Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘Manor

Maximilian sunflower plants subdued

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As much as we love to see the bright yellow of Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) in the fall, something else loves those plants, too, although not in a benign way. That something is dodder (Cuscuta sp.), a parasitic vine whose densely twining yellow-orange strands people have often likened to a tangle of angel hair pasta (also known as capellini), which is the slenderest type. The second photograph shows you that this vine’s tiny white flowers sometimes rival the strands’ density.

I took these pictures and hundreds more at the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision in Manor on October 4th.


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I recommend Bari Weiss’s latest essay, “Some Thoughts About Courage.”
It includes links to plenty of other worthy articles.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 22, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Bur oak acorn

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From October 4th at the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision in Manor comes this Medusa of acorns borne on a bur oak tree, Quercus macrocarpa. You could call the photograph minimalist in terms of composition, even as the acorn’s cap is maximalist in details. Below, you get to see what the leaves of this kind of oak look like.

As in other recent portraits, the preternaturally dark skies come from using flash and a small aperture (f/22 in these two photographs) to get increased depth of field and lots of details in focus.


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If you’ve studied 20th century dictatorships, you know about Stalin’s purges in the Soviet Union. Regarding the Wokiet Union that America is threatening to become, you probably didn’t hear about the recent purge at the Art Institute of Chicago. The museum purged its entire staff of docents, who were highly trained, had an average of 15 years of experience, and who worked for free. Why did the museum throw away such a great resource? Because most of the docents were white. Replacements will be chosen via “an income equity-focused lens.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 21, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Snow-on-the-prairie and friends

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On October 4th I drove east to Manor and spent a couple of hours in the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision, new parts of which have kept springing up for several years now. As was true in October last year, I found no shortage of native species doing their autumnal thing this year. Some of those plants will likely survive development; others won’t. The picturesque group that you see above, because of its location, probably won’t last. The prominent red-stalked plants are snow-on-the-prairie, Euphorbia bicolor. Across the bottom of the picture is a carpet of doveweed, Croton monanthogynus (a genus-mate of the woolly croton you saw here a week ago and again yesterday. The erect plant a quarter of the way in from the left is annual sumpweed, Iva annua, whose pollen, like that of the related ragweed, triggers many people’s allergic reactions in the fall.

Aesthetically speaking, the top picture exemplifies a more-is-more, fill-up-the-frame approach to photography. In contrast, take the minimalist view below that gives a much closer look at snow-on-the-prairie.

And while we’re offering more-detailed views, the portrait below gives you a better look at doveweed, garnished with a dameselfly that might be a female Kiowa dancer, Argia immunda.


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Austin, where I’ve lived since 1976, is the Berkeley of Texas, with leftist ideologues controlling the city’s government. In 2020, the Austin City Council’s response to months of daily rioting in cities around the country was to cut $21.5 million outright from the Austin Police Department budget and to shift another $128 million to other city departments. Predictably, crimes in Austin have increased. As local television station KXAN reported on September 13, 2021, two murders that weekend were the 59th and 60th homicides for the year so far, “the highest number of homicides Austin has recorded in one year in modern history” — and the year still had three-and-a-half months to go.

Apologists argue that crime has also gone up in many other American cities in the past year. True, but that’s hardly a justification for Austin to cut its police budget. According to that “logic,” because Covid-19 was increasing in other parts of the country last year, Austin should have reduced funding to deal with the pandemic.

On July 5 this year, KXAN quoted Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon: “When it comes to the most critical calls… — shootings, stabbings, rape and domestic violence in progress — the current response time average is nine minutes and two seconds…. That is a minute-and-a-half slower than the department’s three-year average of seven minutes and 30 seconds.”

In response to the increased dangers caused by such a large reduction in the police budget, a group called Save Austin Now got enough signatures (close to 30,000) on a petition to place a proposition on the ballot for November 2nd, just two weeks from now. Among the things that Proposition A [as it’s designated] would do are:

  • establish minimum police staffing and require there to be at least two police officers for every 1,000 residents of Austin;
  • add an additional 40 hours of training each year on “critical thinking, defensive tactics, intermediate weapons proficiency, active shooter scenarios, and hasty react team reactions”;
  • pay police officers a bonus for being proficient in any of the five most frequently spoken foreign languages in Austin; for enrolling in cadet mentoring programs; for being recognized for honorable conduct;
  • require police officers to spend at least 35% of their time on community engagement;
  • require full enrollment for at least three full-term cadet classes until staffing levels return to the levels prescribed in Austin’s 2019-2020 budget [in 2020 the City Council had canceled two cadet classes as part of its “defund the police” hysteria];
  • require the mayor, council members, staff and assistants of council members, as well as the director of the Office of Police Oversight, to complete the curriculum of the Citizen Police Academy and participate in Austin’s Ride-Along Program [in other words, the people in charge of the police should know what the police actually do in their job!];
  • encourage the police chief to seek demographic representation, as reflected in “racial, ethnic and gender diversity of the city,” in hiring police officers.

Do you find anything objectionable there? All of those things sound worthy to me. Nevertheless, leftist activists who want to keep the police underfunded are fighting fiercely against this proposition. Money to campaign against it has been coming in from many places outside Austin and outside Texas. As Austin’s NPR radio station KUT reported on October 4: “Billionaire and left-wing activist George Soros gave $500,000 to Equity PAC, a political action committee lobbying against Prop A. The group also received $200,000 from The Fairness Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization founded in 2016 that backs progressive ballot measures.”

So there you have it: the people pushing “equity” and “fairness” are working to undermine civil order and public safety. What a sorry state of affairs for my country.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 17, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Cream paintbrush

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Most Indian paintbrushes (Castilleja indivisa) are red, like the one in the backround in this picture from the town of Manor on April 20th. Occasionally a paintbrush is yellowish or cream or white, like the one in the foreground here that is the real subject of the portrait.

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Two days ago I posed an English language challenge: to come up with a sentence containing the words adopted finished stirred. The three words had to appear exactly that way, with no punctuation or other words in between, and the full sentence had to be grammatical. That seems like a difficult task, and no takers have come forward. (This is primarily a nature photography blog, after all.)

Languages allow for the nesting, i.e. embedding or insertion, of one sentence inside another. With that in mind, let’s begin with three simple sentences, each containing one of the verbs in the challenge (I’ve italicized those verbs).

1: The book stirred emotions.
2: The girl finished the book.
3: The family adopted the girl.

Now let’s nest 2 inside 1 as a way of including what we know about the book:

2 inside 1: The book that the girl finished stirred emotions. (Notice how stirred now immediately follows finished. Do you see where this is going?)

Now let’s nest 3 inside the nested combination of 1 and 2 as a way of including what else we know about the girl:

3 inside 2 inside 1: The book that the girl that the family adopted finished stirred emotions.

Grouping symbols make the nesting structure clear:

The book [ that the girl [[ that the family adopted ]] finished ] stirred emotions.

If you drop what’s inside the double brackets, what’s left makes sense. Likewise, if you drop everything that’s inside the single brackets, what’s left makes sense.

There’s no theoretical limit to how many levels of nesting you can have, but even with just the two levels of nesting in our final sentence, comprehension begins to falter as verbs pile up toward the end of the combined version.

For example, suppose we add just one more sentence to the original three:

4: The senator visited the family.

Nesting that inside what we already had gives us:

4 inside 3 inside 2 inside 1: The book that the girl that the family that the senator visited adopted finished stirred emotions.

I doubt whether even German speakers, who have a head start by often putting two verbs together at the end of a sentence, could follow this.

In fact the sentence could be even more opaque. Through a peculiarity of English, we’re not obliged to include that when it’s the object of the following verb. For example:

2 inside 1: The book the girl finished was long.

If we suppress every such that in a sentence with multiple levels of nesting, not only do verbs pile up toward the end, but noun phrases pile up at the beginning:

4 inside 3 inside 2 inside 1: The book the girl the family the senator visited adopted finished stirred emotions.

Try reading that out loud to someone, even slowly, and I’m pretty sure the person won’t understand it. What fun!

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 2, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Ambushed bushy bluestem

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On November 15th, while wandering through the field in Manor adorned with myriad fluffy seed heads of bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) and goldenrod (Solidago sp.) that you saw in a post last month, I spied something that looked unusual and that I couldn’t initially identify. After I got closer I could tell that a plant had gotten wrapped up, presumably by a spider, but in a way I hadn’t seen before. Then I noticed the green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) that must have done the deed. Eventually I realized that what the spider had wrapped up into a nest was a bushy bluestem seed head. Notice the spiderlings, of which there were plenty more than shown in this picture. You get a closer view of the green lynx in the following picture:

As relevant quotations for today, you can listen to Rudy Francisco reading his poem “Mercy,
which he indicates is after Nikki Giovanni’s “Allowables.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 22, 2020 at 4:22 AM

Monochrome Monday and more

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For decades I took pictures using black and white film. Now I’m enamored of color and rarely convert any digital files to black and white. Something about this picture enticed me to try that, though, and above is the result. Coincidentally, it’s similar to the effects of the black and white infrared film I was fond of in the late 1970s and early 1980s. What you see below is another possibility when converting a digital file: reducing the color partially rather than entirely.

You may want to compare these to the original color photograph that debuted here last month.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 21, 2020 at 4:37 AM

Wind-waved willow yellow

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While wind whisked the leaves of this black willow tree sideways, my trusty camera set to 1/640 of a second proved its equal. The location on November 15th was new to me, Maxa Drive in Manor; the tree, Salix nigra, was hardly new, being a common species here. And not new either was the pretty yellow that the long leaves tend to turn before falling. Hardly half a mile east I’d earlier found and photographed a fine willow sapling serving as a backdrop for some bushy bluestem turned fluffy, both blazoned against the day’s blue skies. The two portraits exemplify the more-is-more or fill-the-frame esthetic that I often find myself drawn to.

Did you know that another English word for a willow is withy? Here’s “The Old Withy Tree” from an 1859 book called Songs of the Wye, and Poems, from a writer identified only by the pseudonym Wioni:

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 6, 2020 at 4:20 AM

Poverty weed in all its glory

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Long-time readers know that as the end of each year approaches I never neglect Baccharis neglecta, a slight tree known most commonly as poverty weed. This year has been no exception. I began photographing poverty weed flowering back in September and turning fluffy in October. One of the nicest late-stage specimens came my way on November 15th on George Bush St. at US 290 in Manor. A brisk wind blew on the Blackland Prairie that morning, and enough bits of fluff had gone airborne to reveal the many little “stars” shown above. You’re free to imagine a kind of softly self-ornamenting native Texas Christmas tree.

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And now for the answer to the question that’s been lingering for two days: what all the following English words have in common beyond the fact that in each of them a vowel letter and a consonant letter alternate.

HIS, SORE, AMEN, PAN, AWE, EMIT, SON, TOWER, HAS, LAX, TOMATO, FAT, SOME, DONOR.

Every pair of adjacent letters is a real word in its own right. For example, the adjacent pairs in TOMATO are TO, OM (as in the yoga chant), MA (meaning mother), AT and TO. In other letter pairings in the sample words, DO, RE, MI, FA, and LA are the names of notes. EN and EM serve as the names of letters and are also printing terms for widths corresponding to those typeset letters. AW is an interjection.

I forget which word it was that first made me realize consecutive pairs of its letters are independent words. Once the notion was in my head, I started playing around to see how many other words I could find with that property. I eventually came up with over 90, though some of those are contained within others, like PIT and TON inside PITON. Words with three or four letters make up the large majority. I found fewer words with five or six letters because the longer a word gets, the likelier it is that at least one adjacent pair will fail to be a word.

In almost all cases a vowel letter and a consonant letter need to alternate because there are hardly any pairs of consonant letters that can stand as real English words. One that does shows up at the beginning of SHOWER, where SH is a conventional spelling of the sound people make for somebody to be quiet; HO and OW are interjections, and ER indicates hesitation in speaking.

If you’re a fan of word puzzles and have nothing more pressing to do with your time, you might hunt for more words that have this property. You could also try it in another language. For example, Spanish HAYAS ‘that you may have’ yields HA ‘it has’; AY ‘ouch,’ YA ‘already,’ and AS ‘ace.’ For a German example, take EIN ‘a, an,’ which gives EI ‘egg’ and IN, the cognate of the same word in English.

Another way of extending the challenge is to find words in which every consecutive triplet of letters forms a word. For example, MANY produces MAN and ANY, while PAYER yields PAY, AYE ‘yes,’ and the informal YER.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 29, 2020 at 4:42 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Twi-light, yet not twilight

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On the morning of November 15th I spent a good couple of hours in a field on the north side of US 290 east of Bois d’Arc Rd. in Manor. Making that piece of prairie fabulous to behold and photograph were the extensive colonies of goldenrod (Solidago sp.) and bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) that had gone into their fluffy autumn stage. In some places the two colonies were mostly distinct; in others they interwove, as you see here. Notice in the lower right of the top picture that one goldenrod plant was still flowering.

The post’s title interweaves etymology and photography. The word twilight means literally ‘two lights,’ the two being the fading light of day and the oncoming darkness of night. I took these two pictures not in different parts of the day—they were only seven minutes apart—but in different parts of the field and, more importantly, facing in opposite directions. The first photograph shows the effects of the morning sunlight falling directly on the subject; the second picture looks in the direction of the sun, whose light on the way to the camera passed through much of the fluff and in so doing outlined the seed heads. The first landscape is softer and more colorful, the second starker and more dramatic. Both have their appeal.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 25, 2020 at 4:32 AM

Two disparate emblems from the Blackland Prairie

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On September 7th I headed out to the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision that’s been going up on the west side of Manor for the past few years. Ever on the lookout for new ways to portray familiar subjects, I noticed I could line up the soft bract of a snow-on-the-prairie plant (Euphorbia bicolor) with a sunflower (Helianthus annuus) beyond it, as you see above. I wasn’t the only one plying my trade there: men were working on nearby houses to the accompaniment of Mexican music. Because it was a construction site, I noticed a certain amount of junk lying around on the ground. One thing that caught my fancy was an “empty” and partly scrunched water bottle, inside of which the remaining bits of liquid had evaporated and then re-condensed on the inner surface. Picking up the bottle carefully so as not to dislodge the drops, I photographed the abstraction.

And here’s a quotation relevant to the second picture: “A drop of water, if it could write out its own history, would explain the universe to us.” — Lucy Larcom, The Unseen Friend, 1892.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 9, 2020 at 4:39 AM

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