Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘prairie

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

My great land loss for 2021

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Today is Earth Day. That notwithstanding, not a single year in the past decade has gone by that development hasn’t claimed one or more properties where I used to photograph native plants. In the last few years the loss has been running four, five, or even six annually as the Austin area has kept up its rapid growth. Two days ago I drove out to a field in Pflugerville on the west side of Heatherwilde Blvd. immediately south of Spring Hill Elementary School. From 2016 onward I’d been photographing great colonies of wildflowers there in early May, and I went to see how things were coming along in 2021 after the delay or even total suppression of blooming that our frozen week in February had caused to some species.

Alas, I discovered that my flowerful field of yesteryear has become a construction site of today. As I did once before with another recently lost prairie site, today’s post commemorates the way the Heatherwilde Blvd. parcel of Blackland Prairie looked in the first half of May 2019 but will look no more.

The white flowers are prairie bishop (Bifora americana); the yellow are square-bud primrose (Oenothera berlandieri) and Engelmann daisy (Engelmannia peristenia); the yellow-green are prairie parsley (Polytaenia sp.); the red are firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella); the blowing grass is purple three-awn (Aristida purpurea).

I should add that the southernmost end of the property, separated from the construction site by trees and perhaps under different ownership, has so far survived. I got good pictures in that area last spring and will go back in the weeks ahead to see how the flowers are doing there. It may be my last chance.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 22, 2021 at 4:40 AM

Channeling my inner Rembrandt—or not

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On December 23, 2020, I found myself out on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin waiting for the sun to come up, which it must have done, only the sky was so overcast I never did see the solar disk. In the gloom I channeled my inner Rembrandt and made a somber portrait of goldenrod (Solidago sp.) seed head remains. In contrast, on November 11th at the Riata Trace Pond I’d made a much brighter portrait:

And from January 10th of this year, here’s another vaguely
Rembrandtesque view, this time of some ground-bound goldenrod:

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 26, 2021 at 4:30 AM

Cattails in sunrise light

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After the fog dissipated on the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin on the morning of December 22nd
last year, I turned my attention to making pictures of dry cattails (Typha sp.) in golden-hour light.

Is there anyone who doesn’t like the way cattail seed heads shed their fluff?
The prominent arcs in the photograph below seemed especially graceful
(though I didn’t look graceful lying on the ground to get that picture).

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 6, 2021 at 4:32 AM

From fire to fog

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The weather forecast on the evening of December 21st last year said to expect fog the next morning in the eastern reaches of Austin. Because we don’t often get fog, I went to the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin early that morning to see if I could find some. Along the way I stopped to photograph some other things (including the fiery clouds you saw last time), so I arrived only a short while before the rising sun dissipated the fog. Even so, I did get a few misty pictures. The one above, which reminds me of an old sepia-toned photograph, came nine minutes before the one below, which seems split-toned. In fact the tinting in both cases was nature’s and the camera’s own.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 5, 2021 at 4:36 AM

Wind-waved willow yellow

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While wind whisked the leaves of this black willow tree sideways, my trusty camera set to 1/640 of a second proved its equal. The location on November 15th was new to me, Maxa Drive in Manor; the tree, Salix nigra, was hardly new, being a common species here. And not new either was the pretty yellow that the long leaves tend to turn before falling. Hardly half a mile east I’d earlier found and photographed a fine willow sapling serving as a backdrop for some bushy bluestem turned fluffy, both blazoned against the day’s blue skies. The two portraits exemplify the more-is-more or fill-the-frame esthetic that I often find myself drawn to.

Did you know that another English word for a willow is withy? Here’s “The Old Withy Tree” from an 1859 book called Songs of the Wye, and Poems, from a writer identified only by the pseudonym Wioni:

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 6, 2020 at 4:20 AM

Twi-light, yet not twilight

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On the morning of November 15th I spent a good couple of hours in a field on the north side of US 290 east of Bois d’Arc Rd. in Manor. Making that piece of prairie fabulous to behold and photograph were the extensive colonies of goldenrod (Solidago sp.) and bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) that had gone into their fluffy autumn stage. In some places the two colonies were mostly distinct; in others they interwove, as you see here. Notice in the lower right of the top picture that one goldenrod plant was still flowering.

The post’s title interweaves etymology and photography. The word twilight means literally ‘two lights,’ the two being the fading light of day and the oncoming darkness of night. I took these two pictures not in different parts of the day—they were only seven minutes apart—but in different parts of the field and, more importantly, facing in opposite directions. The first photograph shows the effects of the morning sunlight falling directly on the subject; the second picture looks in the direction of the sun, whose light on the way to the camera passed through much of the fluff and in so doing outlined the seed heads. The first landscape is softer and more colorful, the second starker and more dramatic. Both have their appeal.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 25, 2020 at 4:32 AM

Textures

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On August 12th I spent some time on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin. Of the many textures I observed there then, this post singles out two. Compare and contrast, as schoolteachers are wont to say.

In the first you’re looking at a Texas spiny lizard, Sceloporus olivaceus, on one of those low construction fences that have become so common in central Texas (and presumably also everywhere else).

The second picture is a closeup of the brain-like chartreuse fruit of a Maclura pomifera tree—known as osage orange, hedge apple, and bois d’arc—that I found fallen on the ground.

Did you know that the words text and texture are both ancient metaphors? They come from textus, the past participle of the Latin verb texere, which meant literally ‘to weave,’ and then more generally ‘to fabricate.’ As a noun, textus took on the sense “the style of a work,” which is metaphorically how it is woven, which is to say its texture. The subjects of these portraits gave me a pretext for providing a bit of etymology that I hope has let you put things in context (two more derivatives of textus).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 15, 2020 at 2:38 AM

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