Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘pond

Red-eared slider in Mills Pond

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Red-eared slider, Trachemys scripta elegans.

Mills Pond; August 3rd.



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The National Association of Scholars publishes the quarterly journal Academic Questions, whose Summer 2022 issue has just appeared. A section called Academic Levity includes an article that it describes this way: “Math teacher Steven Schwartzman explains that the equity activists have set their sights on mathematics, condemning the marginalization of whole numbers labelled ‘odd.’” I invite you to read “Equity in Mathematics,” which is a slightly altered version of a parody that I tried out here a year ago.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman







Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 10, 2022 at 4:31 AM


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I wasn’t stumped when it came to taking photographs—the more abstract, the better—of the many slender stumps still standing erect in the Willow Trace Pond in far north Austin on July 21st. Notice the one cattail plant (Typha sp.) that had arisen in the midst of all that wreckage.



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More than two years into the pandemic, most people worldwide have likely been infected with the virus at least once, epidemiologists said. Some 58% of people in the U.S. had contracted Covid-19 through February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated. Since then, a persistent wave driven by offshoots of the infectious Omicron variant has kept daily known cases in the U.S. above 100,000 for weeks….

People who don’t know whether they have been infected should be careful, Dr. Jameson [at the University of Minnesota Medical School] said, because they might yet get sick as antibodies wane and new variants arrive.

“There are plenty of people who’ve had the vaccines or even had Covid and then have gotten Covid again,” he said. “It’s not as if it makes you immortal.”


You can read more in a July 25th Wall Street Journal article.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 28, 2022 at 4:28 AM

A rainbow in the falling drops

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The intersection of Gault Lane and Burnet Road is home to a good-sized pond—good enough to host not one but two fountains that shoot jets of water upward. If you stand in an appropriate place at an appropriate time, as I did on the morning of July 7th, you’ll see a rainbow created by sunlight refracting through the multitude of drops as they fall back into the pond.


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Here’s a question I haven’t heard anyone else ask: When people who want others to refer to them as “they/them” speak about themselves, do they say “I” or do they say “we”? My guess is that virtually all of them still use the traditional singular, “I,” rather than the plural, “we.” Would that inconsistency undermine their insistence that other people refer to them as “they/them”?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. On the “not” side is the vernacular tradition of using “they/them/their” as an indeterminate personal pronoun. English speakers have been reinforcing that tradition a lot in recent years. For example, most people—especially young ones—wouldn’t find anything wrong with a sentence like “Anyone who wants to keep their teeth should brush and floss every day.”

Walt Whitman might well have sided with that usage:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

That’s from “Song of Myself,” not “Song of Ourselves.”


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 13, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Right side up or upside down? You decide.

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There’s a story—maybe true, maybe not—that after General Cornwallis surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown in 1781, the British band played the song “The World Turned Upside Down.” That’s a good lead-in to today’s picture from Southeast Metropolitan Park on February 11th. While I was processing the photograph of the choppy water (thanks, breeze), the thought came to me that a person viewing the picture would be hard-pressed to decide if it’s right side up or upside down. With that it mind, I’ve presented it both ways. Take a minute and see if you can you tell which one matches reality and which one has been rotated 180°.

This prompts the linguist in me to ask two other questions. Why does English fuse the up and the side in upside down but keep the right separate from the side in right side up (or hyphenate it)? And why does English normally say upside down rather than the synonymous downside up? Google’s Ngram viewer shows that in 2018 upside down occurred about 1500 times as often as downside up.

Do you think you’ve figured out which version of the photograph is the correct one? To find out, scroll on down. Let me know if you got it right or wrong.

Call the picture at the top topsy turvy. The second version of the photograph is the one that is true.

And now I’ve reminded myself of the great comedic routine
in which the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 23, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Drowned remains

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At Barkley Meadows Park in Del Valle on January 29th we walked completely around Berdoll Pond, at whose far end I did many takes on drowned tree remains. The nearby skeleton of the plant shown below (perhaps poverty weed) also attracted me.


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The press is an availability machine. It serves up anecdotes which feed our impression of what’s common in a way that is guaranteed to mislead. Since news is what happens, not what doesn’t happen, the denominator in the fraction corresponding to the true probability of an event—all the opportunities for the event to occur, including those in which it doesn’t—is invisible, leaving us in the dark about how prevalent something is.

The distortions, moreover, are not haphazard, but misdirect us toward the morbid. Things that happened suddenly are usually bad—a war, a shooting, famine, financial collapse—but good things may consist of nothing happening, like a boring country at peace or a forgettable region that is healthy and well fed. And when progress takes place, it isn’t built in a day; it creeps up a few percentage points a year, transforming the world by stealth.

Steven Pinker, Rationality, 2021

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman 



Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 18, 2022 at 4:36 AM

Droplets do more than make fog

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On February 1st at the pond along Kulmbacher Drive in far north Austin I wandered around taking pictures of the foggy landscape. I also got close to some of the things that the fog droplets had settled on, most prominently spiderwebs. In the top picture I went for a soft approach at a relatively wide aperture of f/6.3. The result is pleasant, though things in the background still distract somewhat from the spiderweb. To get around that, for some of my photographs I used flash, which also let me stop down to small apertures like f/22 in the picture below to keep as many of the droplets in focus as possible.


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MDM: a dangerous new initialism

MGM is an initialism for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a Hollywood movie studio known especially for its many musicals from the 1930s through the 1950s. Now in the 2020s an agency of the American government that goes by the acronym CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) has created the initialism MDM, standing for “misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation.” Bet you didn’t know the American government thinks there are so many kinds of wrong information. Here’s how CISA sizes up the three “information activities” (oh, that bureaucratic jargon):

  • Misinformation is false, but not created or shared with the intention of causing harm.
  • Disinformation is deliberately created to mislead, harm, or manipulate a person, social group, organization, or country.
  • Malinformation is based on fact, but used out of context to mislead, harm, or manipulate.

On February 7th the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) issued a warning bulletin:

The United States remains in a heightened threat environment fueled by several factors, including an online environment filled with false or misleading narratives and conspiracy theories, and other forms of mis- dis- and mal-information (MDM) introduced and/or amplified by foreign and domestic threat actors. These threat actors seek to exacerbate societal friction to sow discord and undermine public trust in government institutions to encourage unrest, which could potentially inspire acts of violence. Mass casualty attacks and other acts of targeted violence conducted by lone offenders and small groups acting in furtherance of ideological beliefs and/or personal grievances pose an ongoing threat to the nation. While the conditions underlying the heightened threat landscape have not significantly changed over the last year, the convergence of the following factors has increased the volatility, unpredictability, and complexity of the threat environment: (1) the proliferation of false or misleading narratives, which sow discord or undermine public trust in U.S. government institutions; (2) continued calls for violence directed at U.S. critical infrastructure; soft targets and mass gatherings; faith-based institutions, such as churches, synagogues, and mosques; institutions of higher education; racial and religious minorities; government facilities and personnel, including law enforcement and the military; the media; and perceived ideological opponents; and (3) calls by foreign terrorist organizations for attacks on the United States based on recent events.

Now, it’s true that foreign governments and non-governmental groups are working to gin up dissent in the United States. It’s hardly a new thing: Russia, a.k.a. the Soviet Union, has been doing that for a century already, and radical Islamic groups have been doing it for decades. It’s also true that we’ve had domestic terror groups, including the Weather Underground* that blew up buildings and killed people when I was in my 20s, and Antifa now.

What’s new and truly dangerous about the bulletin is that it aims to put American citizens who speak out against any of the government’s policies in the same category as terrorists. Take almost anything an American citizen says that differs from the official line, and the government will contort itself in finding some way to fit it into the triple Procrustian bed of misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation. The bulletin is indeed a warning to Americans, but not the warning the issuers of the bulletin intended. It’s a warning that our own government is increasingly cracking down on free speech and our rights as citizens. As I said: this is dangerous.

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* The Mark Rudd mentioned in the Britannica article about the Weather Underground was a fellow student of mine at Columbia University; I remember him from a class we both took but I didn’t really know him. Terrorist Bernardine Dohrn ended up on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list. Northwestern University School of Law(!) later rewarded her by making her a professor. She and her terrorist husband Bill Ayers,** who likewise got rewarded with a professorship at a different university, adopted the child of two other imprisoned terrorists. That child is Chesa Boudin, the current District Attorney in San Francisco who has refused and keeps refusing to prosecute many criminals. He has seen to it that many have been released on little or no bail, and some of those criminals have not surprisingly gone on to commit more crimes, including murder. A fine bunch of outstanding citizens we’ve got here, folks.

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** As an indication of the increased ideological slanting in Wikipedia articles, the one about Bill Ayers says that the Weather Underground was described by the FBI as a terrorist group, as if that might be an unfair characterization of a radical communist group that blew up buildings. And though the article confirms that Ayers participated in the bombings of New York City Police Department headquarters in 1970, the United States Capitol building in 1971, and the Pentagon in 1972, the article had earlier made sure to tell us that no one was killed in those bombings. I guess it’s okay with Wikipedia to blow up buildings as long as you don’t kill anyone. (Actually that’s not even true: as the article admits, several Weather Underground members ended up killing themselves when a bomb they were assembling accidentally went off.)

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 15, 2022 at 4:34 AM

More fog

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The first day of February came up foggy, so I relished another chance to take pictures in weather that’s not so common here (though the previous time had been not that long before, on December 14th). I headed for the pond along Kulmbacher Drive in far north Austin, which proved a worthwhile place for the kinds of misty photographs I imagined. The top view shows winter cattails (Typha sp.). Below, the reflections of so many bare stalks intrigued me.


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 Education in the news


In my October 23rd commentary last year I reported that the public schools in Wellesley, Massachusetts, were segregating students in “affinity groups,” which is to say illegally according to race or ethnicity. Several families fought back against the illegal segregation through a lawsuit brought by Parents Defending Education and have now largely prevailed against the Wellesley school district.

At the John F. Kennedy Middle School in Enfield, Connecticut, students were recently given a worksheet that told them to use pizza toppings as metaphors for sex. Honest—I’m not clever enough to have made that up. Examples included “cheese = kissing” and “olives = giving oral.” You can read the details in a New York Post article.

On February 10, Wisconsin state lawmaker Lee Snodgrass tweeted that “If parents want to ‘have a say’ in their child’s education, they should home school or pay for private school tuition out of their family budget.” In other words, even though parents’ taxes pay for the public education system, parents aren’t entitled to a say in how their children are educated in the public schools. You can read more about this in a local television station’s news report.

The American Bar Association, which accredits law schools, is “poised to mandate race-focused study as a prerequisite to graduating from law school.”

“Trade publication Education Week recently reported that about 500 school districts around the country are rating teacher applicants according to their ‘cultural competency,’ another code for wokeness.‘ Many of these districts are contracting with a teacher-hiring company called Nimble, which uses artificial intelligence to examine applications and interview answers to determine which candidates harbor the correct political and cultural attitudes.” You can find out more in a Federalist article.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 14, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Trees in morning fog

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When I looked outside on the morning of December 14th and saw fog, I quickly hied me over to the Riata Trace Pond for some misty photographs. After a light drizzle eventually sent me back to my car, I drove north, hoping that by the time I reached Brushy Creek Lake Park in the town of Cedar Park the drizzle would have stopped. Not only had it, but there was still fog, so I could take some more pictures of trees reflected in water.

Click to enlarge this panorama of what might pass for a long and narrow islet but isn’t.

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The southern border of the United States remains largely open, as it has been since January. Last week government officials reported apprehending over 173,000 illegal immigrants coming across from Mexico just during the month of November. Unknown tens of thousands more managed to evade apprehension altogether because the border patrol is so overwhelmed with processing and caring for illegal immigrants that some sections of the border are no longer effectively patrolled, or even patrolled at all. This is not by chance; it’s what the current American administration wants. I don’t know what you call it, but I call the government’s wanton reluctance to enforce laws lawlessness.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 26, 2021 at 4:30 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Palmetto State Park revisited

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After this January’s little freeze but before February’s horrendous freeze and snow and ice, we drove 65 miles south to Palmetto State Park, as you saw in posts from early this year. On a sunny and mild November 23rd we revisited the park for the first time since then. The palmettos (Sabal minor) looked pretty good, don’t you think? Where the top picture sets the scene and provides context, the closer view below leans into abstraction and follows a more-is-more aesthetic.

Back to nature: apparently the great February freeze hadn’t seriously hurt the palmettos. It’s normal for there to be some tan and brown fronds as old leaves die and new ones emerge. Such is the great chain of being.

Ω              Ω

What follows is a bit long. I hope you’ll read at least the second part.

Last week we heard that a new Covid-19 variant is spreading. All the variants of the virus so far have been named with consecutive letters of the Greek alphabet. The most serious and now dominant variant is Delta, which is the 4th letter in the Greek alphabet. The latest variant is Omicron, the 15th letter in the Greek alphabet. English speakers are not nearly as familiar with the letter omicron as with the letter delta, which our language has borrowed as the name for the area where a river widens out and deposits sediment as it flows into the sea. Americans also recognize Delta Airlines, named for the delta of the Mississippi River.

Because people are less familiar with omicron, they aren’t always sure how to pronounce it. If you’ve listened to the news for any length of time over the past week, you’ve probably heard some people pronounce the first syllable ah, while others say oh. English dictionaries accept both (but certainly not the omnicron that some people have mangled the word to). I’ve always pronounced the first syllable oh because omicron is the Greek letter that Latin and then English borrowed as our letter o.

Omicron is more than the name of a Greek letter, it’s a description of the sound the letter originally represented. Omicron is o micron, literally ‘little o’ (think about microscope and microprocessor). Greek has another letter that’s also pronounced o; it’s omega, meaning ‘big o’ (think of megaphone and megachurch). Those descriptions correspond to the fact that Greeks in ancient times held the o sound of omicron for a shorter time than the o sound of omega, which was what linguists call a long vowel. From what I’ve read, Greek lost the pronunciation distinction between little o and big o a long time ago.

Omega (written 𝛀 as a capital and 𝛚 in lower case) is the 24th and last letter of the Greek alphabet (hence the alpha and omega, the first and last, of Christianity). How Covid-19 variants will get named after the 24th one, I don’t know. I’ve joked that maybe we’ll switch to Chinese ideograms, of which there are thousands.


Yesterday American authorities announced the first detected case of the Omicron Covid-19 variant in the United States. That caused something of a panic in certain quarters and has added one more consideration to ongoing discussions of pandemic travel restrictions. At a news conference yesterday, reporter Peter Doocy posed a couple of questions to White House Coronavirus Response Team member Dr. Anthony Fauci: “You advised the president about the possibility of new testing requirements for people coming into this country. Does that include everybody?” Dr. Fauci replied: “The answer is yes.” Peter Doocy followed up by asking: “What about people who don’t take a plane, and just these border crossers coming in in huge numbers?” Dr. Fauci’s response was “That’s a different issue.”

It shouldn’t be a different issue—at least not if you believe in science. In case you didn’t catch what an evasion Dr. Fauci’s answer was, and how illogical and hypocritical, I’ll be happy to explain. The Centers for Disease Control hosts a What You Need to Know page for international airplane travel:

  • If you plan to travel internationally, you will need to get a COVID-19 viral test (regardless of vaccination status) before you travel by air into the United States. You must show your negative result to the airline before you board your flight.
    • Fully vaccinated: The viral test must be conducted on a sample taken no more than 3 days before the flight’s departure from a foreign country if you show proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
    • Not fully vaccinated: The viral test must be conducted on a sample taken no more than 1 day before the flight’s departure from a foreign country if you do not show proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • If you recently recovered from COVID-19, you may instead travel with documentation of recovery from COVID-19 (i.e., your positive COVID-19 viral test result on a sample taken no more than 90 days before the flight’s departure from a foreign country and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official stating that you were cleared to travel).

At the same time, people illegally coming across the American border from Mexico do not have to show proof of full or even partial Covid-19 vaccination. Unless they’re exhibiting obvious respiratory distress, they don’t even need to be tested for the virus. The current administration has let hundreds of thousands of illegal border-crossers with unknown vaccine status and unknown infection status continue on into our country since January, and in many cases the administration has even paid for their bus and plane tickets into the interior of our country. In sum, unvaccinated and untested non-citizens coming into our country illegally during a pandemic don’t have to follow the health and safety requirements that the American government imposes on its own citizens. That’s lawless. That’s hypocritical. And of course with regard to controlling a pandemic, it’s anti-science.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 2, 2021 at 4:29 AM

A foggy morning

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The morning of February 27th came up unusually foggy, so in quest of portraits in the fog I headed over to the Riata Trace Pond, where I’d been able to get pictures of that kind two years earlier. The bird in the top image is a white egret (Ardea alba). The tan plants reflected in the pond in the second photograph are dry cattails, Typha domingensis, some of them battered down by the ice and snow two weeks earlier. (Speaking of which, more wintry pictures are forthcoming; let today’s post serve as a little diversion from the cold.)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 4, 2021 at 4:39 AM

Posted in nature photography

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