Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Drowned remains

with 37 comments

At Barkley Meadows Park in Del Valle on January 29th we walked completely around Berdoll Pond, at whose far end I did many takes on drowned tree remains. The nearby skeleton of the plant shown below (perhaps poverty weed) also attracted me.


❧         ❧         ❧



The press is an availability machine. It serves up anecdotes which feed our impression of what’s common in a way that is guaranteed to mislead. Since news is what happens, not what doesn’t happen, the denominator in the fraction corresponding to the true probability of an event—all the opportunities for the event to occur, including those in which it doesn’t—is invisible, leaving us in the dark about how prevalent something is.

The distortions, moreover, are not haphazard, but misdirect us toward the morbid. Things that happened suddenly are usually bad—a war, a shooting, famine, financial collapse—but good things may consist of nothing happening, like a boring country at peace or a forgettable region that is healthy and well fed. And when progress takes place, it isn’t built in a day; it creeps up a few percentage points a year, transforming the world by stealth.

Steven Pinker, Rationality, 2021

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman 



Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 18, 2022 at 4:36 AM

37 Responses

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  1. so interesting, what remains


    February 18, 2022 at 6:17 AM

  2. I remember how frustrated I got with the effect of news reporting on my mother in her later years. She began to view the world as a scary place, especially as dementia set in. Reading the ‘news’ can be damaging to your mental health!

    Ann Mackay

    February 18, 2022 at 6:20 AM

    • I’m sorry to hear how the news upset your mother. Stations report some news (or a lot of news!) in ways designed to rile us up. At times I can feel it in my body and I take some breaths to calm down. Of course some things that get reported are dangerous and really should rile us up.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 18, 2022 at 7:11 AM

  3. Steve, is that a beaver lodge in the background of the first shot?

    Robert Parker

    February 18, 2022 at 8:45 AM

  4. I saw your ‘skeleton’ as fish bones. I wondered if that wasn’t a beaver lodge, too. We have three aquatic fur-bearing mammals — beaver, muskrat, and nutria — but the nutria prefer single dens along the shoreline and muskrats are in different parts of the state, so I’d bet on beaver. That pile of sticks certainly looks constructed rather than random; it’s a neat find.


    February 18, 2022 at 10:40 AM

    • Two things made me hesitate about concluding beavers had made the mound. One is that although beavers have occasionally been found in Austin, I got the impression that they’re uncommon and have wandered in from other places. The other thing is that some of the tree trunks in the mound seemed larger and heavier than beavers could move. As for fish bones, poverty weed has been described as having branches in a herringbone pattern.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 18, 2022 at 11:37 AM

      • Well, well… There was an observation of an American Beaver posted on iNaturalist from January 13 of this year — from Barkley Meadows Park. There are several other sightings from the area around Del Valle, so I’d say the possibililty of your sighting a true beaver mound just went up.


        February 18, 2022 at 12:12 PM

        • Good sleuthing. A sighting from two weeks earlier at this very park seems to clinch it. I may have to swing back by there on the off-chance of arriving at the right time to something.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 18, 2022 at 1:13 PM

    • There’s a lot of muskrats in the swamps and marshes near where I grew up, the muskrat lodges are mostly piles of reeds and cattails. The beavers use sticks and surprisingly big tree limbs, I don’t know how they do it. The muskrat lodges look like little thatched heaps, but the beaver lodges are pretty messy, a couple times I’ve been standing on top of them thinking they were just a bunch of debris from a flood or something.

      Robert Parker

      February 18, 2022 at 1:30 PM

      • Maybe those things will give you material for a post.

        Steve Schwartzman

        February 18, 2022 at 2:22 PM

        • Well in college I read a lot about the 17th c. “Beaver wars” involving the Iroquois, but I know very little about 🦫 beavers or muskrats.

          Robert Parker

          February 18, 2022 at 7:27 PM

          • How nice that you found a little beaver emoji. What you learned about the “beaver wars” might already be enough for a post.

            Steve Schwartzman

            February 18, 2022 at 8:14 PM

  5. I always think it is weird that the press tell us about things that have happened to people as if we should be interested in them, but almost never tell us how it all panned out as if we should not be interested in that. Someone is harmed – do they recover?


    February 18, 2022 at 11:17 AM

    • Good point. Follow-through is important.

      As a teacher for decades, I saw that every few years the educational bureaucrats imposed some new policy or approach that they claimed would achieve wondrous results. Of course each of those things failed, and then it was on to the next one that would also fail. That led me to advocate for trying out a new proposal on a small scale for five or ten years to find out if it really worked. If so, then it could be expanded to a larger group to see if it worked at scale. That way we wouldn’t have the whole country subjected to one failed fad after another every few years.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 18, 2022 at 1:00 PM

      • My parents were teachers and I’m sure they would agree with you. I remember Dad grumbling about teaching with cuisenaire rods and Mum had a good deal to say about ‘great’ new ideas for both English and maths teaching.


        February 18, 2022 at 1:18 PM

        • You’ve reminded me how Cuisenaire rods—which I haven’t thought about in ages—were touted for years as a panacea. For all I know, they still are. One current fad in English/humanities is to stop teaching classic books and replace them with books written within the last few years by people of the “right” color or gender.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 18, 2022 at 2:21 PM

        • I remember cuisenaire rods too. I hated them from the point of view of a student..


          February 19, 2022 at 12:48 AM

          • I’m older enough that I never dealt with them as a student, and later as a teacher my primary subject was secondary math [play on words]. It’s unfortunately true, however, that many high school “graduates” in the United States don’t understand fractions and can’t manipulate them. The company that makes Cuisenaire rods has a promising market in remedial arithmetic classes in American colleges.

            Steve Schwartzman

            February 19, 2022 at 7:05 AM

  6. Pretty cool! If not a beaver lodge could it be a muskrat lodge? Do you have those there?


    February 18, 2022 at 4:19 PM

    • Photographically speaking, I like all the clutter of those dead tree trunks.

      I just checked a distribution map and found that muskrats don’t make it as far southwest as Austin. The closest is about three counties northeast of here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 18, 2022 at 5:22 PM

  7. That’s a very common sight hereabouts. We have many beaver ponds and they drop them for the whole perimeter before moving farther away from the edge. And, of course, there are other trees that fall naturally…old age, erosion, windfall. I do think Robert is on to something questioning about a beaver lodge. It’s fairly unusual that sticks would be piled like that by random floating or wind driven. My father used to own a deli when I was in my early teens and the second one reminds me of whitefish remains (my job was to clean tables and dishes).

    I am not sure that I agree with the idea that the news is manipulated, at least not for the most part, to only tell us certain stories. While I agree that news outlets have agendas based on editorial outlook, I think much is based on what will sell the newspaper or gain views on TV, or hits on the internet. There are no more Cronkites, Huntleys, or Brinkleys and money talks more than anything else. And people have short attention spans leaving outcomes of lesser interest than initial headlines…especially since there is so much of it we lose track. Bad news sells more than good news so there is a lot more of it. Occasionally good news gets the headline…such as if the Russians pull back from the Ukraine border…but bad stuff rules.

    Steve Gingold

    February 18, 2022 at 4:30 PM

    • What I couldn’t tell is whether the people who created and maintain the park, which is only 8 years old, or perhaps the previous landowners, made that heap of logs and branches when they created the pond.

      The bush that I think the second picture shows, poverty weed, has been described as having a herringbone pattern, so your memory of whitefish bones is on target .I remember whitefish from the delis on Long Island where we used to buy it, along with lox, carp, and pickled herring.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 18, 2022 at 5:45 PM

    • Toward the end of Walter Cronkite’s life, when he was no longer reporting the news, it became clear that he leaned politically left, but to his great credit during the decades when he reported the news no one would ever have guessed his sympathies because he announced the news objectively and kept his feelings out of it. I’m with you in wishing we still had prominent people like that in the mainstream news networks.

      There’s pretty good evidence that a bunch of current networks avoid reporting on certain things for political reasons, or briefly report those things and then drop them. The most prominent recent example I’m aware of is a filing by Special Counsel John Durham last Friday:


      That filing seems significant, even if not the “bombshell” that some people claim. Nevertheless, for several days, all but one mainstream media outlet refused to even mention it.

      Another recent example was the January 2022 Johns Hopkins University meta-analysis that found practically zero health benefit from Covid lockdowns, even as they did psychological and economic damage. As I reported in my commentary on February 7: “as of a few days ago, to the best of my knowledge, neither CNN, nor MSNBC, nor ABC, nor NBC, nor CBS, nor The New York Times, nor The Washington Post, nor Reuters, nor The Associated Press, nor USA Today, nor Axios, nor Politico reported it. That’s a lot of nors for institutions supposedly dedicated to the news.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 18, 2022 at 5:52 PM

    • Unfortunately, as of an hour ago, according to the news that I watched on television, the Russian claim of pulling some forces back from the Ukrainian border seems to have been just a ruse:


      Steve Schwartzman

      February 18, 2022 at 5:57 PM

      • Putin is aware that there will be little military reprisal by the west as that would only lead to further expansion of hostilities and the possibility of nuclear war. There are economic penalties Russia would suffer and they are significant but Putin holds the oil card which has many European leaders hesitant to provoke. Putin, being a former KGB guy, is full of tricks and misleading statements and actions. For all of Biden’s wishy-washiness, it is good to see him taking the threat seriously and unfortunate to see some in Congress downplaying the seriousness of the situation. There is great suspicion that Russia is trying to provoke Ukraine into some aggression as an excuse or for the need to support separatists as a reason to enter the country. Unless the Russian troops are pulled back and hostilities lessen, the entire world will feel the impacts of what happens there on some level. Market are already sinking somewhat.

        Steve Gingold

        February 18, 2022 at 6:18 PM

        • My father, who escaped from the Soviet Union as a teenager, understandably never trusted Russian leaders. Putin was a member of the KGB, the Soviet secret police, so he’s an expert at lying and deceiving. Biden keeps talking about sanctions, but I can’t see that Putin cares about sanctions. Apparently not even all NATO countries are agreed on sanctions. I heard on television an hour ago that Mario Draghi, prime minister of Italy, said that energy would not be part of any sanctions against Russia. What good would sanctions that don’t include Russian oil be? I guess Draghi is worried about a further increase of oil prices in his country. Yesterday I paid $3.02 per gallon for gas at Costco. It’s the first time in years it’s cost over $3.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 18, 2022 at 8:04 PM

          • I’ve been paying over $3/gallon for a few weeks here. As much as OPEC and other oil producers control oil prices so do speculators. I’ve read that they are responsible for 15% of the rising prices. Although I did not approve of Trump for the most part, I did agree with his demands that Europe take more responsibility for NATO’s support and actions. We cannot turn our backs on them but we cannot carry them either despite our own security issues. Italy’s wavering, and others, is indicative of their lack of resolve. OTOH, we’ve not experienced the devastation of total world war that Europe has so it’s hard to be too judgmental.

            Steve Gingold

            February 19, 2022 at 2:30 AM

            • Your mention of speculation in oil sent me looking at the stock chart of Exxon-Mobil (XOM). Back in September and October the stock’s price was in the range of about 53–55. Through the rest of the fall the price stayed in the low 60s. Beginning December 20, the price began to surge, rising to 82 by February 7. Surprisingly, though—at least to me—the stock has come down in the week and a half since then, to 78. I’d have thought the seemingly imminent invasion of Ukraine this week would have sent the stock’s price higher, yet it dropped 5%. I’ve never claimed to understand the stock market, and I never will.

              Steve Schwartzman

              February 19, 2022 at 6:57 AM

              • One of the most ludicrous things I have seen is the jumping around, backslapping, and cheering of IPO folks on a day when the market has crashed miserably. I understand their excitement but….

                Steve Gingold

                February 19, 2022 at 7:03 AM

  8. These drowned trees are very picturesque. I do hope you will find a beaver at this spot.


    February 19, 2022 at 1:08 AM

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