Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘nature

What a difference the speed makes

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After Austin got a bunch of rain, I headed over to Bull Creek off Lakewood Dr. on October 14th to see what sorts of pictures I could make of a waterfall there. I took the top photograph at a shutter speed of 1/8 of a second and the bottom one at only 1/1600 of a second. Neither of the images matches what my eyes and brain saw when I was at the waterfall, and that once again raises the question of what is real.

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From reading Jonathan Rauch’s The Constitution of Knowledge, I’ve learned a little about the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce [pronounced Purse], who lived from 1839 to 1914. Here’s a relevant passage from Peirce:

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Upon this first, and in one sense this sole, rule of reason, that in order to learn you must desire to learn, and in so desiring not be satisfied with what you already incline to think, there follows one corollary which itself deserves to be inscribed upon every wall of the city of philosophy:

Do not block the way of inquiry.

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Alas, in today’s academic world, ideologues are increasingly blocking the way of inquiry by peremptorily declaring certain topics off-limits and attacking anyone who investigates those topics.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 7, 2021 at 4:27 AM

Two takes on a robber fly

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On July 30th I spent some time going around the Riata Trace Pond. After I spotted a robber fly on a bulrush stalk and gradually moved toward it with my macro lens, I was pleased that it stayed put and let me take pictures. I noticed that from a certain angle I could line up the robber fly with a spot of bright vegetation beyond it, as you see above. Still, with natural light alone I couldn’t muster much depth of field, so I walked back out through the brush to where I’d left my bag, put a flash on the camera, and returned. Aiming from a different angle, I saw for the first time that the robber fly had caught a bee.

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And here’s a bit of advice from the Dalai Lama: “Look at situations from all angles, and you will become more open.” In 2018, Mercedes Benz quoted that wise thought as part of an Instagram post hashtagged MondayMotivation. According to Suzi Weiss, “The line sparked an uproar in Beijing, and the German carmaker quickly apologized.” I invite you to read the full July 2021 article by Suzi Weiss, which includes an interview with Patrick Wack, who has documented the depredations that the Chinese government has been perpetrating against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 15, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Firewheel in summer

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You’ve seen posts this past spring, as every spring for the last decade, showing firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella) at their densely flowering peak. Even after that colonial grandeur fades, individual firewheels in diminishing numbers come up through the summer and into the fall. Here’s an example of one from Great Hills Park on July 23rd. Whether the ray floret at the center had curled naturally or was pulled out of its normal orientation by a spider or other critter, I don’t know.

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By personality and as a math teacher I strive for accuracy. Even so, as the Romans properly held, errare humanum est, it’s only human to make mistakes. If you’re aware that anything I’ve said in my commentaries is factually incorrect, please point it out and bring forth the evidence so I can fix those mistakes. Opinions, of course, are a different matter: even with agreed-upon facts, people can and do differ on how to interpret them and what, if anything, to do about them.

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I think most Americans would be shocked to learn, as I was, that in many circumstances the police in the United States are legally allowed to lie to people during interrogations. You can read more about that in an article by The Innocence Project.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 14, 2021 at 4:23 AM

Another announcer of botanical fall

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In a recent post I showed my first Maximilian sunflower for 2021. On that same day, July 31, near a pond off Kulmbacher Dr. in far north Austin I also saw my first snow-on-the-prairie plants (Euphorbia bicolor) for this year. The one pictured above hadn’t flowered yet; the one below had.

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Here’s another passage by Wendell Berry, this time from his 1998 essay “In Distrust of Movements”: “Once we allow our language to mean anything that anybody wants it to mean, it becomes impossible to mean what we say. When ‘homemade’ ceases to mean neither more nor less than ‘made at home,’ then it means anything, which is to say that it means nothing. The same decay is at work on words such as ‘conversation,’ ‘sustainable,’ ‘safe,’ ‘natural,’ ‘healthful, ‘sanitary,’ and ‘organic.’ The use of such words now requires the most exacting control of context and the use immediately of illustrative examples.”

You’ve probably noticed supermarkets selling mass-produced foods labeled ‘homemade.’ I just discovered there’s a brand of ice cream with that name, which I assure you health authorities don’t allow to be made in the homes of the company’s workers. And think of all the products in supermarkets labeled ‘natural,’ a term that has no legal definition that those companies must guarantee their foods comply with. A food can contain artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives yet still be labeled ‘natural.’ Oh well, I guess it’s only natural that hype is a part of human nature.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 8, 2021 at 4:30 AM

Exuiviae in the park

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Near the end of my picture-taking in Great Hills Park on July 23rd I spotted the cicada exuviae you see above. It reminds me that my father used to like the phrase “a face that only a mother could love.”

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And here’s a thought from Wendell Berry: “When else in history would you find ‘educated’ people who know more about sports than about the history of their country, or uneducated people who do not know the stories of their families and communities?” That’s from his 1989 essay “Feminism, the Body, and the Machine.” Wendell Berry is still alive; in fact today marks his 87th birthday. As far as I know, he still writes with a pencil rather than on a computer. He might be happy that computers at least allow people to go to sites like ancestry.com to learn “the stories of their families” that he was concerned about. That aside, “educated” people not knowing the history of their country has remained a big problem in the 32 years since Berry wrote his essay. In fact the problem has gotten worse. As evidence, take a 2016 study which “found that less than one third of U.S. News & World Report’s top 25 liberal arts colleges, top 25 national universities, and top 25 public institutions require U.S. history as a requirement for history majors.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 5, 2021 at 4:31 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Two kinds of sunflowers in one morning

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I’ve never seen as many “common” sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) still flowering at the beginning of August as I have this year. Maybe it’s a consequence of the sustained freeze we endured back in February. Whatever the reason, as I drive around town now groups of those sunflowers seem to be everywhere. The picture above shows one flower head at a pond on Kulmbacher Dr. in far north Austin on the morning of July 31st. A little earlier that day I’d seen my first Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) of the year at the corner of FM 1325 and Shoreline Drive, as shown below. Those typically fall-blooming sunflowers are a sign that despite the lingering of the common sunflowers botanical autumn is at hand.

In 1597, herbalist John Gerard commented: “The Indian Sun or golden floure of Peru is a plant of such stature and talnesse that in one Sommer being sowne of a seede in Aprill, it hath risen up to… fourteene foot in my garden, one floure was in weight three pound and two ounces, and crosse overthwart the floure by measure sixteene inches broad.”

From the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805 we have this: “Along the bottoms, which have a covering of high grass, we observe the sunflower blooming in great abundance. The Indians of the Missouri, and more especially those who do not cultivate maize, make great use of the seed of this plant for bread or in thickening their soup. They first parch and then pound it between two stones until it is reduced to a fine meal. Sometimes they add a portion of water, and drink it thus diluted: at other times they add a sufficient proportion of marrow grease to reduce it to the consistency of common dough and eat it in that manner. This last composition we preferred to all the rest, and thought it at that time a very palatable dish.”

And in the 1899 book The English Flower Garden, W. Robinson wrote: “It is true that not a few of this genus [Helianthus] are coarse and weedy… All the larger kinds are noble plants.” For me they’re all noble plants.

(I’ve interrupted the Portraits from Our Yard series for one day and will do so again periodically to keep you up to date with current botanical developments.)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 2, 2021 at 4:29 AM

Tawny emperor

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On July 23rd I noticed what I take to be a tawny emperor, Asterocampa clyton, on an aluminum railing near the entrance to Great Hills Park. I’d been doing botanical closeups in the park and still had a ring flash at the end of my macro lens, so I was able to get good depth of field in the pictures I took of the butterfly.

The other day I used the second picture to play around with some of the effects in Topaz Studio 2, which I downloaded a 30-day free trial of. Click the thumbnail below if you’d like to see the result of applying “Brilliant on White.”

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When I got home from taking pictures that morning, Eve was watching a television program in which the host was interviewing two women who had opposite political perspectives. I walked in just at the moment when the woman representing the Democratic Party claimed that a bill that had passed the Texas Senate, S.B. 3, would prevent teachers in Texas public schools from teaching about the Ku Klux Klan. I’d heard that false claim before. The reason I knew it was false, aside from the blatant implausibility that Texas schools would suddenly forbid the teaching of important episodes in American history that they’d already been teaching for decades, was that the first time I heard the claim I did what I normally do: I looked for evidence to support or refute it. In this case, the obvious source to check was S.B. 3. You’re welcome to read it for yourself, and if you see a clause that would forbid teaching about the Ku Klux Klan, please point it out to us.

You may recall that in a post last week I mentioned a television interview program decades ago that made a big impression on me because a guest persisted in repeating a claim about a federal bill even after the moderator had read viewers the relevant section of the bill that proved the activist’s claim false. In the July 23rd interview I wished the host had asked the activist making the claim to cite the provision in S.B. 3 that would prove her assertion.

I intended to include a link to information about the Ku Klux Klan for any readers from outside the United States who might not know about that terrorist organization (which ironically was founded and sustained over the course of a century by members and supporters of the Democratic Party). I thought the article in the Encyclopedia Britannica might serve, and then I noticed a mistake:

The 19th-century Klan was originally organized as a social club by Confederate veterans in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1866. They apparently derived the name from the Greek word kyklos, from which comes the English “circle”; “Klan” was added for the sake of alliteration and Ku Klux Klan emerged.

Actually Greek kyklos has given English the word cycle. Our similar-sounding word circle comes from a diminutive of Latin circus, which the Romans had borrowed from the etymologically unrelated Greek noun kirkos. Several days ago I sent an e-mail to the Encyclopedia Britannica pointing out the mistake. So far I haven’t gotten a reply and the mistake is still there.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 29, 2021 at 4:34 AM

It wasn’t Ezekiel who saw this wheel way up in the middle of the air

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Like the silverleaf nightshade you saw a picture of the other day, this firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella) was also growing along the Capital of Texas Highway on June 14th. As in that other photograph, because I used my ring flash and a small aperture (this time f/18), the bright sky came out in an unnatural way, but one I find pleasant. You can decide whether the tiny spider is a pleasant addition.

The title of today’s post is a reference to an African-American spiritual based on the Book of Ezekiel in the Jewish Bible.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 8, 2021 at 4:21 AM

Silverleaf nightshade flower

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One of Austin’s most common wildflowers is silverleaf nightshade, Solanum elaeagnifolium. I photographed this one along Capitol of Texas Highway on June 14th. Flash and a small aperture of f/20 caused the bright sky to come out a very dark blue. You can see it that way if you look at the full image against a black background; in contrast, the white surrounding the photograph on this page will make most of you (and me) see the deep blue as black. You may also imagine that the flower’s yellow stamens are little bananas, but I wouldn’t advise eating them unless you want to suffer the effects of toxic masculinity. (Many plants in the nightshade family are poisonous, but some, e.g. tomatoes and potatoes, have become staple foods.)


What’s poisonous in our legal system is the denial of due process and the attempt by ideologues to change our legal ethos from “innocent until proven guilty” to “guilty until proven innocent” or even “guilty because accused.” My niece, Adrienne Levy, works for a law firm that represents people whose due process has been violated. Her arguments carried the day in an important case in Colorado last month.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 6, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Tiny bees in a white prickly poppy flower

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I don’t know about the species of these tiny bees, but the flower they’re reveling in is Argemone albiflora, the white prickly poppy. This picture comes from June 14th along the Capital of Texas Highway.


The other day I watched a roughly one-hour-long talk given by economics professor Glenn Loury. Toward the end he became impassioned at times about the need to better educate African-American students so they can fairly compete intellectually. If you’d like to hear the last part of his talk, you can begin listening at around 54:10 and continue to 1:03:00 in the video.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 5, 2021 at 5:46 AM

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