Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘Manor

Liatris on the prairie

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At the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision in Manor on October 2nd I got low and photographed these flower spikes of Liatris punctata var. mucronata, known as gayfeather and blazing star, doing their autumnal thing on the Blackland Prairie. The greenbrier vine (Smilax bona-nox) climbing on the central flower spikes was a nice addition. Before I left the site I made sure to use the wispy clouds as a great backdrop for a tall exemplar of Turris electrica var. pratensis.


(I’m still traveling, so my presence here continues to be mostly virtual.)


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 17, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Snow-on-the-prairie revisited

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In a post last month you saw the snow-on-the-prairie plant (Euphorbia bicolor) I’d gotten low to photograph against a cloudy sky on September 3rd at the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision in Manor. On October 2nd I went back there and ended up photographing a different snow-on-the-prairie plant. The sky was bluer and the clouds fleecier than a month earlier, so the overall effect was quite different.

Because the clouds were so appealing I took dozens of pictures of them in their own right. Stieglitz called his cloud portraits “equivalents.” I’ll call mine “cloudtraits.” In the one below, I took the rare (for me) step of converting to black and white.



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In some of my commentaries I’ve complained about how poorly the American education “system” educates America’s children. On October 4th, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal focused on the state of Illinois:

Statewide, in 2019, 36% of all third grade students could read at grade level. That’s an F, and that’s the good news. That number drops to 27% for Hispanic students and 22% for black students statewide. In certain public school systems, the numbers plummet to single digits. In Decatur, 2% of black third-graders are reading at grade level and only 1% are doing math at grade level.

We aren’t often speechless, but the extent to which that performance is betraying a generation of schoolchildren is hard to put into words. Third grade children are eight years old, full of potential with minds like sponges to absorb what they are taught. Third grade is the year that children need to achieve a level of reading fluency that will prepare them to tackle more complex tasks in upper elementary grades that require comprehension.

A child who can’t read in third grade can’t do word problems in fourth or science experiments in fifth. Promoting Decatur children to the fourth grade when 99% are below grade level in math condemns them to future failure. By 11th grade, 5% of Decatur’s students are reading at grade level and 4% are on par in math. Why shouldn’t every single adult presiding over the Decatur schools be fired?

Why indeed? You can read the full editorial.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 15, 2022 at 4:31 AM


with 13 comments

On the morning of September 3rd in Manor I spent time in the Seasons at Carillon subdivision, which is still largely under construction. After no rain for a couple of months we finally got some by the end of August. I suspect a temporary rivulet had flowed over this patch of cracked ground on the Blackland Prairie and left a trace that looks like a tree trunk with prominent bark. At least that’s how my imagination sees it in this wide-angle view that looks almost straight downward. Not far away, the cracked ground had given rise to a snow-on-the-prairie plant, and in shades of green and brown had given a temporary second significance to the species epithet in Euphorbia bicolor.


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In American primary and secondary schools, if a student goes to the school nurse and complains of a headache, the nurse isn’t even allowed to give the student an aspirin without getting permission from the child’s parents. At increasingly many American schools, however, staff can call a student by a name that belongs to the opposite sex and can coach the student into wanting puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones—all while keeping those actions hidden from the child’s parents. If you think that couldn’t possibly be true, think again. In fact the broader situation is even worse than that, as a September 5th article by John Daniel Davidson explains.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 12, 2022 at 4:30 AM


with 19 comments

On the cloudy morning of September 3rd I spent several hours checking out the Blackland Prairie east and northeast of Austin. The annual crop of snow-on-the-prairie (Euphorbia bicolor) had come up and was doing its attractive white thing. The annual crop of new housing developments and commercial buildings was doing its springing-up thing, too. In the picture below, showing the Seasons at Carillon subdivision in Manor, the native plants were likely making their last stand; I expect by this time next year the land in the foreground will look like what’s in the background. Above, in the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision, I did my usual thing of getting low enough and aiming high enough to exclude all human elements.

The flowering vine in the lower left of the bottom picture is purple bindweed (Ipomoea cordatotriloba).
The gray pipe is a conduit through which a house will soon hook up to utilities.


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Imagine that the CEO (chief executive officer) of an ice cream company gets asked to list the company’s eight most important goals. Imagine further that the CEO puts “making the tastiest possible ice cream” as the last of the eight goals. Would that entice you to buy the company’s ice cream?

Similarly, imagine that the CEO of a car company, when asked the same question, puts “making cars that are safe” as the last item in the list of eight. Would you feel comfortable buying a car from that company?

I bring up these questions in light of Eric Gibson’s September 2nd opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Woke Ideologues Are Taking Over American Art Museums.” As someone who has visited quite a few art museums, I’ve been observing the increasing reality of that headline over the past decade. A few weeks ago, when we went to the latest exhibition at Austin’s Blanton Museum, I said to Eve about some of the “woke” explanatory placards in the show: “They just can’t help themselves”—with the “they” meaning the museum’s curatorial staff.

In Eric Gibson’s opinion piece he brought up

the remarkable article penned for the British magazine Apollo in 2018 by Kaywin Feldman, now director of the National Gallery of Art. At the time, she was running the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and her article included a list of her museum’s eight core values. At the top was “gender equality.” The list continued in a similar vein until finally getting around to “essentialness of the arts” at No. 8. The director of one of the country’s leading art museums placed art at the bottom of her list of institutional core values.

 You’re welcome to read the full article, discouraging as it is.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 7, 2022 at 4:31 AM

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

Tagged with , , , , ,

Snow-on-the-prairie and friends

with 12 comments


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

Tagged with , , , , ,

Ambushed bushy bluestem

with 30 comments

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

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