Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Enjoy a cholla

with 41 comments


Make that three of them. The first two cholla cacti (Cylindropuntia sp.) were growing in New Mexico’s City of Rocks State Park on October 12th of last year. No extra charge for the bird’s nest.



Three days later I lay on my mat on the ground at the visitor center for Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque so I could incorporate the morning’s cottony clouds into my portrait.



And so as the sun sets in the west we bid farewell, at least for now,
to posts about our scenic travels in New Mexico and west Texas last October.


✪       ✪       ✪


I call your attention to a January 6th article in Quillette by Andrew Doyle titled “A Puritanical Assault on the English Language,” with subtitle “Social justice zealots think they can save the world by inventing absurd new ways to describe it.” Here’s how the article begins:

It is a truism that people are often educated out of extreme religious beliefs. With good education comes the ability to think critically, which is the death knell for ideologies that are built on tenuous foundations. The religion of Critical Social Justice has spread at an unprecedented rate, partly because it makes claims to authority in the kind of impenetrable language that discourages the sort of criticism and scrutiny that would see it collapse upon itself. Some would argue that this is one of the reasons why the Catholic Church resisted translating the Bible into the vernacular for so long; those in power are always threatened when the plebeians start thinking for themselves and asking inconvenient questions.

This tactic of deliberately restricting knowledge produces epistemic closure, and is a hallmark of all cults. The elitist lexicon of Critical Social Justice not only provides an effective barrier against criticism and a means to sound informed while saying very little, but also signals membership and discourages engagement from those outside the bubble.

It is inevitable that the principle of freedom of speech should become a casualty when powerful people are obsessed with language and its capacity to shape the world. Revolutionaries of the postmodernist mindset would have us believe that societal change can be actuated through modifications to the language that describes it, which is why Max Horkheimer of the Frankfurt School maintained that it was not possible to conceive of the liberated world in the language of the existing world. As for the new puritans, they have embraced the belief that language is either a tool of oppression or a means to resist it. This not only accounts for their approval of censorship and “hate speech” legislation, but their inability to grasp how the artistic representation of morally objectionable ideas is not the same as an endorsement.


You’re welcome to read the full article (at least if it’s not behind a paywall).


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 12, 2023 at 4:30 AM

41 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. This cholla surprised me. It’s much thicker than the ones I’m familiar with, and the globby new growth looks remarkably like a completely different species that sits on my patio. The last photo’s especially nice. The impression of the clouds on both sides moving away from the cactus is delightful.


    January 12, 2023 at 7:56 AM

    • I like your “globby.” The world needs more globbiness.

      Your impression of the clouds moving away in the last picture reminds me of the way the most distant galaxies are moving apart the most quickly. Probably the skewed angle at which I took the picture is at least partly responsible for the sense of motion. That angle also let me play up diagonals in the photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2023 at 9:20 AM

  2. I enjoyed your tour as I have not visited that part of the country.

    automatic gardener

    January 12, 2023 at 9:28 AM

  3. Your pictorial travel reports have been most enjoyable to read and I hope to see more when you have the opportunity to travel again.

    Peter Klopp

    January 12, 2023 at 11:17 AM

  4. I wonder if the prickly spot for its nest really does deter predators?
    Lovely images of these Cholla!


    January 12, 2023 at 11:33 AM

  5. Man, that is one prickly-lookin’ character. I’d like to buy the world a…suit of armor, if they’re walking around near those.

    Robert Parker

    January 12, 2023 at 1:10 PM

    • Well, armorless me walked around—even lay around—these prickly plants and lived to tell the tale.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2023 at 3:26 PM

  6. Amazing plant and pictures. I really like cactuses very much.


    January 12, 2023 at 4:46 PM

    • Me too. We have certain kinds in central Texas, particularly prickly pears, but not chollas, so I value those species when I travel westward.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2023 at 4:58 PM

      • I’ve never been to the desert in America. Only in Turkey and Central Asia. But there is no cactus to be found.


        January 12, 2023 at 5:40 PM

        • Then you must come to the deserts in the western United States. Many scenic delights await you.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 12, 2023 at 5:44 PM

  7. Of course my first inclination is to pronounce this as the sabbath bread we grew up with all nicely braided and brown. But that would ruin the rhyme.

    Steve Gingold

    January 12, 2023 at 6:17 PM

    • One person I know who didn’t grow up in the United States pronounces the ch in challah the way we pronounce ch in native English words. I just checked the etymology of challah and found it’s probably from a Hebrew root that means ‘perforated,’ which I guess is meant to describe the way the dough gets braided.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2023 at 6:36 PM

  8. This is a plant CO, NM, and TX share, at least some of the subspecies. The nest in the middle image is a nice touch. I’m always amazed when I see birds move among those sharp needles. I once observed an adult Curve-billed Thrasher bring food to its young in a nest inside the cholla. There aren’t many predators who will risk following.


    January 12, 2023 at 7:10 PM

    • Too bad I didn’t get to see that nest when it was active. It’s good to hear your confirmation that not many predators will brave the cactus spines; another commenter had wondered about that. Speaking of western states, on our visit to Tucson some years ago we saw where a bird had pecked out a little abode in a giant saguaro cactus.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2023 at 10:07 PM

  9. That is a fascinating cactus, and I love the birds nest. Smart bird!

    Lavinia Ross

    January 12, 2023 at 10:58 PM

  10. That looks like a well-protected nest! But how careful do the birds have to be in coming and going – could be tricky!

    Ann Mackay

    January 13, 2023 at 6:42 AM

  11. That’s a beautiful species of cactus!
    The unique angle in that third image really works! The combination of colors, perceived movement of the clouds, an almost animated form of the cactus – very special.

    Your technical skills have resulted in a better appreciation of the finer points of cacti photography.

    Wally Jones

    January 14, 2023 at 12:55 PM

    • I wish I had more opportunities to work with native cacti. That’s one reason I always enjoy trips westward. In terms of photographic approaches, I’ve outlined a bunch of them in the About My Techniques document that’s linked in the Information section in the upper right sidebar. In particular, points 3 and 10 in that document apply to the third image in this post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 14, 2023 at 3:31 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: