Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Two cattail abstractions

with 19 comments


From a month ago today at Cypress Creek Park come these two abstractions of cattails (Typha sp.). The first view shows the transition from pistillate (female) flowers at the bottom to staminate (male) flowers above. The second photograph obviously shows cattail leaves turning brown.



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We have gathered here to affirm a faith, a faith in a common purpose, a common conviction, a common devotion. Some of us have chosen America as the land of our adoption; the rest have come from those who did the same. For this reason we have some right to consider ourselves a picked group, a group of those who had the courage to break from the past and brave the dangers and the loneliness of a strange land. What was the object that nerved us, or those who went before us, to this choice? We sought liberty; freedoms from oppression, freedom from want, freedom to be ourselves. This we then sought; this we now believe that we are by way of winning. What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it. And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few; as we have learned to our sorrow.

What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest. And now in that spirit, that spirit of an America which has never been, and which may never be; nay, which never will be except as the conscience and courage of Americans create it; yet in the spirit of that America which lies hidden in some form in the aspirations of us all; in the spirit of that America for which our young men are at this moment fighting and dying; in that spirit of liberty and of America I ask you to rise and with me pledge our faith in the glorious destiny of our beloved country.

That was the speech that Judge Learned Hand gave to a crowd in New York City’s Central Park on May 21, 1944, where, according to Digital History, “1.5 million people gathered for an event billed as ‘I Am an American Day.’ Hand aimed his remarks at 150,000 newly naturalized citizens.”


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman






Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 12, 2022 at 4:33 AM

19 Responses

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  1. I’d rather have that grass in my yard. No mowing and red-wings visiting.

    Steve Gingold

    July 12, 2022 at 4:41 AM

  2. Great images – I like their bold, graphic look.

    Ann Mackay

    July 12, 2022 at 5:05 AM

  3. Nice abstract. Cattail is a beautiful plant to photograph. Liberty and freedom are two central themes in the American culture and which are not present in other cultures I am familiar with. It’s difficult for someone who didn’t grow up here, to understand it as Americans do. I never felt particularly freer here than in Brazil, and some aspects of the US culture and economy I perceive as oppressive. My husband, who grew up here, says it has changed much and it used to be that Americans felt really free. Regardless, it’s a beautiful concept to aspire for and live by.

    Alessandra Chaves

    July 12, 2022 at 10:30 AM

    • I’ve been photographing cattails on and off for twenty years. I’m still finding new things to do with them pictorially, like this post’s top picture.

      I’m curious to hear what aspects of the US culture you perceive as oppressive. I’d also like to know what things your husband finds have changed here in his lifetime that make him feel less free. (I’m guessing they include some of the things I’ve pointed out in my commentaries.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 12, 2022 at 12:37 PM

      • Well, exactly those aspects that make me reluctant to discuss in public. Can’t say what I think most of the time. As for my husband, I think he misses simple freedoms like paying in cash, fewer regulations, smaller stores and a sense of community in the neighborhood. He misses his past life I think.

        Alessandra Chaves

        July 12, 2022 at 2:22 PM

        • One benefit of not being in a job anymore is that I can say whatever I want with no worry about recriminations (I hope!). What you feel as repressive and are reluctant to discuss in public is a recent phenomenon here, made much worse by the moral panic of 2020.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 12, 2022 at 2:30 PM

  4. Ah, here are examples of Steve’s specialty, the fine art of abstraction.

    Peter Klopp

    July 12, 2022 at 4:51 PM

  5. Strange as it seems to me now, it was only last year that I finally saw cattails with both male and female flowers. I’d seen photos, of course, but my timing never was right. I especially like the way the first photo evokes other grasses with the same structure: male and female flowers on the same stem. The remaining staminate flowers in the first photo evoke Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides ) particularly. The shadow falling across the cattail leaf is equally evocative; it brought to mind T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.”


    July 13, 2022 at 6:37 AM

    • It is strange that not until last year did you come across a cattail with male and female flowers, especially since you’ve been delving into our native plants for years now. Or maybe it’s not strange: no one can go everywhere and see everything, so some things that aren’t unusual still elude us for a long time.

      Eastern gamagrass is another “photographer’s friend.” Much less common than cattails, it commands my attention whenever I come across one.

      Concerning the second picture, I no longer know whether the shadow was there and partially survived the flash or whether the flash created the shadow.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 13, 2022 at 7:56 AM

  6. Cattail could become the official Town Flower of Los Gatos! It would be so appropriate.


    July 13, 2022 at 9:20 PM

    • It’d be fine with me. I suspect most people, however, don’t think of cattails as having flowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2022 at 8:30 AM

      • The difficulty is that so many people want some obscure and extremely rare flower that they saw while on vacation in some far away place, and all of them believe that their favorite choice should be everyone else’s favorite choice. The only two criteria for an official Town Flower is that it must either be native or of cultural significance (such as peach blossom, like those of the peach orchards that were formerly so common here.)


        July 14, 2022 at 7:55 PM

        • Me, I’d rather not have an official flower or bird or tree or anything.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 14, 2022 at 8:24 PM

          • Why not? Gee, I think that some of them are cool, and happen to like the Texas bluebonnet and pecan tree. So many state trees and state flowers seem to suit their particular states. I know that coastal redwood lives in only a relative small part of California, but people beyond California know that they live here.


            July 14, 2022 at 8:26 PM

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