Portraits of Wildflowers

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White against yellow

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Over the 10 years of this blog, it hasn’t been uncommon for me to spend time taking nature pictures at a place and yet not show you a single photograph from that outing. The other day I realized that was true of our May 26th visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, so here’s a portrait I made there showing American water willow flowers (Justicia americana) in front of a yellow waterlily (Nymphaea mexicana).

UPDATE: I should’ve mentioned that individual water willow flowers measure from one-quarter to five-eighths of an inch (6–15mm), so today’s photograph is quite a close-up.


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And now here’s a poignant passage from Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters:

None of the parents I spoke to was naïve about the pressures or hardship of adolescence. They knew the rigmarole: one day the little girls they had attended through countless flus and rushed to the hospital for casts and stitches would transmogrify into teenagers and curse their love. Every one of the parents I met had been prepared to be hated for a while. They knew their daughters would mock their fashion sense, even reject their values for a time. What they were less prepared for was the macabre spectacle of their daughters’ sharp turn against themselves.

Dozens of dogmatic Amazon employees pushed to get the company to stop selling the book, but I’m happy to say Amazon didn’t cave in to the ideologues’ pressure. That hasn’t always been the case: Amazon did ban Ryan T. Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, even as Amazon has continued to sell The Communist Manifesto and Hitler’s Mein Kampf, whose followers murdered tens of millions of people in the 20th century. Target originally carried Abigail Shrier’s Damage, then banned it, then rescinded its ban, then banned it again. I’m against banning books, even those I think are terrible.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 18, 2021 at 4:34 AM

A wet roughstem rosinweed flower head

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From July 6th along Bull Creek, here’s a somewhat wet roughstem rosinweed, Silphium radula.

And from Aldo Leopold’s essay “Prairie Birthday,” in A Sand County Almanac, published in 1949, comes this passage about mowers cutting down a Silphium in Wisconsin.

Heretofore unreachable by scythe or mower, this yard-square relic of original Wisconsin gives birth, each July, to a man-high stalk of compass plant or Cut-leaf Silphium, spangled with saucer-sized yellow blooms resembling sunflowers. It is the sole remnant of this plant along this highway, and perhaps the sole remnant in the western half of our county. What a thousand acres of Silphiums looked like when they tickled the bellies of the buffalo is a question never again to be answered, and perhaps not even asked.

This year I found the Silphium in first bloom on 24 July, a week later than usual; during the last six years the average date was 15 July.

When I passed the graveyard again on 3 August, the fence had been removed by a road crew, and the Silphium cut. It is easy now to predic tthe future; for a few years my Silphium will try in vain to rise above the mowing machine, and then it will die. With it will die the prairie epoch.

The Highway Department says that 100,000 cars pass yearly over this route during the three summer months when the Silphium is in bloom. In them must ride at least 100,000 people who have taken what is called history, and perhaps 25,000 who have taken what is called botany. Yet I doubt whether a dozen have seen the Silphium, and of these hardly one will notice its demise. If I were to tell a preacher of the adjoining church that the road crew has been burning history books in his cemetery, under the guise of mowing weeds, he would be amazed and uncomprehending. How could a weed be a book?

This is one little episode in the funeral of the native flora, which in turn is one episode in the funeral of the floras of the world. Mechanized man, oblivious of floras, is proud of his progress in cleaning up the landscape on which, willy nilly, he must live out his days. It might be wise to prohibit at once all teaching of real botany and real history, lest some future citizen suffer qualms about the floristic price of his good life.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 17, 2021 at 4:22 AM

A bluebell flower

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On a sunny June 18th I photographed some bluebells (Eustoma sp.) that were coming up in Cypress Creek Park. Sixteen days ago you saw a distinctively shaped bud of this species, and now from the same session here are two portraits showing an opening flower. As I’ve said a zillion times, bluebells are purple.


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I recently read the book Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why it Matters. The author, physicist Steven E. Koonin, was Undersecretary for Science in the U.S. Department of Energy during the Obama administration, so is in no way a “climate denier,” meaning a person who denies that the climate is changing. The book’s title, however, indicates that Koonin takes issue with the widely bruited-about notion that climate change is “settled science.” Basing his book entirely on data gathered by the American government and the United Nations, he offers a rational assessment of the current climate situation, free from the hysteria and catastrophism that characterize so many activists and politicians.

As Koonin wrote in a Wall Street Journal essay in 2014: “Policy makers and the public may wish for the comfort of certainty in their climate science. But I fear that rigidly promulgating the idea that climate science is ‘settled’ (or is a ‘hoax’) demeans and chills the scientific enterprise, retarding its progress in these important matters. Uncertainty is a prime mover and motivator of science and must be faced head-on. It should not be confined to hushed sidebar conversations at academic conferences.” (Apropos of that, just last week someone who has worked for decades in a technical field at the University of Texas told me the atmosphere there has become so oppressive that an employee dare not even bring up the subject of climate change.)

I’m attentive to language, so I appreciate one point Koonin makes in Unsettled: some people, especially environmental activists, use “climate change” to mean only that portion of the change in climate attributable to human activity. That usage is misleading because it excludes the not-insignificant changes in climate attributable to natural causes such as volcanic eruptions, the wobble in the earth’s axis, and the varying intensity of the sun’s radiation reaching the earth. Distinguishing between natural causes and human causes of climate change turns out to be a difficult problem. Failing to consider the natural and perhaps quite large component of climate change that is natural ends up making the human-caused component seem disproportionately influential and urgent to deal with—which of course is what activists want.

In April I recommended environmentalist Michael Shellenberger’s rational book about climate change, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All. Now that Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why it Matters is out, I recommend it, too.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 16, 2021 at 4:42 AM

Tropical neptunia

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On July 5th I found some Neptunia pubescens crawling out onto the sidewalk along the busy Capital of Texas Highway. The plant had produced several flower “globes,” of which this was one. The whole cluster might have been an inch long, so the individual flowers in it were tiny. Below you see one of the plant’s drying seed pods.


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Here’s another passage from Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds.

Until the last decade or so, sex (or gender) and chromosomes were recognized to be among the most fundamental hardware issues in our species. Whether we were born as a man or a woman was one of the main, unchangeable hardware issues of our lives. Having accepted this hardware we then all found ways — both men and women — to learn how to operate the relevant aspects of our lives. So absolutely everything not just within the sexes but between them became scrambled when the argument became entrenched that this most fundamental hardware issue of all was in fact a matter of software. The claim was made, and a couple of decades later it was embedded and suddenly everybody was meant to believe that sex was not biologically fixed but merely a matter of ‘reiterated social performances’.

The claim put a bomb under the feminist cause…. It left feminism with almost no defences against men arguing that they could become women. But the whole attempt to turn hardware into software has caused — and is continuing to cause — more pain than almost any other issue for men and women alike. It is at the foundation of the current madness. For it asks us all to believe that women are different from the beings they have always been. It suggests that everything women and men saw — and knew — until yesterday was a mirage and that our inherited knowledge about our differences (and how to get along) is all invalid knowledge. All the rage — including the wild, destructive misandry, the double-think and the self-delusion — stem from this fact: that we are being not just asked, but expected, to radically alter our lives and societies on the basis of claims that our instincts all tell us cannot possibly be true.

Douglas Murray’s book came out in 2019. The cognitive dissonance has increased since then. For example, you may have heard about a recent incident at a spa in Los Angeles.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 15, 2021 at 4:34 AM

Waterfall Wednesday #6

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Looks like ice formations, don’t you think?
Yet it was water coming over Stone Bridge Falls in Bull Creek on June 5th.
A shutter speed of 1/3200 effected the transformation.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 14, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Texas thistle like fireworks

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This Texas thistle flower head (Cirsium texanum) seemed to me like fireworks.
The picture dates from June 14th in northwest Austin.


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In my May 16th post about prairie resurgence I reported on a resurgence of racism in America. What made it particularly egregious was that the racism came from our government. A group of Midwestern farmers went to court and sued the federal government because, based solely on their race, they weren’t allowed to participate in a loan forgiveness program for farmers. Last week U.S. District Judge S. Thomas Anderson ruled that the United States Department of Agriculture should halt its distribution of funds through the program until the case is fully resolved. In his ruling, the judge wrote: “However important the goal of eliminating the vestiges of prior race discrimination, and it is important, the government’s efforts cannot withstand strict scrutiny. Therefore, Plaintiff has shown a likeliness of success on the merits at trial.” In other words, you can’t discriminate against people of a certain race now now just because people of another race got discriminated against in the past. Or, as an adage tells us, two wrongs don’t make a right.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 13, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Beyond its accustomed time

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Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) is an early-spring wildflower in central Texas. Individual plants don’t always know that, as evidenced by today’s portrait from June 14th along Capital of Texas Highway. In case you’re not familiar with paintbrushes of the floral kind, let me point out that the bright red elements are not petals but bracts, which is to say modified leaves. The actual flowers in this genus are pale and small, and therefore inconspicuous.

As with other recent pictures you’ve seen here, this one shows the effects of a ring flash and a small aperture (f/18), one consequence of which is the darker-than-life sky color.


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Did you hear about the appropriately named Zaila Avant-garde, who was indeed the avant-garde, i.e. winner, in this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee? In the linked video she describes being interested in getting an education as a gate-opener. Good for her for saying so!

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 12, 2021 at 4:38 AM

The high cliff along Bull Creek

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As often as I’ve shown scenes from Bull Creek, I don’t think I’ve ever shown this stretch that includes one of the tallest cliffs along the creek. The second photo offers you a better view of the way some slabs of rock have fallen on the creek bank. If you have trouble making out the yellow flowers, don’t worry; an upcoming post will give you a close look at one along a different part of the creek. Both of today’s pictures are from July 5th.


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As manic as some segments of American society have become, voices of reason and moderation do exist. Two such are Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, whose book Cynical Theories appeared in 2020. Its subtitle is How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody. Here’s an example of their principled opposition to what I’ll call academania:

We affirm that racism remains a problem in society and needs to be addressed.

We deny that critical race Theory and intersectionality provide the most useful tools to do so, since we believe that racial issues are best solved through the most rigorous analyses possible.

We contend that racism is defined as prejudiced attitudes and discriminatory behavior against individuals or groups on the grounds of race and can be successfully addressed as such.

We deny that racism is hard-baked into society via discourses, that it is unavoidable and present in every interaction to be discovered and called out, and that this is part of a ubiquitous systemic problem that is everywhere, always, and all-pervasive.

We deny that the best way to deal with racism is by restoring social significance to racial categories and radically heightening their salience.

We contend that each individual can choose not to hold racist views and should be expected to do so, that racism is declining over time and becoming rarer, that we can and should see one another as humans first and members of certain races second, that issues of race are best dealt with by being honest about racialized experiences, while still working towards shared goals and a common vision, and that the principle of not discriminating by race should be universally upheld.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 11, 2021 at 4:36 AM

Different horsemint portraits

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In contrast to last time’s sharp portrait at f/18, the pictures in today’s post represent a limited-focus approach (f/2.8 and f/3.2) to photographing a horsemint, Monarda citriodora. The yellow behind the subject came from a Mexican hat, Ratibida columnifera. To show how much an image depends on the way it gets processed, compare the portrait below, which I took about a minute later than the first one, and which I processed with a darker tonality. Remember that neither view accords with that you’d have seen with your eyes and brain if you’d been there in person.

These pictures date from June 2nd at the Junior League of Austin,
which was looking good but not as fabulously floriferous as in the spring of 2020.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 10, 2021 at 4:36 AM

A horsemint portrait

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Here’s yet another floral portrait from the Capital of Texas Highway on June 14th.
This one shows the tiered inflorescence of a horsemint, Monarda citriodora.


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“It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.” — Mark Twain, Following the Equator, 1897.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 9, 2021 at 4:46 AM

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