Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘dry

Sinuous, dry, mysterious

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A bit of mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea) was flowering in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on August 14th. Even more than the fresh flowers, this sinuous dry seed stalk caught my photographic fancy.


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I call your attention to Harlyn De Luna’s August 8th article for The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, “Speech isn’t violence; it’s how we avoid it.” The article is in line with something I’ve been pointing out in recent commentaries: the way transgressive activists do violence to our language by pushing to redefine familiar words in ideological ways. Among the most flagrant attempts at redefinition have been man, woman, and mother. De Luna’s article focuses on another: violence. The word’s meaning has always been grounded in physical force, even if writers have used it metaphorically from time to time (as I did two sentences ago when I wrote about doing violence to our language). Now activists want to sever the word from physical reality altogether, so that any idea they disagree with is automatically “violence.” They even go one step further with the rhyming slogan “Silence is violence.” Not only does saying something that the activists disagree with count as violence, so does saying nothing at all. You must mouth the statements they want you to mouth or else you’re committing an act of violence.

You’re welcome to read Harlyn De Luna’s article about that.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 19, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Posted in nature photography

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The wild remains of wild onions

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There’s a little stretch along upper Bull Creek where wild onions (Allium canadense var. canadense) flourish. Though I didn’t go there this spring when they were fresh, I stopped by on June 25th and found that the upper parts of the dried plants had taken on some rather wild shapes. You’re looking at two of them.



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“Science and Civil Liberties: The Lost ACLU Lecture of Carl Sagan”

That’s the title of a July 1st article in Quillette by Steven Pinker and Harvey Silverglate. Steven Pinker is a psychologist, linguist, and best-selling author of many books, most recently Rationality: Why It Seems Scarce and Why It Matters. Harvey Silverglate is a criminal defense and civil liberties litigator, as well as a co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). His website says he has been “taking unpopular stances since 1967.”

In the Quillette article, those two have resurrected an “uncannily prescient” speech that astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan (1934–1996) gave to the Illinois state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in around 1987. “Sagan spoke prophetically of the irrationality that plagued public discourse, the imperative of international cooperation, the dangers posed by advances in technology, and the threats to free speech and democracy in the United States.” Here’s a portion of what Carl Sagan said:

The conclusion is that we desperately need error-correcting mechanisms. We are fallible. We’re only human. We make mistakes. We have a set of new technologies that, in many cases, we barely know how to control. Those in charge pretend otherwise. The question is how do we make sure that the most serious sorts of errors do not occur?

Now there is another area of human activity that has to face the same issues, and that’s the area called science. Science has devised a set of rules of thinking, of analysis, which, although there are exceptions in individual cases (scientists being humans just like everybody else), nevertheless, on average, are responsible for the remarkable progress of science.

And you all know, certainly, what these rules are. Things like arguments from authority have little weight. Like contentions have to be demonstrable. Like experiments must be repeatable. Like vigorous substantive debate is encouraged and is considered the lifeblood of science. Like serious critical thinking and skepticism addressed to new and even old claims is not just permissible, but is encouraged, is desirable, is the lifeblood of science. There is a creative tension between openness to new ideas and rigorous skeptical scrutiny.

This set of habits of thought could also, in principle, contribute to the kind of error-correction mechanism that is desperately needed in the society that we are generating. In public affairs, this sort of error-correction machinery in our society is institutionalized in the Constitution. It’s institutionalized, first of all, in the separation of powers, and secondly, in the civil liberties, especially in the first 10 amendments to the Constitution: the Bill of Rights.

The founding fathers mistrusted government power, and they had very good reason to, as do we. This is why they tried to institutionalize the separation of powers, the right to think, the right to speak, to be heard, to assemble, to complain to the government about its abuses, to be able to vote or impeach malefactors out of office.


You can read Carl Sagan’s full speech in the Quillette article.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman







Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 4, 2022 at 4:26 AM

Taut strings and other imaginings

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Algae Strands Dried Out 3036

The algae you saw beginning to dry out in the previous post’s first photograph appeared to consist of strings, but those strings were crumpled, presumably because there had been no strong flow in that part of the creek. The second photograph in that post showed somewhat straighter and drier but still mostly green algae.

Now contrast those patches of algae with the ones in today’s post, which are likewise from a tributary of Bull Creek. In today’s first photograph you see dried and stretched-out strings of algae that retained the imprint of a once-fast current. Note several sycamore seeds (Platanus occidentalis) tangled in the algae strands.

Here’s another picture from that same January 29th session in which the algae are so finely swept that you might think you’re looking at the grain in wood or the strata in rocks:

Finely Swept Algae 2950

And finally, in a third straight-down view, the picture below offers up curves and feathery structures in dried algae, as well as intricately delicate forms that could pass for cobwebs. This photograph kept reminding me of a fossil of Archaeopteryx, and then also of the Escher lithograph Drawing Hands.

Algae Drying Out 2985

So ends a three-part trip into pallor. Color comes crashing back in tomorrow.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 17, 2016 at 4:48 AM

Monochrome marsh fleabane colony

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Marsh Fleabane Colony Dried Out 9901

I found this expansively monochrome colony of marsh fleabane, Pluchea odorata, gone to seed and drying out in the also drying bed of Devine Lake in Leander on November 26th.

Goodbye, 2014. We won’t see you again.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 31, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Mexican hat with a curious loop

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Mexican Hat Seed Head Remains with Looped Stem 8351A

Do you remember what a Mexican hat, Ratibida columnifera, looks like? If not, you’re welcome to look back at a fresh one flowering. In the dry state shown in today’s post, not much remains of the hat or the outer part of its column, but the stalk calls unusual attention to itself by the curious way it formed a tight loop and then a broad arc that together rotated the head more than 360° with respect to the approximately vertical part coming up from the ground.

As was true for the photograph of flameleaf sumac in the previous post, the date was December 17th, 2013, and the place was the right-of-way beneath the power lines to the west of Morado Circle in my Great Hills neighborhood.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 1, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Marsh fleabane: a closer look

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Pluchea odorata Turned Fluffy 2720

Click for more clarity.

In the last post you saw a drying colony of marsh fleabane, Pluchea odorata, at Devine Lake Park in Leander on November 19, 2013. Here’s a much closer look at a single one of those plants. The gone-to-seed fuzziness is typical of many species in the Asteraceae, the huge botanical family that includes sunflowers, daisies, asters, and many plants whose flowers don’t look like those better-known ones.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 6, 2014 at 1:04 PM

Marsh fleabane colony gone to seed

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Pluchea odorata Colony Turned Fluffy 2690

Click for greater clarity and larger size.

One reason for Pluchea odorata to be called marsh fleabane is that it grows on marshy ground. I found this drying colony at Devine Lake Park in Leander on November 19, 2013. Monotone isn’t necessarily monotonous, but if you’d like a colorful reminder of what one of these plants looks like when fresh, you can take a look back at a post from the early months of this column.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 6, 2014 at 6:06 AM

One consequence of cattails coming undone

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Cattail Fluff Covering Dry Plant 4240

In the previous post you saw the way a cattail, Typha domingensis, was coming undone. Nearby I noticed a dried-out plant that had had a scaffolding of cattail seeds and fluff erected around it by the wind. The site of this sight was a sump on Samsung Blvd. in northeast Austin on August 12. If you double that 12, and if you’re interested in photography as a craft, you’ll find that point 24 in About My Techniques is relevant to this photograph.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 21, 2013 at 6:01 AM

Purple leatherflower releasing its seeds

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Clematis pitcheri Core with Few Seeds Left 4509

Click for greater clarity.

And now here’s a look at a Clematis pitcheri, or purple leatherflower, at the stage where one of the vine’s drying seed cores has loosened its hold on many of its mature seeds and has left only a few still hanging on. Once again you’re welcome to compare this to the much more common Clematis drummondii when it’s at a similar stage.

This picture is the last you’ll be seeing from my visit to Hamilton Pool Preserve on August 19th. The photograph’s background color is from the Pedernales River, which this purple leatherflower vine overlooked from a bluff.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 19, 2013 at 1:06 PM

Mountain pink eradicated

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Mountain Pink Dried Out Against Sky 3427A

Click for greater clarity.

On July 30th, a month ago today, I was walking through a still-undeveloped property in northwest Austin when I came across a mountain pink, Centaurium beyrichii, which was normal in the way it had dried out but abnormal in two other respects: something had pulled the plant, root and all, out of the ground; and something, perhaps the same agent that caused the eradication, had flattened the plant. So there I found it, flat on the ground, looking forlorn, not a great subject for a photograph. I picked the plant up, held it out in front of me at arm’s length—why aren’t my arms longer?—and photographed it, as shown here, against that day’s wispy sky. The plant’s brightness may make you think that I used flash, but the only illumination came from the noontime sun.

If you’d like a reminder of what this species is like when it’s fresh—and not just as a background the way it appeared in yesterday morning’s photograph—you can have a look upward from afar at some plants on a cliff or closely downward at a flowering dome. And for the large majority of you who weren’t visiting this blog in the second week of its existence in June of 2011, I invite you to see what a mountain pink bud looks like.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 30, 2013 at 6:09 AM

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