Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Two degrees of passing away

with 12 comments

In February of 2021 a days-long freeze killed off all the huisache trees (Vachellia farnesiana) in Austin. I saw no new growth for the rest of that year but am happy to report seeing some green springing up from the wreckage in the past few months, even with our current drought. The broken remains of the huisache tree shown here along John Henry Faulk Dr. on August 1st caught my attention because of the Clematis drummondii vine that had climbed on it and had entered its fluffy stage, with the seed-bearing fibers gradually turning dingy and accounting for the vernacular name old man’s beard. Seen from this angle, the fluffy mound calls to mind—at least to my fluffy mind—the way the main part of Spain looks on a map.


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Last month I quoted from a talk about free speech that Carl Sagan gave in around 1987. The other day I came across another prescient passage, this time from his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 13, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , ,

12 Responses

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  1. That looks really astonishing.


    August 13, 2022 at 6:06 AM

    • The sight of it from the road caused me to make a U-turn and pull over. As many times as I’ve seen Clematis drummondii fluff, this mound was unique.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 13, 2022 at 6:25 AM

  2. I was listening to a podcast today, where several descriptions of a zombie were quoted. There were a couple that I thought applied to many Australian people in these times……Certainly a lack of critical thinking is rife, as is mental laziness. Just follow the orders….


    August 13, 2022 at 7:59 AM

    • The turn toward authoritarianism in Australia has surprised me, as has the acquiescence of so many people there.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 13, 2022 at 8:29 AM

      • From my experience Steve, it has been more prevalent in the cities than in the more remote areas. However, more live in the cities, so it’s a sad numbers game.


        August 14, 2022 at 1:46 AM

  3. That bundle of fluffiness reminded me of the one time I’d seen such a sight: a huge gathering of Clematis drummondii flowers gone to seed. It was between Comfort and Kerrville, overspreading some shrubbery, and it was impressive. When I looked for the photo, I found it was taken in 2015 — I hardly can believe that. That was the same trip when I found one of the Clematis vines climbing the trunk of a tree to a height of at least 30 feet — and fluffy the whole way.


    August 13, 2022 at 9:47 AM

    • Did you ever post about your find? A height of 30 ft. is impressive.

      A little while ago I noticed a great spread of fluffy Clematis drummondii in the median of Mopac—unfortunately a place there’s no safe way to get to.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 13, 2022 at 12:46 PM

  4. How nice that some of your huisache trees show signs of recovery.

    I don’t know if it’s really prescient to predict the decline of any society. If history has taught us anything it’s the fact that no society persists, but usually self-destructs. But maybe Sagan was prescient in foreseeing some of the particulars of the collapse.


    August 14, 2022 at 5:44 PM

    • Yes, let’s hear it for huisache recovery.

      As you say, no society persists. I just started a book by Jacob Mchangama on the history of free speech. The first chapter deals with the way Greek democracy and later Roman democracy declined. Free speech was a casualty in both cases.

      What struck me in the passage from Carl Sagan was how specific he was in predicting some of the things that have happened in the quarter-century since he wrote about his foreboding.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 14, 2022 at 8:22 PM

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