Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘drops

From snow to fire

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Yesterday’s post showed you a happy colony of snow-on-the-prairie, Euphorbia bicolor. Now here’s one of its genus-mates, Euphorbia cyathophora, known as fire-on-the-mountain for the bright red of its bracts. Another common name is wild poinsettia, a reference to a more-familiar genus-mate, Euphorbia pulcherrima, that people decorate their places with during the Christmas season.

I photographed this fire-on-the-mountain on the morning of September 11th at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It hadn’t rained, but the staff waters the plants in the central courtyard, and that accounted for the droplets in the photograph.


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I’m reading mathematician Jordan Ellenberg’s new book Shape. Here’s a passage from the first chapter.

We encounter non-proofs in proofy clothing all the time, and unless we’ve made ourselves especially attentive, they often get by our defenses. There are tells you can look for. In math, when an author starts a sentence with “Clearly,” what they are really saying is “This seems clear to me and I probably should have checked it, but I got a little confused, so I settled for just asserting that it was clear.” The newspaper pundit’s analogue is the sentence starting “Surely, we can all agree.” Whenever you see this, you should at all costs not be sure that all agree on what follows. You are being asked to treat something as an axiom*, and if there’s one thing we can learn from the history of geometry, it’s that you shouldn’t admit a new axiom into your book until it really proves its worth.

Always be skeptical when someone tells you they’re “just being logical.” If they are talking about an economic policy or a culture figure whose behavior they deplore or a relationship concession they want you to make, and not a congruence of triangles, they are not “just being logical,” because they’re operating in a context where logical deduction—if it applies at all—can’t be untangled from everything else. They want you to mistake an assertively expressed chain of opinions as the proof of a theorem. But once you’ve experienced the sharp click of an honest-to-goodness proof, you’ll never fall for this again. Tell your “logical “opponent to go square a circle.**

A big reason we surely can’t all agree is that people often use a given term to mean different things. What one person considers a “fair share,” another person takes to be a disproportionate burden. One person uses “justice” to mean a desired outcome, while for another person “justice” means due process and equal treatment. If we don’t start from the same definitions, why would we expect to reach the same conclusions?

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* An axiom is a principle that everyone will take to be true and will use as a starting point to figure out other facts or relationships. For example, one axiom of mathematics is that a whole thing is equal to the sum of its parts. Another axiom is that two things that are each equal to a third thing are equal to each other.

** “Squaring the circle” was a geometric challenge that meant: Using only a compass, a straightedge, and a finite number of steps, construct a square that has the same area as a given circle. For centuries mathematicians tried and failed to figure out how to do that. In 1882, Ferdinand von Lindemann finally proved that squaring the circle is impossible. (So much for the common notion that “You can’t prove a negative. Sometimes you can.)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 19, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Condensation is a natural process

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Let me inaugurate this new year with a different sort of picture from my usual ones. You’ve probably noticed how steam from cooking condenses into drops on the inside of a pot’s lid. When I saw that happening one day, I carefully turned the lid over and laid it on my kitchen counter so I could distill that natural process into an abstract photograph.

When it comes to the new year, we’re all hoping 2021 will make a difference. In fact 2021 is a difference of two squares, 2025 – 4, which is to say (45)2 – (2)2 , and therefore 2021 = (45 – 2) x (45 + 2) = 43 x 47. So I wish you a happy 43 47 times, or a happy 47 43 times.

Years like 2021 in which the second half of the number is 1 bigger than the first half are uncommon, occurring only every 101 years. The previous one was 1920 and the next will be 2122. Very few people live to the age of 101, and only a small fraction of them get to say they’ve been alive in two such years. Anyone still living today who was born in or before 1920 can make that claim. Had actress Olivia de Havilland lived half a year longer she could have, but she died on July 26th of what is now last year at the age of 104.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 1, 2021 at 4:49 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Two disparate emblems from the Blackland Prairie

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On September 7th I headed out to the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision that’s been going up on the west side of Manor for the past few years. Ever on the lookout for new ways to portray familiar subjects, I noticed I could line up the soft bract of a snow-on-the-prairie plant (Euphorbia bicolor) with a sunflower (Helianthus annuus) beyond it, as you see above. I wasn’t the only one plying my trade there: men were working on nearby houses to the accompaniment of Mexican music. Because it was a construction site, I noticed a certain amount of junk lying around on the ground. One thing that caught my fancy was an “empty” and partly scrunched water bottle, inside of which the remaining bits of liquid had evaporated and then re-condensed on the inner surface. Picking up the bottle carefully so as not to dislodge the drops, I photographed the abstraction.

And here’s a quotation relevant to the second picture: “A drop of water, if it could write out its own history, would explain the universe to us.” — Lucy Larcom, The Unseen Friend, 1892.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 9, 2020 at 4:39 AM

Bushy bluestem covered with droplets

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As you heard once before, on the morning of December 3rd last year I set out to get some fog pictures. I didn’t get any, unless you count pictures of plants covered with droplets that had condensed out of the fog. The bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) seed head shown here is another example. If you’re unfamiliar with this native grass that takes on delectable colors and textures in the late fall and winter, you can look at a stand from farther back in space in time.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 6, 2018 at 4:45 AM

Posted in nature photography

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What made the nonagons

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Drops in Spiderweb 8745B

Click for larger size and greater detail.

I believe that light refracted by drops of water caught in the spider’s web you saw last time made the glass elements in my 100mm macro lens produce the nonagonal artifacts that you also saw. What you didn’t see was the drops, so here’s another photograph from the same session at the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, on June 20. Notice that some of the nonagons in this second photograph are elongated.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 27, 2016 at 5:06 AM

A pink evening primrose flower a little farther along

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Pink Evening Primrose Flower Opening 0881

The previous post showed a bud of a pink evening primrose, Oenothera speciosa, beginning to open. Here from Bull Creek Rd. opposite Jackson Ave. on April 14th is a droplet-dappled view of a somewhat more advanced stage. And how about that minuscule insect? It couldn’t have been more than an eighth of an inch (3mm) long.

In the month since I took this picture, pink evening primrose flowers have been a common sight in central Texas. If you’d like a reminder of the way a colony of these flowers can turn a roadside pink, you’re welcome to revisit a picture from last spring.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 12, 2016 at 5:06 AM

Dropped on my head

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Dewdropped Spiderweb Over Rock 9627

If I’d immediately followed up the recent consecutive posts showing drizzle drops around a straggler daisy and then around a funnel web spider, you might have thought I’d been dropped on my head. Now at a decent distance in time from those photographs, here’s a downward-looking view showing dewdrops in a horizontal spiderweb less than half an inch above the parallel rock beneath it. This time the drops themselves are the subject. To see some of the orbs more clearly as little planets unto themselves, and to make out the delicate strands holding them in place, click the excerpt below.

Dewdropped Spiderweb Over Rock 9627A

I took this picture on March 25 off Harold Ct. within sight of the pale blue bluebonnet you recently saw.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 14, 2016 at 5:06 AM

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