Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for March 2022

Contortions

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Contorted is how I might describe the branch of a possumhaw tree (Ilex decidua) already leafing out at East Metropolitan Park on March 25th. Five days earlier, as spring officially began, I’d photographed a prickly pear pad in my part of Austin that had reached the end of its life. In addition to the usual drying out and loss of green that a dead pad undergoes, it had contorted itself in a way that made me have to do its portrait.

 

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And speaking of contortion, I recommend Reason for its anti-contorted stance, which is to say its adherence to reason. The magazine of “free minds and free markets” promotes free speech, due process, and the deciding of matters based on evidence and logic. If you check out the Reason website, you’ll notice that it finds things to criticize in camps on both sides of the conventional left~right political divide. You could call that outlook libertarian.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 31, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Bluebonnet bookends

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On March 28th we set out on what turned into a six-hour, 239-mile quest for wildflowers south and southeast of Austin, where we hoped to find more than the paltry offerings in town so far this spring. Our first photo stop came in what I take to be Mustang Ridge, where a colony of bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) on an embankment along TX 130 ran parallel to a line of distant clouds.

One place we drove a good distance to check out was the field in Dubina that had looked so good on March 29 last year. No luck: the bluebonnets there had come up again, but much more sparsely. Our last stop before turning west and heading for home came on FM 609 a little south La Grange, where Eve spotted a dense colony of bluebonnets with some bright red phlox mixed in. Because the bluebonnets grew in someone’s front yard, and because they looked a lot better than any others we’d seen in the area, I assumed the flowers had been planted. I assumed wrong. The woman who lived there was out on the opposite side of the yard, so Eve went over and struck up a conversation with her. The woman said that the wildflowers come up by themselves in that part of her yard each spring, with some years better than others. This was obviously a good year.

 

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A few weeks ago I quoted from Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein’s A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century: Evolution and the Challenges of Modern Life. The passage I cited pointed out the dangers of overprotecting children. Later I came across the City Journal article “Bring Back Risk,” by Allison Schrager, that includes this paragraph:

Long before Covid-19, risk-taking was increasingly discouraged. Between 1970 and 2019, the page count of the federal code of regulations on business and industry thickened from 54,000 to more than 185,000. State and local regulations can be even more of an economic burden, especially for small businesses. The number of jobs that required a license, for instance, rose from 5 percent in the 1950s to 22 percent today. Small wonder that the rate of new business creation fell 10 percent between the 1980s and 2018. Other factors influence this decline, including an aging population and changing market structures that reward larger firms, but surveys from the National Federation of Independent Business consistently rank regulatory compliance as a top economic concern. An example of the state and local bureaucratic obstacles that someone launching a small business can face: San Franciscan Jason Yu recently spent over $200,000 seeking permits to open an ice cream shop in 2019, before giving up in frustration.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 30, 2022 at 4:36 AM

Oenothera triloba

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As I wandered in my part of Austin on March 20, the first day of spring, wildflowers were still sparse. One kind that I did find in a few places was Oenothera triloba, called stemless evening primrose. I suspect this one was closing rather than opening.

 

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Been a while since I declared my pronouns (the last time was November 17). Let me remind you that in the religious rite of pronoun pronouncement—ah, what a euphonious phrase—acolytes declare their third-person pronouns, the ones you use when you’re talking about people, not to them. (In case you’re wondering why first- and second- person pronouns got omitted, it’s because third-person pronouns were chosen to show solidarity with oppressed indigenous peoples in third-world countries. I’ve also heard second-hand that psychologists have noted it’s a subconscious admission that the whole idea is third-rate, but surely that can’t be true of such a heartfelt rite that reflects what true believers redundantly call “lived experience,” can it?)

Traditional pronoun usage is of course cisheteronormatively and hegemonically patriarchical and white supremacist and therefore to be execrated, i.e. ‘ex-sacred-ed’, but I’m duty-bound to give you an example anyhow, just for the sake of scholarship: “He took his place out in the open, where other people could see him.” The he serves as the subject of that sentence, the his is a possessive form, and him functions as an object.

In the spirit of gender fluidity—or is it agenda fluidity? No, it couldn’t be that, because the agenda is rigid and commands obedience—I hereby do solemnly declare that my pronouns for this week are her for a grammatical subject, hoozit’s for the possessive, and I for an object (kind of like an eye for an eye, except in this case it’s an I for a him).

So here’s a pair of utterances showing first how someone would speak about me in a horridly hateful way and then how someone would wonderfully affirm my existence. The pronouns appear in bold italics so you can compare the two versions.

  • After Steve got out of his car, he walked up to Fred, who heard him say in his usual cheerful fashion that he was glad to be there. Fred thanked him for his greeting.
     
  • After Steve got out of hoozit’s car, her walked up to Fred, who heard I say in hoozit’s usual cheerful fashion that her was glad to be there. Fred thanked I for hoozit’s greeting.

Got it? You’d better have, ’cause remember the immortal words intoned in Springfield College’s admonitory guide to pronominal (and anything but nominal) obeisance: “It is your job to remember people’s pronouns.” The implied stress is on the your in your job, so, as Smokey Bear proclaimed about wildfires, and Uncle Sam about the U.S. Army, it’s up to you to “do the work” of memorizing my pronouns right now this very second!

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 29, 2022 at 4:34 AM

The southern dewberries have been flowering

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The first day of spring, March 20, coincidentally brought my first sighting of southern dewberry flowers, Rubus trivialis. In the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 I lay on the ground to photograph a few of them.

 

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Judges and lawyers in countries like Russia, China, and North Korea don’t act independently. Instead, they do the bidding of the authoritarian régime in power. Unfortunately that seems to be the way the United States is heading. Aaron Sibarium’s March 21st article “The Takeover of America’s Legal System” offers a scary look at the rise of illiberalism in our legal system and the growing threats to due process.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 28, 2022 at 4:28 AM

The nature of metallic nets

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Maybe the nature in this post’s title can justify the inclusion of today’s two pictures in a blog ostensibly devoted to photographing nature. Even if it can’t, headstrong me went ahead and included them.

On a sunny March 10th we drove the 90 miles down to San Antonio’s Phil Hardberger Park and checked out the year-old Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge over Wurzbach Parkway. (You’ve seen two jimsonweed pictures from that jaunt.) After leaving the park we stopped for lunch at the nearby Green Vegetarian Cuisine. Some of the restaurant’s outdoor furniture was made of metal, with tabletops and chair seats being net-like. The abstractions produced by those horizontal grids and their shadows on the concrete below proved irresistible, so as an appetizer while waiting for the meals we’d ordered to arrive I went to work with my iPhone. Its camera’s very short focal length proved an advantage for these kinds of pictures, simultaneously focusing things at different distances from the lens.

 

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In Woke Racism, professor John McWhorter makes the case that what he names in the title of his book constitutes a new religion, complete with dogma, sin, priests, proselytizing, and the expulsion of heretics. McWhorter believes that we can no more argue with the followers of that religion about the beliefs they take on faith than you can with the devout believers of any other religion about its doctrine.

So what to do about the reality that many blacks in America lag behind members of other ethnic groups? McWhorter offers three proposals (which I happen to have been proposing for decades now—yay me!):

  • Fight to end the war on drugs.
  • Make sure kids not from book-lined homes are taught to read with phonics.
  • Advocate vocational training for poor people and battle the idea that “real” people go to college.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 27, 2022 at 4:26 AM

First Texas dandelion of the season

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Saw my first Texas dandelion (Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus) of the year on March 18
at McKinney Roughs Nature Center in the town of Cedar Creek in Bastrop County.

 

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Yesterday’s commentary looked into a passage from Voltaire in which he observed that if people can make you believe contradictory or otherwise impossible things, then they can get you to perform unjust actions. Along those lines, consider this interchange from March 23rd, as the United States Senate continued interviewing the latest nominee for the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown-Jackson. When it fell to Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn to ask questions, this dialogue ensued:

Blackburn: Can you provide a definition for the word “woman”?
Brown-Jackson: Can I provide a definition?”
Blackburn: Yeah.
Brown-Jackson: No. I can’t.
Blackburn: You can’t?
Brown-Jackson: Not in this context. I’m not a biologist.

You can watch the rest of the interchange if you want to. I wish Senator Blackburn had seen (or if she had, remembered) another recent interchange from which she could have borrowed a line to respond to “I’m not a biologist.” That other dialogue involved a British woman named Kellie-Jay Keen, of the women’s rights group Standing for Women, and an American man next to her in the stands at a swimming meet where a person who is genetically and physiologically a man was competing against conspicuously smaller swimmers who are genetically and physiologically female. Here’s an excerpted version of the conversation (which was hard to make out in the noisy gym):

Keen: Is he the same as the other girls in the pool?
Man: Every body is different.
Keen: No. Are you saying he doesn’t have male organs? I’m a woman. That is not a woman. Do you have ovaries? I’m a woman, and that is not a woman.
Man: Let me ask you, are you a biologist?’
Keen: Oh my God, don’t be ridiculous.
Man: No, I’m serious.
Keen: I’m not a vet, but I know what a dog is.

The classic tale about mass delusion in denying an obvious truth is Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” If you’ve never read it, now’s your chance.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 26, 2022 at 7:55 AM

Sunlight at the base of a waterfall

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Look at how sunlight illuminated the splashing water at the base of a small
waterfall along the Twin Creeks Historic Park Trail in Cedar Park on March 12.

 

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On television a couple of days ago I heard someone quote Voltaire: “Anyone who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” I wondered whether Voltaire really said or wrote that, so I went searching. On the Cato Institute website I found a 2020 article by Walter Olson called “The Origins of a Warning from Voltaire,” which linked to this passage from Voltaire’s Questions About Miracles (1765):

Il y a eu des gens qui ont dit autrefois : Vous croyez des choses incompréhensibles, contradictoires, impossibles, parce que nous vous l’avons ordonné ; faites donc des choses injustes parce que nous vous l’ordonnons. Ces gens-là raisonnaient à merveille. Certainement qui est en droit de vous rendre absurde est en droit de vous rendre injuste. Si vous n’opposez point aux ordres de croire l’impossible l’intelligence que Dieu a mise dans votre esprit, vous ne devez point opposer aux ordres de malfaire la justice que Dieu a mise dans votre cœur. Une faculté de votre âme étant une fois tyrannisée, toutes les autres facultés doivent l’être également. Et c’est là ce qui a produit tous les crimes religieux dont la terre a été inondée.

Formerly there were people who said: “You believe things that are incomprehensible, contradictory, impossible, because we have commanded you to believe them; now go and do unjust things because we command you to.” Those people show admirable reasoning. Surely whoever can make you be absurd can make you be unjust. If the God‐​given understanding of your mind does not resist a demand to believe what is impossible, then you will not resist a demand to do wrong to the God‐​given sense of justice in your heart. As soon as one faculty of your soul has been tyrannized, all the other faculties will be tyrannized as well. And that’s what has produced all the crimes of religion which have overrun the world.

So the version I heard on television is a pithier, stronger version of the original. Voltaire was criticizing religion, presumably Christianity. Two and a half centuries later, we can apply his analysis to the secular “woke” religion of our time, in which people are demanding that we believe things as absurd as that men can give birth. More about that next time.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 25, 2022 at 4:35 AM

Scrambled eggs from cage-free plants

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On March 18 at McKinney Roughs Nature Park in Bastrop County I photographed some scrambled eggs, which is what people have taken to calling some species in the genus Corydalis based on their flowers’ appearance. The stiff breeze that afternoon led me to use flash, which accounts for the unnaturally dark sky.

 

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I recently read Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America, by John McWhorter, who’s a linguistics professor at my no longer alma-ing mater,* Columbia University. His preferred term for the people that others most often call “woke” is “the Elect.” (I assume the publisher insisted on Woke in the title so potential readers would recognize what the book is about.) Here’s one passage:

 

… We must ask whether the Elect approach actually shows signs of making any difference in the lives of black people, other than by making educated white people infantilize them. While purportedly “dismantling racist structures,” the Elect religion is actually harming the people living in those structures. It is a terrifyingly damaging business. Here is how Elect ideology does not genuinely care about the welfare of black people.

You are to turn a blind eye to black kids getting jumped by other ones in school.

You are to turn a blind eye to black undergraduates cast into schools where they are in over their heads, and into law schools incapable of adjusting to their level of preparation in a way that will allow them to pass the bar exam.

You are to turn a blind eye to the willful dimness of condemning dead people for moral lapses normal in their time, as if they were still alive.

You are to turn a blind eye to the folly in the idea of black “identity” as all about what whites think rather than about what black people themselves think.

You are to turn a blind eye to lapses in black intellectuals’ work, because black people lack white privilege.

You are to turn a blind eye to the fact that social history is complex, and instead pretend that those who tell you that all racial discrepancies are a result of racism are evidencing brilliance.

You are to turn a blind eye to innocent children taught to think in these ways practically before they can hold a pencil.

 

Check out Woke Racism, either literally from a library or by buying it.

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* Latin alma means ‘nourishing, nurturing.’ Latin mater means the same as mother, which is its native English cognate [see definition 2].

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 24, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Verbena vortex

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You may have heard that on Monday night several tornadoes swept through the Austin area. One touched down in Round Rock, a large suburb adjacent to Austin on the north. Other tornadoes hit Hutto a little farther east and then Elgin, about 20 miles east of Austin. You can learn about the damage from Austin television stations KXAN, KVUE, and KEYE. Fortunately those tornadoes seem not to have killed or seriously injured anyone, though they destroyed some homes and damaged hundreds of others in varying degrees.

With the tornadoes in mind, I took obvious liberties with the photo of the prairie verbena, Glandularia bipinnatifida, that you see above. It was the first flower of that species I found this season, on March 20, coincidentally the first day of spring. Click the thumbnail below for the non-vortexed version.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 23, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Two notable encounters

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As many years as I’ve lived in Austin (almost 46), and as many years as I’ve been seriously taking nature photographs (about half of 46), I still keep finding new places to ply my trade here, even as properties where I’ve worked have kept succumbing to development, including a few more already this year. On March 12th we trod the Twin Creeks Historic Park Trail in Cedar Park for the first time. About half a mile in, on the grounds of the mid-19th-century John M. King Log House, a man approximately my age came up to me and asked if I’d found an iPhone. He had one in his hand, but it turned out to be his wife’s, from which he was intermittently calling his lost phone to see if he could hear it ringing. Unfortunately he couldn’t.

About 10 minutes later Eve came across an iPhone in a case on a park bench, and of course that had to be the phone the man was looking for. The case included his driver’s license (and credit cards!), so I figured I’d be able to track him down, if necessary by driving to the address on his license. That proved unnecessary because it turned out that the man—surprisingly and again not prudently—kept his phone unlocked. As a result I was able to go into the phone, look at the log of recent calls, and call his wife’s phone. Talk about making someone’s day. We hung around while the man walked all the way back from the parking area, which he had just reached when I called. He said that after three round trips between the parking lot and the old log house, he wouldn’t need to do his stationary bicycle that evening.

Near the log house and then further along the easy-to-walk trail, I stopped every now and then to photograph several prominent sycamore trees with white limbs, one of which appears below. Most interesting, though, was the sycamore shown in the top picture, which had apparently fallen across a creek and then managed to stay alive for years, as evidenced by the large vertical branches rising from the horizontal trunk. Strange, don’t you think?

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 22, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Posted in nature photography

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