Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘fall foliage

What a bright blue sky is good for

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On the gorgeously clear and mild (70°F, 21°C) afternoon of November 28th I lay on the ground at Meadow Lake Park in Round Rock and aimed up at this bald cypress tree (Taxodium distichum) whose foliage had turned the reddish brown we expect at this time of year. Getting low and aiming upward served several photographic purposes: 1) to include as much as possible of the bluest part of the sky and play it off against the warm-colored foliage 2) to exclude nearby houses, poles, wires, and other human elements 3) to create a portrait that was simple in its composition and its colors. I also used the bright sky as a backdrop for the aster (Symphyotrichum sp.) shown below.


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A human interest story:

Mom Forced to Give Up Newborn Son 66 Years Ago Tracks Him and Her Granddaughter With DNA Test

Isn’t it strange that “She even has a cat named Bonnie, as I do”?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 3, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Sunlight from behind versus flash from in front

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Behold two takes on flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata, from November 1st along Spicewood Springs Rd. In the top view I took advantage of the sun in front of me for backlighting; in the other picture I used flash. You might say the second view isn’t “natural,” but then neither is photography.

Only when processing the pictures a couple of weeks after I took them did I notice some sort of translucent insect. You can make it out near the center of the lower photograph. Higher up you can also make out a tiny lacewing egg attached by a filament to one of the leaflets. Now that you’re aware of those two things, you can also see them in the top picture.

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The other day I learned about an important court case from 2008 involving free speech. It’s described in an Inside Higher Ed article and you can watch a half-hour video about it produced by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 29, 2021 at 4:31 AM

After Lost Maples

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You’ve heard that on November 10th we spent a couple of hours at Lost Maples, disappointed that the fall foliage this year fell far short of what we’d seen there in 2014. Our route home took us along TX 39 by the Guadalupe River, which also proved not as fall-ful as in 2014. Finally, coming northeast from Kerrville along TX 16, Eve spotted something off to the side that I as the driver with my eyes glued to the road in front of me had missed: three strands of brightly reddened Virginia creeper vines (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) climbing diagonal branches of a live oak tree. I made a U-turn and went back to do my photographic thing. Later I thought about wordplayfully labeling the view “Red-olent of fall.”


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UPDATE. After yesterday’s commentary appeared, I was made aware of a Newsweek opinion piece entitled “I’m a Black Ex-Felon. I’m Glad Kyle Rittenhouse Is Free.”


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It’s not unusual on intelligence tests to see a question like this: What’s the next number in the sequence 2, 4, 6, …? All such questions are inherently invalid because they incorrectly assume there’s only one right next number or even one “most likely” next number. A better question would be: Give a possible next number in the sequence and a reason to justify it. For instance, if you say the next number is 8, a reason would be that you’re continuing with the consecutive even integers. If you say the next number is 9, you could be following the rule that each new number has to be larger than the one before it. If you say the next number is 6, you could be following the rule that each new number has to be at least as large as the one before it. If you say the next number is 1, a reason could be that every number in the sequence has to be a positive integer. If you say the next number is 50, a reason could be that the English-language word for every number in the sequence has to begin with a consonant. If you say the next number is 7, you could be alternating between numerals that have a curve in them and numerals that are written entirely with straight strokes.

One* lesson to take from this is that many possible explanations exist for an occurrence. If it’s important to know how or why something happened—as for example in a legal trial—then we have to investigate and try to find the actual explanation for the occurrence. Jumping to a conclusion without enough evidence can and does lead to mistakes and to injustices.

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* I started to write “The lesson to take from this” but I realized I’d be making the very mistake I’m cautioning against because more than one lesson could be drawn from this discussion. One obvious point is the one I suggested at the outset: people who design tests should stop asking what the next number in a sequence is. Another lesson I could go on to elaborate—and used to when I taught high school math but will spare you the details of here—is that if you tell me what you want the fourth number to be, within a few minutes I can come up with an algebraic formula such that when you put 1 into the formula it produces the value 2; when you put 2 into the formula it produces the value 4; when you put 3 into the formula it produces the value 6; and when you put 4 into the formula it produces the value you wanted for the fourth number. In fact I can come up with as many formulas as I like that will produce the same four values—a reality that reconfirms the important idea that there can be more than one explanation for something.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 24, 2021 at 4:22 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Lost Maples 2021

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Turns out that 2021 hasn’t been a good year for fall foliage at Lost Maples State Park, which lies about 160 miles west-southwest of our home in Austin. We spent over three hours driving there on November 10th, only to hear from the ranger at the entrance when we arrived that while 2020 had been very good, this year a lot of the leaves were turning brown and falling off. Still, I did what I could. The pleasant scene above caught my attention because it embraces two things: several already bare flameleaf sumacs (Rhus lanceolata) still adorned with prominent fruit clusters, and a few bigtooth maples (Acer grandidentatum) whose leaves were among the more colorful ones we saw of that species there this year. The branches below, festooned with ball moss (Tillandsia recurvata), give you a closer look at some bigtooth maple leaves turning colors

None of the trees we observed there this year came close to the display they put on during our 2014 visit.


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Facts Matter

I’ve prefaced a couple of my recent commentaries by saying that I strive for accuracy. I’ve asked anyone who catches an incorrect statement of fact to let me know and to point me to a reliable source of information so I can correct my mistake. Who wouldn’t want to get things right?

Alas, many mainstream news outlets in recent years haven’t been so conscientious, despite (presumably) having an ethical code that requires the checking of facts. The Kyle Rittenhouse trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which concluded last week with a jury acquittal on all charges, is a recent example. Those charges were for four shootings by Rittenhouse, two of which were fatal, one of which wounded a man, and one of which missed. Rittenhouse claimed self-defense, and the jury concluded that prosecutors had failed to provide evidence to disprove self-defense. In the more than a year leading up to the trial, many media outlets had been making factually false claims about what occurred.

One much-repeated false claim was that Rittenhouse had carried a rifle across state lines. It turned out that Rittenhouse, who lived in Illinois, actually crossed into Wisconsin without a gun, then retrieved the gun from storage in Wisconsin. Another claim was that Rittenhouse, 17 years old at the time, wasn’t legally allowed to carry the kind of rifle he carried. When people finally checked the relevant statute in Wisconsin, they found the statute did not prevent Rittenhouse from carrying the kind of gun that he did.

Another much-repeated false claim was that Rittenhouse chased after the people he ended up shooting, as if he had been out hunting for innocent people to kill. The evidence presented at trial showed that actually all of those people had chased Rittenhouse, who shot them only after they attacked him first.

Aside from outright false statements, many media outlets slanted their coverage of the case to such an extent that readers and viewers came away with a false understanding of what had happened. The repeated harping about crossing state lines—notice the plural—was intended to give the impression that Rittenhouse had traveled through a bunch of states to carry out some nefarious action far from home in a place where he had no reason to be. Conveniently not mentioned was that only a single state line was involved, the one between Illinois and Wisconsin just a few miles from Rittenhouse’s home. (It’s the same state line I crossed a bunch of times in 2016 when we stayed at two hotels in far northeast Illinois and took day trips into Wisconsin, including Kenosha.) Also rarely mentioned in most media was the fact that Rittenhouse had been spending plenty of time in Kenosha; his father and a close friend live there; he was working as a lifeguard in Kenosha County. It takes just half an hour to drive to Kenosha from Rittenhouse’s home in Antioch, Illinois—about the same time as the average American spends commuting to work.

Many media outlets failed to mention that all of the people Rittenhouse shot were convicted criminals, not the “protestors” or “heroes” that some tried hard to portray them as. Here’s a summary of their backgrounds: “Rosenbaum was a registered sex offender [he’d raped boys] who was out on bond for a domestic abuse battery accusation and was caught on video acting aggressively earlier that night. Huber was a felon convicted in a strangulation case who was recently accused of domestic abuse. Grosskreutz was convicted of a crime for use of a firearm while intoxicated and was armed with a handgun when shot (he testified in court that he carried it concealed despite having an expired permit; Wisconsin law requires a valid permit to carry a weapon concealed).” That’s from a Wisconsin Right Now article, which offers documentation to back up the summary and also goes into much more detail. And the fact remains that all three of the people who got shot had taken part in a riot.

There was a huge campaign to racialize the case, despite the fact that Rittenhouse and the three people he shot were all white—an inconvenient truth that many accounts purposely failed to mention. American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, said last week that the three largest newspapers in Brazil had all been reporting that the men Rittenhouse shot were black, an impression the Brazilian newspapers had incorrectly picked up from the way so many American sources had reported the events.

It’s a sad state of affairs that even after all the evidence presented in the televised trial, some people in the media are still making factually untrue statements about the case. You can read more about that in an Epoch Times article.

Opinions, of course, differ from facts, and people often draw different conclusions even from agreed-upon facts. I think most people, including me, will agree that a 17-year-old with a powerful rifle shouldn’t have gone to a riot thinking that he could offer aid and protect stores. The fact that he felt he needed to help is an indictment of the authorities in Wisconsin, especially the governor, who had done and continued to do little to stop the nights of rioting that ended up causing tens of millions of dollars in damage in Kenosha.

UPDATE. After this commentary appeared, I was made aware of a Newsweek opinion piece entitled “I’m a Black Ex-Felon. I’m Glad Kyle Rittenhouse Is Free.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 23, 2021 at 4:31 AM

Two sources of fall color together

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Leaves of the mustang grape vine (Vitis mustangensis) tend to turn yellow or even orange, as you see here from FM 2222 just west of Loop 360 a year ago today. That the mustang grape above chose to change colors on one of our most red-turning species, prairie flameleaf sumac (Rhus lanceolata), was a happy coincidence for this photographer. The second picture, taken near by, shows that mustang grape vines can climb high enough to cover a tree.

Individual mustang grape leaves sometimes turn yellow at other times of the year, as the one below
did on August 25, 2020; backlighting enhanced the colors and brought out details in the venation.


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“You need to understand history because history is all about you.” That was one memorable comment by Jordan Peterson in a nearly two-hour discussion with Heather MacDonald, hosted by Stephen Blackwood, that took place in February 2020 on the topic of higher education, and specifically about what the ‘higher’ of ‘higher education’ means.

If you have the time, I recommend that passionate conversation, which takes place at a high plane yet remains comprehensible and rewarding. (Jordan Peterson’s first answer is long, from about 5:00 to about 17:00 in the video, so if your time is limited you may want to skip that section.)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 8, 2021 at 3:28 AM

Two takes on amberique bean

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Not so long ago I showed an August 22nd picture of amberique bean (Strophostyles helvula or helvola) and I mentioned not often seeing that plant around Austin. Well, on September 30th near Bull Creek I found some more. By then the yellowing leaves offered a bit of early fall color.


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Why don’t things that are easily fixed get fixed?

Non-fiction books used to have footnotes. As “foot” implies, each footnote appeared at the bottom of a page and corresponded to a sentence higher up on the same page. That made it easy to match the little number at the end of a sentence with the matching numbered footnote below. For whatever reason—perhaps because book designers prefer pages to have a single kind of formatting—footnotes have now mostly given way to endnotes, which appear as a group at the back of the book.

One immediate disadvantage to using endnotes is that if you want to see a note you can’t just look down at the bottom of the page but have to flip to the back of the book and hunt for the matching note. Complicating the search is that the numbering of the notes starts all over with each new chapter, so you have to know which chapter you’re currently in. While some books repeat the title of the chapter at the top of each page or double-page spread, almost no books tell you the number of the chapter at the top of the page. So first you have to thumb back until you find the beginning of the chapter you’re in so you know its number. Then you run into the same problem in the endnotes, where the chapter number is usually given only at the beginning of each section of notes; if the section of notes for a chapter continues for several pages, as often happens, then past the first page of that section you can’t tell what chapter the notes correspond to.

One easy fix for the problem is to put the chapter number at the top of every double-page spread of text and again at the top of every double-page spread of endnotes.

Another fix would be sequential numbering of the notes from the beginning of the book to the end, rather than starting the numbering over with each new chapter—just as page numbers are consecutive and don’t restart with each new chapter. With consecutive numbering of notes, chapter numbers become irrelevant and all you have to do is search for the note number you want in the section at the back. (Some people might object that continuous footnote numbers in a big book could run to four digits, but I have confidence that people who are reading big books with lots of notes in the first place can handle four digits.)

Another solution is the one adopted in the book I’m currently reading, Jonathan Rauch’s The Constitution of Knowledge. Note numbers do start over with each new chapter, but in the notes section at the back of the book, the top of each page tells you what pages in the book the notes match up with, for example “Notes to Pages 238–49.” That way, before turning to the back of the book, all you have to do is see what page of text the number you’re interested in is on, then look for that page number at the end. That eliminates the need to know which chapter a note refers to.

Or, best of all, publishers could just go back to good old footnotes and save us the annoyance of repeatedly flipping back and forth between text and endnotes.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 6, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Our majestic cottonwood trees

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On December 21st, the date of the winter solstice in 2020, I witnessed another display of colorful year-end foliage in the form of two venerable eastern cottonwoods, Populus deltoides subsp. deltoides. Botanist Bill Carr describes the cottonwood tree in Travis County as “uncommon but, due to its massive size, usually conspicuous in gallery woodlands along perennial streams and impoundments.” The two I found were on opposite sides of Pleasant Valley Rd. just south of the Longhorn Dam on the Colorado River. The first picture shows a lower portion of the cottonwood tree on the west side of the road. The other cottonwood, pictured below, had leaves that the different angle of the light made look a little more yellow-orange.

It’s not obvious that some of the leaves were larger than
a person’s face; here’s one in isolation by the Colorado River:

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 2, 2021 at 4:35 AM

When red becomes orange

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Another reliable source of colorful fall foliage in central Texas is the small tree known as rusty blackhaw, Viburnum rufidulum, whose species name means ‘reddish.’ You see it exemplified in the photograph above, taken in Great Hills Park on December 15th. As a reddish color came over those leaves, curiosity came over me, and I wondered what sort of pictures might be possible from behind the tree looking in the opposite direction. Cautiously I worked my way in there and got low to aim partly upward. From the other side the leaves looked more orange due to the sunlight shining through them and perhaps the blue sky beyond:

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 17, 2020 at 4:43 AM

Closer looks at flameleaf sumac’s colorful fall foliage

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⇧ Arterial 8, November 8

⇧ Seton Center Drive, November 15

⇧ Cedar Park, November 18

Rhus lanceolata is the most colorful of the three native sumacs in the Austin area.
Backlighting enhanced those colors in all three pictures.

In the relevant quotation department we have this interchange from Albert Camus’s 1944 play Le malentendu, The Misunderstanding:

Martha: Qu’est-ce que l’automne?
Jan: Un deuxième printemps, où toutes les feuilles sont comme des fleurs.

Martha: “What is autumn?”
Jan: A second spring, when all the leaves are like flowers.

Versions floating around on the Internet glom the question and answer together into a single declarative sentence. Here you get no glomming, only the original.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 24, 2020 at 4:26 AM

Fall foliage at Zion

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On October 23, 2016, we drove west through Zion National Park on our way to Nevada.

You’re looking at three photographs of the park in which fall foliage co-stars with the rock formations.

And from Kolob Terrace Road, which winds its way in and out of the park’s western fringe,
here’s a view of what I take to be burned but becoming maple trees:

It’s autumn again now. Rather than a single quotation about the season, you can harvest a host of them.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 23, 2020 at 4:41 AM

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