Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘landscape

Another wildflowerful property

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On the way home from a photographically fruitful prairie parcel in Pflugerville on May 10th I purposely went past the property adjacent to the church on the corner of Wells Branch Parkway and Wells Port Drive, which had looked good in the spring of 2021. This year on some parts of the property the plants were all dead, but in other places wildflowers flourished. The usual suspects included prairie bishop (Bifora americana) and firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella), along with some square-bud primroses (Oenothera berlandieri) and greenthreads (Thelesperma filifolium).



Depending on where I aimed, different colors predominated. The second picture
adds some purple three-awn grass (Aristida purpurea) in the upper right.




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Several times in these commentaries I’ve mentioned social psychologist Jonathan Haidt [pronounced Hite], whose book The Righteous Mind goes a long way to explaining, as expressed by his book’s subtitle, Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. In April 2023 he gave a talk at the University of British Columbia titled “(Un)civil Discourse.” As the description of the event puts it: “Jonathan Haidt discusses the state of political dysfunction and fracture in the US with his talk Democracy After Babel: Self-governance in an era of fragmentation, outrage, and anomie….” As always, he did an excellent job with the subject, offering many insights in about an hour.

The presentation includes many projected charts illustrating the points Haidt makes. In particular, several charts document the way anxiety and depression surged in American teenagers, particularly girls, starting in around 2014. That led to a cohort of college students demanding to be kept “safe.” Haidt identifies two sources of that fragility: the loss of unsupervised outdoor play among children, plus the rise of social media and the large amount of time teenagers spend on those platforms.

If you have an hour, you’re welcome to check out the presentation. You can use the time slider below the video to start at about 6:15 to skip unnecessary preliminaries and go straight to the moment when Jonathan Haidt comes onstage and begins speaking.



© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 19, 2023 at 4:33 AM

That bare winter look

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A pond on the grounds of Hyde Park High School on January 21st.

For those interested in the craft of photography, point 15 in About My Techniques applies to this landscape.


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It’s not unusual for someone to wonder, as you may have yourself, who in recent history caused the greatest number of people to die. A 2016 article by Chris Waugh gave this tally:


In contrast, we seldom hear the opposite question: who in recent history saved the greatest number of lives? It most likely was Norman Borlaug. As the University of Minnesota website notes: “alumnus Norman Borlaug left an indelible mark on the world. The late agronomist’s work in developing new varieties of wheat starting in the 1940s spawned the ‘Green Revolution,’ and is credited with saving at least a billion lives.”

Another great saver of human lives was Herbert Hoover. As the National Constitution Center notes: “Hoover is remembered as the ‘Great Humanitarian.’ Hoover was credited with saving 10 million lives during World War I as the leader of U.S. government efforts to send food supplies to war-torn areas of Europe.”

Herbert Hoover had the misfortune to be President of the United States when the stock market crashed in 1929 and the world soon entered what became known as the Great Depression. Because of that, a lot of historians have maligned Hoover, but you can read about his many accomplishments in the National Constitution Center article I cited.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 25, 2023 at 4:28 AM

Farewell to Palo Duro Canyon

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Palo Duro Canyon lies in what’s called the Panhandle Plains. As you approach, the flat land
offers nary a clue that you’re getting close to the second largest canyon in the United States.



Eventually you reach a place where the land drops away and you suddenly see swaths of the canyon
spread out before you. A convenient parking lot lets you get out and take in the vistas.



We stopped there only on our way out of the park, so eager had I been when we arrived in the morning
to get down into the canyon. These four pictures, all taken sequentially from the same spot an average
of one minute apart, show you some of the canyon’s diverse and intriguing geological formations.



A cursory look has left me thinking there’s no overlap among the four photographs.



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I’ve spoken many times now about the authoritarianism creeping—and sometimes bounding—into the English-speaking countries. Briton Andrew Doyle has felt it, too. Here’s the beginning of his 2021 book Free Speech:

It’s the kind of phrase that wouldn’t seem out of place in the pages of a dystopian novel. Yet these were not the words of an agent of some totalitarian regime, but rather those of a police officer in the United Kingdom in 2019. Harry Miller, a fifty-three-year-old entrepreneur and former constable, was contacted by Humberside Police following a complaint by an offended party about a poem that he had shared on social media which was deemed to be transphobic. During the course of the conversation, the officer explained that, although not illegal, this nevertheless qualified as a ‘non-crime hate incident’. Why, Miller asked, was the unnamed complainant being described as a ‘victim’ if no crime had been committed? More to the point, why was he being investigated at all? To which came the ominous response: ‘We need to check your thinking.’

Over the past decade, many people have detected a pattern of minor changes in our culture, a kind of piecemeal reconfiguration at odds with our hard-won rights to personal autonomy. Miller’s case is not an isolated affair. Between 2014 and 2019, almost 120,000 ‘non-crime hate incidents’ were recorded by police forces in England and Wales. This sort of development has left a substantial number of us feeling as though we are no longer on secure ground; the tremors are too persistent. The ‘culture wars’, although often dismissed by commentators as a manufactured phenomenon, are closely tied to this gnawing sense that something is amiss. Miller’s experience is one of many stories in which the principle of free speech has been casually disregarded for the sake of what is perceived to be a higher social priority.

Much of this can be explained by a sea change in the public’s attitude to free expression and its key function in a liberal society. A new identity-based conceptualisation of ‘social justice’ has brought with it a mistrust of unfettered speech and appeals for greater intervention from the state. We are left facing that confusing and rare phenomenon: the well-intentioned authoritarian. When those who long for a fairer society are also calling for censorship, we find ourselves stranded on unfamiliar terrain. How are we meant to respond when the people who wish to deprive us of our rights sincerely believe that they are doing so for our own good?


In addition to reading Free Speech, you can watch Andrew Doyle interviewing Toby Young, the head of the Free Speech Union, on what has been called ‘offense archaeology.’


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 10, 2023 at 4:31 AM

More from Palo Duro Canyon

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Here are a few more pictures from our October 20th visit last year to
Palo Duro Canyon, the largest one in the United States after the Grand Canyon.



Easy pickings, you might say, in such a scenic place.




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Tomorrow marks the start of the 118th Congress. As political discourse resumes, the phrase we’re likely to hear is that staple of progressive rhetoric: “the right side of history.” We will be told that this is where progressives are, and anyone who disagrees with them is on the wrong side—backwards, obsolescent, headed for the dustbin.

The phrase embodies a specific view of history, the idea that the course of human events—with whatever stops and starts and temporary setbacks—traces an inevitable upward path. The notion dates back to the nineteenth century, if not earlier: to Hegel and Marx, to the liberal or “Whig” historians, to the Progressive movement itself. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

And those on the “wrong side” of history? “History will judge them”—will judge Donald Trump, will judge Bill Barr, will judge Dave Chappelle and J.K. Rowling, will judge all the bads.

But history does not have sides. It does not take sides. The progressive view of history is not an observation. It’s a theory. It’s a myth that takes its place alongside other, different, historical myths: the belief that history is cyclical; the belief that history represents a long decline from some imagined Golden Age; the belief that we are heading towards apocalypse, or Messiah, or both.


That’s the beginning of a January 2nd article in The Free Press by William Deresiewicz entitled “There Is No Right Side of History.” The subtitle is “I’m a political progressive. The idea that ‘history’ is on our side—which we’re sure to hear during this 118th Congress—is a dangerous myth.”

I’m not a political progressive and I don’t share Deresiewicz’s criticism of certain people, yet I find his take on history cogent. You’re welcome to read the full article.

(Last August I referred to an article by him in Quillette titled “Why I left academia.” The subtitle was “I didn’t have a choice. Thousands of people are driven out of the profession each year.”)


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 9, 2023 at 4:26 AM

Palo Duro Canyon

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We drove from Santa Fe to Amarillo rather than follow a more direct route back to Austin because we wanted to spend time at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, which we hadn’t visited for at least 20 years.



My impression is that most people outside Texas have never heard of Palo Duro, even though it’s the second largest canyon in the United States. The largest is obviously the Grand Canyon, and some people have even called Palo Duro the Grand Canyon of Texas. On October 20th we spent about four-and-a-half hours going around the state park, with me of course taking many photographs.



The pictures in this post are all from Capitol Peak, perhaps the most scenic place in the park.



Could you tell that the second and fourth photographs show the same formation from different angles?



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You may be aware that by the early 20th century a blight had wiped out most of America’s billions of chestnut trees. With that in mind, you may want to read the article titled “Technology Puts American Chestnut Trees on the Comeback Trail,” whose subtitle is “U.S. considers releasing a genetically modified version tolerant of blight, as some people warn of environmental risks.”


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 4, 2023 at 4:36 AM

Closing the window

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As the post two days ago showed, after stopping at a bunch of scenic places on October 14th we finally arrived at the natural stone arch called La Ventana, which means ‘the window’ in Spanish. Though tired out from hours and hours of driving, hiking, and photographing, after “closing the window” I still made some more stops on the 90-mile trip back to Albuquerque.



The first three pictures are from along New Mexico Highway 117.



The last two show mesas at around mile marker 122 on Interstate 40.



I made a single stop and aimed in opposite directions.



© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 16, 2022 at 4:35 AM

Finally La Ventana

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After spending hours stopping a bunch of times on October 14th at scenic spots along Interstate 40 and then New Mexico 117, we finally arrived at our ostensible destination 90 miles west of Albuquerque: a natural stone arch called La Ventana, which means ‘the window’ in Spanish.* From the size of the trees at the bottom of the first photograph, you can get a feel for how tall the arch is. The massive stone looming to the left of the arch is imposing in its own right:



A more-colorful cliff flanking La Ventana on the opposite side also impressed me:



* The Spanish word for ‘window,’ ventana, developed from the Latin word for ‘wind,’ ventus.
English window comes from Old Norse vindauga, a poetic metaphor meaning literally wind eye.
You can read more about that in the American Heritage Dictionary’s Word History section for window.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 14, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Sandstone Bluffs

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Our goal in setting out from Albuquerque on the morning of October 14th was to reach a natural stone arch called La Ventana, a 90-mile drive to the west. You’ve already seen how scenic cliffs and mountains along Interstate 40 waylaid us for a while. Our next stop was at the Malpais Ranger Station on New Mexico Highway 117. There we ended up in a conversation with the ranger on duty that lasted more than half an hour. Mostly we did the listening. She was the first person we’d ever gotten to know whose native language is Navajo. She told us her father speaks some basic English but her mother speaks only Navajo.



After that we spent a couple of hours at a nearby scenic geological feature called Sandstone Bluffs, which is in the El Malpais National Monument. Naturally I took a slew of photographs. These pictures show you some of the prominent bluffs. The dark areas on the plain in the top picture are lava fields.



Pine trees, dead and alive, populated parts of the site.



Even without a vista or pine trees, individual sandstone formations were impressive.



© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 10, 2022 at 4:34 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , ,

Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque

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Having settled into our Albuquerque hotel late in the afternoon on October 13th, on the morning of the 14th we headed west along Interstate 40 to visit one of the scenic places my pre-trip research back in Austin had discovered 90 miles west of Albuquerque.



When we’d gone about half that distance and were near the pueblo of Laguna, we began to see picturesque cliffs, mountains, and boulders.



Not surprisingly, I pulled off the highway several times to take a slew of pictures.



New Mexico knows how to do that kind of stuff.



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Talking Points


Is the statement that hydrogen and oxygen combine to make water a talking point of chemistry professors?

Is the statement that George Washington became the first president of the United States a historians’ talking point?

Is the statement that Monet co-founded the Impressionist movement an artists’ talking point?

Is the statement that a positive polarity and a negative polarity attract each other a physicists’ talking point?

Is the statement that two odd numbers add up to an even number a mathematicians’ talking point?

Is the statement that Beethoven composed nine symphonies a musicologists’ talking point?


Labeling a statement a “talking point” is irrelevant. What matters is whether the statement is true. Partisans often label a true statement a “talking point” in an attempt to discredit it. Maligning a truth doesn’t make it any less true.

And no doubt some will claim that that’s just my “talking point.”


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 7, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Native plants at Valley of Fires Recreation Area

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While traveling a roundabout way from Las Cruces to Albuquerque on October 12th we visited the Valley of Fires Recreation Area in south-central New Mexico. You might think the extensive lava there would inhibit plant growth, but that’s not the case, as the native plants in this post attest. One goes by a pithy vernacular name, winterfat, but its scientific name is a mouthful: Krascheninnikovia lanata. The species epithet is Latin for ‘woolly’ (Spanish and Italian still have lana for ‘wool’), and these two pictures of the plant show you why that’s an apt description.



Another native plant has the catchy vernacular name four-wing saltbush, Atriplex canescens.
I’m afraid I don’t know what kind of grass had gone to seed to the left of it.
You can get a closer look at saltbush in pictures from our 2014 visit to New Mexico.



And of course various cacti grow in the area, including the cholla (Cylindropuntia sp.) below.
Its upper portions may (or may not) have been dead.
The green branches closer to the ground unambiguously attest to life.



© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 6, 2022 at 4:27 AM

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