Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘buds

Buttonbush budding

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Cephalanthus occidentalis; Cypress Creek Park; June 12; daylight flash with f/25 aperture.

To see what this would open out into, you can look back at a picture from 2013.


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In a commentary four days ago I gave several examples of the current federal administration trying to establish programs that on their face violate the U.S. Constitution or national laws. Administrations in some smaller jurisdictions think they can get away with lawlessness, too. In a recent example, New York City passed an ordinance that would have let some 800,000 legal residents who aren’t American citizens vote in local elections. In response, several citizens sued New York City, noting: “By dramatically increasing the pool of eligible voters, the Non-Citizen Voting Law will dilute the votes of United States citizens, including the Plaintiffs in this action.” This week a judge sided with the plaintiffs.

The judge wrote in his decision: “There is no statutory ability for the City of New York to issue inconsistent laws permitting non-citizens to vote and exceed the authority granted to it by the New York State Constitution. Though voting is a right that so many citizens take for granted, the City of New York cannot ‘obviate’ the restrictions imposed by the constitution.”

Last I heard, New York City is indeed still part of New York State, and therefore has to follow the laws of New York State. Given that reality, I did what the judge did and what the authorities in New York City either didn’t do or did and then ignored: I looked at the relevant part of New York State’s Constitution. Here’s what I found in Section 1 of Article II, which is devoted to suffrage:

Every citizen shall be entitled to vote at every election for all officers elected by the people and upon all questions submitted to the vote of the people provided that such citizen is eighteen years of age or over and shall have been a resident of this state, and of the county, city, or village for thirty days next preceding an election.

I put the word citizen in italics to emphasize it. Non-citizens, by definition, aren’t citizens. You’d think the authorities in New York City could understand the difference. Presumably they did understand the difference but chose to violate New York State’s Constitution anyhow. As I said, that’s lawlessness.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 29, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

Rising skyward

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Only once before, in 2015, has a picture of so-called false gaura appeared here. The top view shows that this plant produces an erect flower spike, which I’ll add can reach 9 ft., while the bottom view reveals the predilection of some leaves to turn colors. Formerly classified as Stenosiphon linifolius and now as Oenothera glaucifolia, the species apparently grows in just one place in Travis County: along Oasis Bluff Dr., which is where I went looking for and found it on June 12th, just as I have several other times over the past decade.



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Kind Words


Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Thursday praised fellow Justice Clarence Thomas for his dedication to the high court’s integrity in light of recent protests and threats that were made against the institution.

Speaking at the American Constitution Society, Sotomayor, who was nominated by former President Barack Obama, said Thomas is a “man who cares deeply about the court as an institution.”

And while the two often disagree in their opinions, Sotomayor said she and Thomas have a “common understanding about people and kindness towards them,” adding, “Justice Thomas is the one justice in the building that literally knows every employee’s name, every one of them. And not only does he know their names, he remembers their families’ names and histories.”

“He’s the first one who will go up to someone when you’re walking with him and say, ‘Is your son okay? How’s your daughter doing in college?’ He’s the first one that, when my stepfather died, sent me flowers in Florida,” Sotomayor added of Thomas, who was nominated by former President George H.W. Bush.


That’s from a June 17th article by Jack Phillips in the Epoch Times.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman







Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 24, 2022 at 4:30 AM

More from Shaffer Bend

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Last Thursday’s post was the first ever to feature pictures from the Shaffer Bend Recreation Area along the Colorado River a little east of Marble Falls in Burnet County. During our inaugural April 19th visit I got to see a few huisache daisies, Amblyolepis setigera, a species I don’t find in Austin. The most recent time I showed you some was last year, when you saw a whole colony flowering in a place close to Shaffer Bend. Above are a huisache daisy bud and open flower head; the picture below shows an intermediate stage.



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In a post a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that the Latin word for ‘head,’ caput, led to the English word capital. A state’s or a country’s capital is metaphorically its “head” city. In a different metaphorical usage, capital is money that we accumulate to “head up” or “head into” a new business.

As the Latin spoken in ancient Gaul evolved over hundreds and hundreds of years, caput gradually got transformed into Old French chief. (Yes, words can change that much over long periods.) The Old French noun chief retained the literal meaning ‘head’ and also allowed for figurative uses. When Middle English borrowed chief, it already had its familiar native word head for the body part, so it borrowed chief in its figurative sense of ‘most important.’ That’s why James A. Garfield could write in 1869: “The chief duty of government is to keep the peace and stand out of the sunshine of the people.” The leader of the nine justices on the Supreme Court of the United States is designated the Chief Justice; the other justices regularly refer to him simply as “the Chief.” For hundreds of years we’ve called the head of an American Indian tribe its chief. A large business has its CEO and CFO and COO, meaning its chief executive officer, chief financial officer, and chief operating officer.

With regard to managerial positions like those, the people running the San Francisco Unified Schools District have once again been up to mischief—etymologically a situation in which things have ‘come to a head [chief] in a bad [mis-] way.’ Out of supposed deference to the sensibilities of people in American Indian tribes, the bureaucrats in charge of that school district have decided to drop the chief from job titles like chief technology officer and chief of staff.

Whereas the chief responsibility of a school district has traditionally been to teach students, recent chief goals in San Francisco have included renaming schools and dictating what words people must and can’t say. The Wall Street Journal editorial “Chiefly Illiterate in San Francisco Schools” and the New York Post article “San Francisco school district drops ‘chief’ from job titles” will fill you in on the chief details of this latest ideological assault on language. Meanwhile, even before the pandemic, 27 of San Francisco’s schools were rated “low performing” and 9 were among the worst in California, which is in the bottom fifth of American states academically.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 31, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Plump green stars

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From six years ago today in west Austin here are some buds of green milkweed (Asclepias viridis) with a couple of firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella) in the background. Below is a take on antelope horns milkweed buds (Asclepias asperula) in a slightly more advanced state on April 17th of this year in my neighborhood and in a different photographic style that relies on flash.


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Just as a man may not recognize that he is in a prison until he tries to break free, a scholar may not understand the taboos that confine him until he transgresses them. I saw the prison, but I did not really feel it until I tried to escape. Academia is much more pleasant than a literal prison, of course, and anybody in a position to complain about the encroachment of political biases on scholarship has lived a charmed life. Nevertheless, academia has become an intellectual prison, and many of the incarcerated professors were therefore compelled to live a dual existence. In public, they either endorsed the prevailing dogmas about race and sex or they kept their thoughts to themselves. In private, they could be more candid, and would sometimes even complain about the more extreme beliefs of their colleagues and pundits who would write about science in the prestige media.

That’s a paragraph from the recent Quillette article “Academic Exile, Two Years On,” in which Bo Winegard describes how even as a student with mostly far-left political beliefs he ran afoul of the rigid orthodoxy that has captured higher education and punishes people who question any portion of the reigning dogma.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 29, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

What I couldn’t see

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The cedar sage (Salvia roemeriana) in wooded areas of my neighborhood was out in force by the middle of April. I found plenty of those plants to photograph in Great Hills Park, and then on April 17th I spent time with a group of them on a rocky embankment along Morado Circle. It’s not unusual to see cedar sage flowers that have fallen off, but one really caught my attention—and caught is an apt word. The flower had landed on a leaf and miraculously was standing upright. I assumed the base of the fallen flower had happened to land in a small hole in the leaf, and that accounted for the flower’s apparent defiance of gravity. After taking some pictures of the prodigy I touched it, and only then from the way it swung about did I realize that a strand of spider silk, still invisible to me, had kept the flower from falling over. My 100mm macro lens and camera sensor resolved the strand of silk that my unaided eyes couldn’t see. Now your eyes get to see it. They also get to see some nearby cedar sage buds that had begun opening.



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As much as I’ve been the bearer of reassurance in my photographs from nature, I’ve also been the bearer of increasingly dismal social news in my commentaries. For the past decade, and especially since the moral panic of 2020, “wokeism” has rapidly been taking over our institutions. Medicine is no exception. Some professors of medicine have taken to denying biological sex. Medical schools are already plotting to make gender ideology and racist ideology required parts of their curriculum. Faculty and staff who won’t pledge fealty to those delusional and hateful things will risk getting fired, and people who apply to work there but don’t show evidence of sufficiently “woke” fervor won’t get hired in the first place. Medical students will face the same kinds of pressure. You can read the distressing details in John D. Sailer’s article on the website of the National Association of Scholars.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 5, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Calderón de la Barca comes to Austin

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When I walked in our untended back and side yard on April Fool’s Day I wasn’t fooled: I recognized a good half-dozen native species that had come up on their own, including this Carolina geranium (Geranium corolinianum). Apropos the foliage supporting that flower, look at this passage from Pedro Calderón de la Barca‘s 1632 play La Banda y la Flor (The Scarf and the Flower):

La verde es color primera
Del mundo, y en quien consiste
Su hermosura, pues se viste
De verde la primavera.
La vista más lisonjera
Es aquel verde ornamento,
Pues sin voz y con aliento
Nacen de varios colores
En cuna verde las flores
Que son estrellas del viento.

Green is the primary color
Of the world, and the reason
For its beauty is that
Spring dresses in green.
That green ornamentation
Is the most flattering view,
Because without voice but with breath
A green cradle gives birth to flowers,
Which are the wind’s stars.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 11, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Texas mountain laurel buds

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On March 18 at McKinney Roughs Nature Park in Bastrop County the buds of a Texas mountain laurel bush were opening. The familiar scientific name Sophora secundiflora has given way to Dermatophyllum secundiflorum.


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People claim lots of things, some seemingly more far-fetched than others. When Copernicus in the 1500s and then other scientists in the 1600s claimed that the earth goes around the sun, rather than the other way around, many people didn’t believe it. It seemed counter to the daily experience of watching the sun move in an arc through the sky above a seemingly immobile earth. Evidence, particularly after telescopes got perfected, eventually showed that the strange claim was true.

In October of 2020, shortly before that year’s presidential election in the United States, the New York Post broke a story saying that Hunter Biden, the son of then-presidential candidate Joe Biden, had brought a laptop computer to a repair shop in Delaware but had never returned to pick it up. As happens in such cases, the unclaimed laptop then became the property of the repair shop’s owner. The laptop per se wasn’t especially valuable, but the data on it was. The laptop’s hard drive contained many photographs showing Hunter Biden doing drugs and cavorting with prostitutes. More importantly, the hard drive also contained e-mails implying that Hunter Biden was getting lots of money from foreign sources in the expectation of access to or influence with Joe Biden.

Given that the main American elections take place early in November, the story could plausibly have been what people have come to call an “October surprise”: condemnatory “information” that a partisan reveals to the public shortly before the election in an attempt to influence people not to vote for the candidate that the partisan opposes. For example, one month before Election Day in 2016 came the release of the Access Hollywood videotape in which candidate Donald Trump was seen speaking lewdly about women. The tape was real, not a fake, and it probably did influence some people not to vote for Trump.

Now let’s return to the 2020 Hunter Biden laptop story. The first question a responsible person would ask is whether the story was true. Might anti-Biden partisans have made it up in an attempt to discredit candidate Biden? Such fakery does sometimes happen, after all, so initially we can’t rule out that possibility—politics is hardly known for its nobility, is it?

Unfortunately, people at many traditional news outlets immediately claimed that the Hunter Biden laptop story was “Russian disinformation,” yet they never brought forth any evidence to prove that it was Russian disinformation. Worse, the social media platforms Facebook and Twitter suppressed even any discussion of the claim, with Twitter going so far as to completely lock the account of the New York Post, the oldest American newspaper still in print.

As becomes an ethical news organization, the New York Post had offered plenty of evidence that the Hunter Biden story was true. The mainstream media not only refused to consider it, but claimed with no evidence that the story was false. That was unethical.

And then there were the 51 former “intelligence” officials who signed a letter saying the Hunter Biden laptop story “has the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” They admitted they had no evidence that that’s what it was but kept pushing the disinformation conjecture anyhow. With all their connections, couldn’t they at least have asked around among their current counterparts to find out what they knew about the story and what they were doing to check its authenticity? Actually the letter writers didn’t even have to do that: soon after the letter appeared, the DNI (Director of National Intelligence) and the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) announced that the Hunter Biden laptop story was not Russian disinformation. That made no difference to the many people pushing the “Russian disinformation” narrative.

This past week the New York Times unexpectedly ran a story about Hunter Biden. As the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board put put it on March 18: “The Times waddled in this week with a story on the ‘tax affairs’ of the President’s son, including this gem in the 24th paragraph: ‘Those emails were obtained by The New York Times from a cache of files that appears to have come from a laptop abandoned by Mr. Biden in a Delaware repair shop. The email and others in the cache were authenticated by people familiar with them and with the investigation.” Notice that the admission occurred only in the 24th paragraph of that story. Talk about burying the lead. Apparently the Times figured that that confirmation just barely qualified as part of “all the news that’s fit to print.”

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 21, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Turn-of-the-year wildflowers in my neighborhood

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Ageratina havanensis is a native bush known as shrubby boneset, Havana snakeroot, white mistflower, and fragrant mistflower. Field guides for central Texas note that it blooms in the fall. So it does, including very late in the fall, as confirmed by the buds-and-flowers view above from December 16th in my neighborhood. At the same time that new buds were emerging and opening, some of the flower heads were already going to seed, like the ones in the picture below.

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Eleven months ago Glenn Loury delivered a lecture. After recounting details of three murders in Chicago on the most recent Memorial Day weekend, he said:

All of the victims were black people. Sixty-three shot, six dead, one weekend, one city. Here’s the thing: reports such as this could be multiplied dozens of times, effortlessly. If a black intellectual truly believes that “Black Lives Matter,” then what is he supposed to say in response to such nauseating reports—that “there is nothing to see here”? I think not.

Violence on such a scale involving blacks as both perpetrators and victims poses a dilemma to someone like myself. On the one hand, as the Harvard legal scholar Randall Kennedy has observed, we elites need to represent the decent law-abiding majority of African Americans cowering fearfully inside their homes in the face of such violence. We must do so not just to enhance our group’s reputation as in the “politics of respectability” but mainly as a precondition for our own dignity and self-respect.

On the other hand, we elites must also counter the demonization of young black men which the larger American culture has for some time now been feverishly engaged in. Even as we condemn murderers, we cannot help but view with sympathy the plight of many poor youngsters who, though not incorrigible, have nevertheless committed crimes. We must wrestle with complex historical and contemporary causes internal and external to the black experience that help to account for this pathology. (There’s no way around it. This is pathology. The behavior in question here is not okay. That one can adduce social-psychological explanations does not resolve all moral questions.)

Where is the self-respecting black intellectual to take his stand? Must he simply act as a mouthpiece for movement propaganda aiming to counteract “white supremacy”? Has he anything to say to his own people about how some of us are living? Is there space in American public discourses for nuanced, subtle, sophisticated moral engagement with these questions? Or are they mere fodder for what amount to tendentious, cynical, and overtly politically partisan arguments on behalf of something called “racial equity”? And what about those so-called “white intellectuals”? Do they have to remain mute? Or, must they limit themselves to incanting anti-racist slogans?

Professor Loury goes on to discuss what he calls unspeakable truths about the situation:

  • Downplaying behavioral disparities by race is actually a “bluff.”
  • “Structural racism” isn’t an explanation, it’s an empty category.
  • We must put the police killings of black Americans into perspective.
  • There is a dark side to the “white fragility” blame game.
  • There is an infantilization of “black fragility.”

You can read his analysis on each of those in the full speech in a Quillette article. In fact it was the most viewed article Quillette had in 2021. You can’t go wrong reading the other top nine as well.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 4, 2022 at 4:41 AM

Bright red near the end of the year

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Here’s a new botanical red from the last month of the year: pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), whose stalks can be as richly colorful as anything in nature. On December 8th in Balcones District Park, after happily portraying the flowers on a new [to me] species of winecup, I spent time with this pokeweed plant that had even put out buds and a flower. If you look closely at the lowest lobe of the flower you’ll see what appear to be two insect eggs.

And speaking of entomology, the etymologist in me feels compelled to add that while it’s true you could get a poke from pokeweed if you’re not as careful as I was when I leaned through the branches of this bush to take my pictures, the poke in pokeweed is a different word. It comes from pocan, a dialectal version of a Virginia Algonquian term. In fact it’s the same word that has given us puccoon. That’s the true explanation; I’m not selling you a pig in a poke, which is yet a third unrelated poke in English.


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If you’ve never read “The Gift of the Magi,” by O. Henry (who lived in Austin), you should.
It’s only six pages long. Go for it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 25, 2021 at 4:34 AM

Frostweed flowers and buds

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Starting in September and still continuing, frostweed (Verbesina virginica) has been flowering in many places around Austin. This portrait comes from near Bull Creek on September 30th.

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Silly me expects the news media to examine the evidence and tell the truth.

A week ago today was election day in the United States. One race that people particularly focused on was the governorship of Virginia. Because the state just one year earlier had gone for the Democratic candidate for president of the United States by a margin of some 10 percentage points, the Democratic candidate for governor, former governor Terry McAuliffe, was favored to win last week over the Republican challenger, political novice Glenn Youngkin.

One issue that became especially hot in the final month of the campaign was education. Support for Youngkin surged after McAuliffe said in a debate at the end of September that he does not believe parents should tell schools what to teach. “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision.” Thanks in part—perhaps a large part—to those statements by McAuliffe, Youngkin ended up winning the race for governor by about 2 percentage points.

One educational point of contention in the campaign had been the way in which public school teachers have been increasingly teaching their subjects through a “lens” of power differentials and hierarchies of groups defined by race and gender. That treatment categorizes each individual as “privileged” or “oppressed” according to the supposed status of the groups the individual happens to be a part of. There’s no one agreed-upon name for that kind of emphasis on power and race and gender, but many people have taken to calling it Critical Race Theory, or CRT, a term that originally appeared in higher education in the 1970s. I discussed this back on August 9th. In that commentary I pointed out how some of the people in politics and education who are pushing CRT have resorted to the sophistic defense that what they’re promoting is not actually CRT. I mentioned as an example of that denial the head of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and then I linked to an AFT document showing that the group does indeed promote CRT and is mobilizing to fight opponents of CRT.

The same sort of untrue denial of Critical Race Theory in the schools came up in the Virginia gubernatorial race, where McAuliffe and his supporters, including many commenters in the legacy media, insisted that the state’s public schools do not use CRT. McAuliffe called Critical Race Theory a “racist dog whistle” that has “never been taught in Virginia.” But all it takes is a look at the Virginia Department of Education’s website to confirm that the deniers were and still are lying. For example, on the page of memos from the Superintendent of Schools for 2019, memo 050-19 is a document entitled “Resources to Support Student and Community Dialogues on Racism.” That document endorses the book Foundations of Critical Race Theory in Education. Or go to a different place on the Department of Education’s website to see the slide presentation entitled “Legal Implications of School Discipline.” Slide 22 says “Incorporate Critical Race Theory (CRT) Lens.” Christopher Rufo has documented these and other examples.

And yet on election night, as it became clearer and clearer that Youngkin would win, commenters on networks like MSNBC and CNN still kept insisting that CRT “isn’t real,” even with the ready accessibility of public evidence that it is.

Even worse, some people on those networks claimed that the election of the Republican candidate for vice-president of Virginia, Winsome Sears, was proof of white supremacy—despite the fact that Winsome Sears, a black immigrant from Jamaica, is now the first woman ever elected to that office in Virginia. In addition, commenters in the legacy media often avoided mentioning that Republican Jason Miyares, who won Virginia’s election for attorney general, is the son of a Cuban immigrant. Apparently Virginia is home to some very incompetent or very confused white supremacists, who chose “people of color” for two of the top three positions in the election. Talk about delusion in the media!

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 9, 2021 at 4:51 AM

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