Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A fourth installment of icicles

with 43 comments


On December 25th I spent nearly four hours photographing icicles hanging from a cliff in Great Hills Park just half a mile from home. In posts on December 28th, December 31st, and January 8th, you’ve seen how I tried out various approaches, both with and without flash. Now here are more icicles from that productive session.



The shattered dead tree in the second photograph was an Ashe juniper, Juniperus ashei. The ice-framed alcove below struck me as a sort of shrine, with the ice at the bottom reminiscent of the accumulated wax from candles that have burned all the way down.



Below, I worked at catching a drop of meltwater just as it was about to separate from the icicle’s tip.





§        §        §



We often hear that the United States has become highly polarized, with roughly equal numbers of people in camps that for convenience might be called “progressive” and “conservative” (though within each of those camps beliefs also vary). Confirming the polarization is the fact that many recent key elections have been quite close. Members of the Senate and House of Representatives are almost equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, which are labels that serve as proxies for people with progressive and conservative views.

Now, human traits like musical ability, athleticism, and intelligence, occur according to what scientists call a normal distribution. Here’s what it looks like for IQ scores:



The distribution is symmetric. Most people cluster in the middle: a little more than two-thirds of the population has IQs between 85 and 115. As you go farther from the center in either direction, the number of people tapers off. A few people with very low and very high IQs are at the extremes.

Political leanings are independent of intelligence. Some progressives are highly intelligent; others lack intelligence. Some conservatives are highly intelligent; others lack intelligence. Given that reality, you’d expect progressives and conservatives to be about equally represented among college professors. The reality is strikingly different.

The Summer 2018 issue of Academic Questions included an article by Mitchell Langbert titled “Homogenous: The Political Affiliations of Elite Liberal Arts College Faculty.” Look at this chart from the article that reports the results of a study that included 5,116 professors:



To the right of each blue bar is a number that gives you the ratio of registered Democrats to registered Republicans for professors in that field. For example, the first row in the chart shows that among professors of engineering in the elite institutions surveyed there were 1.6 registered Democrats for each registered Republican. Among professors of history there were 17.4 registered Democrats for each registered Republican. In English departments the ratio was a whopping 48.3 to 1. And in the fields of anthropology and communications not a single registered Republican could be found!

Someone who wanted to be sarcastic might say: Well, Republicans aren’t very bright, so that’s exactly what you’d expect. Obviously that’s not the reason. In fact Republicans are most represented (though still way underrepresented) in intellectually demanding fields like engineering, chemistry, and mathematics. (And now I’ll be sarcastic and point out that any dolt can be an English major but it takes brains to do calculus.) Furthermore, if you go back say 50 years, you didn’t find hugely lopsided ratios like these, and surely the distribution of human intelligence hasn’t changed in half a century.

No, the heavily skewed distribution in the 2018 study (and it must be even more so now, after the pandemic of disease and delusion that struck in 2020) reflects the way leftist ideology has taken over almost all of academia. Many departments just won’t hire an applicant whose work goes counter to the prevailing orthodoxy and who has too much dignity to genuflect and swear the required oath of allegiance to the triune academic gods of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion*, hallowed be their names.

You’re welcome to read Mitchell Langbert’s article and also the January 11th one in Quillette that alerted me to the older one: Elizabeth Weiss’s “A Report From the Stanford Academic Freedom Conference.”



* Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion often goes by the initialism DEI, which appropriately is the Latin word for ‘gods.’



© 2023 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 14, 2023 at 4:27 AM

43 Responses

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  1. these are so stunning


    January 14, 2023 at 4:53 AM

    • Thanks, Beth. I gladly took the opportunity to play with a subject that’s normally available in your part of the world but not mine

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 14, 2023 at 6:51 AM

  2. That first photo seems as improbable as interesting. The forces that shape ice — temperature, gravity, and so on — do leave their traces. Once you mentioned the candlewax, I saw that, too. Now it reminds me of the wax-covered wine bottles that once were de rigueur even in faux Italian restaurants in 1960s central Iowa. And I like the contrast in the last photo between the clarity of the drop and the frosted appearance of the icicle itself.


    January 14, 2023 at 7:04 AM

    • In looking over my hundreds of photographs from that day I noticed more icicles with prongs on them than I would have expected—though if you’d asked me beforehand how many I expected to find, I don’t think I’d have had any idea. Whether the ratio of pronged to non-pronged icicles here differs from the universal ratio, I don’t know. I also noticed plenty of knobby icicles.

      The last time we were in New Mexico before the recent trip I saw a little candle-lit shrine someone had created among rocks. I think that’s what made me imagine the scene in the third photograph the way I did. I also remember the wax-covered wine bottles that were once de rigueur in Italian restaurants.

      I think the frosted appearance of the final icicle comes from its being so out of focus everywhere except at the dripping tip.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 14, 2023 at 7:24 AM

  3. Wow. Nature’s art, with your eye. Beautiful.

    Wind Kisses

    January 14, 2023 at 7:08 AM

    • I was excited to have such great subjects, especially because they aren’t often available in this warm a climate.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 14, 2023 at 7:29 AM

      • Yes, It’s a great for those of us in warm climates. We can travel about an hour to get to snow, but honestly it’s always nice to come back home to warm sun.

        Wind Kisses

        January 14, 2023 at 7:55 AM

  4. The top one looks like fingers reaching out. I really like the single drop.


    January 14, 2023 at 7:21 AM

    • I see what you mean about fingers in the first picture, and I also find the little icicles along the overhang across the top of the second photograph finger-like. Catching the single drop wasn’t easy; I tried a bunch of times.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 14, 2023 at 7:33 AM

  5. I like the drop of water ready to fall from the icicle. Such droplets are extremely difficult to photograph when one tries to catch them as they fall off the icicle.

    Peter Klopp

    January 14, 2023 at 10:13 AM

    • In difficult situations where things are moving I’ve sometimes set the camera to rapid-fire shutter mode to get off several shots per second. I don’t think I used that technique here, and this take is the only one of its kind in the archive from that photo session.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 14, 2023 at 10:56 AM

  6. The icicles are beautiful, Steve. Not any here to be found at this time with all the rivers of moisture coming up the coast. We’ve had a few days peaking near 60, and a number of early mornings near 50, the morning low being more typical of summer here.

    Lavinia Ross

    January 14, 2023 at 10:27 AM

    • In a typical winter up there, how often would you estimate getting icicles? It’s uncommon here—which of course is why I jumped at the chance.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 14, 2023 at 10:59 AM

      • In my area? Not very often, and we are in a bowl at 800 feet, which tends to pond cold air. I mainly see them in in the trees after ice storms or from the roof after heavy snow when there has been a thaw, and then a freeze.

        Lavinia Ross

        January 14, 2023 at 11:16 AM

        • It seems strange that although you’re so much farther north you also don’t often get icicles. Then we’ll both delight in them whenever we do get to see them. On the other hand, you mentioned heavy snows, which are a rarity hear. The 4–6 inches that hit us in February 2021 was the most in decades. Most winters we get none at all or maybe just a slight dusting.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 14, 2023 at 11:23 AM

          • The Willamette Valley lies between the Coast Range and Cascade Range and is relatively moderate. Western Oregon in general has different weather than east of the Cascade Range. Storm clouds coming in off the Pacific wring themselves out on last time going up and over the Cascades. Snow reports go by elevation.

            Lavinia Ross

            January 14, 2023 at 11:43 AM

            • Thanks for the information. I hope to experience the central and eastern parts of Oregon one of these days. The only places I’ve been are near the coast, and even those were decades ago.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 14, 2023 at 12:03 PM

  7. Spectacular photographs! The single drop appeals to me most…worth all the effort!

    Ann Mackay

    January 14, 2023 at 11:13 AM

    • Thanks. The results show you how much fun I had playing with the icicles (photographically speaking). Definitely worth braving the cold, which I didn’t really feel because I dressed warmly and kept busy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 14, 2023 at 11:26 AM

  8. I love this idea of the shrine. With those sharp icicles overhead, it might be dedicated to The Fates, or rather, tempting fate, “The Sanctorium of Hangin’ by a Thread Overhead,” something like that.

    Robert Parker

    January 14, 2023 at 11:41 AM

    • Your reference to tempting fate accords with the risks dedicated photographers sometimes take to get our pictures. Years ago after we’d had one of our rare icicle days a commenter from Ontario warned me that it was dangerous to have stood near the base of a cliff to take pictures the way I had of icicles higher up. After the ice storm in February 2021 I worked my way pretty high up on an icy slope to take pictures—higher in fact than I’d ever climbed on that slope without any ice. But for Eve’s trekking poles I wouldn’t have attempted it, and even with them I moved slowly. I try not to cross the line into foolhardy behavior.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 14, 2023 at 11:58 AM

      • In this part of the world, it’d be strange to not see 2 or 3 notices in the paper each winter about someone killed by falling ice, or falling through the ice on a river or lake.

        Robert Parker

        January 14, 2023 at 5:07 PM

        • I’ve often enough heard of people breaking through too-thin ice on a body of water. I don’t recall ever hearing about someone killed by falling ice, but I’ll take your word for it that that’s a regular occurrence up there—and one I’ll attempt not to replicate down here.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 14, 2023 at 5:58 PM

  9. Fascinating, fabulous photos. The second photo is also a bit fiercesome. I feel as though the icicles are coming to devour me or pick me up and take me away somewhere. Also, quite foreign to me, is the idea that you can classify professors by their political affiliations. Some professors, or academics, here might reveal their political leanings in the course of their work but generally who you support and who you vote for are considered nobody’s business except your own.


    January 16, 2023 at 7:34 PM

    • I like the alliteration in your first three words. I understand why you feel the way you do about the second picture. To take it and quite a few others I carefully worked myself behind the icicles so that I had my back close to cliff and could aim outward. The upward tilt of the camera creates tension, and of course those upper icicles could pass for sharp teeth.

      I assume that when I was in college in New York City in the 1960s the majority of the professors I had leaned politically leftward, but it never came up and no professor pushed us toward a particular view of the world. Things are very different now, with many professors openly proselytizing for a “woke” worldview. Entering students are forced to take workshops espousing “woke” views. As critics have recently been saying, many schools now are teaching what to think rather than how to think.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 16, 2023 at 8:06 PM

      • Teaching students anything, including what to think or how to think, is mostly an uphill task. Good luck to the professors. And whatever the professors are trying to teach, woke or non-woke, has just been made harder by students access to AI tools like ChatGPT.


        January 17, 2023 at 1:06 AM

        • I heard about that last week. It occurred to me that one way to counteract it is to have students explain their compositions. Another is to have students write an essay in class under controlled conditions. If there’s a noticeable discrepancy between in-class performance and work turned in from outside the class, the teacher would have evidence that something isn’t on the up-and-up.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 17, 2023 at 6:26 AM

          • My daughter and I thought a return to oral exams or explanations would be a good idea, although we both hated that type of testing.


            January 17, 2023 at 8:52 PM

            • Perhaps you could have been tutored on how to get comfortable giving oral presentations.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 17, 2023 at 10:03 PM

              • We were tutored but not enough for me.


                January 21, 2023 at 1:09 AM

                • I guess at this stage you no longer have to give oral presentations, so it’s a moot point.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  January 21, 2023 at 8:42 AM

                • Indeed, although I did have to speak at my uncle’s funeral about 10 days ago. I did a fair enough job but I was truly impressed by his young grandsons who spoke splendidly and off the cuff. The youngest grandson told me that this is a skill they are taught at school.


                  January 22, 2023 at 3:44 PM

                • I’m happy to hear that your uncle’s grandson’s school teaches public speaking.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  January 23, 2023 at 6:26 AM

        • An hour after my reply I coincidentally came across a post discussing AI-generated compositions and a professor’s attempts to counter them. The relevant part of the post begins right after the part about Gina Lollabrigida:


          Steve Schwartzman

          January 17, 2023 at 7:42 AM

  10. […] Hills Park just half a mile from home. In posts on December 28th, December 31st, January 8th, and January 14th you’ve seen how I tried out various approaches, both with and without flash. Now here are […]

  11. […] Great Hills Park just half a mile from home. In posts on December 28th, December 31st, January 8th, January 14th, and January 19th you’ve seen how I tried out various approaches, both with and without […]

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