Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘leaves

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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One thing that poison ivy is good for

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One thing that poison ivy is good for is color in the late fall and early winter. This portrait comes from the lower portion of Allen Park on December 17, 2021. I’ve read that the sheen on the leaflets attests to the presence of urushiol, the chemical in poison ivy that irritates most people’s skin. “Look but do not touch” remains sound advice. The most interestingly colored poison ivy I ever saw was also in the lower portion of Allen Park, way back in 2006.

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Yesterday we went to the Austin Nature Center, not to visit the indoor exhibits but to walk through the place and onto the trails beyond. When we arrived at the main building we were met with a sign saying everyone has to wear a mask not only inside buildings but outdoors as well. That doesn’t “follow the science.”

Currently 98.3% of all new Covid-19 infections in the United States are from the Omicron variant. According to an NPR article, “…given how contagious omicron is, experts say, it’s seriously time to upgrade to an N95 or similar high-filtration respirator when you’re in public indoor spaces. ‘Cloth masks are not going to cut it with omicron,’ says Linsey Marr, a researcher at Virginia Tech who studies how viruses transmit in the air.” Yet the Austin Nature Center—and presumably every other institution that requires masks indoors—allows cloth masks.

As for outdoor transmission of Covid-19, it’s rare. David Leonhardt noted last year in a New York Times article entitled “A Misleading C.D.C. Number” that “the share of transmission that has occurred outdoors seems to be below 1 percent and may be below 0.1 percent, multiple epidemiologists told me. The rare outdoor transmission that has happened almost all seems to have involved crowded places or close conversation.” Those are hardly the conditions you’ll find outdoors at a nature center, are they?

Following the science, we ignored the mask mandate as soon as we were away from the Austin Nature Center buildings. When we stopped a minute later to look at some rescued raptors in outdoor enclosures, we noticed a young couple who had also stopped there. I saw that they weren’t wearing masks either, and I asked them sarcastically if they weren’t afraid of catching Covid-19. Turns out the couple was visiting from Florida, and the guy said that in his state things aren’t restrictive the way they are in Austin. I told him Austin is the Berkeley of Texas and people here are crazy; then I made sure to add that although Eve and I live here we aren’t crazy.

Later, even farther away from the Nature Center, we encountered first one and then another small group of young children on an outing in the woods. The adult guides were wearing masks, as were many but not all of the little children. Later I was sorry I hadn’t asked if the children’s parents had decided whether their kids had to wear a mask or could go maskless outdoors. We’ve known since early in the pandemic that children are by far the least susceptible group, so there’s no reason for them to be wearing masks when they’re out in nature. That’s the science.

  

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 14, 2022 at 4:38 AM

Posted in nature photography

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A tiny white snail shell as a sarcophagus on a carpet of fallen dry Ashe juniper needles

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Allen Park; December 17, 2021.

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Have you ever noticed that some people have appropriate names while others have ironic names? An example in the “appropriate” category was a United States district judge for the Eastern District of Texas named William Wayne Justice.

Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) provides two examples in the “ironic” category. The current police commissioner there is named Danielle Outlaw. But what’s in a name? The double irony is that while Danielle Outlaw is actually trying to enforce laws and protect the citizens of Philadelphia, the real outlaw in Philadelphia’s justice system is the district attorney, Larry Krasner. His family name ultimately goes back to a Slavic word that means ‘beautiful,’ yet he is anything but beautiful in his stubbornly ideological refusal to prosecute many criminals. Unfortunately the new district attorney in Manhattan, Alvin Bragg, began bragging on day one of his term that he also will refuse to prosecute many crimes and will downgrade others from felonies to misdemeanors. You can read even more about that if you wish.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 9, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Lindheimer’s senna leaflets turning yellow

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From my neighborhood on December 16, 2021, come these two takes, one minimalist and the other busy, on colorful Lindheimer’s senna leaflets (Senna lindheimeri).

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Yesterday the United States Supreme Court heard a challenge to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) nationwide mandate that companies with 100 or more employees must require those employees to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. The challengers, the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana, contend that OSHA, not being part of the legislature, doesn’t have the authority to issue such a mandate, and that only Congress does.

During the proceedings, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the following about Covid-19: “We have over 100,000 children, which we have never had before, in serious condition, many on ventilators.” While it’s true that the rate of Covid-19 infection among children has recently climbed higher than at any previous time in the pandemic, the fact remains that children are still the least affected age group, and the claim that 100,000 children are currently afflicted and in serious condition is a gross exaggeration.

A Yahoo! News story from yesterday says that “The current number of confirmed pediatric hospitalizations with Covid in the U.S. is 3,342, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services released on Friday.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Data Tracker shows that for the entire 17-month period from August 1, 2020, through January 5, 2022, the total number of pediatric Covid-19 admissions in the United States was 82,843.

It’s unfortunate that a Supreme Court Justice would claim that the current number of pediatric Covid-19 hospitalizations is 30 times the actual amount.

UPDATE:

What follows is part of an article from The Epoch Times on January 9.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walenksy disputed Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s claim that 100,000 children are hospitalized or seriously ill with COVID-19 during arguments made before the court on Jan. 7.

During an interview with “Fox News Sunday” on Jan. 9, Walensky confirmed that there are about 3,500 children in the hospital who have tested positive for COVID-19….

When asked about there being 3,500 children hospitalized as opposed to 100,000, Walensky said, “Yes, there are, and in fact what I will say is while pediatric hospitalizations are rising, they’re still about 15-fold less than hospitalizations of our older age demographics.”

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 8, 2022 at 4:31 AM

A tale of two sumacs, part 2

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In yesterday’s post you saw that Rhus trilobata, one of Austin’s three native sumac species, produces colorful fall foliage, though not on the scale of our renowned flameleaf sumac. The third species, Rhus virens, is known as evergreen sumac. (In fact Latin virens means ‘being green’; compare verdant, from the same root.) Normally evergreen sumac’s leaves do remain green, but some of them occasionally turn warm colors. In my experience, that seems to be when something afflicts the tree, e.g. a freeze, or when a branch gets broken and dies. From Allen Park on December 17th, here are two different-hued examples of evergreen sumac not being green. The sheen on the leaves characterizes this species.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

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My father and his parents and brother fled from the Soviet Union in the 1920s, so I’ve always been aware and leery of the tyranny of ideological regimes. Another Russian escapee, Anna Krylov, recently had a letter published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry in which she drew on her own early life in the USSR, “where communist ‘ideology permeated all aspects of life, and survival required strict adherence to the party line and enthusiastic displays of ideologically proper behavior.’ I noted that certain names and ideas are now forbidden within academia for ideological reasons, just as had been the case in my youth.”

Normally these days the people who uphold cancel culture lash out at anyone who speaks up against enforced ideologies. The reaction against Anna Krylov, however, was better than has recently been the case with many other people that illiberal ideologues have attacked: “I expected to be viciously mobbed, and possibly cancelled, like others before me. Yet the result surprised me. Although some did try to cancel me, I received a flood of encouraging emails from others who share my concern with the process by which radical political doctrines are being injected into STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] pedagogy, and by which objective science is being subjugated to regressive moralization and censorship. The high ratio of positive-to-negative comments (even on Twitter!) gave me hope that the silent liberal majority within STEM may (eventually) prevail over the forces of illiberalism.”

You can read more about this in Anna Krylov and Jay Tanzman’s article in Quillette, “Academic Ideologues Are Corrupting STEM. The Silent Liberal Majority Must Fight Back.” The article includes lots of links to related stories.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 28, 2021 at 4:37 AM

A tale of two sumacs, part 1

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The title of this post aside, Austin is home to three native sumac species. By far the most colorful is the aptly named flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata, which you’ve often enough seen here putting on great displays of fall foliage. Less well known is Rhus trilobata, the species name of which tells you that each leaf is made up of three leaflets, each of which can be seen as having three primary lobes. Vernacular names include three-leaf sumac and skunkbush, though nothing about this small tree has ever smelled skunky to me. In any case, the leaves of this species tend to turn colors in the fall, and that’s what you see in this portrait from Allen Park on December 17th. I’d gone out that morning with my ring flash so I could stop down for good depth of field.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

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I recently came across the term cancel culture fittingly recast as coward culture in an op-ed by Bret Stephens. He wrote that “our universities are failing at the task of educating students in the habits of a free mind. Instead, they are becoming islands of illiberal ideology and factories of moral certitude, more often at war with the values of liberal democracy than in their service.” You’re welcome to read the full op-ed.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 27, 2021 at 5:52 AM

Colorful backlit oak leaves

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During our sunny morning circuit of Balcones District Park on December 8th, which led to pictures of bright ash and cedar elm trees, I also noticed a few colorful oak trees along the trail. While I don’t know what species they were, I do know that their leaves looked richly colorful with the light passing through them and the blue sky beyond them. Notice the leaf miner trail in the second leaf.

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A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.

We have all experienced the futility of trying to change a strong conviction, especially if the convinced person has some investment in his belief. We are familiar with the variety of ingenious defenses with which people protect their convictions, managing to keep them unscathed through the most devastating attacks.

But man’s resourcefulness goes beyond simply protecting a belief. Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before.

So begins the 1956 book When Prophecy Fails, by Leon FestingerHenry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter. They studied cases in which a person felt inspired to issue a prophecy, only to have the prophecy fail to materialize at the predicted time. The “prophet” then typically rationalized and explained that the prophecy was valid but there had been a mistake of some sort in its interpretation. Nowadays we’d say the person “doubled down.”

While the cases in When Prophecy Fails are extreme, it’s a sad truth of human psychology that easily verifiable facts often fail to change people’s opinions.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 22, 2021 at 4:32 AM

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

Goldenrod as a source of colorful fall foliage

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I think most people’s fondness for goldenrod (Solidago sp.) comes from its cheery yellow or yellow-orange flower heads. Less often noticed is that its drying leaves are sometimes a good source of fall color. I made both photographs at the Riata Trace Pond on November 9th. (By the way, as recently as last week I was still seeing a few goldenrod plants with flowers on them.)

Like the two ladies’ tresses pictures featured here three days ago, this pair of photographs contrasts a soft approach using morning light and a wide aperture with a starker approach using flash and a smaller aperture.

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Here are two good articles in support of free speech and a diversity of viewpoints.

Higher Ed’s Free Speech Death Spiral,” by Nathan Harden.

Monomania Is Illiberal and Stupefying,” by Jonathan Haidt.

The first paragraph in the second article includes links to 15 more articles! Happy reading.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 9, 2021 at 4:31 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

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