Portraits of Wildflowers

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Orange-and-yellow and yellow

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If you need your day brightened, here’s some Texas lantana (Lantana urticoides) in a colony of four-nerve daisies (Tetraneuris linearifolia) as I saw them along Yaupon Dr. on June 2nd.


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One thing that can brighten my day is mathematics. In 1514 the great German artist Albrecht Dürer did an engraving called “Melencolia 1.” In the engraving’s upper right corner appeared the following lattice of numbers, the bottom two center cells of which not by chance echoed the year of the engraving:

The numerical lattice that Dürer showed is an example of what mathematicians call a magic square. What’s “magic” about this magic square is that if you add up the numbers in any of the four rows, four columns, or two diagonals, you always get the same total, in this case 34. While the rows, columns, and diagonals add up to a constant in any magic square*, this one is even better because it includes other patterned groups of four cells that also give a total of 34. More than a dozen of them exist. Be the first kid on your block (or in your time zone) to find and point out some of those patterned foursomes that add up to 34. (By “patterned” I mean arranged in an orderly or symmetric way. The set of 5, 7, 9, and 13 wouldn’t count, because although they do add up to 34, the numbers are scattered about in the lattice in no particular way.)

* By tradition, the numbers that fill a magic square are consecutive, with 1 as the smallest number. That needn’t be so, however. For example, you could add 5 to each number in Dürer’s square and the new square would still be magic, except the total in each row, column, and diagonal would now be 54. Or you could double each number in Dürer’s square to get a new square whose magic total would be 68.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 24, 2021 at 4:30 AM

Waterfall Wednesday #3

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You’ll forgive me if I’ve let the definition of waterfall spill over into unaccustomed semantic territory. After recent rain, on June 4th along Bull Creek there was indeed water falling from a cliff. Down it came in many narrow streams, some over moss-covered rocks, others over maidenhair ferns, Adiantum capillus-veneris. It seems botanists have done a bit of semantic boundary-pushing, too: the species name for these maidenhair ferns means ‘hair of Venus,’ yet from what I’ve read of Roman mythology, Venus was no modest maiden.

In “Thoughts in a Garden” English poet Andrew Marvell wrote:

No white nor red was ever seen
So amorous as this lovely green.

Today’s pictures don’t show a garden, yet the greens they deliver to your eyes are a marvel.
(Related English words that also trace back to Latin are miracle, mirage, mirror, and admire.)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 23, 2021 at 4:32 AM

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Tube-tongue

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Welcome to tube-tongue (Justicia pilosella), a little wildflower making its debut here today. On June 14th I’d gone out driving along Capital of Texas Highway looking for mountain pinks, which normally appear along that road by mid-June. I didn’t find any, but the colony of tube-tongue made up for it. The plants stood only several inches tall, and the flowers are only about an inch in size, so getting decent pictures had me down on the ground—and my neck too close to some stinging nettles, I’m afraid. Ah, the occupational hazard of being a nature photographer in Texas. On the technical side, I used flash and a small aperture, so the bright sky got rendered as a dark blue-grey (that’s more apparent if you look at the picture against a black background).


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It’s by no means only people with conservative or libertarian leanings who are appalled at the illiberal policies being imposed on America, particularly those that clamp down on freedom of expression, inject “wokism” into everything, and rouse mobs to “cancel” anyone they disagree with. Also speaking out against those harmful trends are what I’ll call classical liberals, who generally identify themselves as being on the political left or center-left. Here are a few whose recent doings and writings you may want to check out.

Steven Pinker

Bari Weiss

Jonathan Haidt

Greg Lukianoff

Nadine Strossen

John McWhorter

Glenn Greenwald

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 22, 2021 at 4:44 AM

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A pretty yellow

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A few prickly pear cacti (Opuntia engelmannii) were still putting out flowers in June.
I’d made this bold portrait of one in Allen Park on May 15th.


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Four days ago I saw a car with the custom license plate MRSCORN.
Was that Mrs. Corn or was it Mr. Scorn?
Or was it both, with the Mr. scorning the Mrs.?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 21, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Mexican hat: en masse and solo

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Above, from Fireoak Dr. on June 5th, behold a happily flowering colony of Mexican hats, Ratibida columnifera. Below is a fresh new Mexican hat flower head along Capital of Texas Highway on June 14th.


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Yesterday I quoted from the speech that Martin Luther King Jr. gave in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963. Probably the most famous line from that speech is this one: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Now it’s 58 years later, and it pains me to have to say that Dr. King’s color-blind approach to human interaction is falling out of fashion. For some Americans it’s completely gone, and they insist on categorizing and analyzing everything according to race. One such person is Ibram X. Kendi. Where Dr. King strove to end discrimination, Kendi applauds it: “The only remedy to racist discrimination is anti-racist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”

Now, you might say that Kendi is just one person, and so what if he’s a racist?* Unfortunately Kendi has had one best-selling book after another. The U.S. Navy has put his How to Be an Antiracist on its recommended reading list. Institutions have paid him and keep on paying him tens of thousands of dollars to deliver speeches.Time magazine included him in its 2020 annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Boston University has appointed him to the Andrew Mellon Professorship in the Humanities. And on and on the insanity goes.

What a sorry state my country has fallen into!

Some people are speaking out (and writing out) against the insanity. If you’d like a detailed article along those lines, you can read one by John McWhorter, a linguistics professor at my alma mater, Columbia.

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* Notice the Orwellian way this racist calls himself an antiracist, just as a certain violent fascist group calls itself antifa, i.e. anti-fascist.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 20, 2021 at 4:29 AM

Blue curls and firewheel

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Been a long time since I showed you any blue curls, Phacelia congesta. In Allen Park on May 15th
I spotted one flowering close enough to a firewheel, Gaillardia pulchella, for me to contrast their colors.


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Today is Juneteenth, which became a national holiday this week. The name is short for June Nineteenth, which was the day in 1865 when Union forces brought the news to Galveston, Texas, that all former slaves were now free. This is the first new American holiday since Ronald Reagan signed into law the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.

Martin Luther King Jr. is famous for a speech he gave in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963, that has become known as “I have a dream” because that line figured repeatedly in the speech. Here’s a portion:

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.

It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”…

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I’m all for that, and I expect you are, too.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 19, 2021 at 4:40 AM

A colorful limestone overhang

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I live in northwest Austin’s Great Hills neighborhood, which is home to the unsurprisingly named Great Hills Park. An isolated arm of the park, seldom reached because getting there entails walking in a creek and pushing past various obstacles, houses a long limestone overhang. Given the geography and the position of the sun throughout the year, direct light doesn’t fall on the overhang’s ceiling or most of its back. An approaching visitor will initially see the inside of the overhang as very dark, though eyes do get somewhat accustomed after a person has been under the overhang for a bit. Even so, the dimness makes it hard to appreciate the ways in which seeping water over eons has colored the stone. I used flash to light up the formations and reveal the pastel colors that you see in these two images, both from June 10th.


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Did you hear about the family in Edinburgh that has six living generations?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 18, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Thryallis Thursday

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Galphimia angustifolia, a member of the botanical family Malpighiaceae, is a slender little native plant I seldom come across. After I saw a stand of it near the Upper Bull Creek Greenbelt Trail on June 13th I went back the next morning to take photographic advantage of my find. Vernacular names for this species are thryallis (apparently a Greek word meaning ‘wick’) and narrowleaf goldshower. Notice how the flowers express a fiveness, with the petals starting out very slender and abruptly widening farther out. Each flower is red, orange, or yellow, and sometimes all three kinds appear on the same plant. Flower diameter is no more than 3/8 of an inch (9mm), so this picture is much larger than life.

On the technical side, I used a ring flash and chose a shutter speed of 1/400 and an aperture of f/20 for good depth of field. That small an aperture also rendered the bright sky a dark blue.


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Yesterday I linked to the testimony of Xi Van Fleet, a woman who managed to escape the terror of the Chinese Communist regime, only to find years later that her school district in northern Virginia has been indoctrinating its students. I also recently learned about Yeonmi Park, who had a harrowing escape from North Korea in 2007 at the age of 13. After making her way to America, she eventually enrolled at Columbia University, my alma mater (alas), where she had a reaction similar to Xi Van Fleet’s. You can hear Yeonmi Park’s story in an online article that includes a video.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 17, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Waterfall Wednesday #2

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Last week you heard how on June 3rd, before the day turned and stayed rainy, I drove three miles to a tributary of Bull Creek where a picturesque waterfall was flowing at full strength. In addition to many straightforward photographs taken at slow shutter speeds like an eighth or a half of a second, I experimented with even slower shutter speeds and zoomed the lens or otherwise moved the camera while the shutter was open. I’ve included two of the results here, each from a four-second exposure. Look how different these views are from the ones you saw last week; in particular, they’re more abstract and less recognizable.


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Yesterday I mentioned the horrendous depredations of the Anti-Cultural Revolution in China under the dictatorship of Mao Zedong. Today I’m following up with the story of Xi Van Fleet, a woman who managed to escape the terror of that Chinese Communist regime. She was fortunate to find freedom in America, but now she’s dismayed to discover that her school district in northern Virginia is indoctrinating its students by using some of the same kinds of techniques and lies the Chinese dictatorship did to keep its people brainwashed and in bondage. You can read about her testimony in a New York Post article from last week.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 16, 2021 at 4:23 AM

Wildflower carpets continuing into June

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Here from Mourning Dove Lane and US 183 in Leander is a field that was still wonderfully flowerful on June 7th. Dominating everything else was Gaillardia pulchella, known as firewheels, Indian blankets, and blanketflowers. The two kinds of white flowers toward the back were bull nettle (Cnidoscolus texanus) and white prickly poppies (Argemone albiflora).

Because I show pictures here at a size of about half a megapixel, you often miss details apparent in the full 50-megapixel photographs my camera takes. The image below is a strip across the bottom of the photograph above. Click the strip to enlarge it and see more details. The white flower at the left is Texas bindweed (Convovulus equitans). Near the middle of the strip is the pod of a milkweed, probably antelope horns milkweed (Asclepias asperula). The purple inflorescence a little farther right is a horsemint (Monarda citriodora). Notice how many of the firewheels had already become seed heads.


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“The Cultural Revolution, formally the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, was a violent sociopolitical purge movement in China from 1966 until 1976.” So begins the Wikipedia article about what I choose to call the Anti-Cultural Revolution because it destroyed culture and killed people. “Estimates of the death toll from the [Anti-]Cultural Revolution, including civilians and Red Guards, vary greatly, ranging from hundreds of thousands to 20 million.”

Elements of that horrific movement have now come to America, where crazed mobs, both in person and online, persecute people for having said or done something that the fanatics don’t like, even if the thing was decades ago and the people weren’t yet adults. As in the North Korean dictatorship today, a supposed offender’s family, friends, and associates also are deemed worthy of punishment. Thankfully, some Americans are speaking out against such destructive fanaticism. If you’d like to learn more about a recent incident, you can listen to Bari Weiss‘s half-hour podcast “America’s Cultural Revolution.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 15, 2021 at 4:32 AM

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