Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘Austin

Vendredi: vues verticales*

with 24 comments

⇧ Fraying leaf tip of a sotol, Dasylirion sp.

⇧ Cattail leaves (Typha sp.) at sunrise.

⇧ Annual sumpweed inflorescences, Iva annua.

These portraits are from the pond at Gault Lane and Burnet Road on October 11, 2020.

— — —

* In case French isn’t among your languages, the doubly° alliterative title means “Friday: vertical views.” The Spanish equivalent would also work, “Viernes: vistas verticales,” as would the Italian “Venerdì: viste verticali.”

The greatest number of different possibilities for having a post title alliterate with a day name is seven because a week consists of seven days. (If you’re wondering how that came to be, you can check out this Britannica article.) Whether any language has all seven of its day names beginning with different sounds, I don’t know. English falls one short of the maximum because Saturday and Sunday begin with the same sound. (Tuesday and Thursday begin with different sounds, despite the initial written letter being the same; that’s because th represents a single sound.) French also has six, because mardi (Tuesday) and mercredi (Wednesday) both begin with m. Likewise for Spanish martes and miércoles.

° Although all 3 words in the title of today’s post begin with a v, the 2nd v creates only the 1st instance of alliteration, so the 3rd v would constitute the 2nd instance of alliteration. In that sort of “it takes two to tango” analysis, the number of alliterations will be 1 less than the number of identical initial letters. On the other hand, you could still make the case for triple alliteration in today’s title by considering the v-words in pairs: vendredi with vues, vendredi with verticales, and vues with verticales.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 15, 2021 at 4:39 AM

Pyramidflower

with 24 comments

Making its debut here now is Melochia pyramidata, known as pyramidflower, a species I’d never photographed till yesterday. Mark Alexandre of the Texas Flora group on Facebook had showed a picture of it on October 6th, and the place he mentioned finding it is the Arbor Walk Pond, just a few miles from where I live. I asked him for the specific location, and armed with that information I found a few of these plants there yesterday morning. It took some careful looking because at 8:30 in the morning the flowers hadn’t fully opened, and even if they had they’d have measured only about half an inch across.

One curiosity is that although field guides say the flowers of this species have five petals—and almost all online photographs show five petals—my specimens had only four. I asked about that yesterday in the Texas Flora group, and Michelle Wong replied with a link to an iNaturalist photograph from this year showing a pyramidflower in Austin with four petals. What percent of the time that variant occurs, I don’t know. I do know that in 2018 I found four petals instead of the customary five in a silverleaf nightshade flower.

Making its debut here today simultaneously with Melochia pyramidata is the botanical family Sterculiaceae, of which Melochia pyramidata is the only native representative in my county (or the rest of Texas, from what I can tell). Probably the most familiar member of that family is cacao, from which we get chocolate. As tasty as most people find chocolate, the botanical family name betrays a different sensibility: the Latin word stercus meant ‘dung, the excrement of domestic animals,’ and the Romans had even created Sterculus (a.k.a. Sterculinus and Stercutus), as the deity who was supposed to have invented the valuable agricultural practice of manuring. Apparently the smell of one or more plants in Sterculiaceae reminded people of dung. (It was my familiarity with the Spanish word estiércol, which means ‘fertilizer, manure, dung,’ that put me on the scent of Sterculiaceae‘s Latin origins.)

And while we’re on the subject of names, let me add that pyramidflower is misleading: it’s not the plant’s flowers but its tiny fruits that fancifully look like little pyramids.

Also now misleading is my reference to the botanical family Sterculiaceae, which botanists recently tilled into the soil of the mallow family, Malvaceae.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 11, 2021 at 4:28 AM

Grasshopper central

with 31 comments

While at Tejas Camp in Williamson County on September 25th I though of calling the place “grasshopper central” for the many insects of that kind I saw ensconced on plants and jumping about. Here are two portraits of grasshoppers on river primrose plants (Oenothera jamesii).


◊     ◊     ◊

Yesterday I outlined a proposed Constitutional amendment of mine that would require legislators to read and understand bills before being allowed to vote on them. Actually that would be part of a larger amendment dealing with legislative bills. Here’s more of what I’d like to see included.

1. A legislative bill shall deal with only one subject.

2. The first line of the bill must state what that subject is, and it must conform to the general understanding among the public of what that subject includes.

3. For each pending Congressional bill, every sentence shall be identified by the name and position of the person or persons who wrote the sentence. If the writer(s) acted on behalf of or at the behest of some other person(s) or organization(s), those identifications must also be included.

4. Unless Congress by a three-quarter majority in each house separately declares a national emergency, the complete text of a bill must be released to the public and made readily available online at least 14 days before a bill is brought to a vote.

5. A non-partisan commission created by Congress shall thoroughly examine every final bill and remove all parts of it that don’t conform to points 1–3 above. The commission is also empowered to prevent, and must prevent, voting on any bill whose final form the public has not had easy access to for 14 days.

Point 1 is intended to eliminate the monstrous bills we now get that run to hundreds or even thousands of pages and that include a slew of unrelated things. Politicians too easily hide pet projects and controversial proposals in the welter of such “omnibus” bills. My idea is to have the legislature vote separately on each proposal or small group of related proposals. That would let the public know which legislators support which things.

Point 2 is intended to head off concept creep and gross semantic inflation. For example, the current administration has been referring to anything under the sun as “infrastructure,” e.g. “human infrastructure” and “family infrastructure,” whereas the normal use of the term “infrastructure” includes only physical structures like roads, bridges, airports, dams, power lines, railroads, ports, canals, and the like.

Point 3 is intended to reveal who is actually inserting provisions into a bill. As things stand now, the real promoters are often hidden from the public.

Point 4 is intended to give the public and the press a reasonable amount of time to find out what’s in a bill before it gets voted on.

Point 5 creates a neutral external body to enforce the provisions that members of Congress may be too pusillanimous to adhere to.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 2, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Yumptious yellow

with 35 comments

The other day the word yumptious popped into my mind. Wondering whether anyone had come up with it before me, I searched and found I wasn’t the first to use that portmanteau of yummy and scrumptious (with scrumptious having perhaps arisen as an alteration of sumptuous). Now I’m getting to use that adjective for the river primrose flowers (Oenothera jamesii) I went to see on September 25th at Tejas Camp in Williamson County, where I’d found the species for the first time in 2020.

Before each bright yellow flower emerges at the tip of a long stem, river primrose’s svelte buds are sculptural and textural, as you see below. Notice the reddish tips, above which strides a stilt bug in the genus Jalysus.

⚛︎
⚛︎     ⚛︎
⚛︎     ⚛︎     ⚛︎
⚛︎     ⚛︎
⚛︎

One of the worst statements ever spewed forth from the mouth of a legislator came in 2010: “… We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it.” That’s not how laws are supposed to be made. Legislators aren’t supposed to vote on bills whose contents they and the people they represent aren’t aware of. The “representative” who made that infamous statement should have been summarily expelled from Congress for dereliction of duty and breach of ethics.

On September 8th I mentioned that in recent years I’ve gradually been crafting amendments to the American Constitution to fix things that are wrong with our government. The would-be amendment I described then involved contributions to political campaigns. Now I’d like to propose an amendment to deal with the horrid thought quoted in the previous paragraph.

Prerequisites for a member of Congress to be allowed to vote on a bill

A.  The member shall read the final version of the bill in its entirety.

B.  The member shall create an uncut video showing the member reading the entire bill, and shall post, at least 24 hours before voting on the bill, the complete video online in an easily accessible place where the public can view it.

C.  The member shall pass a test about the contents of the bill, such test to be created and administered by a non-partisan commission established for that purpose. The test shall contain at least 10 questions and the passing grade shall be set no lower than 80%. A member of Congress who fails may take one retest consisting of a randomly different set of questions about the bill. A second failure shall bar the member from voting on the bill.

D. Each revision of a bill that comes up for a vote shall trigger these requirements anew.

I’m optimistic that these requirements would greatly shorten the lengths of proposed bills and simplify their contents. What do you think?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 1, 2021 at 4:30 AM

Prairie agalinis time again

with 41 comments

For the past month I’ve been seeing prairie agalinis flowers (Agalinis heterophylla) around central Texas. Above is a portrait from the Riata Trace Pond on September 14th. Four days earlier I’d taken some pictures along the eastern fringe of the Blackland Prairie in Elgin showing how the plant grows:


◊     ◊     ◊

Two Tokens of Our Times, or
There’s a Their There*

1) A website offering information about many artists says this about one of them: “Anders Petersen is a Swedish photographer who was born in 1944. Their work was featured in numerous exhibitions at key galleries and museums….” Anders Petersen is a man. One man. His photographs are plural; he isn’t.

2) Last week marked one year since the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. To commemorate the anniversary, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) quoted the justice’s words:

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity… When the government controls that decision for a woman, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”

Except the ACLU bowdlerized the quotation: “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a [person’s] life, to [their] well-being and dignity… When the government controls that decision for [people], [they are] being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for [their] own choices.”

You can find out more about this in an article in The Daily Mail.

— — —

* I’m playing off one of Gertrude Stein’s most often quoted lines: “There is no there there.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 30, 2021 at 4:37 AM

White-striped longtail

with 38 comments

It wasn’t only bumblebees I saw on the flower spikes of gayfeather (Liatris punctata var. mucronata) at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 11th. No indeed. Among other visitors was this white-striped longtail butterfly (Chioides catillus).


❀       ❀
❀       ❀       ❀
❀       ❀

In unrelated sources over the span of just one hour the other day I came across two similar quotations:

“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” — Primo Levi, If This Is a Man, 1947.

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and all we had to do is separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. — Alexander Sozhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1975.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 29, 2021 at 4:36 AM

Paloverde portrayed at different scales

with 17 comments

Here are two treatments of paloverde trees (Parkinsonia aculeata) that differ in scale and aesthetics. In Austin it’s common to see a paloverde (Spanish for ‘green tree’) springing up on untended ground, like the sapling above that looked so wispy in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on August 22nd. A view at that distance doesn’t reveal the many thorns that grow on these trees; the second picture, from September 14th at the Riata Trace Pond, rectifies that.

The long thorn could symbolize the fact that yesterday we got our booster shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine six months to the day after we’d gotten our second shots. I’m happy to say that although our muscles around the injection sites are achy, our arms didn’t turn either of the prominent colors in this closeup.

What I continue to be not at all happy about is the current American administration’s claim to be “following the science” while refusing to follow the science. Back on August 28th I linked to an article in Science that reported the results of a large Israeli study of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. As the article noted: “The newly released data show people who once had a SARS-CoV-2 infection were much less likely than never-infected, vaccinated people to get Delta, develop symptoms from it, or become hospitalized with serious COVID-19.”

And yet this administration stubbornly denies that proven reality. This régime refuses to accept that people who have acquired protection from COVID-19 by having caught and recovered from the disease should not be subject to vaccine mandates. The people in charge of the government are science deniers.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 28, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , , ,

More looking up

with 16 comments

As you’ve already seen, at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 11th I lifted my telephoto zoom lens to photograph a neon skimmer dragonfly. Earlier in our visit I’d lain on a mat on the ground to aim up with my macro lens at something much lower: the jimsonweed flower you see here, Datura wrightii. I rarely convert to black and white, but in this series of pictures I was having trouble getting the sky to look a natural blue. Out of curiosity, I tried monochrome on one frame, as shown below.


◊       ◊       ◊

I’ve already read and recommended two books that treat climate change as real but nothing to get hysterical about, as so many activists and politicians have unfortunately done:

Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why it Matters, by Steven E. Koonin.

Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, by Michael Shellenberger.

Now I’ve become aware of a third book that also treats the subject rationally: False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet, by Bjørn Lomborg.

In addition to or instead of reading Lomborg’s book, you can watch a one-hour interview with him about climate change.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 27, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Downy before bushy

with 21 comments

After I stopped along FM 2769 on September 21st to photograph some flowering Liatris spikes, an adjacent grass caught my attention as well. I thought it might be little bluestem, but it seemed downier than I was accustomed to from that species. Thanks to Floyd Waller for identifying the grass as bushy bluestem, Andropogon glomeratus, which I’m used to seeing in its bushy phase toward the end of the year.


✬      ✬
✬      ✬      ✬
✬      ✬

Here’s a passage from the “Spring” section of Thoreau’s Walden that applies year-round.

Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wildness — to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander. 

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 26, 2021 at 4:29 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , ,

Tall tunas

with 12 comments

This vertical, narrowly cropped, edge-on view of a prickly pear cactus pad (Opuntia engelmannii) makes it seem that the fruits at the top, known as tunas, are standing unusually tall. For whatever reason, I don’t often see spiderwebs on prickly pears, but there’s no missing the silk on this one. Today’s portrait is from September 18th in my hilly part of Austin.


✼    ✼
✼    ✼    ✼
✼    ✼

Here are a couple of paragraphs from “Expanding Your Tribe in the New Age of Conformity,” by Andrew Fox.

[T]he number of ideological activists needed to drive a whole nation into enormously destructive social turmoil and intergroup violence is not very large. The Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917 represented a tiny percentage of the overall Russian population. A relative handful of ethnic chauvinist Serbian agitators in post-Tito Yugoslavia managed to incite years of ethnic cleansing campaigns and intercommunal massacres as well as the disintegration of their former state. A cadre of ethnic extremists in Rwanda’s Hutu Power movement were able to infiltrate the military and organize a war of extermination that resulted in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis.

An individual’s sense of identity can be molded around many different types of attributes—ethnicity, clan, religion, place of residence or origin, sex, age, language, vocation, family roles, types of illness or disability, preferred style of music, and favored forms of recreation. Yet recent historical experience has illustrated repeatedly—in Germany, Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Rwanda, and Syria, to name just a few—that emphasizing ethnicity or race as the primary, overriding source of a citizenry’s identity, fostering resentments based on both historical grievances and exaggerated contemporary outrages, and dividing a populace into Manichean categories of good and evil, of victims and oppressors, can lead to intragroup violence on a sometimes genocidal scale.

That’s what’s been increasingly worrying me for the past year and a half. You’re welcome to read the full article, which appeared in Tablet on September 12.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 25, 2021 at 4:34 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: