Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘clouds

What follows the rain

with 34 comments

After two dry months we finally got a few inches of rain in central Texas two-thirds of the way through August. At various times of the year here what follows shortly after a good rain is rain lilies. So it was that on August 24th I communed with several dozen members of Zephyranthes chlorosolen (formerly designated Cooperia drummondii). In this view the sun was in front of me, so light transluced parts of the flower and cast shadows on other parts. I managed to get far enough below the flower to have it line up with dark clouds. I like the aesthetics of the resulting lofty look.


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If you’ve never watched the famous “Who’s on first?” routine by mid-20th-century comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, you can catch their classic back-and-forth embedded in an August 25th article by Stella Morabito entitled “Pronoun Police Are Playing An Unfunny Game Of ‘Hu’s On First?’” In addition to Morabito’s astute observations about grammar and culture, she suggests a good way to respond when institutions insist that you declare your pronouns: tell them your pronouns are I / me / my / mine / myself. A few of you may recall that back on March 29th I declared my pronouns: her as subject, hoozit’s as possessive, and I as object. That led to the transformation of a conventional utterance into a pronominally genderful one:

After Steve got out of his car, he walked up to Fred, who heard him say in his usual cheerful fashion that he was glad to be there. Fred thanked him for his greeting.

After Steve got out of hoozit’s car, her walked up to Fred, who heard I say in hoozit’s usual cheerful fashion that her was glad to be there. Fred thanked I for hoozit’s greeting.


I did a good job of channeling Abbott and Costello that day.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 29, 2022 at 4:28 AM

Sunflower Sunday again

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Once again from August 14th in the northeast quadrant of US 183 and Mopac here’s a “common” sunflower, Helianthus annuus. The view from behind revealed a curlicue ray floret. Also notice the ant on the stalk.
Have a closer look from a different frame:

As sunflowers dry out, their rays tend to go from yellow to white, and curlicues become more common, as shown below. (And did you know that curlicue is just curly + cue, where cue comes from French queue, meaning ‘tail’? When people queue up for something they form a metaphorical tail.)


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I recently came across Gabriel Nadales’s article “I once hated America, but now I can’t wait to be an American.” The author is a former antifa member who had a change of heart:

To be sure, America has its problems. But as I learned more about America’s ideals and what it aspires to be, a country of equal opportunity, freedom, and civil discourse, I began to find a true sense of belonging. I realized that America is an imperfect nation defined not by our faults but by our accomplishments. It’s a promise to work toward greater equality and freedom for all, regardless of your skin color or background.

This equality of opportunity is exactly the reason I’ve been able to find success as a brown Mexican immigrant. In this country, I am judged by my merits, not my skin color. America has given me the equal opportunity and freedom to choose my own path despite my minority and immigrant status. The idea that I can believe in myself is incredibly empowering.


You’re welcome to read Gabriel Nadales’s full article.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 28, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Two degrees of passing away

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In February of 2021 a days-long freeze killed off all the huisache trees (Vachellia farnesiana) in Austin. I saw no new growth for the rest of that year but am happy to report seeing some green springing up from the wreckage in the past few months, even with our current drought. The broken remains of the huisache tree shown here along John Henry Faulk Dr. on August 1st caught my attention because of the Clematis drummondii vine that had climbed on it and had entered its fluffy stage, with the seed-bearing fibers gradually turning dingy and accounting for the vernacular name old man’s beard. Seen from this angle, the fluffy mound calls to mind—at least to my fluffy mind—the way the main part of Spain looks on a map.


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Last month I quoted from a talk about free speech that Carl Sagan gave in around 1987. The other day I came across another prescient passage, this time from his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 13, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , ,


with 27 comments


During our three-day visit to Dallas last week I accumulated almost no nature photographs: it was a cultural trip that included hours at each of four museums. The only nature pictures I took were on our return, when we stopped at the rest area on Interstate 35 in Hill County. How could I pass up these (mostly) cumulus clouds?




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Two days ago I mentioned that Bari Weiss’s “Common Sense” blog celebrated the Fourth of July with the post “What We Love About America,” in which people, some of them immigrants, told what they love about America. One of those people was David Sabatini, a brilliant and successful cancer researcher who became a victim of the madness that swept through America in 2020 and hasn’t yet subsided. Suzy Weiss wrote about his plight in an article on May 19. Here’s how it begins:

In 2018, David Sabatini was a world-renowned molecular biologist. He was a tenured professor at MIT. He ran a major lab at the Whitehead Institute, overseeing a team of 39 researchers, postdocs and technicians. Their job was to disentangle the mystery of the mTOR signaling pathway, a protein Sabatini had discovered while still in medical school, at Johns Hopkins. The mTOR signaling pathway plays a critical role in tumor development. Figuring out how it works would go a long way toward saving countless lives. 

This was why Sabatini was predicted to win the Nobel Prize. It was how he reeled in between three and four million dollars every year for his lab from the National Institutes of Health, the Pentagon and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, among others. It is why his colleagues have described him to me with words like “genius,” “one of the best scientists alive,” and “a pillar”…..

Today, Sabatini is unemployed and unemployable. No one wants to be associated with him. Those who do risk losing their jobs, publishing opportunities, friends, visas, and huge federal grants. “What wormhole did my life take, to billionaires and protests and being called a sexual predator? What quirk in the universe allowed this to happen?” Sabatini asked me.


   You can read the full article.

You can also watch a nine-minute video in which Suzy Weiss summarizes the David Sabatini story.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 8, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Aotearoa comes to Padre Island

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June 2nd was the first night we spent away from home in the two-and-a-quarter years since the pandemic hit. We drove 200 miles south from Austin to see the sea, or more properly the Gulf of Mexico, which is a branch of the Atlantic Ocean. Our first nature stop on the coast was the Padre Island National Seashore, where both of these dune scenes reminded me of Aotearoa, the Māori name for New Zealand that supposedly means ‘the land of the long white cloud.’ I took these pictures two minutes apart, and although a long white cloud inhabits each one, I went for different photographic treatments.



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Speaking of places with beaches, in a feature that aired on September 27, 2021, Sharyl Attkisson looked at the potential Puerto Rico has to supply pharmaceuticals domestically and thereby lessen the heavy dependence of the United States on foreign countries, most notably China, for our medicines. The nine-minute video focuses on two immigrants, one from Viet Nam and the other from the Dominican Republic, who are opening a pharmaceutical plant in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Credit also goes to the mayor of that town, who shortened the process of getting all the required approvals down to a single day from what would typically take a year (why?!). Have a look.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 7, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Unaccustomed clouds

with 36 comments

While driving back on May 14th from a visit to friends in the foreign country that south Austin sometimes seems to those of us from north Austin, we noticed these unaccustomedly dramatic clouds that I believe meteorologists classify as mammatus. Credit the picture to my iPhone, the only camera I had with me.



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And speaking of the atmosphere, here are four stories about the environment that the Good News Network recently featured:

World’s First Ocean-Assisted Carbon Removal Plant Launched in Hawaii

Scientists Power a Computer Using Only Algae and Daylight to Make the Electricity

Bronx Housing Complex Comes With Giant Machine Stomach to Turn All Food Waste Into Fertilizer

New Google Headquarters Uses ‘Dragonscale’ Solar Panels to Capture Sunlight From All Angles


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman







Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 28, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

Two interesting clouds

with 11 comments

In southeast Austin on April 14th I photographed the oval cloud formation shown above.
Right afterwards I noticed the formation below that reminded me of a feather.



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White guilt has influenced many of America’s racial policies toward a paternalism that makes it difficult for blacks to find their true mettle or to develop a faith in their own capacity to run as fast as others. The most vivid examples of this are the many forms of preferential treatment that come under the heading of affirmative action—an escapist racial policy, I believe, that offers entitlements rather than development to blacks. A preference is not a training program; it teaches no skills, instills no values. It only makes a color a passport. But the worst aspect of racial preferences is that they encourage dependency on entitlements rather than on our own initiative, a situation that has already led many blacks to believe that we cannot have fairness without entitlements. Here one falls into Orwellian doublespeak, where preference means equality. At the heart of this confusion, I believe, is an unspoken black doubt about our ability to compete that is covered over by a preoccupation with racial discrimination. Since there are already laws to protect us against discrimination, preferences only impute a certain helplessness to blacks that diminishes our self-esteem. The self-preoccupied form of white guilt that is behind racial preferences always makes us lower so that we can be lifted up.

Recently Pennsylvania State University launched a program that pays black students for improving their grades—a C to C+ average brings $550, and anything higher brings $1,100. Here is the sort of guilty kindness that kills. What kind of self-respect is a black student going to have as he or she reaches out to take $550 for C work when many white students would be embarrassed by so average a performance? What better way to drive home the nail of inferiority? What more Pavlovian system of conditioning blacks to dependency than shelling out cash for grades? Here black students learn to hustle their victimization rather than overcome it, while their patrons escape with the cheapest sort of innocence. Not all preferential treatment is this insidious, but the same dynamic is always at work when skin color brings entitlement.

That’s from Shelby Steele‘s book The Content of Our Character, published in 1990. Elite white guilt, entitlements, and the claims of perpetual victimization have increased massively in the 32 years since then. During the same period, black students’ objective academic performance has on average remained abysmal. If you want to know how abysmal, check out my commentary from last September, which gives the statistics.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 20, 2022 at 4:30 PM

Posted in nature photography

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Bluebonnet bookends

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On March 28th we set out on what turned into a six-hour, 239-mile quest for wildflowers south and southeast of Austin, where we hoped to find more than the paltry offerings in town so far this spring. Our first photo stop came in what I take to be Mustang Ridge, where a colony of bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) on an embankment along TX 130 ran parallel to a line of distant clouds.

One place we drove a good distance to check out was the field in Dubina that had looked so good on March 29 last year. No luck: the bluebonnets there had come up again, but much more sparsely. Our last stop before turning west and heading for home came on FM 609 a little south La Grange, where Eve spotted a dense colony of bluebonnets with some bright red phlox mixed in. Because the bluebonnets grew in someone’s front yard, and because they looked a lot better than any others we’d seen in the area, I assumed the flowers had been planted. I assumed wrong. The woman who lived there was out on the opposite side of the yard, so Eve went over and struck up a conversation with her. The woman said that the wildflowers come up by themselves in that part of her yard each spring, with some years better than others. This was obviously a good year.


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A few weeks ago I quoted from Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein’s A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century: Evolution and the Challenges of Modern Life. The passage I cited pointed out the dangers of overprotecting children. Later I came across the City Journal article “Bring Back Risk,” by Allison Schrager, that includes this paragraph:

Long before Covid-19, risk-taking was increasingly discouraged. Between 1970 and 2019, the page count of the federal code of regulations on business and industry thickened from 54,000 to more than 185,000. State and local regulations can be even more of an economic burden, especially for small businesses. The number of jobs that required a license, for instance, rose from 5 percent in the 1950s to 22 percent today. Small wonder that the rate of new business creation fell 10 percent between the 1980s and 2018. Other factors influence this decline, including an aging population and changing market structures that reward larger firms, but surveys from the National Federation of Independent Business consistently rank regulatory compliance as a top economic concern. An example of the state and local bureaucratic obstacles that someone launching a small business can face: San Franciscan Jason Yu recently spent over $200,000 seeking permits to open an ice cream shop in 2019, before giving up in frustration.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 30, 2022 at 4:36 AM

Not the Winged Victory of Samothrace

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This is not the Winged Victory of Samothrace. It’s a dried-out piece of Ashe juniper “bone” from northwest Austin on March 5th. The corrugations are typical of Juniperus ashei, as you’ve seen on other occasions here.



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The March 9 Quillette article “The New Great Game,” by Joel Kotkin and Hügo Krüger, offers a sober look at how the follies of governments in Europe and the United States have contributed to the current world crisis, which is going to get worse. The article includes many links to supporting sources.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 10, 2022 at 4:39 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Lost Horizon not always lost

with 20 comments

When the day number was most recently twice the month number, I stationed myself late in the afternoon at a place with a good vista along Lost Horizon Drive in our Great Hills neighborhood and waited for what I hoped would be a colorful sundown. Most of the sky stayed clear, however, which doesn’t make for good sunsets, so I decided to use a long lens to get close looks at the layers of wispy clouds close to the horizon. Zooming in like that to magnify the relatively small band of colorful clouds gave the resulting photographs a lot more drama than a person standing there would have perceived in the scene as a whole; call it not poetic license but photographer’s license.

Thanks to the orientation of the horizon, sunset pictures are usually horizontal, so for variety I experimented with a few vertical takes like the one below that came four minutes after the one above. The second picture excludes the horizon and is therefore also more abstract.


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With regard to the current pandemic, an article from Our World in Data clears up the confusion that some or maybe even many people have about the risk of dying from Covid-19. The easy-to-follow article distinguishes between, and offers simple numerical examples of, three ways to estimate or determine that risk: the case fatality rate, the crude mortality rate, and the infection fatality rate. I wrote “estimate or determine” because only the infection fatality rate is the number we really want to determine. The case fatality rate (which is often reported in the media), like the crude mortality rate, likely misses the true value by a wide margin.


That website’s About page also offers the following insights:


To work towards a better future, we also need to understand how and why the world is changing.

The historical data and research shows that it is possible to change the world. Historical research shows that until a few generations ago around half of all newborns died as children. Since then the health of children has rapidly improved around the world and life expectancy has doubled in all regions. Progress is possible. 

In other important ways global living conditions have improved as well. While we believe this is one of the most important facts to know about the world we live in, it is known by surprisingly few. 

Instead, many believe that global living conditions are stagnating or getting worse and much of the news media’s reporting is doing little to challenge this perception. It is wrong to believe that one can understand the world by following the news alone and the media’s focus on single events and things that go wrong can mean that well-intentioned people who want to contribute to positive change become overwhelmed, hopeless, cynical and in the worst cases give up on their ideals. Much of our effort throughout these years has been dedicated to countering this threat.

Researching how it was possible to make progress against large problems in the past allows us to learn. Progress is possible, but it is not a given. If we want to know how to reduce suffering and tackle the world’s problems we should learn from what was successful in the past.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 8, 2021 at 4:38 AM

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