Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Young cattails

with 16 comments

While almost everything I saw on July 21st in the Willow Trace Pond in far north Austin was darkened old stumps, some new cattail plants (Typha sp.) had sprung up, and the arcs of their long leaves, both green and pale, caught my photographic fancy. Taking the top picture at 400mm left the lower part of the image pleasantly out of focus and reminiscent of an Impressionist painting. While you and I couldn’t stand on one of those cattail plants without crushing it, that clearly wasn’t the case for the yellow-crowned night heron (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 trees.


❦         ❦         ❦


At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemous statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced. The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern sceptics are too meek even to claim their inheritance.

 — G. K Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 1908


I also recently came across a reference to “Chesterton’s fence,” which Wikipedia explains in its article about Chesterton 

is the principle that reforms should not be made until the reasoning behind the existing state of affairs is understood. The quotation is from Chesterton’s 1929 book, The Thing: Why I Am a Catholic, in the chapter, “The Drift from Domesticity”:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 3, 2022 at 4:26 AM

16 Responses

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  1. The heron has such elegance and poise. How, I wonder, does the heron know that the cattails will hold its weight (which can be as much as 800gm according to Google). Trial and error?


    August 3, 2022 at 4:45 AM

    • That’s a good question. I hope an avian maven who sees it can provide an answer. As for grace and poise, I don’t think the heron gets it by emulating me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 3, 2022 at 9:49 AM

  2. The second photograph almost seems like a painting at first glance. I have never witnessed a heron perched on cattails… and our slough is lined with cattails! What a spectacular image!


    August 3, 2022 at 9:09 AM

    • Thanks. I also don’t remember ever before seeing a heron perched on cattails. Let’s hope the ones in your slough put out a call as a good perching place for light-weight herons.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 3, 2022 at 9:52 AM

  3. I like how you managed to get the reflection slightly out of focus, creating an impressionistic feel for the photo.

    Peter Klopp

    August 3, 2022 at 5:56 PM

    • With a 400mm focal length it’s hard to get much sharp. In the top picture I focused on the cattails, knowing the foreground would come out soft.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 3, 2022 at 7:36 PM

  4. That second photo’s a gem. I’ve never seen a heron perching on cattails, but this one managed to pull it off. I have seen an occasional egret land in the very top of a tree, where the twiggy branches aren’t strong enough to support it, and then try every sort of maneuver to try and find a stable perch. There must have been a stalk or two in there to give the heron the support it needed.

    However the bird managed it, you managed to get him beautifully framed. I like the way the leaves above him on the left echo the curve of his head plumes.


    August 3, 2022 at 8:16 PM

    • I lucked out. The heron was far enough from the shore that it wasn’t worried about me and stayed on the cattails. Over a period of 16 minutes I walked back and forth along the bank of the pond taking several dozen pictures at various angles and composing in different ways, initially at a 400mm focal length, and then switching to my 24–105mm lens and taking some pictures in which the heron played a smaller role as I included dead cattail stumps.

      Later the question was which one of those pictures to show. One reason I chose this view was the two curving cattail leaves to the left of the heron that harmonized with its head plumes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 3, 2022 at 10:09 PM

  5. I know cattail leaves are strong and stiff but I am still as surprised as everyone else that it could stand atop them. They already curve so you’d expect the heron’s weight, as little as it might be, to be enough to bend them further. Nice shot.

    Steve Gingold

    August 4, 2022 at 4:00 AM

    • Thanks. When we’re lucky, we’re lucky. As best I can figure, the curving cattails on opposite sides of the perch must have kept each other in check.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 4, 2022 at 5:41 AM

  6. A most intriguing photograph! The cattails certainly don’t look as if they’d take the heron’s weight. Love how you’ve used those two curving leaves to echo the head plumes – it’s so important to the pleasing structure of the image.

    Ann Mackay

    August 6, 2022 at 7:29 AM

    • I’m happy to have intrigued you. I walked back and forth on land above the pond as I looked for the most pleasing alignments. I took this picture where I did for the reason you mentioned, namely the way the two curving cattail leaves echoed the heron’s head plumes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 6, 2022 at 7:36 AM

  7. A great balancing act!!!


    August 8, 2022 at 11:46 AM

  8. Wonderful photography Steve …


    August 12, 2022 at 3:48 PM

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