Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘trees

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

A banner year for cedar elms

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The leaves of Austin’s many cedar elm trees (Ulmus crassifolia) turn yellow in the fall. The degree to which they do that, as with so many processes in nature, varies from year to year. This has been an excellent one, as you see in these three November 30th photos from Pease Park. The patches of green on the cedar elm in the middle picture are mistletoe (Phoradendron sp.).



I took the last photo inside the Pease Park Tree House,
which I hadn’t even known existed till I came upon it that morning.



(So many things have been going on in nature locally this fall that I decided to postpone the remaining posts from our New Mexico and west Texas trip. They’re already going on two months out of date, so there’s no harm in pushing them down the line a few weeks more to a period that traditionally is less busy here.)



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A year ago I reported on Anna Krylov, an escapee from the old Soviet Union who has lamented the way ideologues are working to turn the United States into a version of the oppressive state she’d fled from. In particular she wrote an article about the way authoritarian ideology is taking over STEM—science, technology, engineering, mathematics—in our universities. Now the National Association of Scholars has issued a report about that based on over 30 GB of data in more than 280,000 files gleaned from “university webpages, university Twitter accounts, annual programs of academic associations, grants of major scientific research funders, and publications of scientific research.”

The study found that “of the 100 university websites we surveyed, the number of webpages that use both STEM and DEI [diversity, equity, inclusion] terms grew from 110 in 2010 to 2,891 in 2021. This finding suggests that DEI is being linked with STEM over 26 times more frequently than it was a decade ago.” In addition, “between 2010 and 2021, scientific publications and preprints that incorporate DEI or antiracist language grew between 3 to 42 times faster than scientific topics in general in the Web of Science. Similar patterns are observed in the data from Google Scholar and PubMed. The number of preprints on arXiv that incorporate DEI or antiracist language has grown significantly in the last two years, with increases varying depending on the DEI or antiracist term.”

You can read the executive summary and the full report.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 13, 2022 at 4:26 AM

Fall colors at Pecos National Historic Park

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On October 19th we spent time at Pecos National Historical Park in north-central New Mexico. While most people visit the place for insights into the ways the Spaniards and native people interacted, as a photographer I still found things in nature to photograph—even if my task was made harder by a prohibition against wandering off the trails because this was a historic site with artifacts yet to be unearthed and restored.



The top picture shows how I looked down from a high place at trees turning bright yellow. At first I assumed the group at the right was cottonwoods (Populus deltoides subsp. wislizenii) but now the white bark makes me wonder if they were aspens (Populus tremuloides). The second photograph is one I could have taken at home because fragrant sumac (Rhus trilobata) grows in Austin. Below, chamisa, also called rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) was flowering, sometimes exuberantly.



One group of those plants attracted lots of butterflies, including a painted lady, Vanessa cardui, which I also could have photographed back in Austin (though not on chamisa). The smaller butterfly looks like it might have been a checkered skipper, Pyrgis communis, which also frequents central Texas.



© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 10, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Last day in New Mexico

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We drove out of Santa Fe on the morning of October 19th knowing it would be our last day in New Mexico. By late afternoon we’d be back in Texas—not Austin, but another Texas A: Amarillo (which is conveniently the Spanish word for ‘yellow’). We planned to take sinuous Interstate 25 to check out a much less famous Las Vegas than the one in Nevada, then dip down to Interstate 40 and eastward into the Texas panhandle. Not too long after we started following Interstate 25 I saw a sign to exit for the Pecos National Historical Park, which I’d never heard of. It sounded interesting, so we turned off on New Mexico Highway 50 and drove east to the little town of Pecos. That’s where I saw the colorful roadside row of trees that I take to be cottonwoods (Populus deltoides subsp. wislizenii), but if someone said they’re actually aspens (Populus tremuloides) it wouldn’t surprise me.

Then it was south on New Mexico 63, where before reaching the entrance to the park we stopped at an informational display about the Battle of Glorieta Pass. Who knew that an important battle of the American Civil War took place in New Mexico? As Wikipedia explains:

The Battle of Glorieta Pass (March 26–28, 1862) in the northern New Mexico Territory, was the decisive battle of the New Mexico campaign during the American Civil War. Dubbed the “Gettysburg of the West” by some authors (a term described as one that “serves the novelist better than the historian”), it was intended as the decisive blow by Confederate forces to break the Union possession of the West along the base of the Rocky Mountains. It was fought at Glorieta Pass in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in what is now New Mexico, and was an important event in the history of the New Mexico Territory in the American Civil War.

There was a skirmish on March 26 between advance elements from each army, with the main battle occurring on March 28. Although the Confederates were able to push the Union force back through the pass, they had to retreat when their supply train was destroyed and most of their horses and mules killed or driven off. Eventually the Confederates had to withdraw entirely from the territory back into Confederate Arizona and then Texas. Glorieta Pass thus represented the climax of the campaign.

From that stretch of NM 63 we had a good view of a broad and imposing mesa:



Looking 90° to the right, in the distance we could still make out
the snow-topped Sangre de Cristo Mountains that we were leaving behind.




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Been a while since I commented on recent spam I’ve gotten. The awkward English in a lot of spam points to foreign origins. Take, for example, “Thanks the information” and “I discover something tougher on diverse blogs everyday. Most commonly it is stimulating to learn content from other writers and use a little something from their website. I’d would rather apply certain using the content in this little blog regardless of whether you do not mind.” At least it didn’t say irregardless.

Some comments are actually in a foreign language. Google Translate tells me the “установка окон иркутск” I received the other day is Russian for “window installation [in] Irkutsk.” Too bad I don’t live in Siberia, or I might jump on the offer. Here’s one in Portuguese: “Muito boa a materia, gostaria de ver uma sobre pousadas no pantanal.” It means: “Very nice material, I’d like to see one about inns in wetlands.” Maybe the poster of the first comment can fly from Siberia to Brazil to install windows in the wetland inns that the second commenter conjured up.

And then there was the mysterious “A red apple invites stones.” An internet search indicates that it’s an Arabic/Kurdish/Turkish proverb. One website explains it as meaning “Good will be envied,” which seems a plausible interpretation. While searching for an explanation I came across a page with 85 Kurdish proverbs. Check them out, and you can be the first kid on your block to sprinkle your conversation with Kurdish proverbs like “Listen a hundred times; ponder a thousand times; speak once” and “When a cat wants to eat her kittens, she says they look like mice.”

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 8, 2022 at 4:27 AM

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