Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘trees

Palmetto State Park revisited

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After this January’s little freeze but before February’s horrendous freeze and snow and ice, we drove 65 miles south to Palmetto State Park, as you saw in posts from early this year. On a sunny and mild November 23rd we revisited the park for the first time since then. The palmettos (Sabal minor) looked pretty good, don’t you think? Where the top picture sets the scene and provides context, the closer view below leans into abstraction and follows a more-is-more aesthetic.

Back to nature: apparently the great February freeze hadn’t seriously hurt the palmettos. It’s normal for there to be some tan and brown fronds as old leaves die and new ones emerge. Such is the great chain of being.

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What follows is a bit long. I hope you’ll read at least the second part.

Last week we heard that a new Covid-19 variant is spreading. All the variants of the virus so far have been named with consecutive letters of the Greek alphabet. The most serious and now dominant variant is Delta, which is the 4th letter in the Greek alphabet. The latest variant is Omicron, the 15th letter in the Greek alphabet. English speakers are not nearly as familiar with the letter omicron as with the letter delta, which our language has borrowed as the name for the area where a river widens out and deposits sediment as it flows into the sea. Americans also recognize Delta Airlines, named for the delta of the Mississippi River.

Because people are less familiar with omicron, they aren’t always sure how to pronounce it. If you’ve listened to the news for any length of time over the past week, you’ve probably heard some people pronounce the first syllable ah, while others say oh. English dictionaries accept both (but certainly not the omnicron that some people have mangled the word to). I’ve always pronounced the first syllable oh because omicron is the Greek letter that Latin and then English borrowed as our letter o.

Omicron is more than the name of a Greek letter, it’s a description of the sound the letter originally represented. Omicron is o micron, literally ‘little o’ (think about microscope and microprocessor). Greek has another letter that’s also pronounced o; it’s omega, meaning ‘big o’ (think of megaphone and megachurch). Those descriptions correspond to the fact that Greeks in ancient times held the o sound of omicron for a shorter time than the o sound of omega, which was what linguists call a long vowel. From what I’ve read, Greek lost the pronunciation distinction between little o and big o a long time ago.

Omega (written 𝛀 as a capital and 𝛚 in lower case) is the 24th and last letter of the Greek alphabet (hence the alpha and omega, the first and last, of Christianity). How Covid-19 variants will get named after the 24th one, I don’t know. I’ve joked that maybe we’ll switch to Chinese ideograms, of which there are thousands.

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Yesterday American authorities announced the first detected case of the Omicron Covid-19 variant in the United States. That caused something of a panic in certain quarters and has added one more consideration to ongoing discussions of pandemic travel restrictions. At a news conference yesterday, reporter Peter Doocy posed a couple of questions to White House Coronavirus Response Team member Dr. Anthony Fauci: “You advised the president about the possibility of new testing requirements for people coming into this country. Does that include everybody?” Dr. Fauci replied: “The answer is yes.” Peter Doocy followed up by asking: “What about people who don’t take a plane, and just these border crossers coming in in huge numbers?” Dr. Fauci’s response was “That’s a different issue.”

It shouldn’t be a different issue—at least not if you believe in science. In case you didn’t catch what an evasion Dr. Fauci’s answer was, and how illogical and hypocritical, I’ll be happy to explain. The Centers for Disease Control hosts a What You Need to Know page for international airplane travel:

  • If you plan to travel internationally, you will need to get a COVID-19 viral test (regardless of vaccination status) before you travel by air into the United States. You must show your negative result to the airline before you board your flight.
    • Fully vaccinated: The viral test must be conducted on a sample taken no more than 3 days before the flight’s departure from a foreign country if you show proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
    • Not fully vaccinated: The viral test must be conducted on a sample taken no more than 1 day before the flight’s departure from a foreign country if you do not show proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • If you recently recovered from COVID-19, you may instead travel with documentation of recovery from COVID-19 (i.e., your positive COVID-19 viral test result on a sample taken no more than 90 days before the flight’s departure from a foreign country and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official stating that you were cleared to travel).

At the same time, people illegally coming across the American border from Mexico do not have to show proof of full or even partial Covid-19 vaccination. Unless they’re exhibiting obvious respiratory distress, they don’t even need to be tested for the virus. The current administration has let hundreds of thousands of illegal border-crossers with unknown vaccine status and unknown infection status continue on into our country since January, and in many cases the administration has even paid for their bus and plane tickets into the interior of our country. In sum, unvaccinated and untested non-citizens coming into our country illegally during a pandemic don’t have to follow the health and safety requirements that the American government imposes on its own citizens. That’s lawless. That’s hypocritical. And of course with regard to controlling a pandemic, it’s anti-science.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 2, 2021 at 4:29 AM

Tenants of the forest floor

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During an October 11th return visit to Bastrop State Park I made some pictures of the forest floor, which in places was a carpet of dry pine needles. An even thicker carpet of them had contributed to the devastation wrought by the wildfire that raged there in 2011 and destroyed most of the pines and oaks in the park. Charred remains are still conspicuous in many places a decade later, as the first two photograph confirm.

In the tradition of Horton Hears a Who and Horton Hatches the Egg, I’ll add that Eve Found an Ovum, which is to say a bird’s egg. The inside was liquid except for an air pocket, which conveniently formed an oval within an oval in the picture below.


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In the 1920s my father came to New York City as a teenager, a poor immigrant speaking Russian but no English. Because of that, he was initially put in school with children years younger and much shorter. The humiliation proved a great incentive for him to learn English really fast, and before long he was with schoolkids his own age. Not only that, but he soon qualified to attend Townsend Harris High School, an elite school for the smartest students. Jonas Salk, who went on to create the first polio vaccine in the 1950s, was a classmate of my father.

Decades later, when I was now the teenager, my father would occasionally complain about how Fiorello La Guardia, a “populist” mayor of New York City, had shut down Townsend Harris High School in 1942, supposedly to save money. History repeats itself. In our own time it has become increasingly common for “woke” politicians pursuing “equity” [a horrid word that means ‘the forced sameness of outcomes for racial groups’] to shut down programs for the gifted and talented, as smart kids have come to be called. In the 1930s and ’40s the “problem” was “too many” Jews in those programs; today it’s that there are “too many” Asians. The fact that students are admitted to those programs based on objective tests is irrelevant to ideologues, who often hold that there’s no such thing as objectivity, or if there is, then it’s a tool of white supremacy. As part of their hegemony, white folks apparently made the mistake of lending too much of their whiteness to Asians, who now outperform them.

Zaid Jilani recently wrote a good article about this entitled “Culture — Not Racism — Explains Asian American Educational Success.” I recommend it to you. You may also want to read an essay by Jilani from earlier this year, “The Cult of Smart.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 28, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Driving up to the Kolob Reservoir

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Five years ago today we drove north on Kolob Terrace Road to the Kolob Reservoir just outside Utah’s Zion National Park. The placid scene shown above of pallid aspen trunks (Populus tremuloides) awaited us at the top. On the way up to the reservoir we’d stopped at the grove of trees shown below, where fire-darkened trunks and branches contrasted with colorful fall foliage.


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You may find it hard to believe that now, so many decades after the Civil Rights Movement led to the end of segregation in the United States, some public schools in this country have gone back to segregating students by race. Concerned Americans have justifiably been fighting back against this neoracism in our schools. As one example, you can read about illegal racial segregation in the public schools of Wellesley, Massachusetts, and the lawsuit that Parents Defending Education has brought against the offending school district. Notice in the article that this public school district has also been guilty of suppressing the free speech guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 23, 2021 at 4:33 AM

More from Yoho National Park and vicinity

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Four years ago today we spent some scenic time in and around British Columbia’s Yoho National Park. One highlight was Natural Bridge Falls, with its intriguing rock formations on the Kicking Horse River. Carloads and busloads of tourists swarmed the site, so it took patience and some judicious framing to get pictures without any people in them, like the first one below.

Along the Trans-Canada Highway a little west of Yoho National Park
we saw a bunch of female bighorn sheep, including the one
in the bottom portrait, whose texture and coloring seem
to me now to match those of the rocks in the top picture.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 7, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Two shades of green

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Under overcast skies a year ago today I went to the Sierra Nevada side of Great Hills Park. We’d had a bit of rain, and I noticed a prominent raindrop (and a tiny one) on the leaflet of a Lindheimer’s senna plant (Senna lindheimeri). I knew to look because the leaflets of that species are covered with little hairs that trap water. Nearby I scooted beneath some Ashe juniper branches (Juniperus ashei) to check out the low remains of a few trunks. In the dim light two narrow areas on a decaying trunk seemed to glow lime-sherbet green. I’m assuming those green areas were made up of fine lichens.


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Racist “anti-racism”

… [A] positive white identity is an impossible goal. White identity is inherently racist; white people do not exist outside the system of white supremacy. This does not mean that we should stop identifying as white and start claiming only to be Italian or Irish. To do so is to deny the reality of racism in the here and now, and this denial would simply be color-blind racism. Rather, I strive to be “less white.” To be less white is to be less racially oppressive. This requires me to be more racially aware, to be better educated about racism, and to continually challenge racial certitude and arrogance.

If there’s anyone whose racial certitude and arrogance need to be continually challenged and forcefully repudiated, it’s Robin DiAngelo, author of the White Fragility from which the quoted racist trash comes. As one example of how far the United States has fallen from its ideals this year, consider that the people in charge of the American military are now forcing soldiers to read this garbage. Gone is Martin Luther King’s aspiration: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 3, 2021 at 4:31 AM

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Green, green, and more green

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Wandering along Bull Creek on June 25, 2019, I couldn’t help noticing the dense swirls created by the very long linear leaves of some plants (sedges? beargrass?) that had found a home on the sometimes flooded bank of the creek. Mixed in were a few remnants of the wild onions (Allium canadense var. canadense) you saw here in May of that year. New giant ragweed plants (Ambrosia trifida) were coming up in some of the swirls:

I prepared this post almost two years ago but other things soon intervened that seemed more important to show. Last year I happened to end up at this place again and took more pictures. Now here we are another year later and I’m finally going to release the original post, but with an added green picture from my 2020 visit that shows a dewdrop-decked wild onion bud:


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And here are some can-do words from Zora Neale Hurston: “It seems to me that if I say a whole system must be upset for me to win, I am saying that I cannot sit in the game, and that safer rules must be made to give me a chance. I repudiate that. If others are in there, deal me a hand and let me see what I can make of it, even though I know some in there are dealing from the bottom and cheating like hell in other ways.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 25, 2021 at 4:31 AM

A strangely desaturated landscape

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While out driving in Austin on March 20th with no particular destination, I turned north off McNeil Dr. onto the confusingly named E. McNeil Rd. Soon we couldn’t help noticing that the land and trees on our left seemed oddly faded, almost as if we’d been teleported into a drier climate than Austin’s. The view on our right side offered an explanation: a tall stack and other machinery of the Austin White Lime Company. Ever-present rock dust from the quarry had settled wherever the wind blew it in the vicinity, causing the strangely washed-out look that caught our attention. If you’re familiar with the normal green of Ashe juniper trees (Juniperus ashei), compare that to the dullness of the two in the first picture’s lower left and the one below. Another comparison could be to a photograph last fall in which I purposely reduced the color saturation.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 27, 2021 at 4:41 AM

Texture, reflection, abstraction

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Onion Creek in McKinney Falls State Park; March 15, 2021.

And here’s an unrelated observation from Sense and Sensibility (1811): “…When people are determined on a mode of conduct which they know to be wrong, they feel injured by the expectation of any thing better from them.” Throughout the novel, Jane Austen’s comments about many of her characters are trenchant, acerbic, cynical, sardonic. Those observations are unfortunately lost in movie versions of the novel. Perhaps someday a director will make a version with voice-overs to preserve the author’s commentary. Here’s another passage:

“On ascending the stairs, the Miss Dashwoods found so many people before them in the room [at a store], that there was not a person at liberty to tend to their orders; and they were obliged to wait. All that could be done was, to sit down at that end of the counter which seemed to promise the quickest succession; one gentleman only was standing there, and it is probable that Elinor was not without hope of exciting his politeness to a quicker despatch. But the correctness of his eye, and the delicacy of his taste, proved to be beyond his politeness. He was giving orders for a toothpick-case for himself, and till its size, shape, and ornaments were determined, all of which, after examining and debating for a quarter of an hour over every toothpick-case in the shop, were finally arranged by his own inventive fancy, he had no leisure to bestow any other attention on the two ladies, than what was comprised in three or four very broad stares; a kind of notice which served to imprint on Elinor the remembrance of a person and face, of strong, natural, sterling insignificance, though adorned in the first style of fashion.”

How about “sterling insignificance” as a zinger?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 22, 2021 at 4:40 AM

Ice and snow on cedar elms and an Ashe juniper

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From February 18th in Great Hills Park, look how ice had encased the bare branches of cedar elm trees (Ulmus crassifolia). The Ashe juniper tree (Juniperus ashei) further back was conspicuous in the way its branches of evergreen leaves trapped snow, of which 6.5 inches (16.5 cm) had come down. In the closer February 12th pre-snow view below of little icicles on a cedar elm, the pale green came from lichens; it’s a visually energetic way to fill a frame, don’t you think?

And here’s a thought for today from physicist Richard Feynman in 1974:
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 1, 2021 at 4:41 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Snow and ice on trees

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On February 18th I headed back to Great Hills Park for another couple of hours documenting snow and ice. Here are two views of a snow-covered tree that may have been brought down a few days earlier by a heavy accumulation of ice. Notice once again the thick mustang grape vines, Vitis mustangensis.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 27, 2021 at 4:16 AM

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