Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘vine

An early-in-the-season yet late-in-the-year drive along the Possumhaw Trail

with 15 comments

 

The stretch of TX 29 between Liberty Hill in Williamson County and Burnet in Burnet County might well be called the Possumhaw Trail for the dozens and dozens of Ilex decidua trees scattered along the route. They become conspicuous from December through February for their bright red fruits (technically drupes, commonly called berries). This picture is from the last day of 2022. The green and tan leaves weren’t from the possumhaw, all of whose leaves had already fallen, but rather from a greenbrier vine, Smilax bona-nox.

 

§

§        §        §

§

 

Last year and yesterday I mentioned Marva Collins, who for decades worked wonders of education with black children in a poor Chicago neighborhood. I’ve found some online videos about her and her school that you can watch:

Success! The Marva Collins Approach (1981).

60 Minutes: Marva Collins (1995, following up their first story in 1979): Part 1 and Part 2.

After the original 60 Minutes story aired in 1979, Marva Collins “received over 6000 letters from desperate parents.”

You can also read a thorough review of Marva Collins’ Way, the book I cited yesterday.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 20, 2023 at 4:27 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , ,

Both sides now times two

with 29 comments

 

In neighboring Great Hills Park on 11/22/22 (great date) I noticed how different the two surfaces of this drying grape leaf were. I don’t recall ever seeing an upper surface colored and patterned like this one. The underside’s slight fuzz had and still has me thinking the vine was a mustang grape, Vitis mustangensis, the most common species of grape in Great Hills.

 

 

On December 23rd, hours before a more-than-daylong freeze was due to hit
central Texas, I was out documenting native plants that still had flowers on them.

 

 

One such was the blackfoot daisy, which you see here from above, above, and from below, below.

 

  

The maroon “nerves” or “veins” so conspicuous from underneath
are barely discernible on the ray florets’ white upper surface.

 

§

§       §       §

§

 

Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

 

That line from physicist Richard Feynman was quoted in Joanne Silberner’s January 4th article “The Reason There’s Been No Cure for Alzheimer’s.” For several decades now, the funders of medical research on Alzheimer’s disease have given grants almost exclusively to researchers pursuing one theory about the cause—and therefore the potential cure—for that ailment. As in so many fields, groupthink has settled in, despite the fact that treatments based on the reigning theory about the cause of Alzheimer’s have produced practically no improvements.

You can learn the details in Joanne Silberner’s article in the Free Press.

 

§

§       §       §

§

 

UPDATE: On December 22nd I reported how Stanford University had created a compendium of supposedly harmful language. You know, despicable words like American and grandfather. On January 11th Inside Higher Ed published an article by Susan D’Agostino titled “Amid Backlash, Stanford Pulls ‘Harmful Language’ List.” Let’s welcome any move toward sanity in academia.

  

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 17, 2023 at 4:30 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , ,

Red and green

with 12 comments

 

In a nature area along Yaupon Drive on December 8th something small and bright red in the distance caught my eye. Once I walked over to it I saw that it was the ripe fruit of a balsam gourd vine, Ibervillea lindheimeri, that had draped itself over the pad of a prickly pear cactus, Opuntia engelmannii. On another pad I noticed that one of the vine’s slender tendrils had coiled tightly around one of the prickly pear’s spines.

  

  

Back on October 21st I’d taken a picture in which cactus provided both red and green. That time the cactus wasn’t a prickly pear but Cylindropuntia leptocaulis, known as pencil cactus because of its slender joints (leptocaulis means ‘thin stalk’) and Christmas cactus because of its many small fruits that ripen to bright red. You can see that below from our stop at the I-20 Wildlife Preserve in Midland on our zig-zag way back to Austin, where this species also happens to grow.

 

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 25, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , ,

More fall color from individual leaves and leaflets

with 32 comments

 

Poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans; December 1st in Great Hills Park.

 

 

 

Cottonwood tree, Populus deltoides; December 12th near the Riata Trace Pond.

  

§

§        §        §

§

 

A main theme of my commentaries for the past two years has been the distortion of language for ideological purposes. The other day a great trove of data came my way from the EHLI, or the Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative at Stanford University, which “identifies as” “a multi-phase, multi-year project to address harmful language in IT [Information Technology] at Stanford.”

In particular I’m referring to the document the group released on December 19th, which is a compendium of “harmful” words and phrases, along with suggested and therefore presumably non-harmful alternatives to them, plus notes putting the items in “context.” Preceding the list of frowned-on items are bold-faced words of caution:

Content Warning: This website contains language that is offensive or harmful. Please engage with this website at your own pace.

You wouldn’t want to encounter too many horrific words too quickly or you might get a heart attack or stroke. You know, terrible words like “American.” That’s right, you’re not supposed to say “American” any more because there are lots of countries in North American and South America, not just the United States.* The recommended replacement is “U.S. citizen.” I don’t see how that can last, given that the kind of ideologues who would think of putting together a list of forbidden terms also want people in the country illegally to have all the same benefits as citizens.

The document is divided into sections according to the kinds of people the forbidden terms are supposedly offensive to. The first section is Ableist. In case you’re not familiar with that word, the document explains it: “Ableist language is language that is offensive to people who live with disabilities and/or devalues people who live with disabilities. The unintentional use of such terms furthers the belief that people who live with disabilities are abnormal.”

Notice the phrase “people who live with disabilities.” That itself is the suggested replacement for “the disabled.” It’s one of many instances of “person-first” language, in which a word or short phrase gets turned into something more cumbersome. “Handicapped,” for instance, is now “person with a disability.” As if the “dis-” in “disability” doesn’t still indicate that the person has a handicap compared to people without that disability. Similarly, the four-syllable “mentally ill” becomes the thirteen-syllable “person living with a mental health condition” and the two-syllable “senile” becomes the ten-syllable “person suffering from senility.” For the sake of inclusion, shouldn’t we extend this pattern to categories other than persons? In meal-first language, rather than say “I ate breakfast” we’ll have to say “I ate the meal that persons call breakfast” or “I ate the meal usually but not always consumed in the early part of the day.”

Some of the replacements are baffling. Rather than “committed suicide” we’re supposed to say “died by suicide.” Could the point be to shift agency and therefore remove blame from the person to the mental health condition? Or maybe “committed” has overtones of “committed to a mental institution.” Or maybe there’s no reason for the change except to make us jump through more language hoops and increase the chances for woke ideologues to call us out when we mess up on one of their shibboleths.

In the “Violent” section we’re admonished to replace “rule of thumb” with “standard rule” or “general rule.” The “context” for this is: “Although no written record exists today, this phrase is attributed to an old British law that allowed men to beat their wives with sticks no wider than their thumb.” The writers admit that there’s no evidence for the claim that “rule of thumb” originated in men beating their wives with sticks no wider than their thumbs,” but we’re supposed to ignore the lack of evidence and pretend that that cockeyed claim is true. If the writers had bothered to look up the etymology for “rule of thumb” they’d find it’s straightforward. The American Heritage Dictionary notes that the phrase comes from “the use of the thumb as a makeshift ruler or measuring device, as in carpentry.” Similarly, the English system uses “foot” as a familiar measurement, and the height of horses is traditionally measured in “hands.”

Another instance of fake history occurs in the “Additional Considerations” section. We’re advised to avoid “hip hip hooray” because “this term was used by German citizens during the Holocaust as a rallying cry when they would hunt down Jewish citizens living in segregated neighborhoods.” You should immediately be suspicious: why would German-speaking Nazis use an English interjection when hunting down Jews in countries where English wasn’t the native language? The obvious answer is that they wouldn’t. Once again the writers of the document could have looked up the actual origin of “hip hip hooray,” but apparently going to a dictionary was a step too far. English speakers were already using “hip hip hooray [or hurrah]” in the early 1800s.

 You’re welcome to work your way at your own pace through as much of the EHLI document as you want to or can stand.

 

* When I arrived in Honduras as a Peace Corps volunteer 55 years ago this month I quickly learned that people there refer to Americans as norteamericanos, i.e. North Americans. The compilers of the Stanford document will have to chide Hondurans and other Spanish speakers for their lack of inclusivity: aren’t Canadians and Mexicans also North Americans? In fact Wikipedia tells us there are a whopping 24 countries in North America.

 

UPDATE: On January 11th Inside Higher Ed published an article by Susan D’Agostino titled “Amid Backlash, Stanford Pulls ‘Harmful Language’ List.” Let’s welcome any move toward sanity in academia.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 22, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Virginia creeper

with 19 comments

  

One of the most reliable sources of late-year color in Austin is Parthenocissus quinquefolia, a vine known as Virginia creeper. Some people call it five-leaf creeper, though actually what there are five of are leaflets in each palmately compound leaf. The top picture is from December 1st in Great Hills Park. I photographed the leaf below, which was down to three leaflets, in our side yard a week later.

 

  

 

✦       ✦       ✦

 

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.

That was from NBC News on October 22, 2022. The fiscal year ended on September 30. Here are figures from the government’s report about October 2022:

The number of unique individuals encountered nationwide in October 2022 was 196,479, a 2.9% increase in the number of unique enforcement encounters than the prior month…. 78,477 encounters, 34% of the total, were processed for expulsion under Title 42. 152,201 encounters were processed under Title 8….

In other words, two-thirds of the people the border patrol encountered who entered illegally were allowed to remain in the country anyhow. In addition, every month there are tens of thousands of so-called known gotaways, illegal border crossers that authorities observed but didn’t have the resources to catch. And in addition to that there are the unknown gotaways, people who crossed the border surreptitiously enough that authorities never even became aware of them.

In spite of this mountain of evidence, the current American administration keeps insisting that the border is secure. When facts belie people’s claims, I go with the facts. What do you do?

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 18, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Veteran

with 18 comments

 

For the many times over the past decade that I visited a flowerful piece of prairie on the west side of Heatherwilde Boulevard north of Wells Branch Parkway in Pflugerville you could call me a veteran of that field. I went there most recently on Veterans Day, November 11, and discovered that development had expanded since my previous visit. More of the portion that had until recently hung on was now scraped of vegetation, with only a fringe in the back still left. That’s where I found things to photograph on that overcast and about-to-rain morning. Probably most conspicuous were many scattered tufts of Clematis drummondii that had turned feathery, one of which you see above. I also noticed some seed head remains of common sunflowers, Helianthus annuus; on one I encountered a shield-backed bug (family Scutelleridae), seemingly Sphyrocoris obliquus. In spite of the bug’s species name, its “here’s looking at you” gaze was anything but oblique.

 

   

(Pictures from the New Mexico trip will resume tomorrow.)

 

§

§       §       §

§

 

The basics of great education have been around for thousands of years; it simply doesn’t take tremendous amounts of money to teach well. In an English classroom, we rarely need more than a pen and paper and a book or an essay to get the job done. Small class sizes, high expectations for student academic performance and behavior, and diligent, invested, highly respected educators backed up by an administration who supports teachers over parents and students would fix so many of these problems. But until it starts getting better, fewer and fewer ambitious and competent youngsters will see teaching as an attractive profession. And so the teacher shortage problem is going to continue to get worse.

That’s the conclusion of Elizabeth Emery’s January 2020 article “The Public School Teacher Attrition Crisis.” Schools have indeed worsened since then, in part because of the pandemic but still primarily because of the terrible attitudes and practices of administrators that Elizabeth Emery detailed in her article, and that caused her to quit teaching in a public school after just one full semester. You’re welcome to read the full article.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 1, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Liatris on the prairie

with 17 comments

 

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

Tight tendril

with 25 comments

Greenbrier (Smilax bona-nox) is a common vine in the woods of Austin. It’s admittedly a nuisance to people when its thorns snag our clothing and scratch our skin. Nevertheless, as a nature photographer I’ve found greenbrier an excellent subject for close views (and occasionally more distant ones). I asked the Texas Flora group about the many pale “starbursts” on the stem in this picture. The first suggestion was a scale infection. A second was trichomes. One website’s description of greenbrier’s stems said that they occur “infrequently with stellate trichomes.” Another website said the stems “are scurfy (i.e., with a scaly crust on the stem surface).” In any case, whatever the starbursts are, they add welcome texture to the portrait. And how about that tightly coiled tendril?

 

✦        ✦        ✦

 

I spend lots of time looking things up because, by personality and from decades of teaching math, I value accuracy. That’s why I include so many links to documents. If you’re aware of any facts that I’ve reported incorrectly, please point me to contradictory evidence. Of course people can disagree about what policies a government should follow, but we have to start from the facts.

 

✦        ✦        ✦

 

Lawlessness  

Just because I haven’t mentioned the southern border of the United States for a while doesn’t mean that it’s not still out of control. It is. The current régime continues to encourage millions of people to come here illegally each year by facilitating their entry into the country and giving them benefits once they’re here (like providing free transportation—sometimes by airplane—to wherever they want to go in the United States).

ABC ran an article on August 18 headlined “July border arrests decrease but expected to total a record 2 million by next month.” The subhead read “CBP [Customs and Border Patrol] has arrested more migrants so far in 2022 than in all of 2021.” And of course that number doesn’t include the great many “gotaways,” illegal border crossers that authorities observed but were unable to detain for various reasons, mainly having way too few officers to handle the incessant onslaught. As a July 25th New York Post article noted: “More than 500,000 known ‘gotaway’ immigrants have crossed the border into the US but evaded capture since the start of FY [fiscal year] 2022, according to a new report.” Notice the word “known”; it implies that in addition to the half-million that were observed, hundreds of thousands of other illegal border crossers came into the country completely undetected.

Accompanying this lawlessness is the current administration’s denial of it. A July 25th New York Post article bore the headline “Don’t believe your eyes: WH [White House] claims migrants are not just ‘walking’ across border.” As the article explained:

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisted on Monday that migrants are not just “walking” across the border — an event captured near daily by press photographers.

The stunning answer came in response to a question by Fox News’ Peter Doocy, who asked why potentially unvaccinated migrants continue to arrive in the US but tennis star Novak Djokovic couldn’t compete in the US Open, which kicked off in Flushing Meadows, Queens today.  “It is not that simple. It’s not just that people are walking across the border….”

Karine Jean-Pierre’s flippant response was an outright lie. Take the 2 million people that the ABC article mentioned, divide it by 365, and you get an average of over 5000 people “just” walking in illegally every single day. The “Don’t believe your eyes” in the Post‘s headline refers to the fact that anyone can go down to places like Eagle Pass and Del Rio on the Texas border and watch groups of people that cartels have brought close to the border walk up to the Rio Grande River and wade or swim across it to enter the United States illegally. Those groups include dozens and occasionally even hundreds of people at a time. Here’s a video. Just because news outlets that favor illegal immigration rarely report on the thousands of people coming in illegally every day, or flat-out say it isn’t true, doesn’t make reality go away. Those news outlets are reality deniers.

What is undeniable is that “drug overdoses have claimed the lives of over 100,000 people in the United States [this year],” and “Fentanyl was reportedly the cause of two-thirds of them. According to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control], Fentanyl is now the number one cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 45. Surpassing suicide, Covid-19, and car accident-related deaths.” One person in this country dies of fentanyl poisoning about every 9 minutes. Confounding the problem is that drug dealers are mixing fentanyl into pills that are made to look like other drugs, for example oxycontin. Especially insidious, drug dealers have recently been putting fentanyl into colored tablets that look like candy, thereby opening up the possibility that children will unknowingly eat one and die. Drug overdoses and poisonings contributed to making 2021 the second year in a row that life expectancy in the United States went down.

The previous paragraph is relevant to the ones that preceded it because much of the fentanyl in the United States is smuggled across the Mexican border, where agents are so overworked with processing and caring for illegal immigrants that portions of the border now go completely unguarded.

Like I said, lawlessness.

  

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 3, 2022 at 4:34 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

Dodder again

with 6 comments

Dodder (Cuscuta sp.) is a parasitic vine whose often dense tangles of slender yellow strands remind some people of angel hair pasta, as you see above in a view of dodder attacking annual sumpweed (Iva annua). In contrast, the picture below is different from previous ones I’ve taken of dodder, with the interplay of light and shadow making it moodier, artsier. Both views are from Meadow Lake Park in Round Rock on August 24.

 

§

§        §        §

§

   

In case you haven’t noticed, much of the world is facing an energy crisis. Since the current American administration took over on January 25, 2021, the average selling price of gasoline in the United States has risen from $2.39 to $3.84 per gallon as of yesterday, for a 60% increase. The average price for diesel rose even more: on January 25, 2021 it was $2.71, and as of August 29 it was $5.11. That’s an 88% increase. In a more extreme jump from January 2021 to now, the natural gas index (NG:NMX) on the NASDAQ exchange rose from $2.49 to $9.35. My house has natural gas heating, so I compared my bill from January 2021 to the bill dated August 12, 2022: the cost for a hundred cubic feet (CCF) has tripled, going from $0.34 to $1.013.

The high cost of gasoline strains the budget of tens of millions of commuters and shoppers. The high cost of diesel means that goods transported by ships and trucks and trains—which are almost all the goods you buy—now cost more. If you have natural gas heating, keeping your residence warm this winter will cost a lot more than it did two years ago.

And we in the United States still have it pretty good. Many European countries depend on Russia for oil and natural gas, so since that country invaded Ukraine prices in Europe have risen as supplies have fallen. “French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne urged businesses to cut energy use or face possible rationing this winter if Russia halts gas deliveries.” In the U.K. “pubs and restaurants could close this winter without support to tackle soaring energy bills. There are growing fears that some hospitality venues won’t survive as they struggle to cope with rising running costs.” “In Poland‘s late summer heat, dozens of cars and trucks line[d] up at the Lubelski Wegiel Bogdanka coal mine, as householders fearful of winter shortages wait[ed] for days and nights to stock up on heating fuel in queues reminiscent of communist times.”

Spain “published new rules [in early August] stipulating that no business will be allowed to cool its interior below 27 degrees Celsius (81 degrees Fahrenheit) or to heat it above 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) in winter. In place until November 2023, the decree also calls a halt to the illumination of monuments, bans stores from lighting up their windows after 10 p.m., and requires shops to have an electric display showing the temperature inside to passersby.” People in Germany “are feeling more frugal than at any point in the last decade, according to a survey by GfK. It found that consumers are putting aside any spare cash in anticipation of much higher energy bills.” Also “in Germany, where households face a 480 euro rise in their gas bills, people are resorting to stockpiling firewood.” (That’s in addition to clear-cutting ancient forests to make room for industrial wind turbines.)

The current Russia-Ukraine war has revealed the fragile state of the energy systems in Europe and elsewhere. The politicized push toward “green energy” has made the situation a lot worse than it needed to be. Although atomic reactors produce no carbon emissions, “green” activists have an irrational horror of nuclear energy. Germany was set to close the last of its nuclear reactors this year but is now reconsidering, given the current crisis. In the United States, not since 2016 has a nuclear reactor entered service, and the most recent one before that was 20 years earlier.

Elon Musk, erstwhile hero of the political left for producing hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles, “told European energy leaders that the world needs more oil and natural gas and should continue operating nuclear power plants while investing heavily in renewable energy sources. ‘I think we actually need more oil and gas, not less, but simultaneously moving as fast as we can to a sustainable energy economy,’ Mr. Musk, Tesla’s chief executive and largest shareholder, told a conference in Stavanger, Norway. Mr. Musk said work on developing battery-storage technology is key to making the most of investments in wind, solar and geothermal energy. ‘I’m also pronuclear,’ Mr. Musk said. ‘We should really keep going with the nuclear plants. I know this may be an unpopular view in some quarters. But I think if you have a well-designed nuclear power plant, you should not shut it down, especially right now,’ he said.”

Hooray for a voice of reason. As the Greeks told us more than two millennia ago: All things in moderation, nothing to excess.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 31, 2022 at 4:25 AM

Three takes on yellow

with 12 comments

Sunflowers weren’t the only yellow I found on August 14th in the northeast quadrant of US 183 and Mopac. Above is the fruit of western horse nettle, Solanum dimidiatum. Next you have a yellowing mustang grape vine leaf, Vitis mustangensis.

The sheen tells you it’s an upper surface. The fuzziness in the last picture indicates it’s the lower surface. 

  

❇︎

❇︎        ❇︎        ❇︎

❇︎

 

In 2016 in the New York Times, Samuel J. Abrams of Sarah Lawrence College summarized research on faculty political preferences and found that the leftward tilt in social sciences and the humanities was getting stronger. Citing studies by the Higher Education Research Institute, he noted that the ratio of liberal professors to conservative professors nationally by 2014 “was 6 to 1; for those teaching in New England, the figure was 28 to 1.” When restricted to the humanities and social sciences, it is difficult to find self-defined conservatives, period, as they fear losing their jobs, or if tenured, their promotions, or if adjuncts, their connection to universities whatsoever. In one small study, history departments were found to have a ratio of 33.5 to 1 of liberals to conservatives.

That’s from a 2019 op ed by Richard Vatz in the Washington Examiner. As these things go, 2016 and 2019 are ancient history. The pandemic and moral panic of 2020 accelerated the monopolization of one and only one kind of thinking at American colleges and universities. As others before me have pointed out — how could they not, when it’s so blatant? — the sacred and must-be-genuflected-to “Diversity” tolerates no more diversity of beliefs than does the dogma of any other hardcore religion.

You’re welcome to read the full article.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 24, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

%d bloggers like this: