Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Another look back at fall foliage

with 25 comments


The last months of 2022 in Austin were excellent for fall foliage—so much so that I couldn’t show nearly as many pictures as I’d have liked to when they were still current or even a few weeks old. “Better late than never,” as the adage goes. Today’s pictures are from November 26th along the Capital of Texas Highway near Lakewood Dr., a few miles from home. The first two play up the color contrast between the ephemeral red of a Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) that had climbed high into the canopy of a cedar elm tree (Ulmus crassifolia) and the similarly transient yellow of the elm tree’s leaves.



In the pair above you, you see how different orientations (horizontal versus vertical) and different focal lengths (70mm versus 24mm) can produce different results (not surprisingly) even when two pictures are taken from the same spot. In the top view, blue appears only in subdued little patches visible through holes in the foliage. In the second view, blue, along with white, dominates the photograph.



For a different perspective, to take the last picture I worked my way
through the woods to get under the Virginia creeper so I could aim straight up.


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UPDATE. Two days ago I reported on a high school in Virginia whose administrators apparently on purpose failed to notify students about their Merit Scholarship commendations. A January 16th editorial in The Wall Street Journal revealed that even more Virginia schools have been discriminating against Asian students in that way than was initially known. You’re welcome to read William McGurn’s “The New Structural Racism,” whose sub-head is “In Northern Virginia, affirmative action has hardened into a war on high achievers.”


↯        ↯        ↯


From Elizabeth Weiss’s January 11th article in Quillette, “A Report From the Stanford Academic Freedom Conference,” I learned about the comments of Jerry Coyne:

Jerry Coyne, Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Chicago and author of the popular blog Why Evolution is True, speaks with some authority on the left-right cancel-culture divide, as he has spent much of his career battling right-wing social conservatives who promote creationism (or “intelligent design”) as an alternative to evolution. But in recent years, he noted, four popular false ideas (what he calls “ideological pollution”) now originate with the progressive side of the political spectrum: (1) that sex is not binary, but rather a spectrum; (2) that males and females are “biologically identical on average in behavior, mentality and choices”; (3) that “the fundamental premises of evolutionary psychology are false”; and (4) that “race is a purely social construct with no biological value.” In every case, he noted, there was a parallel with Marxism, which imagines people as being “infinitely malleable” according to their social environment.

Coyne, who is now retired from day-to-day academic life, expressed less concern than other speakers in regard to the formal repercussions inflicted on academics who violate these taboos (though he did describe the case of a professor in Maine who faced severe backlash after stating that there are only two sexes). Rather, he emphasized the manner by which this ideological system encouraged self-censorship:

What I’m worried about is being demonized, ostracized, simply for saying that there’s something like biological meaningfulness in ethnic groups. It is enough to get you called a racist, which I have been. If you say that the sexes are bimodal or even just binary, you get called a transphobe … And, to any good liberal, and I’m a good liberal … the moniker of racist or transphobe is horrifying and makes you just shut up and so this kind of demonization occurs fairly regularly.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 18, 2023 at 4:26 AM

25 Responses

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  1. No one can know how others feel on the inside, even an academic. I respect science and scientists, but it has its limits. Or we do, anyway. Human genetics is too complicated to be understood fully by us with our current knowledge — so if someone presents genetics as simple and determinative, they are slanting the facts. Just as multiple genes affect eye color and hair color, why would anyone assume that we know all there is to know about the genes affecting sex identity? The issue seems to me to let people decide who they are for themselves.

    Brenda Davis Harsham

    January 18, 2023 at 7:26 AM

    • Three years ago I read two books about the latest findings in the field of genetics: Innate by Kevin J. Mitchell and Blueprint by Robert Plomin. Both made the point that you did: while a disease like sickle-cell anemia results from a single gene, most traits in a person—particularly broad ones like intelligence and mental illness—result from the combined tiny effects of dozens or hundreds of genes. Scientists certainly haven’t figured all of that out, and perhaps they never will, but they have been making a lot of progress, and much more is known now than even a decade ago.

      I like to read books. I think it’s worthwhile, but I don’t insist that other people read books. A man may sincerely believe he’s a woman and may dress in what have traditionally been considered women’s clothing, but most people believe he’s still a man. Well, live and let live. My objection begins when that man insists everyone else accept his belief and demands that they accommodate him, even to the point of allowing him to walk around naked in a women’s locker room. You can read about a recent incident of that type:


      Just because someone believes something doesn’t make it true or real. If I show up at the White House claiming I’m the president, the security guards won’t let me in. If a strange man showed up at your door and said he’s your husband and wants to live with you, I don’t think you’d let him live with you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 18, 2023 at 8:04 AM

      • No one ever gets through life without tears or being offended by others. I could link to stories of LGBTQ+ community members being hurt, chased, mocked, abused or killed just for their identity. It wouldn’t help change your mind, though, would it? It sounds like you’ve made up your mind and prefer a simple world of right and wrong where you decide what’s right and wrong. It must be comforting to be so sure. Who am I to not let you be comforted, after all? I’d prefer a world where we didn’t hurt and judge each other. We all live with too much pain.

        Brenda Davis Harsham

        January 22, 2023 at 11:21 AM

  2. That pop of red leaves is just lovely!


    January 18, 2023 at 7:31 AM

  3. I really like the last photo, although I confess I laughed when I began reading what you’d written under it. When I got to the end of “For a different perspective, to take the last picture I worked my way…”, I finished the sentence with “up the tree.” Thank goodness our lenses make that unnecessary.

    While you’re looking back at autumn color, I’ve been discovering some nice, newly-turned examples since the beginning of January. It’s so interesting to see how different our areas are, and how much they can differ from year to year.


    January 18, 2023 at 9:19 AM

    • Newly turned examples of fall foliage since the beginning of January: I’ve seen a little here, and from what you say you’ve even more. That’s what warm winters are good for.

      As for the caption under the last picture, I confess my tree-climbing days are decades in the past. Prudent me wouldn’t risk it now. As you said, our lenses do much of the “climbing” for us.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 18, 2023 at 12:00 PM

  4. The cloud in the middle of the second photo APPEARS slightly out of focus, which gives the picture a 3D effect.

    Peter Klopp

    January 18, 2023 at 9:31 AM

  5. The fall colors in your area were quite beautiful, and you captured them well from the different perspectives.

    Lavinia Ross

    January 18, 2023 at 11:09 AM

    • It was one of the best autumns for fall foliage here that I recall—a welcome closing out of the year.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 18, 2023 at 3:03 PM

  6. Virginia creeper is such a pest, but these colors look good on it.

    Alessandra Chaves

    January 18, 2023 at 12:01 PM

    • I’ve heard other people disparage Virginia creeper, too, but I’m happy to have some of it growing naturally in our yard. As you say, its colorful leaflets can be great.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 18, 2023 at 3:04 PM

  7. Made my day! Thanks for the dose of sun, on a cold day!

    Rei Clearly

    January 18, 2023 at 4:41 PM

  8. Love the Virginia Creeper. I have some in my back garden, really like it too, but it doesn’t get full sun (most of it is in a fair amount of shade), therefore it doesn’t get that gorgeous red. Most years it’s still rather pretty, softer shades of mauve, I’d say. This year, it didn’t do much and one day in early December, I looked out and the leaves had dropped. Boo!!


    January 18, 2023 at 7:43 PM

    • Your comment has made me aware of the role that sunlight plays in making Virginia creeper turn red in the fall. I’d never thought about it, but in looking back now at some of the bright red Virginia creepers I’ve shown over the years, I see that they did get sun exposure at least part of the day. After the great freeze in February 2021 our neighbor removed a tree that had died. That let sunlight reach the adjacent side of our yard, where I spent time photographing some now-colorful Virginia creeper leaves late this past fall.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 18, 2023 at 9:58 PM

  9. That first one would be a really challenging jigsaw puzzle.

    Steve Gingold

    January 23, 2023 at 6:45 AM

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