Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘trees

More bluebonnets to the horizon

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As we entered the home stretch of what ended up being a seven-hour, 238-mile wildflower circuit south of Austin on March 25th, I spotted a huge colony of bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) in the southeast quadrant of US 183 and TX 21 in far north Caldwell County. In the wrong lane to pull over, I had to go on, find the next crossover, and come all the way back around. It was worth it. Mixed with the myriad bluebonnets were a bunch of young honey mesquite trees (Prosopis glandulosa var. glandulosa). All in all, 2023 has proved an excellent year for bluebonnets, as you’ve been seeing.



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Globally, people live more than 22 years longer [now] than the richest people did in 1900

Human life expectancy at birth averaged approximately 30 years for most of human history. That was in large part because of the sky-high child mortality rate among the rich and poor alike. For example, Queen Anne of Great Britain and Ireland (1665-1714) lost 17 children; several were stillborn, while the child who lived the longest, William, died in 1700 at the age of 11…. As late as 1800, 43 percent of children globally died before the age of 5. By 2015, only 4.5 percent of children died so young.

In 1800, life expectancy in Europe and North America started to increase at a sustained rate of about three months per year. Within a century, people living in the richest parts of the world could expect to live to the age of 50. The main reasons for increasing life spans included better nutrition and public health measures, such as water filtration and expansion of sewer networks. Both were coterminous with and enabled by the gradual enrichment of the society as a whole.

In 2017, global life expectancy reached 72.4 years, according to the World Bank. Put differently, an average inhabitant of the planet at birth—say someone living in the Dominican Republic today—can expect to live 22 years longer than an average Briton or American would have expected to live just 120 years ago. Life expectancy in the Western world rose to about 80 in the meantime, and in some countries like Japan, it rose to 88 years.

Finally, what happens if the current trend in life expectancy continues? Ronald Bailey crunched the numbers and found that “life expectancy rising by 3 months annually implies a global average lifespan of 92 years by 2100. However, the 2017 United Nations medium fertility scenario more conservatively projects that average life expectancy will rise from 72 years today to 83 years by the end of this [the 21st] century?’ We hope that Bailey is correct.


That’s from Marian L. Tupy and Gale L. Pooley’s 2022 book Superabundance, which is chock full of statistics showing how much the modern world has improved.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 5, 2023 at 4:32 AM

Austin’s 2023 ice storm

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During the overnight from January 31st into the morning of February 1st freezing rain descended upon Austin. The weight of the accumulated ice brought down many branches and even whole trees, along with lots of power lines, so that hundreds of thousands of people in Austin lost electricity. In our neighborhood, power (and therefore for us also heat) went out at 4:35 AM on February 1st and didn’t come back till bedtime on February 3rd. In between we dressed in multiple layers of clothing inside the house and slept in sleeping bags with two blankets over them. Despite the ordeal, what nature photographer could pass up the chance for pictures? And this time I needed to go no farther than our yard. These two photographs show yaupon trees (Ilex vomitoria) covered with ice. Above is a good-sized one in the side yard whose branches were bowed from (but not broken by) the weight of the ice. Below is a young yaupon out front near the curb.



We used a camping stove twice on Wednesday and once on Thursday to make hot food and drinks, but by then our two little propane tanks had run out of fuel. Late Thursday afternoon, using a small chain saw, I managed to clear enough branches from one side of the driveway that we could get the car parked on that side of the garage out and go have supper in a restaurant. If you’d like a purely informational, non-aesthetic picture showing the Ashe juniper tree (Juniperus ashei) that had collapsed across the driveway, you can click the thumbnail below.



A closeup of that now-gone Ashe juniper’s trunk appeared as the second picture in a 2020 post.


More ice storm pictures next time.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 5, 2023 at 4:30 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Turtle islet

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At a newly discovered (by us) pond on the grounds of Hyde Park High School on January 21st I couldn’t resist photographing this convocation of turtles on what seems to have been a sandbar. People talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees. Originally it was the turtles that I couldn’t see, lost as they were in the reflections of trees on the surface of the water, as shown below. To get close enough to take the top picture I had to walk around the pond to the opposite side from which I’d taken the bottom picture.

Among turtles there’s no such thing as personal space.




© 2023 Steven Schwartzman



Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 3, 2023 at 4:26 AM

Racing against the sun

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Two months ago today we drove from Lost Maples to Kerrville. The route eventually runs alongside the Guadalupe River, and by the time we reached the town of Ingram the sun didn’t have much longer to stay above the trees. I hurried to take a few pictures by that last and very warm light. One was the abstraction above, showing the upper parts of sunlit sycamore trees (Platanus occidentalis) reflected in the river. The camera sensor’s weakness—its limited dynamic range compared to the human retina—worked in my favor by rendering details on the river bank very dark in comparison to the water and the reflections; processing pushed the dark to black. The more conventional scene below, no longer lit by direct light, features a bald cypress tree (Taxodium distichum) that had turned russet.




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“Have you heard? The world’s about to end.” Well, of course it isn’t. In a seven-minute video John Stossel highlights a bunch of cataclysmic predictions that failed to come true. And no, the predictions of doom didn’t come from leaders of religious cults—unless, of course, you recognize climate catastrophism for the secular religious cult that it is.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 27, 2023 at 4:34 AM

That bare winter look

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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

Another look back at fall foliage

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The last months of 2022 in Austin were excellent for fall foliage—so much so that I couldn’t show nearly as many pictures as I’d have liked to when they were still current or even a few weeks old. “Better late than never,” as the adage goes. Today’s pictures are from November 26th along the Capital of Texas Highway near Lakewood Dr., a few miles from home. The first two play up the color contrast between the ephemeral red of a Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) that had climbed high into the canopy of a cedar elm tree (Ulmus crassifolia) and the similarly transient yellow of the elm tree’s leaves.



In the pair above you, you see how different orientations (horizontal versus vertical) and different focal lengths (70mm versus 24mm) can produce different results (not surprisingly) even when two pictures are taken from the same spot. In the top view, blue appears only in subdued little patches visible through holes in the foliage. In the second view, blue, along with white, dominates the photograph.



For a different perspective, to take the last picture I worked my way
through the woods to get under the Virginia creeper so I could aim straight up.


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UPDATE. Two days ago I reported on a high school in Virginia whose administrators apparently on purpose failed to notify students about their Merit Scholarship commendations. A January 16th editorial in The Wall Street Journal revealed that even more Virginia schools have been discriminating against Asian students in that way than was initially known. You’re welcome to read William McGurn’s “The New Structural Racism,” whose sub-head is “In Northern Virginia, affirmative action has hardened into a war on high achievers.”


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From Elizabeth Weiss’s January 11th article in Quillette, “A Report From the Stanford Academic Freedom Conference,” I learned about the comments of Jerry Coyne:

Jerry Coyne, Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Chicago and author of the popular blog Why Evolution is True, speaks with some authority on the left-right cancel-culture divide, as he has spent much of his career battling right-wing social conservatives who promote creationism (or “intelligent design”) as an alternative to evolution. But in recent years, he noted, four popular false ideas (what he calls “ideological pollution”) now originate with the progressive side of the political spectrum: (1) that sex is not binary, but rather a spectrum; (2) that males and females are “biologically identical on average in behavior, mentality and choices”; (3) that “the fundamental premises of evolutionary psychology are false”; and (4) that “race is a purely social construct with no biological value.” In every case, he noted, there was a parallel with Marxism, which imagines people as being “infinitely malleable” according to their social environment.

Coyne, who is now retired from day-to-day academic life, expressed less concern than other speakers in regard to the formal repercussions inflicted on academics who violate these taboos (though he did describe the case of a professor in Maine who faced severe backlash after stating that there are only two sexes). Rather, he emphasized the manner by which this ideological system encouraged self-censorship:

What I’m worried about is being demonized, ostracized, simply for saying that there’s something like biological meaningfulness in ethnic groups. It is enough to get you called a racist, which I have been. If you say that the sexes are bimodal or even just binary, you get called a transphobe … And, to any good liberal, and I’m a good liberal … the moniker of racist or transphobe is horrifying and makes you just shut up and so this kind of demonization occurs fairly regularly.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 18, 2023 at 4:26 AM

Western soapberry trees turning yellow

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Yet another source of fall foliage on our 12-day trip to New Mexico and west Texas was the western soapberry trees (Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii) that I hadn’t expected but was happy to see at Palo Duro Canyon State Park in the Texas panhandle on October 20th. The place where I found the biggest concentration of them is appropriately called the Soapberry Day Use Area. You’re seeing two pictures from there.



Five weeks later, no identifying sign accompanied the young western soapberry trees I saw
putting on a display of backlit yellow gorgeosity in Austin’s Pease Park on November 30th:




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Did you hear about the world’s only surviving nonuplets?


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 6, 2023 at 4:28 AM

Hot off the press: first pictures from 2023!

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Two hours ago we went walking in our neighborhood to get some exercise. When several of the things that we came upon saw that I carried my iPhone 14 with me they insisted on having their picture taken. Out of politeness I yielded to their demands. First came a possumhaw tree, Ilex decidua, with plenty of fruit. The portrait above strikes me as having a Chinese or Japanese sensibility.



Next came a Texas red oak tree, Quercus buckleyi, which told me to get under it and take advantage of backlighting to bring out the saturated red of its leaves. Once again I followed instructions. I’m so deferential.



Finally, back in front of our house, I gave in to the call of the wispy clouds overhead. Using raw mode and the camera’s primary lens (1x) meant that the original of this picture contained a whopping 48.8 megapixels before I cropped it for a better composition.


A good start to the new year, I’d say.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 1, 2023 at 2:24 PM

More colorful fall foliage from Blanco

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In Blanco State Park on November 27th the sycamore trees, Platanus occidentalis, contended with the bald cypresses to put on a display of fall foliage. While it’s common for sycamore leaves to turn yellow and brown at the end of the year, as shown below, some of the ones in the park had veered toward red, especially when seen with backlighting. There’s no doubting the redness of the leaves on the sapling shown above, which had grabbed a roothold in the face of a low dam across the Blanco River. 




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Since last year I’ve reported several times on the huge numbers of people the current American administration is letting illegally cross our southern border, some two-thirds of whom it is allowing to stay here despite their having entered illegally. One reason I’ve commented on the situation is because “mainstream” or “legacy” American “news” outlets purposely don’t cover it much or at all. The December 14-15 Harvard CAPS Harris poll of 1,851 registered voters is consistent with that lack of coverage:



As I reported on December 18th: “The number of undocumented immigrant crossings at the southwest border for fiscal year 2022 topped 2.76 million, breaking the previous annual record by more than 1 million, according to Customs and Border Protection data.” If you add to that the hundreds of thousands of known and unknown “gotaways” not included in the 2.76 million encounters, then the correct answer to the question the poll asked is “Over 3 million,” which only 7% of respondents picked. You can see that the responses leaned heavily toward much lower numbers than the actual one.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 23, 2022 at 4:26 AM

Red and russet

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Two sources of year-end color from trees in Austin are the fruit of the possumhaw, Ilex decidua, and the leaves of the bald cypress, Taxodium distichum. Here you see one in front of the other at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on December 9th. (A recent post featured colorful bald cypress in its own right.)


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Two days ago I reported how more than three million people have entered the United States in the past year by illegally coming across our southern border. The American government’s own statistics show that approximately two-thirds of those border crossers are currently being allowed to stay in the country despite having entered illegally. Not only that, the current administration is using our tax money to bus and fly lots of those illegal entrants anywhere they choose to go inside the country, even though there’s no way to verify who many of them are.

Unless you happen to be Abdul Wasi Safi. He’s an Afghan who worked with Americans in Afghanistan but couldn’t manage to get on any of the last American planes leaving his country during the chaotic and disgraceful pull-out of American forces and some Afghan allies in 2021. Abdul Wasi Safi spent months enduring hardships and dangers as he gradually made it half-way around the world and walked across the Rio Grande River into Texas near Eagle Pass. He was soon arrested and put in prison. No free bus or plane ticket into the interior of the country for him. The current American administration is working to deport him back to Afghanistan, where the Taliban, who know who he is, will kill him.

You can read much more about Abdul Wasi Safi’s ordeal in an excellent article by Allison P. Erickson in the Texas Tribune.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 20, 2022 at 4:31 AM

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