Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘Pflugerville

Craters of the Moon — in a way

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So you don’t see a moon or craters in these two October 19th photographs
of Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) and wispy clouds.

The title of today’s post’s refers to the location: Craters of the Moon Blvd. in Pflugerville.
Even now, in mid-November, some Maximilian sunflowers are still with us.

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I’m about a third of the way through Bad News, by the interestingly named Batya Ungar-Sargon, who declares herself to be on the political left. If you’d like, you can watch her in a C-SPAN interview from October 24th. Here are a few things in her book that stood out for me so far.

According to a sociological study of the American press done back in 1986, “journalists were getting more and more liberal with each new generation. Among journalists fifty and older, 43 percent said they were left of center and 23 percent said they were right of center. Of journalists between the ages of thirty-five and fifty, 52 percent identified as being on the left, but just 16 percent as conservative. And in the post-Watergate generation, 70 percent identified as liberals, while just 13 percent said they were conservative.”

“And yet, the trends the sociologists noted in 1986 have only accelerated today. In 1984, 26 percent of journalists voted for Ronald Reagan; by 2014, just 7 percent of journalists identified as Republican. By 2015, 96 percent of journalists who made donations to a political campaign donated to Hillary Clinton. When researchers from Arizona State University and Texas A&M University surveyed business journalists from the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Bloomberg News, Associated Press, Forbes, New York Times, Reuters, and Washington Post in 2018, they found that just 4 percent had conservative political views.”

Such a strong leaning in one political direction has colored the way the news gets reported. “It took all of twenty years for the stories on the front pages of the nation’s major newspapers to go from being descriptive to being analytic and interpretive, a shift that began in 1954 and was completed by 1974. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt gave this shift the justification is needed: By reporting his invented accusations of communism, reporters were amplifying his charges. The lessons many (liberal) journalists learned from the episode was that it was important not just to report the facts but to interpret them. That this interpretation would inevitably have a liberal bent was not the goal so much as it was a byproduct of their sociological make up.”

Batya Ungar-Sargon reports that as far back as 1963 perceptive people in the industry were troubled by the trend. “The shift from description to interpretation was not without its critics—including on the left. James S. Pope of Louisville’s liberal Courier-Journal decried the ‘Frankensteinish’ copy that intermingled the ‘writers personal notions’ with the facts. And John Oakes, the editorial page editor of the New York Times, wrote a letter in 1963 to his cousin and Times publisher, Punch Sulzberger, decrying the shift. He felt that the news side was encroaching on his territory by becoming increasingly opinionated: ‘I suppose I am butting my head against a stone wall; but again I feel I must call your attention to the editorialization in the news columns, which in my view is steadily eroding the Times’ reputation for objective news reporting.’ He was ignored.”

Of course the editorialization and slanting of the news have grown much worse since then. As recently as maybe eight years ago I subscribed to the New York Times but gave it up because too much of the reporting had become blatantly biased.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 16, 2021 at 4:29 AM

Basket-flower seed head remains with clouds

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From August 13th on the Blackland Prairie along Pflugerville’s southern border
come these seed head remains of a basket-flower, Plectocephalus americanus.


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Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of the world’s great crusaders for women’s rights, a cause that’s especially dear to her because she grew up in a culture that didn’t afford women many rights. I recommend her August 18th article about the human rights catastrophe in Afghanistan.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 27, 2021 at 4:25 AM

Walking on feathery “ground”

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This spring I reported that the great piece of prairie on the west side of Heatherwilde Blvd. slightly north of Wells Branch Parkway in Pflugerville had become a construction zone. I held out hope that the southern end of that site, separated from the main part by some woods, might survive for another spring. Alas, when I visited on August 13th I found early signs of construction on that parcel, too, though most of it was still intact. At one point I took some pictures of a Clematis drummondii vine that had reached its fluffy stage. I was about to leave when a bit of movement on the feathery strands caught my attention. It was the walking stick you see in today’s portrait. A couple of days later on the Internet I saw a similar-looking walking stick in Austin identified as Pseudosermyle strigata, so maybe that’s what this one was.


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Here’s a good quotation for the censorious times we’re living through (and hopefully will come out the other side of): “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” It’s not clear who first said that. Many websites attribute it to physicist Richard Feynman, but always without any further details, like when or where he supposedly said it. That lack of specificity usually means a quotation has been misattributed. I found comments about the origin of this quotation in a discussion group on the history of science and math. One related thing Feynman did say—and you can watch a video of him saying it—is: “I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 23, 2021 at 4:53 AM

Another fountain

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A year ago today I was driving on Lake Victor Drive in the rapidly grown and still growing Austin suburb of Pflugerville when I noticed a path between houses that seemed to lead somewhere interesting. After parking, I walked through and found myself at a new place: a large pond apparently connected to an apartment complex. The immediate shore all the way around had been heavily mowed and looked like it was always kept that way. Even so, I still found some plants and non-plants to photograph. In the latter category was a fountain of the type that shoots water straight up into the air. The top picture reveals the top of the jet at 1/2000 of a second. Below is a view at 1/1250 of a second showing how sunlight created a rainbow in the water that was mistified* as it fell back into the pond.

* In case you’re mystified by mistified, I’ll add that I created it on the pattern of words like liquified and solidified. Following that pattern, mistified means ‘turned into mist.’


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Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman who came to the United States in 1831 and ended up writing the classic book Democracy in America, had extraordinary insights into the spirit of the young country. Here’s an example:

What good does it do me, after all, if an ever-watchful authority keeps an eye out to ensure that my pleasures will be tranquil and races ahead of me to ward off all danger, sparing me the need even to think about such things, if that authority, even as it removes the smallest thorns from my path, is also absolute master of my liberty and my life; if it monopolizes vitality and existence to such a degree that when it languishes, everything around it must also languish; when it sleeps, everything must also sleep; and when it dies, everything must also perish?

That strikes me as even more relevant in 2021 than it was in 1831.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 19, 2021 at 4:40 AM

Making inroads

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Here are two more pictures from May 9th showing the great wildpflower pfield in Pflugerville that you saw in a previous post. Most of the flowers are firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella) and greenthreads (Thelesperma filifolium). In the top picture there had been real motion, namely of a vehicle whose tracks became no-grow zones for the wildflowers. In the second view there’s an implied motion radiating up and out from the bottom center of the frame, a floral big bang. I think what accounts for that sense of movement was my vantage point as I stood on a stepladder. Having the camera up so high let me aim down at a greater angle, which in turn made it easier to keep all the plants in focus; that’s why I’d brought the stepladder with me.

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For an editorial about the value of free speech in a free society, and especially on college campuses, I recommend “Beliefs Aren’t Facts,” by Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro, both of Northwestern University. Here’s one of the editorial’s seventeen paragraphs:

But if we discount the practice of learning through meaningful exchange, we not only default on our obligations as citizens, we place democracy itself in peril. Democracy demands we recognize our beliefs as opinions, and opinions sometimes prove false. If we could be certain they wouldn’t, there would be no reason to embrace democracy over a dictatorship of the virtuous.

And here’s another excerpt:

Those who acquiesce to violence and intimidation because it is invoked in the name of justice in fact invite it. Actions inconceivable one year become fringe the next, and soon they’re mainstream. Once the intelligentsia condones such excesses, the slide begins. The cancellers are soon canceled.  There is no limit to how far that process can go.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 24, 2021 at 5:36 AM

Two surviving colonies

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In my April 22nd post I sadly reported this year’s loss to development of a great piece of Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville. I still held out hope of seeing good wildflowers, as I had in the spring of 2020, on the adjacent piece of land that hasn’t yet become a construction site. When I did check out that remnant on May 9th it disappointed me, as the wildflowers there were much less expansive than last spring. Oh well, such are the vagaries of nature. Even so, I found one happy group of clasping-leaf coneflowers, Dracopis amplexicaulis, as you see above, near the larger red-and-yellowful stand of firewheels, Gaillardia pulchella, shown below.

Here’s an entry for the “Why can’t they get this figured out once and for all?” category. So you call a company to pay a bill, as I did yesterday. (I’d tried to pay online, had entered all my information, and then the company’s website generated a system error, as it had on other occasions.) The person on the phone asked for the account number and the name on that account. Fine. Then the person asked for the birthday and last four digits of the account holder’s Social Security card. Fine. Then the person asked me for my name and my relationship to the account holder. Okay. Then the person asked for the address, and I gave our house number and street and said it’s in Austin, Texas. This was getting tedious. Then the person wouldn’t go further unless I also gave my ZIP code. I explained that anyone who knows a street address can easily look up the ZIP code online, so the ZIP code provides no additional confirmatory information. The person on the phone was nice and understood what I was saying but explained that management makes her ask for the ZIP code every time anyhow. I told her my opinion of a management that can’t get a website to work properly and that asks customers for unnecessary information, and she and I had some laughs together. At least for her and me this wasn’t one of those wasted days mentioned yesterday in a quotation by Chamfort.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 20, 2021 at 4:31 AM

Little white snail on an opening firewheel

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Where 2020 proved an out-and-out snailfest on the prairie, the prolonged freeze in February of 2021 may explain the dearth of snails I’ve seen this spring. On May 9th I did finally see one on the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville. That little white snail had found its way onto the developing flower head of a firewheel, Gaillardia pulchella, which insisted on opening despite its extra load.

And here’s an unrelated quotation for today: “La plus perdue de toutes les journées est celle où l’on n’a pas ri.” “The most wasted of all our days is the one when we haven’t laughed.” — Sébastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort (1741–1794). Plenty of Internet sites attribute the wording “The most wasted of all days is one without laughter” to e.e. cummings, who liked to write his name in lower case and who wasn’t even born till a hundred years after Chamfort died. Perhaps cummings quoted Chamfort and somebody then mistakenly believed the saying was cummings’s own. Or else someone attributed it to cummings for no good reason at all, and others then copied that without verifying it. Cummings is worth quoting—as long as it’s done correctly. For example, take this assertion: “So far as I am concerned, poetry and every other art was, is, and forever will be strictly and distinctly a question of individuality.” No groupthink for him.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 19, 2021 at 4:31 AM

Dense wildpflowers

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Now that it’s already the middle of May, if you thought I was done showing vast colonies of wildflowers this spring, think again. Above from May 9th in Pflugerville (hence the spelling of wildpflowers in the title) is a densely flowering colony of Gaillardia pulchella, called firewheels, Indian blankets, and blanketflowers. The yellow flowers mixed in are greenthread (Thelesperma filifolium), and the leaves forming a green mound belong to compass plants (Silphium albiflora).

In the picture below, the cream-colored flower at the bottom is a kind of foxglove (Penstemon cobaea). A few of the bright yellow spots further right are square-bud primroses (Oenothera berlandieri). The trees are Ashe junipers (Juniperus ashei). The clouds are clouds. I’m me.

And speaking of me, be aware that my pronouns are the exalted one and Mr. Wonderful.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 12, 2021 at 4:38 AM

The temperature dropped 15° in as many minutes

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There I was lying on the ground at the edge of Lake Pflugerville on December 30th last year to photograph this bare bald cypress tree (Taxodium distichum) against menacing clouds when suddenly the wind picked up and the temperature dropped, both noticeably, as the predicted cold front came through. Adding some brightness to the bleak sky and dark branches were the colorful lichens on the tree’s trunk:

Unrelated thought for today:  “Credulity is always greatest in times of calamity.” — Charles MacKay,
Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, first published in 1841.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 10, 2021 at 4:39 AM

A new source of fall color for me

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Driving about on the Blackland Prairie on November 11th, we came upon a pond that was new to us. Located along Kingston Lacy Blvd. in Pflugerville, a plaque identified it as Mirror Lake. Some of the usual water-loving species were growing around the edge of the pond, including Iva annua, known as annual sumpweed or annual marsh elder. On one of those plants I noticed a leaf that caught my attention for two reasons: it was bright yellow, and it stayed pressed to the stem from which it grew. As I’d never seen a sumpweed leaf like that, it was a welcome new source of fall color.

The Romans had a saying, Nihil sub sole novum, which Wiktionary says was borrowed from the Hebrew אֵין כָּל חָדָשׁ תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ‎ (en kol chadásh táchat hashámesh), “There’s nothing new under the sun.” Sorry, proverb, but this sunny leaf was new to me.

And speaking of old and new, the Illinois Wildflowers page for this species tells us that “Sumpweed has an interesting archaeological history because its seeds were used by early Amerindians as a source of food prior to the arrival of the squash-bean-corn complex from Mexico. The primary region of use was the lower to middle Mississippi region and the lower Midwest along the Ohio River. A cultivated variety of Sumpweed, Iva annua macrocarpa, was used for this purpose, as its seeds were about twice as long and wide in size (about 7 mm. in length and 4.5 mm. across) as the seeds of the wild varieties of Iva annua. Unfortunately, this cultivated variety of Sumpweed is now extinct with non-viable seeds existing only at archaeological sites or inside caves….”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 3, 2020 at 4:37 AM

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