Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A heralding heron

with 22 comments

Hardly had I arrived at the Willow Trace Pond in far north Austin on July 21st when I caught sight of a heron at the base of some young black willow trees, Salix nigra. Switching to my longest lens, I gradually worked my way forward and managed to take eight pictures over two minutes before I got close enough that the bird walked off into the underbrush. From what I gather online, this seems to have been a yellow-crowned night heron, Nyctanassa violacea, but if anyone knows otherwise I’m ready to be set straight.

Compositionally, notice how the long arc of a slender willow branch caps the lower portions of the two leaning tree trunks to form a de facto frame around most of the heron.



§         §         §



Highfalutin’ Employees


Okay, so it’s not the employees who are highfalutin’ but the terms that companies use when referring to their employees. You’ve probably shopped at businesses like Whole Foods where employees are now “partners” and the wholesalers that sell to the company are “supplier partners.” Granted, the phenomenon isn’t new: some of us are old enough to remember when garbage collectors ludicrously got rechristened sanitation engineers. Even so, the euphemizing of employee titles has gone into overdrive in the past few years. Comedian Adam Carolla riffs on that in his just-released book Everything Reminds Me of Something:


It’s corporate America’s fault for calling the chick making eight dollars an hour stirring the beans at Taco Bell a “team member.” It implies she has a say. I was a goomper who worked my way up to being a glorified goomper. “Hey, idiot” was how I was greeted most days on the construction site. Now everyone is a “valued associate,” “partner,” or “colleague.” Language like that levels the field and implies an opening for a conversation about your pronouns and gender identity, or about race and microaggressions.

If inmates in a maximum-security prison were referred to as team members, and the warden talked about striving to create an inclusive place where everyone’s voice would be heard, a day wouldn’t go by without a guard being taken hostage.

Worker euphemisms hit peak absurdity last year for me when I noticed a sign outside a Jimmy John’s sub joint.

No wonder the Great Resignation is happening. Jimmy John’s is hiring rock stars. Who’d work as a bank teller and be a “team member” when they can go across the street to Jimmy John’s and be a rock star? As far as euphemisms go, this even beats Disneyland’s calling the failed musical theater student in the Pluto costume a cast member. Obviously, Jimmy John’s workers are not literally rock stars. Slash and Dave Grohl aren’t slinging the composite-meat products behind the counter. They’re shredding on their guitars, not shredding iceberg lettuce. But even figuratively, “rock star” doesn’t apply. People in sales or advertising are called rock stars when they close a big account or do something else that’s outstanding. How can someone stand out when they’re assembling sandwiches and will soon be replaced by a robot? It’s all part of the failure of the self-esteem movement. You can’t give someone self-esteem. It has to be earned. We can change the language, but it doesn’t change the job. Calling someone a rock star doesn’t make them one. We can rename herpes “happies,” but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a sexually transmitted disease.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 27, 2022 at 4:28 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , ,

22 Responses

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  1. If I were highfalutin’ I might say that nature is the supplier partner in your photographic enterprise. The heron, being so magnificent, could be the rock star of the enterprise. Fortunately I don’t need to be highfalutin’ so I can just say this is a splendid image and the centrepiece of it is not currently in danger of being replaced by a robot.


    July 27, 2022 at 5:47 AM

    • Well said that nature is the supplier partner in my photographic enterprise, and that my portrait subject is not in danger of being replaced by a robot. For trekking about in the heat and humidity, the ability to temporarily turn into a robot wouldn’t be bad.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 27, 2022 at 7:44 AM

      • Granted, robots have their uses. Have you ever used or do you use a cooling work vest?


        July 27, 2022 at 7:37 PM

        • No. I’m not even familiar with cooling work vests. I just use nature’s cooling mechanism, which is to say I sweat.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 27, 2022 at 9:08 PM

  2. You’re quite right. This is the grown-up version of the juvenile Yellow-crowned heron whose image I recently posted. Young Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned herons can be confused, since both are brown and speckled — the better to hide in the grasses — but the adults are easily distinguished.

    As for name changing, I came across two examples yesterday. There’s a group that wants to abolish the name ‘monkey pox’ because it makes some groups uncomfortable, and there’s a group of governmental officials who want to change not the name but the definition of ‘recession.’ On top of that, there’s a move afoot to ‘decolonize’ the name of New Zealand, changing it to Aotearoa. Wittgenstein was right when he wrote (in one form or another), “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.’ In one way or another, we’re surrounded by people attempting to change the world by changing the language.


    July 27, 2022 at 6:53 AM

    • I looked back at your July 9th post just now to confirm how different the juvenile looks from the adult. And in looking back at my own posts, I see that a yellow-crowned night heron appeared here only once before, 10 years ago:

      … and blue

      I’ve heard about the proposal to rename monkey pox and to redefine a recession. The second of those is oh-so-convenient, given the country’s economic plight. As you’ve seen, in my commentaries over the past year I’ve pointed out other examples of campaigns to change names and to redefine terms as fundamental as man and woman. There are so many of them that I have plenty of raw material. And as we’ve discussed on other occasions, George Orwell sounded the alarm in the 1940s, even to the point of inventing the language he called newspeak in his dystopian novel 1984.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 27, 2022 at 8:07 AM

  3. Yes, I see the framing. Beautiful bird, looks very healthy too.

    Alessandra Chaves

    July 27, 2022 at 9:18 AM

    • As a photographer yourself, you’re probably more likely to notice the framing. Only once before (to my knowledge) did I get to photograph this species. I hope it was healthy indeed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 27, 2022 at 10:57 AM

  4. The posture of the blue heron indicates a state of high alert. I am amazed that it let you come that close, Steve.

    Peter Klopp

    July 27, 2022 at 9:18 AM

    • It looks closer than it really was. I zoomed the lens to 400mm and then cropped the frame to about 60% of its full area to get the image you see here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 27, 2022 at 10:52 AM

  5. Hi Steve
    Thank you so much for sharing Amazing post,

    Ganesh Adhikari

    July 27, 2022 at 11:06 AM

  6. Beautiful photo.
    Love how you brought up a problem that the masses are not awake to as being a problem. George Carlin did a great bit on soft language as well.

    Dawn Renee

    July 27, 2022 at 3:51 PM

    • Thanks (regarding the photo). I’ve been involved with language for most of my life and am aware of changes, especially as I’ve gotten older and hear people saying things no one said when I was young.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 27, 2022 at 5:19 PM

  7. The image of the Yellow-crowned Night Heron is indeed framed well, as if the grasses and limbs are cradling it. They are beautiful birds, and their eyes glow red in the night. They often roosted in the mangroves right by the deck at Casa Loca – such great neighbors!

    Your serious half of the post made me think of Hugh Curtler, who died last year. He was often distressed about the same topics.

    I’m way behind on reading and commenting, but getting stronger. Dengue and chikungunya were much more taxing than Covid, but I think the vaccines helped with my recovery. Poco a poco the energy will return!

    • (The dengue/chikV was in 2016; the Covid in July)

    • Oh, I’m sorry to hear that the scratchy throat, sneezing, coughing, and low energy that you mentioned in your last post really were symptoms of Covid. You’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty in completing the trifecta of dengue, chikungunya, and now the latest pandemic. Your optimism about your energy returning poco a poco reminds me that a million years ago when I lived in Honduras (where foco was the word for a flashlight) I created the rhyming proverb “Poco a poco se alumbra el foco.” It’s appropriate for an artist to see things in a good light, ¿verdad?

      I should have known you’d be familiar with this kind of heron, which the Cornell map had shown me lives in both Costa Rica and Ecuador as well as Mississippi. I’ve never seen one at night, so didn’t know about their eyes glowing red at night.

      I don’t remember hearing the name Hugh Curtler, so just looked him up. I found this description of his 2001 book Recalling Education:

      “In this searching and relentlessly logical critique, a distinguished professor of philosophy argues that the purpose of education — enabling students to achieve intellectual autonomy — has been largely forgotten. Hugh Mercer Curtler challenges prevailing myths about education and indoctrination, explains the significance of a proper understanding of education in a democracy, and offers recommendations to reverse current trends.”

      Have you read any of his books, or did you perhaps know him?

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 1, 2022 at 6:33 AM

  8. Great pose and habitat backdrop!


    August 1, 2022 at 2:31 PM

  9. […] (Nyctanassia violacea) in the portrait below. Judging by leg color, this apparently wasn’t the same bird I’d photographed 45 minutes earlier beneath some black willow […]

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