Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘brown

Evergreen sumac isn’t always evergreen

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While most of the leaves on an evergreen sumac (Rhus virens) do remain green in December, it’s not unusual for the leaves on a damaged or dying branch to turn brown or maroon. That was the case with this one in my Great Hills neighborhood on December 21st of the recently expired year. Call it fall foliage by proxy.



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Because native speakers of a language learn it by assimilation, they don’t notice many things that a foreigner does when learning the language. If you’re a native English speaker, you’ve probably never thought about the familiar prefix re-. If a foreigner asked you about it, you might think for a bit and say something like: We put re- in front of a verb to convey the meaning ‘back’ or ‘again.’ For example: “The platoon captured the high ground, later got repulsed, and then recaptured the high ground.” Or: “This story, which originated in China, has been retold in many other countries.”

So far, so good. But now suppose the foreigner asks you: “How do I know which verbs I’m allowed to stick re- on and which verbs I’m not allowed to stick re- on?” Your likely answer will be: “What do you mean?” As a native English speaker, you’ve almost certainly never realized that we can’t just put re- on any verb we want to. Take these examples:

  • I was in Barcelona in 1985 and I rewas in Barcelona in 1990.
  • Come visit as soon as you can. Recome as often as you’d like.
  • She wanted to be in movies but after repeatedly failing to get a part she gave up on the idea. A year later she rewanted to be in movies.
  • Look at that beautiful sunset. Relook at it to really appreciate it.
  • There are people who’ve had a fortune, gone bankrupt, and eventually rehad a fortune.
  • Once I knew where I was going in life. Later I lost my way. Now I reknow where I’m going.

A foreigner sees nothing illogical about any of those uses of re-, but a native speaker would never say any of them (except maybe in jest). Someone who knows a little about word origins might be aware that re- got borrowed from Latin, whereas the verbs in those examples—be, come, want, look, have, and know—are all native English words, and so maybe English just doesn’t put Latin-derived re- on native English verbs. There are a couple of problems with that hypothesis. First of all, very few English speakers know which words are native. More importantly, we can stick re- on some native verbs: we can rebuild a church, redo a chemistry experiment, remake a tarnished image, reset a slow clock, and resend an email that wasn’t received.

The situation is even more complicated: sometimes we can use re- with a native English verb but doing so changes the meaning to something other than ‘back’ or ‘again.’ Compare these two:

  • Years after his mother’s death, he still recalled her fondly.
  • He called his mother last night but she had company and couldn’t talk long. He recalled her the next morning.

The recall in the first sentence does not mean ‘call again’; it means ‘remember.’ In the second example, we’d normally say “he called her back”; we wouldn’t say “he recalled her,” or maybe we could marginally get away with that if we paused slightly between the re- and the called; we’d write that with a hyphen: “he re-called her.”

Now you see how complicated the situation is. I haven’t figured out a way of telling which English verbs we can stick re- on, which we can’t, and which we might get away with although it would sound a little strange. Native speakers somehow just know.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 23, 2023 at 4:27 AM

Drying leaves

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While in Great Hills Park on the morning of July 15th I made portraits of several kinds of drying leaves. The top photograph shows those of a white prickly poppy, Argemone albiflora. I don’t know what kind of leaves got pulled together in the webbing you see below, nor what critter did the pulling.



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Incompetent Competencies

The other day I read with horror about how the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) just released its official Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Competencies. For me, competency means that doctors are thoroughly educated in anatomy, disease, and medicine. For the AAMC, competency means that medical students and doctors will glibly prattle all the required woke dogma. As John D. Sailer notes in an article about this for the National Association of Scholars, “the president of the AAMC and the chair of the AAMC’s Council of Deans emphatically stated their support: ‘We believe this topic deserves just as much attention from learners and educators at every stage of their careers as the latest scientific breakthroughs’—a truly remarkable statement of priorities from the leaders of America’s foremost medical education association.”

And as I note here now, time spent on “woke” drivel means time stolen from a proper medical education. It means less-competent doctors, and therefore poorer medical care and ultimately more deaths. On other occasions I’ve noted that the rearranged Holy Trinity of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity yields the acronym DIE. Now it’s clear that the acronym will be even more apt than I realized.

Here are a few of the cant- and jargon-filled incompetent competencies the AAMC is pushing:

Demonstrates knowledge of the intersectionality of a patient’s multiple identities and how each identity may result in varied and multiple forms of oppression or privilege related to clinical decisions and practice [students]

Identifies systems of power, privilege, and oppression and their impacts on health outcomes (e.g., White privilege, racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, religious oppression) [students]

Articulates race as a social construct that is a cause of health and health care inequities, not a risk factor for disease [students]

Practices moral courage, self-advocacy, allyship, and being an active bystander or upstander to address injustices [residents]

Role models anti-racism in medicine and teaching, including strategies grounded in critical understanding of unjust systems of oppression [faculty]

Role models how knowledge of intersectionality informs clinical decision-making and practice [faculty]

If you want to feel sick, go ahead and read the article.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 23, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Two cattail abstractions

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From a month ago today at Cypress Creek Park come these two abstractions of cattails (Typha sp.). The first view shows the transition from pistillate (female) flowers at the bottom to staminate (male) flowers above. The second photograph obviously shows cattail leaves turning brown.



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We have gathered here to affirm a faith, a faith in a common purpose, a common conviction, a common devotion. Some of us have chosen America as the land of our adoption; the rest have come from those who did the same. For this reason we have some right to consider ourselves a picked group, a group of those who had the courage to break from the past and brave the dangers and the loneliness of a strange land. What was the object that nerved us, or those who went before us, to this choice? We sought liberty; freedoms from oppression, freedom from want, freedom to be ourselves. This we then sought; this we now believe that we are by way of winning. What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it. And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few; as we have learned to our sorrow.

What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest. And now in that spirit, that spirit of an America which has never been, and which may never be; nay, which never will be except as the conscience and courage of Americans create it; yet in the spirit of that America which lies hidden in some form in the aspirations of us all; in the spirit of that America for which our young men are at this moment fighting and dying; in that spirit of liberty and of America I ask you to rise and with me pledge our faith in the glorious destiny of our beloved country.

That was the speech that Judge Learned Hand gave to a crowd in New York City’s Central Park on May 21, 1944, where, according to Digital History, “1.5 million people gathered for an event billed as ‘I Am an American Day.’ Hand aimed his remarks at 150,000 newly naturalized citizens.”


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 12, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Shelf fungus

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At Palmetto State Park on November 23rd I photographed several kinds of shelf fungi. Not till I processed this picture the next day did I notice a spider over on the left side—and a strange spider it was, with only six legs. What happened to the other two, I don’t know. You’re welcome to click the excerpt below for a closer look at the six-legged spider.

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I call your attention to the article “The Empowering of the American Mind: 10 Principles for Opposing Thought Reform in K-12,” in which Greg Lukianoff fleshes out each of these:

  • Principle 1: No compelled speech, thought, or belief.
  • Principle 2: Respect for individuality, dissent, and the sanctity of conscience.
  • Principle 3: Teachers & administrators must demonstrate epistemic humility.
  • Principle 4: Foster the broadest possible curiosity, critical thinking skills, and discomfort with certainty.
  • Principle 5: Foster independence, not moral dependency.
  • Principle 6: Do not teach children to think in cognitive distortions.
  • Principle 7: Do not teach the ‘Three Great Untruths.’
  • Principle 8: Take student mental health more seriously.
  • Principle 9: Resist the temptation to reduce complex students to limiting labels. 
  • Principle 10: If it’s broke, fix it. Be willing to form new institutions that empower students and educate them with principles of free, diverse, and pluralistic society.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 5, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Portraits from our yard: episode 10

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Do you remember the white avens (Geum canadense) buds and flowers you saw here recently?
From our back yard on July 22nd comes this view of a white avens seed head.
Its hooks are obviously intended to get caught on the fur of passing animals.

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One morning last week we took a stroll through a nearby part of our neighborhood. When a woman walking her dog came near us, I asked her with no prelude, as I recently started doing to find out how people feel: “What do you think about the current state of our country?” She indicated that she wasn’t happy with it: “Somebody needs to start doing something.” Then she mentioned her young grandson and said she was optimistic that he would turn things around. I followed up: “But do you think we have enough time to wait for him to grow up and do that?” After a few seconds’ thought she said: “No.”

The woman told us her name is Lenore. “Like the Lenore that Poe wrote about?” I asked. She said that was it, that her father was fond of Poe’s works. “So he actually named you Lenore because of Poe’s poem?” “Yes,” she replied, and then she quoted from “The Raven”: “a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.” You never know what interesting things you’ll find out when you talk to strangers.

Just a few houses before the place where we encountered Lenore I’d noticed a yard sign for an organization called Braver Angels. Having never heard of it, I looked it up:

Our mission is to bring Americans together to bridge the partisan divide and strengthen our democratic republic.

We do so by observing the Braver Angels Way:

We state ours views freely and fully, without fear.

We welcome opportunities to engage with those with whom we disagree.

We treat people who disagree with us with honesty and respect.

We seek to disagree accurately, avoiding exaggeration and stereotypes.

We look for common ground where it exists, and if possible, find ways to work together.

We believe that all of us have blind spots and none of us are not worth talking to.

We believe that, in disagreements, both sides share and learn. In Braver Angels, neither side is teaching the other or giving feedback on how to think or say things differently.

Our work ethic is citizen-leadership; we’re many volunteers assisted by a professional staff.

We’re guided by the Braver Angels Rule: At every level of organizational guidance, red and blue leaders are equally represented. Regarding race, ethnicity, and social and economic class, our constant striving is to be an organization that reflects the country we seek to serve.

Sounds like Lenore is getting her wish without having to wait for her grandson to grow up. Somebody is doing something.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 12, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Bald cypress fruit and drying leaves

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Coming home from a productive photo session on August 25th, my gaze and I were arrested by the pale green fruits nestled among drying leaves on a bald cypress tree (Taxodium distichum) I presume had been planted along United Drive. Don’t you love the shapes and texture and colors? Of course you do.

Let the geometry of these fruits and leaves be a lead-in to today’s quotation: “There is no national science, just as there is no national multiplication table; what is national is no longer science.” — Anton Chekhov, Note-Books, 1921. Unfortunately, there are people a century later who assail objectivity and universality, and who claim that mathematics is oppression.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 3, 2020 at 4:24 AM

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Austin’s still snailiferous

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Now well past May’s peak of limaciferousness in central Texas, the land beneath our baking sun has continued to host many a snail. Whether the small creatures I’ve found were living or dead has been mostly beyond my ability to say. They haven’t, however, been beyond my ability to photograph. I found the one above on August 6th near the tip of a Mexican hat seed head (Ratibida columnifera), and the one below on a bed of dry fallen Ashe juniper leaves (Juniperus ashei). In that portrait, taken on July 10th, I’d gone for a shallow-depth-of-field approach, with little more than the apex of the spiral in focus.

The last image, from June 15th in Great Hills Park when things were still more colorful,
shows a snail on a living Ashe juniper with a firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella) beyond it.

And here’s a quotation about photography:

“Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.”
Ansel Adams in American Way, October 1974.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 23, 2020 at 4:33 AM

Brown is the new green

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On the afternoon of April 10th I noticed a bright green anole lizard on the Ashe juniper tree trunk outside my window. I walked several steps to my camera bag, quickly attached a long lens to my camera, and turned back toward the window. In that brief interval the anole had become completely brown. Such a presto change-o has earned Anolis carolinensis the nickname American chameleon, even though an anole isn’t a true chameleon—just as an Ashe juniper isn’t the “cedar” that people commonly call it in Texas. Shakespeare said it well: that which we call an anole, by any other name would be as changeable. And speaking of saying, the word anole is pronounced in three syllables: a-nó-le.

If you’d like to see what one of these critters looks like when it’s green and displaying a bright red dewlap, you’re welcome to check out a classic portrait from 2012. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 24, 2020 at 10:40 AM

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Brickellia flowering in January

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Brickell-bush, Brickellia cylindracea, is a wildflower I don’t see as often as many others. One field guide describes it as having unbranched, upright stalks. I’ll go for unbranched, but in this case the two stalks I found were lying inconspicuously on the ground. Maybe I wouldn’t’ve have noticed them if I hadn’t stopped on January 18th to photograph the adjacent goldeneye and boneset that you’ve seen in recent posts. The profile above shows that even mature flower heads stay mostly closed. The view below gives you a better look at the disk flowers; there are no ray flowers in this genus. The brown in the background came from a bed of fallen leaves—this is January, after all—and adds to the mood (or moodiness) of the two portraits.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 28, 2020 at 4:46 AM

My first alligator

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The first time I ever saw an American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) in the wild was on October 6th in the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. Here’s the rap sheet approach again, with front and side views.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 8, 2019 at 4:46 AM

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