Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘sky

Gaillardia suavis

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I’ve never seen Gaillardia suavis var. suavis, known as pincushion daisy and perfume balls, in Travis County.
If I hop east to adjacent Bastrop County, as I did on March 19th, finding it isn’t unusual. Each solitary flower head grows atop a tall, erect stalk, making it relatively easy for me to get below it and aim toward the sky.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 24, 2023 at 4:32 AM


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My last stop in our seven-hour wildflower chase on March 13th wasn’t for wildflowers. It was for these clouds I’d been eyeing for some time after we turned north from Nixon on FM 1117 and headed for home.


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A recent post made me aware of Harry Watrous (1857–1940), a traditional American figurative painter who didn’t like modernism. Turning from style to message, however, we find him very modern in the message he conveyed in a painting from around 1913, “The Drop Sinister—What Shall We Do with It?” The first part of the title refers to the “one drop rule” from the benighted days of American slavery and racism when white supremacists considered a person with any black ancestry at all, even as little as one drop of blood, to be black and therefore to be looked down upon and mistreated.

The painting shows three people, presumably a family: a light-skinned black man on one side, a seemingly white woman and blond-haired girl together on the other side. As Wikipedia notes:

It is said to be the first known portrait of an American interracial family. The father wears a clerical collar and holds a Christian newspaper in his hand; on the wall [between the husband on the left and the wife and daughter on the right] is a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and a quotation, “And God said, Let us make man in our own image after our likeness.”

The painting caused a stir when it was exhibited at the National Academy of Design and at the Century Club in New York. “Harry W. Watrous preaches and paints well an interesting sermon on the negro question in The Drop Sinister,” commented American Art News, which also called it “one of his best canvases.” This “study in the fruits of miscegenation…caused an extraordinary amount of discussion, residents of one typically Southern city threatening to wreck the art museum if it was shown there.”

The painting appears to depict a mixed marriage, which was illegal in many states at the time. The Crisis, the N.A.A.C.P. journal edited by W.E.B. DuBois, had a different idea about what was going on in the picture:

The people in this picture are all “colored”; that is to say the ancestors of all of them two or three generations ago numbered among them full-blooded Negroes. These “colored” folk married and brought to the world a little golden-haired child; today they pause for a moment and sit aghast when they think of this child’s future.

What is she? A Negro? No, she is “white.” But is she white? The United States Census says she is a “Negro.” What earthly difference does it make what she is, so long as she grows up a good, true, capable woman? But her chances for doing this are small! Why?

Because 90,000,000 of her neighbors, good Christian, noble, civilized people are going to insult her, seek to ruin her and slam the door of opportunity in her face the moment they discover “The Drop Sinister.”

The reference to people threatening to wreck an art museum if “The Drop Sinister” was shown there reminds us that in at least one respect nothing has changed in the century since Harry Watrous created his painting. We still have zealots who feel justified in attacking, even with physical violence, anyone who has ideas different from any of the zealots’ cherished beliefs.

The most recent criminal activity of that sort I’m aware of took place at the University of California, Davis on March 14th, when woke activists rioted to protest a speech by Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA. The rioters (and unfortunately many students on campus) believe Charlie Kirk is “hateful” in believing, for example, that biological men shouldn’t be allowed to compete against women in athletics. Ironically, the zealots have pushed beyond the one-drop rule of racial segregation and now follow a zero-drop rule: anyone born with not even a single drop of female blood can demand to be treated as a woman.



© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 20, 2023 at 4:27 PM

Posted in nature photography

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What wondrous Wednesday welkin* will we welcome?

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From last Wednesday above my northwest Austin neighborhood.



* Here’s the skinny on welkin. German readers will recognize the resemblance to Wolke.




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Two more cases of blatant governmental racial discrimination


The Providence, Rhode Island, Public School District has a loan forgiveness program for new and recently hired teachers, funded by the Rhode Island Foundation, the largest charity in the state. There’s a catch, however. Whites need not apply, it’s only open to non-whites.

So begins a February 9th Legal Insurrection article by William A. Jacobson that goes on to show a Providence Public School District teacher recruitment announcement with this line in it: “Selected candidates will be eligible for hiring incentives, including $25,000 in loan forgiveness for educators of color [emphasis mine]….”

At around the same time the Providence school district had separately advertised an “educators of color meetup” from which white teachers were barred.

It’s depressing to keep hearing about new government programs and activities that violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and similar state laws that forbid racial discrimination, but that’s what “equity” ideologues keep doing.

You can follow the two links to learn more details about those incidents of illegal racial discrimination.

The way you get more non-white teachers is to educate non-white students in elementary and secondary school. Instead, for the past fifty years the American education establishment has kept lowering school standards and turning out masses of “graduates” who can’t read or write well and who know precious little about geography, history, science, mathematics, or anything else that’s important. It’s a disgrace.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman







Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 1, 2023 at 6:21 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Dramatic goldenrod

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On a prairie remnant along The Lakes Blvd. in northeast Austin on October 29th I lay on the ground and photographed some goldenrod against the sky. Use of full flash brightened my subject and by contrast made the morning’s clouds seem darker and more ominous than they actually appeared to me. Call it interpretation, call it transformation; though not true to life, the visual drama pleases me.


(Pictures from our New Mexico/west Texas trip will resume next time.)





So I caught the end of the 1946 movie rendition of Great Expectations on television the other day. As the main character, Pip, approaches and walks into a decaying mansion that has played a big part in the story, we hear lines by various characters that were spoken much earlier in the movie at the corresponding spots. If we had been re-shown those early scenes we would call them flashbacks. It occurred to me that the sound-only versions should be called soundbacks. I don’t find the word in any dictionary but I give you leave to use it.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 21, 2022 at 4:28 AM

From Apache plume to plumy clouds

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On October 15th in a garden outside the Albuquerque Museum I spent time photographing native plants. Among those I photographed was Apache plume, Fallugia paradoxa, which I couldn’t resist playing a flower of off* in a minimalistically** appealing way against some wispy clouds that intrigued me, as you see above.



Over a span of about half an hour I also couldn’t resist portraying
some of the wispy clouds in their own right as they shifted shapes.



* Few native English speakers realize that off and of were originally the stressed and unstressed form, respectively, of the same word. Speakers of foreign languages who are learning English have to be taught which form to use when.

* * The sesquipedalian adverb minimalistically doesn’t practice what it preaches.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 20, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Two purples and more in Liberty Hill

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October 22, the day after our return from New Mexico and west Texas, found me in Liberty Hill, a fast-growing town three suburbs north of Austin. There I got low to the ground to photograph some lingering gayfeather flower spikes (Liatris punctata var. mucronata) against wispy clouds, as shown above. At times the breeze was brisk and it blew the fluffy branches of poverty weed (Baccharis neglecta) into graceful arcs that harmonized with the wispy clouds, as you see below. The rich purple was eryngo (Eryngium leavenworthii) and the yellow at the left came from a Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani).



(Pictures from the New Mexico trip will resume next time.)


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 15, 2022 at 4:25 AM

More from Liberty Hill

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I’ll be showing plenty more pictures from our October trip to New Mexico and west Texas, but to keep from falling too far behind in what the Austin area is doing I’m occasionally interspersing a local post.

As you heard last week in a yellow post, on the afternoon of October 21st, as we concluded our trip by driving back into the Austin area from the northwest, I noticed a lot going on in a lot on the north side of TX 29 in the fast-growing town of Liberty Hill (whose population from 2014 to 2021 jumped from 1,015 to 6,801.) The next morning I went back there so I could photograph some of our native plants that predominate in the fall. In these two pictures, I played some wind-blown poverty weed (Baccharis neglecta) off against the morning’s equally wispy clouds. Two years ago I presented a poverty weed photograph with its colors partially desaturated. I experimented with this year’s Liberty Hill photographs by converting one almost completely to black and white:





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Yesterday morning I was reading a book. The television was on in another room. Just as I read the phrase “in the nation” in my book, I could hear a man on the television saying “in the nation.” I don’t know how to calculate the probability that I’ll read a word or phrase at the same moment someone completely independent of me speaks the same non-trivial* word or phrase. The probability must be tiny, given the large number of words and phrases in any language. That kind of simultaneous event doesn’t often happen, and yet it does sometimes happen. In fact I’ve noticed that there have been periods in my life when it has happened a bunch of times over several days. I don’t know what to make of it. Have you had that experience?

* I included the phrase “non-trivial” to rule out instances in which I read a common function word like the or a at the same time someone speaks that word. I probably wouldn’t even notice such a trivial occurrence.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman



Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 9, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Liatris on the prairie

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At the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision in Manor on October 2nd I got low and photographed these flower spikes of Liatris punctata var. mucronata, known as gayfeather and blazing star, doing their autumnal thing on the Blackland Prairie. The greenbrier vine (Smilax bona-nox) climbing on the central flower spikes was a nice addition. Before I left the site I made sure to use the wispy clouds as a great backdrop for a tall exemplar of Turris electrica var. pratensis.


(I’m still traveling, so my presence here continues to be mostly virtual.)


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 17, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Snow-on-the-prairie revisited

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In a post last month you saw the snow-on-the-prairie plant (Euphorbia bicolor) I’d gotten low to photograph against a cloudy sky on September 3rd at the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision in Manor. On October 2nd I went back there and ended up photographing a different snow-on-the-prairie plant. The sky was bluer and the clouds fleecier than a month earlier, so the overall effect was quite different.

Because the clouds were so appealing I took dozens of pictures of them in their own right. Stieglitz called his cloud portraits “equivalents.” I’ll call mine “cloudtraits.” In the one below, I took the rare (for me) step of converting to black and white.



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In some of my commentaries I’ve complained about how poorly the American education “system” educates America’s children. On October 4th, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal focused on the state of Illinois:

Statewide, in 2019, 36% of all third grade students could read at grade level. That’s an F, and that’s the good news. That number drops to 27% for Hispanic students and 22% for black students statewide. In certain public school systems, the numbers plummet to single digits. In Decatur, 2% of black third-graders are reading at grade level and only 1% are doing math at grade level.

We aren’t often speechless, but the extent to which that performance is betraying a generation of schoolchildren is hard to put into words. Third grade children are eight years old, full of potential with minds like sponges to absorb what they are taught. Third grade is the year that children need to achieve a level of reading fluency that will prepare them to tackle more complex tasks in upper elementary grades that require comprehension.

A child who can’t read in third grade can’t do word problems in fourth or science experiments in fifth. Promoting Decatur children to the fourth grade when 99% are below grade level in math condemns them to future failure. By 11th grade, 5% of Decatur’s students are reading at grade level and 4% are on par in math. Why shouldn’t every single adult presiding over the Decatur schools be fired?

Why indeed? You can read the full editorial.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 15, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Sunflower Sunday

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A fresh and fully open sunflower, Helianthus annuus, brings cheer to many an onlooker—
and in my case an uplooker. This view is from August 14th in the northeast quadrant of US 183 and Mopac.


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Several times in the past year I’ve highlighted government programs that flagrantly violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I summarized them in a commentary in June that provided links to more details. The latest example of illegal discrimination I’ve become aware of is in Minneapolis. The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers has colluded with the Minneapolis Public Schools to include a vile provision in the district’s contract with teachers. In most school districts, whenever there’s a teacher layoff, teachers are laid off in reverse order of seniority: teachers who have been working the least amount of time get laid off before teachers who have been working there longer. In the new contract, however, white teachers must be laid off ahead of less-senior minority teachers. Of course courts will strike down such blatant racism. The question I have is how the officials in the school district and the teacher’s union could even think of doing something so obviously illegal. Have they no sense of decency and fair play? Obviously not.

You can find more information in an August 17th New York Post article.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 21, 2022 at 4:30 AM

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