Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘grass

Inland sea oats looking different

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I’ve often photographed seed head arcs of inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), and my post on January 16th showed two views of this grass’s leaves looking backlitly colorful. I commented then that although the species name latifolium means ‘wide leaf,’ I’d never considered inland sea oats leaves particularly wide. Now I get to add that not until walking the Upper Bull Creek Greenbelt Trail on Valentine’s Day had I ever seen a leaf of this grass as tightly rolled up along its axis as the one you see here. It pointed not only to the farthest seed head but also to the fact that nothing would keep me from photographing so distinctive a leaf.

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Yesterday morning I successfully woke up. I successfully got out of bed and successfully made my way to my computer, which I successfully bought three years ago. I successfully looked at e-mails that had successfully come in overnight, and I successfully replied to some of them. Then I successfully went into the kitchen, where I not long ago successfully got the fluorescent light fixtures successfully replaced. Nearby was the toaster oven I successfully ordered last month. After its arrival I’d successfully removed it from its shipping box, successfully unwrapped it, successfully put it on a counter, successfully plugged it in, and successfully turned it on. Since then we’ve successfully cooked various foods in it and successfully eaten those foods.

What I’m getting at is that increasingly many people feel obliged to attach the word successfully to routine actions. For example, in January I sent an e-mail to a company after I kept getting billed each month for a subscription I’d canceled. The first reply I got said: “The escalation form has been successfully submitted to Gannett Subscriber Services Team.” Notice the unnecessary successfully.

One place where I think almost everyone has encountered this is on websites that require you to log in. After you log out, you almost invariably get a message with wording like “You have successfully logged out.” Logging out of a website is hardly special enough to be considered a success. It’s mundane. But do you think I’ll ever successfully convince website programmers to successfully drop the superfluous word successfully? I’d say my chances are on a par with getting advertisers to stop hyping a sale as a “sales event,” or businesses that deal in X to stop calling themselves “X Solutions” — which is to say the likelihood is zero.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 21, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Three takes on bushy bluestem

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At Chalk Ridge Falls Park in the outskirts of Belton on January 17th I did several takes on the native grass known as bushy bluestem, Andropogon tenuispatheus. Above, you see a stand of it on the opposite bank from where we walked along the Lampasas River. Soon afterward I had a chance to get close to some on our side of the river.

Elsewhere I worked quickly to record a bushy bluestem plant while it was still backlit. A few minutes later
and the moving sun—actually of course the moving earth—would have deprived me of the chance.

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Last week I finished reading the 2015 book Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar’s Search for Justice. My personality normally sets me at odds with activists, many of whom I see increasingly pushing ideologies despite objective reality contradicting those ideologies. Yet this activist, Alice Dreger, is also a historian, and she upholds historians’ traditional ethics: do the research and document the truth, whether it matches your preconceptions or not.

Here are a few people’s recommendations for Galileo’s Middle Finger:

Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor, University of California, Irvine
Galileo’s Middle Finger is a brilliant exposé of people that want to kill scientific messengers who challenge cherished beliefs. Dreger’s stunning research into the conflicts between activists and scholars, and her revelations about the consequences for their lives (including hers), is deeply profound and downright captivating. I couldn’t put this book down!”

Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University; author of The Blank SlateEnlightenment Now, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and Rationality:
“In activism as in war, truth is the first casualty. Alice Dreger, herself a truthful activist, exposes some of the shameful campaigns of defamation and harassment that have been directed against scientists whose ideas have offended the sensibilities of politicized interest groups. But this book is more than an exposé. Though Dreger is passionate about ideas and principle, she writes with a light and witty touch, and she is a gifted explainer and storyteller.”

Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and The World until Yesterday: 
“Alice Dreger would win a prize for this year’s most gripping novel, except for one thing: her stories are true, and this isn’t a novel. Instead, it’s an exciting account of complicated good guys and bad guys, and the pursuit of justice.”

Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor, Emeritus, Harvard University (who died this past December 26th): 
“In this important work, Dreger reveals the shocking extent to which some disciplines have been infested by mountebanks, poseurs, and even worse, political activists who put ideology ahead of science.”

 

I’ll give more information about Galileo’s Middle Finger in a follow-up commentary.

    

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 4, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Switchgrass time again

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The “big four” grasses of the tallgrass prairies are little bluestem, big bluestem, (yellow) Indiangrass, and the subject of today’s post, switchgrass, Panicum virgatum. I always look forward to seeing large clumps of switchgrass in its late-fall and winter form, as I did on January 11th in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183. From a distance the tops of these clumps seem to me a tan haze, as shown above. The lower portions of the grass, curlicued as their leaves so often are, lend themselves to abstract portraits like the one below.

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Did you hear about the preserved baby dinosaur discovered curled up inside its egg?
It’s quite an exciting find.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 20, 2022 at 4:34 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Winter leaf colors from a native grass

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Inland sea oats is a common native grass in the woods in my northwest part of Austin. The second word in the grass’s scientific name, Chasmanthium latifolium, means ‘wide leaf,’ and while I don’t consider this grass’s leaves especially wide, they’re certainly wide enough to have offered up some colorful foliage in Great Hills Park on the second day of the year.

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The other day I came across a quotation on the Internet: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” The website attributed the quotation to Thoreau. Having long ago learned not to trust Internet quotations to be accurate, I went searching to find out whether Thoreau really expressed that thought, and if so, whether the wording was correct. My quest led me to an excellent site, The Henry D. Thoreau Mis-Quotation Page, where I learned that the idea was indeed Thoreau’s; the wording wasn’t. On August 5, 1851, Thoreau had written in his Journal: “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

If such things interest you, check out The Henry D. Thoreau Mis-Quotation Page, which includes incorrect wordings as well as sayings attributed to Thoreau that he never said. Of all the improper wordings, probably the most widely disseminated is the one that changes a word in the last part of this sentence from Thoreau’s essay “Walking”: “The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world.” People often quote the last eight words in isolation and turn wildness into wilderness.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 16, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Posted in nature photography

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We bade* goodbye to fall

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On the last full day of fall, December 20, we drove down to Buda, a rapidly growing suburb south of Austin. A year earlier at around the same time we visited the expanding Sunfield subdivision there, where we watched a strangely somnolent squirrel. This year along an edge of the still-expanding subdivision on the conveniently named Eve’s Necklace Drive I renewed my acquaintance with a great colony of bushy bluestem (Andropogon tenuispatheus). The top photograph shows how the bushy bluestem sits in an expanse of dry broomweed (Amphiachyris dracunculoides), which you see in front of and beyond the fluffy grass. The on-the-ground vantage point shown in the view below swapped out the broomweed for an expanse of clear blue sky and turned the bushy bluestem plants into towers.

* The verb bid has two past tenses. A lot of folks now say bid for the past, the same as the present-tense form. The other past tense is bade, pronounced to rhyme with had. Because many people are no longer familiar with bade, when they do come across it in writing they pronounce it the way the spelling suggests, as if it rhymes with made. In summary, bid has two past tenses, and one of those past tenses has two pronunciations. But wait: that’s not the end of the dualism. Turns out that our modern verb bid came about as the merger of two similar sounding but etymologically unrelated Old English verbs: bidden, which meant ‘to ask, to command,’ and bēodan, which meant ‘to offer, to proclaim.’

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Here’s a bit of humor for today in the form of a comment that rightfully ended up in my spam folder.

I have always been a very spiritual person; I believe that the universe has a way of guiding us forward through our lives with the help of spirits and angels. I was blessed with the gift of being able to connect with the outside world, and love having the opportunity to connect my clients with their universal current. My focus is to bring forth awareness and healing through love and to teach others how to open up their spiritual potential.

MY SERVICES:
Love Spells
Attraction spells
Beauty Spells
Marriage Spells
Stop Divorce Spell
Lost Love Spells
Marriage Spell
Bewitching Spell
Save My Marriage Spell
Reverse A Curse Spell
Aura Cleansing Spell
Casino Spell
Success Spell
Protection Spell
Remove Marriage Problems

I like the rhyming phrase “reverse a curse.” Someone should trademark it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 29, 2021 at 4:34 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Non-minimalist and minimalist fall color

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I think you’ll agree that the top picture, which shows backlit leaflets of flameleaf sumac
(Rhus lanceolata) against a blue sky, exhibits non-minimalist fall color.

Mature grasses offer up fall color on a small scale. That was the case with this hairy grama (Bouteloua hirsuta) seed head that I photographed on a redder-than-usual stalk. I also noticed a single spike of gayfeather (Liatris punctata var. mucronata) that had turned fluffy and that the sun lit up.

All three pictures are from November 22nd on the same property
that provided the pictures you recently saw of ladies’ tresses orchids.

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Free expression keeps meeting suppression. Canada seems to be as bad as the United States.

Toronto School Board cancels Yazidi Nobel Peace Prize winner because
her account of being a sex slave at the hands of ISIS ‘would foster Islamophobia’

The Toronto School Board also canceled high-profile criminal defense lawyer Marie Hunein.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 12, 2021 at 4:28 AM

More dew, dew, dew

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Native grasses are a small-scale source of fall color in central Texas. Above, you’re looking at a sideways-leaning stalk of bushy bluestem (Andropogon tenuispatheus*) that had gathered lots of dewdrops at the Riata Trace Pond on the morning of November 9th. Fewer and smaller dewdrops coalesced on a nearby bushy bluestem seed head that had kept its normal upright stance; the pond provided the grey background.

* Just yesterday morning I (but not James Taylor) had to glom on to the reality that the members of the bushy bluestem complex have been reclassified, and that most of the plants in Texas have become Andropogon tenuispatheus and are no longer A. glomeratus. From now on, wordsmiths will have to play up the tenuous connections this grass has to other things.


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I think you’ll probably be appalled to learn the extent to which ideologues in some American schools are intruding into the private lives of even their elementary school students. Contrast that with a sentence I remember from the one year of German I took in college in 1966: Die Universität Deutschlands kümmert sich nicht um das Privatleben der Studenten. Universities in Germany don’t care about students’ private lives.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 1, 2021 at 4:28 AM

Spider enclosure

with 16 comments

On November 1st I came across this small spider enclosure on a
purpose-bent stalk of little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium).
Three weeks later the enclosure looked about the same.


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

So I was checking out at Whole Foods a couple of months ago. Because of the pandemic, many credit/debit card terminals have been upgraded so that now you can tap a card on the device instead of having to swipe the card or insert it. The problem is that a customer doesn’t know exactly where on the terminal to tap the electronic chip in the card. My first taps didn’t work, so I asked the checker-outer specifically where I needed to hold my card. She indicated a place a bit further back from where I’d tried. That worked.

I pointed out to her that the store could head off this problem by putting a little sticker with the words TAP HERE in the exact place under which the hidden sensor sits inside the terminal. She and the bagger seemed not to understand what I was saying, or else didn’t think it was important. I went on to explain that different stores use different kinds of terminals, and some of them are finicky about exactly where a card needs to be tapped. Employees who work the registers learn where that spot is, but customers can’t be expected to know, so a little sticker or some other symbol would show us the right place to tap. Eventually, one right after the other, the two clerks suddenly changed demeanor and said my suggestion was a good one and they’d pass it along to the management, but I got the distinct impression they were just saying that to get rid of me. If I go back to that Whole Foods a few months from now, I seriously doubt I’ll see a little sticker on each terminal showing where to tap a card.

Store bathrooms often present the same kind of problem in automated sinks, hand dryers, and paper towel dispensers: where exactly to put your hand(s) to make the device come on. I often have to move my hands around to various positions until the device finally activates—and sometimes no hand position ever manages to make the device come on. The easy fix would be to use a sensor that responds to a broader range of hand positions. If the concern is that a more-sensitive sensor might cause unintentional activation by people relatively far way, then a device could have two or three less-sensitive sensors spaced out to cover different hand positions. That would raise the machine’s cost a little, but I think reducing customers’ frustration and wasted time would be worth it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 30, 2021 at 4:28 AM

Gulf muhly on a breezy day

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On October 29th, when I drove up to the adjacent Austin suburb of Cedar Park looking for poverty weed at its fluffy best, I also came across some gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) that looked good enough for me to get on the ground and aim up toward the clear blue sky. The top left portion of the photograph confirms the breeze I had to contend with that morning. Note the moon.


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The technical definition of a word sometimes differs from the common one. For example, most English speakers use the word bug to refer to insects in general or even other little critters like spiders. In contrast, etymologists use the term bug only for members of a certain order of insects, the Hemiptera; some sources say true bug to indicate the restricted scope.

That kind of difference between a technical definition and a common one came up recently in reference to some incidents this past week that you may have heard about in which organized “smash and grab” groups in the San Francisco Bay area stole lots of merchandise from high-end stores. In connection with that, I came across a report from station KABC with the headline “Experts caution use of ‘looting’ in describing rash of Bay Area smash and grabs.” The report notes that “The [California] penal code defines looting as ‘theft or burglary…during a ‘state of emergency’, ‘local emergency’, or ‘evacuation order’ resulting from an earthquake, fire, flood, riot or other natural or manmade disaster.” Because authorities hadn’t declared any state of emergency or issued any evacuation orders before the thefts, the argument goes, the stealing at the high-end stores shouldn’t be called looting.

Some would say that that’s just quibbling. It got me wondering how the average person uses the verb loot, so I checked a few online dictionaries:

Merriam-Webster:

1a: to plunder or sack in war
b: to rob especially on a large scale and usually by violence or corruption
2: to seize and carry away by force especially in war

Oxford Dictionaries:

Steal goods from (a place), typically during a war or riot. ‘desperate residents looted shops for food and water’
1.1 Steal (goods) in a war, riot, etc.

American Heritage Dictionary:

1. To take goods from (a place) by force or without right, especially in time of war or lawlessness; plunder: The rebels looted the city. Rioters looted the downtown stores.
2. To take by force or without right; steal: broke into the tomb and looted the grave goods.
v.intr. To take goods by force or through lawless behavior.

So yes, the verb has a historical connection to war and rioting and natural disasters. At the same time, definition 1b in Merriam-Webster and definition 2 in the American Heritage Dictionary show that people have also been using loot more loosely. It’s a truism of linguistics that words often change, both in how they’re pronounced and what they mean.

In looking up loot, I found that the word came into English from Hindi, presumably as a result of British colonialism in India. For a list of other English words borrowed from languages spoken in India, you can check out a Wikipedia article. You may be surprised that some very common English words make the list.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 27, 2021 at 4:28 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Kin to corn

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As “Plants of Texas Rangelands” notes, eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides) “is kin to corn, but has both male and female parts in the same spike.” You see that in the top photograph, where the orange male flowers dangle from threads at the right, and the brownish pipe-cleaner-like female flowers are on the left. Each flower-bearing segment is called a spikelet. As the female spikelets age, they whiten and break into bony joints. You see one above, which must have come from a more mature spike and somehow gotten snagged on this fresher one. The middle picture shows some typical aged female spikelets. (The species name dactyloides is Greek for ‘resembling fingers’; you can decide if this looks like desiccated finger bones.)

I’ll add that in a region not known for fall foliage, we get some warm colors in our aging native grasses, as you see from the way red has begun to appear in the eastern gamagrass below.

These photographs are from the Arbor Walk Pond on October 8th.


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Nobody alerted me that October 19 this year would be International Pronouns Day!
Let me retroactively declare my preferred pronouns for last week:
Wondrous one and His majesty.
And just in case you think the failure to notify me is something I take lying down,
I’ll add that my prone nouns are recumbency and prostration.

© 2021 Wondrous one and His majesty

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 27, 2021 at 3:47 AM

Posted in nature photography

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