potential in the first composition and was pleased that I managed to pull it off. Maintaining stability while standing in water and on slippery rocks wasn’t easy. I didn’t see a skull until you suggested it. The “frozen in time” didn’t last. Just in the time between when I entered the park and when I left, the icicles had gotten noticeably thinner.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 5, 2022 at 8:57 AM

      • Oh wow, that was a fast melt! I’m glad you stayed upright and didn’t end up in the cold water! I’ve been there! 😂


        February 5, 2022 at 9:16 AM

        • Sorry to hear about your cold-water “bathing.” As for the melting icicles, the good thing was that we had another freeze overnight. With all that water out there from yesterday, this morning I was able to go out and photograph more icicles in two places.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 5, 2022 at 12:16 PM

  6. I’m especially taken with the first photo, with its combination of encased leaflets and those others that have escaped the ice and are extending out from its surface. In the second, I see icy fingers on the left, reaching for those icicles. This time, we got the cold but no ice: except for a bit on elevated roadways. You certainly made good use of yours.

    I smiled at Dreger’s carpe datum. Then, I started thinking about the innumerable, nonsensical, and even sadistic restrictions still being imposed on people — especially children — by those who swear they’re “following the science,” and I’m not smiling any longer.


    February 5, 2022 at 8:32 AM

    • I was also especially taken with the first photograph, so different from the other icicle pictures I took last February. Sorry another round of ice didn’t come your way this time so you could play with it photographically as well.

      I, too, appreciated Dreger’s carpe datum. Some writers have been calling the mindset that you deplore “safetyism.” It came into use even before the pandemic, which only made the term that much ore relevant. The situation is especially hard to reconcile with the traditional observation that people on the political left tend to be more open to new experiences and more adventuresome than conservative people. The pandemic and the state of the country more generally have given psychologists and sociologists material to analyze for a long time to come.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 5, 2022 at 9:08 AM

  7. The fern creates a nice contrast with the ice. The second photo reminds me of being in a cave. It seems as though you used the flash on the first one, but no glares or highlights. Nice job.

    Alessandra Chaves

    February 5, 2022 at 9:19 AM

    • I used natural light for some of the many pictures I took, and flash for maybe the majority for good depth of field. Both of these pictures were with flash. In processing, I toned down the flash-induced artifacts I didn’t like. Thankfully there weren’t a lot.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 5, 2022 at 12:22 PM

  8. I am so glad that you can, at least for a little while, enjoy the beautiful shapes created by ice and snow, Steve.

    Peter Klopp

    February 5, 2022 at 9:27 AM

  9. You’d never see that around here. Our maidenhairs along with many other ferns long ago browned out (we do have a few that remain green through the winter) but, of course, we are in an entirely different environment. Cool catches.

    Steve Gingold

    February 6, 2022 at 3:11 AM

    • We have our share of browned-out maidenhair ferns here too. Some made it into the second picture, where they tend to get visually lost against the rock behind them. For that reason in my ice pictures I concentrated on maidenhair fern leaves that remained green.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 6, 2022 at 6:26 AM

  10. Captivating… in every way! 😉

    marina kanavaki

    February 6, 2022 at 4:05 AM

  11. Fantastic pictures, Steve. 👍


    February 6, 2022 at 1:26 PM

  12. 2015? It could have been yesterday. But then so could much of what Orwell wrote, or Hannah Arendt, or many other great thinkers of the past century.


    February 7, 2022 at 3:28 PM

    • Prescient words from Alice Dreger, no doubt about it, given the extent to which freedom has declined in the seven years since then, and especially since 2020.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 7, 2022 at 4:57 PM

  13. During our long freezes here in upstate New York the icicles grow so massive they achieve the dark blue coloration of glacial ice.


    February 9, 2022 at 4:38 AM

    • During my one winter in Union Springs I unfortunately never got to see the massive icicles you described. I wish I had.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 9, 2022 at 6:12 AM

  14. Love the addition of the little spring green leaves and the globe-like shape in the first.


    February 10, 2022 at 11:46 AM

    • The bulbous head of the icicle made a great clear (at least partly) matrix for the fern’s green leaves. I was happy with the way this came out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 10, 2022 at 2:54 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: