Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘pond

That bare winter look

with 31 comments


A pond on the grounds of Hyde Park High School on January 21st.

For those interested in the craft of photography, point 15 in About My Techniques applies to this landscape.


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It’s not unusual for someone to wonder, as you may have yourself, who in recent history caused the greatest number of people to die. A 2016 article by Chris Waugh gave this tally:


In contrast, we seldom hear the opposite question: who in recent history saved the greatest number of lives? It most likely was Norman Borlaug. As the University of Minnesota website notes: “alumnus Norman Borlaug left an indelible mark on the world. The late agronomist’s work in developing new varieties of wheat starting in the 1940s spawned the ‘Green Revolution,’ and is credited with saving at least a billion lives.”

Another great saver of human lives was Herbert Hoover. As the National Constitution Center notes: “Hoover is remembered as the ‘Great Humanitarian.’ Hoover was credited with saving 10 million lives during World War I as the leader of U.S. government efforts to send food supplies to war-torn areas of Europe.”

Herbert Hoover had the misfortune to be President of the United States when the stock market crashed in 1929 and the world soon entered what became known as the Great Depression. Because of that, a lot of historians have maligned Hoover, but you can read about his many accomplishments in the National Constitution Center article I cited.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 25, 2023 at 4:28 AM

Reflections of different sorts

with 13 comments


On October 29th I stopped by the pond on Naruna Way. In other years I’d found good fall plants there, but the banks of the pond seemed to have been recently mowed and therefore temporarily useless for my purposes. Not wanting to come away empty-handed, or more properly empty-sensored, I used a telephoto lens to make abstract pictures of sparkles on the pond in front of (and some behind) a stand of bulrushes.

On November 13th in Great Hills Park I photographed dewdrops on a horizontal spiderweb near the ground. The ring flash I used has two back-to-back almost-semicircular tubes that you see reflected in each dewdrop.



In the picture below, from a small waterfall in Great Hills Park on November 13th, the rapid movement in the bubbles mostly broke up and rearranged the reflections of the two light tubes in the ring flash.



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In commentaries over the past two years I’ve pointed out the lawlessness at the southern border of the United States. In those two years Mexican cartels have become fabulously rich by taking money from millions of people, bringing them to the border, and showing them how to cross it. In some cases cartel members even brazenly lead the illegal immigrants into the United States. Members of the current American régime encourage this. It’s what they want. They say the border is secure but they’re lying. You know that they’re lying because you can watch television channels that show thousands of people being allowed to illegally enter the United States every day of the year. Actions speak louder than words.

The money that the current American régime asks for to deal with the situation is not to stop or even reduce the flow of illegal entrants but to process them more quickly and let more of them in. Look into the monstrous $1.7 billion spending bill I commented on yesterday. It gives $339.6 million to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for “non-detention border management requirements” [italics mine]. The bill goes out of its way to specifically prohibit that money from being used to “acquire, maintain, or extend border security technology and capabilities.” At the same time, the bill allocates $410 million toward border security for Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, and Oman. The current administration is okay with using Americans’ money to secure other countries’ borders but adamantly refuses to secure our own. Actions speak louder than words.

If you need more evidence, consider this fact about criminal illegal aliens: “Immigration enforcement in the interior of the country has dropped dramatically under President Biden’s policies. These policies have exempted nearly all but the most serious criminal aliens from arrest and removal and have imposed cumbersome new procedures and paperwork for ICE officers to complete cases. According to ICE records, the number of removals nationwide declined from 186,000 in FY 2020 to 59,000 in FY 2021.” That’s a 68% decline in the deportation of criminal illegal aliens. In other words, the current administration allowed 126,000 people who had entered the country illegally and who also were criminals to stay here anyhow. Actions speak louder than words.

Facts speak louder than lies.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 30, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Nelumbo lutea

with 15 comments


At 40 Acre Lake in Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston on the morning of September 18th I zoomed my telephoto lens to 400mm to photograph both flowers and seed heads of the American lotus, Nelumbo lutea. I’d have thought water lilies and this lotus are in the same botanical family, and in fact both used to be included in Nymphaeaceae. Now, however, botanists have found evidence to move the lotus into its own family, Nelumbonaceae, whose only extant genus is Nelumbo.



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From Mark Twain in London to ice sheets in Antarctica


As Emily Petsko reported in a 2018 article in Mental Floss:

“In 1897, an English journalist from the New York Journal contacted Twain to inquire whether the rumors that he was gravely ill or already dead were indeed true. Twain wrote a response, part of which made it into the article that ran in the Journal on June 2, 1897:”

Mark Twain was undecided whether to be more amused or annoyed when a Journal representative informed him today of the report in New York that he was dying in poverty in London … The great humorist, while not perhaps very robust, is in the best of health. He said: ‘I can understand perfectly how the report of my illness got about, I have even heard on good authority that I was dead. James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness. The report of my death was an exaggeration.’

People later exaggerated Twain’s last sentence into “The report of my death was a great exaggeration, and now we unfortunately find the incorrect version quoted much more often than the historical one.

I bring that up—and I’m not exaggerating—because a lot of people in the media and in government have been exaggerating, sometimes greatly, the dangers from the world’s changing climate. Physicist* Steven Koonin wrote about that in the September 19th Wall Street Journal. His editorial bears the title “Don’t Believe the Hype About Antarctica’s Melting Glaciers” and the subhead “Two studies carefully explore the factors at play, but the headlines are only meant to raise alarm.” Here’s how Koonin’s editorial begins:

Alarming reports that the Antarctic ice sheet is shrinking misrepresent the science under way to understand a very complex situation. Antarctica has been ice-covered for at least 30 million years. The ice sheet holds about 26.5 million gigatons of water (a gigaton is a billion metric tons, or about 2.2 trillion pounds). If it were to melt completely, sea levels would rise 190 feet. Such a change is many millennia in the future, if it comes at all.

Much more modest ice loss is normal in Antarctica. Each year, some 2,200 gigatons (or 0.01%) of the ice is discharged in the form of melt and icebergs, while snowfall adds almost the same amount. The difference between the discharge and addition each year is the ice sheet’s annual loss. That figure has been increasing in recent decades, from 40 gigatons a year in the 1980s to 250 gigatons a year in the 2010s.

But the increase is a small change in a complex and highly variable process. For example, Greenland’s annual loss has fluctuated significantly over the past century. And while the Antarctic losses seem stupendously large, the recent annual losses amount to 0.001% of the total ice and, if they continued at that rate, would raise sea level by only 3 inches over 100 years.


You’re welcome to read the rest of Koonin’s editorial.



* Some climate alarmist activists have made the ad hominem “argument” that because Koonin is a physicist he has no right to say anything about the climate. Of course someone as steeped in data evaluation and the scientific method as a physicist can spend time studying a situation in another field and draw valid conclusions. In fact Koonin has done enough recent research to write an entire book: Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why it Matters. You can read a December 2021 discussion he had on the subject.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 29, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Brazos Bend State Park

with 20 comments


On the morning of September 18th Eve and I met up with Linda Leinen and Shannon Westveer at Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston. It was the first time we’d all gone on a hike together since the fall of 2019, at the time of the annual Native Plant Society of Texas meeting that year in League City. Those two naturophiles live in the region and know Brazos Bend well, which was a big help to the visiting Austinites who’d never visited that park before. You’re looking at 40 Acre Lake above, and then a great egret, Ardea alba, near an edge of the lake.



And here from a different place in the lake is a closer look at the egret,
whose bill is the reverse of the dry vegetation sticking up parallel to it from the water:






It’s common in politics for X to say something bad about Y, and for Y to reply that X’s statement was politically motivated. Imagine that: a politically motivated statement in politics. Who’d ever have believed such a thing? Sarcasm aside, the appropriate question is whether a politically motivated statement is true:


A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent.

— William Blake, Auguries of Innocence.
Written in 1803; published posthumously in 1863.


 A more famous passage comes a little earlier:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

(Capitalization was inconsistent.)


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 26, 2022 at 4:35 AM

Red-eared slider in Mills Pond

with 26 comments

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


with 17 comments

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

with 25 comments


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.

with 48 comments

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

Tagged with , , ,

Drowned remains

with 37 comments

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

with 21 comments

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

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