Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘wildflower

Pale green crab spider

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On May 1st, about half an hour before I encountered the fawn you recently saw here, I stopped to photograph a rain-lily flower (Zephyranthes drummondii) that was turning pink as it shriveled away at the end of its inevitably brief life. Once I got close to the flower I found a pale green crab spider on it. A somewhat orange prickly pear cactus flower (Opuntia engelmannii) provided a great backdrop. I don’t recall ever previously photographing this combination of colors.

If you’re interested in the art and craft of photography, points 1, 5, 6 and 7 in About My Techniques apply to this picture.

And here’s a quotation for today: “I find that sometimes when I go into a community that’s not my own, or a community that has a lot of issues attached to it, I have to resist wanting to say something about how I think they could be better, or how I think the government has wronged them.” — Chloé Zhao, 2021 Academy Award winner for best director.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 14, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Rain-lily bud and flower

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Zephyranthes drummondii; April 27 in my neighborhood.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 10, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Prickly pear cactus flower opening

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Note the ants on this Opuntia engelmannii flower opening in my neighborhood on April 28th.

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About 20 years ago I got to meet a distant relative of mine from another country who came to stay with us for several months. He enjoyed nature, so one morning we set out for an attractive place west of Austin. During the drive we talked about various things, and at one point he startled me by admitting that he would say something he knew to be false if it furthered a cause that he favored. And just the other day I came across something similar in Michael Shellenberger’s Apocalypse Never. He quoted a Sierra Club member saying “I think that playing dirty, if you have a noble end, is fine.”

I’m too wedded to the truth to lie or play dirty, but alas, those tactics have become all too common in the past several years and especially since 2020. Time after time I’ve encountered media “news” stories putting forth a claim that readily available evidence shows isn’t true. What usually happens in those cases is that if you bring the refuting evidence to the attention of the people making the false claim, they still continue making it, sometimes even more fiercely than before.

Another practice unethical people in the “news” media engage in is to quote something that a person said but to leave out words that cast the statement in a different light, often the opposite of what seems to be the case in the edited version. If you see an ellipsis (three dots indicating words have been omitted) in a quotation that seems damning, don’t draw any conclusions until you see what has been left out, along with the statements preceding and following the quoted words. In short, get the full context. It’s disheartening to see activists suppress evidence and quote people in purposely misleading ways, but that’s the sad world we’re living in.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 7, 2021 at 4:41 AM

A new take on pearl milkweed flowers

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If it’s a colorful and detailed take on the flowers of the pearl milkweed vine that you’re after, I’ve already shown Matelea reticulata that way. On April 25th in my neighborhood the low-angle glancing sunlight was such that I went for the unconventional view you see here, with its high contrast, minimalism, and abstraction. The little spectrum-like line segments at the lower right came from spider silk refracting the light.

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“Reformers used to look for the next wrong to right. Now activists look for the next right thing to make wrong.” — S.S.

Illiberal ideologues in my country have been increasingly pushing the crazy notion that objectivity is a tool of white supremacy. Those obsessed activists include mathematics in the objectivity they despise, and they claim it’s not really important for students to get right answers in mathematics. That’s the same mathematics that allows us to deliver electricity to homes and businesses to run appliances and machines; that lets researchers determine whether a new medicine is effective; that lets companies build computers and smart phones and bridges and cars and planes; that lets engineers calculate the orbits of the satellites that enable global navigation and communication; and on and on and on. While the American educational establishment is busy making sure students here don’t learn much of anything except secular religious dogma, Chinese leaders continue relentlessly forward in their plan for ever greater hegemony.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) measures the international scholastic performance of 15-year-olds in mathematics, science, and reading. You can see the 2018 results for 77 or 78 countries. In all three subjects China was #1. The United States came in 13th in reading, 18th in science, and a dismal 37th in mathematics. I guess our innumerate ideologues don’t know enough arithmetic to understand that when it comes to rankings, larger numbers aren’t better than smaller ones—either that, or those zealots are happy that American kids are showing their anti-racism by refusing to internalize as inherently white supremacist a subject as mathematics.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 3, 2021 at 4:42 AM

Cream paintbrush

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Most Indian paintbrushes (Castilleja indivisa) are red, like the one in the backround in this picture from the town of Manor on April 20th. Occasionally a paintbrush is yellowish or cream or white, like the one in the foreground here that is the real subject of the portrait.

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Two days ago I posed an English language challenge: to come up with a sentence containing the words adopted finished stirred. The three words had to appear exactly that way, with no punctuation or other words in between, and the full sentence had to be grammatical. That seems like a difficult task, and no takers have come forward. (This is primarily a nature photography blog, after all.)

Languages allow for the nesting, i.e. embedding or insertion, of one sentence inside another. With that in mind, let’s begin with three simple sentences, each containing one of the verbs in the challenge (I’ve italicized those verbs).

1: The book stirred emotions.
2: The girl finished the book.
3: The family adopted the girl.

Now let’s nest 2 inside 1 as a way of including what we know about the book:

2 inside 1: The book that the girl finished stirred emotions. (Notice how stirred now immediately follows finished. Do you see where this is going?)

Now let’s nest 3 inside the nested combination of 1 and 2 as a way of including what else we know about the girl:

3 inside 2 inside 1: The book that the girl that the family adopted finished stirred emotions.

Grouping symbols make the nesting structure clear:

The book [ that the girl [[ that the family adopted ]] finished ] stirred emotions.

If you drop what’s inside the double brackets, what’s left makes sense. Likewise, if you drop everything that’s inside the single brackets, what’s left makes sense.

There’s no theoretical limit to how many levels of nesting you can have, but even with just the two levels of nesting in our final sentence, comprehension begins to falter as verbs pile up toward the end of the combined version.

For example, suppose we add just one more sentence to the original three:

4: The senator visited the family.

Nesting that inside what we already had gives us:

4 inside 3 inside 2 inside 1: The book that the girl that the family that the senator visited adopted finished stirred emotions.

I doubt whether even German speakers, who have a head start by often putting two verbs together at the end of a sentence, could follow this.

In fact the sentence could be even more opaque. Through a peculiarity of English, we’re not obliged to include that when it’s the object of the following verb. For example:

2 inside 1: The book the girl finished was long.

If we suppress every such that in a sentence with multiple levels of nesting, not only do verbs pile up toward the end, but noun phrases pile up at the beginning:

4 inside 3 inside 2 inside 1: The book the girl the family the senator visited adopted finished stirred emotions.

Try reading that out loud to someone, even slowly, and I’m pretty sure the person won’t understand it. What fun!

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 2, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Prairie celestials

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Tipped off by native plant aficionado Bob Kamper about a goodly number of prairie celestials (Nemastylis geminiflora) in the greenbelt beyond his back fence in Round Rock, a suburb that borders Austin on the north, I went there on April 11th and took pictures of those flowers—many pictures, in fact, because I rarely come across that species. Most of the celestials were in the shade, and so the majority of my portraits were soft, like the one above. Occasionally I found a celestial with at least some direct sunlight on it, and then I was able to make a more contrasty portrait like the one below.

Anything but celestial are the ways in which increasingly many American schools are indoctrinating their students. You’re welcome to read a parent’s testimonial that classical liberal Bari Weiss recently disseminated.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 23, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Soft view of a rain lily

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On April 8th in my part of Austin I found exactly one rain lily, Zephyranthes drummondii. I got in close, aimed straight down, and made this portrait in which only the central elements of the flower were in focus.

And here’s a quotation for today: “Winston Churchill reportedly quipped that ‘A lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes.’ That was before the internet. Today, the truth can’t even find its shoes.” — Alan Dershowitz, Cancel Culture, 2020.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 17, 2021 at 4:41 AM

Non-blue bluebonnets

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Above, from our first 2021 visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on March 25th comes a bluebonnet displaying a purple as richly saturated as I think I’ve ever seen in Lupinus texensis. No extra charge for the tiny green nymph of a katydid or grasshopper. And below are two white bluebonnets scattered in the large colony we saw in Dubina on March 29th.

A theme I’ve been pursuing here for some days now is that it’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense,” which is a loaded and misleading term because some or even many things that a majority of people believe to be common sense can be shown not to be true.

Take taxes. Many say it’s only “common sense” that if a jurisdiction raises a tax rate it will bring in more revenue. The truth is that sometimes it will and sometimes it won’t. For example, if a tax rate goes from 10% to 11%, the increase is small enough that the higher rate won’t be enough to cause people to take an easier job with a lower salary to avoid the higher tax, so revenue will increase. On the other hand, if a tax rate goes from 10% to 50%, a lot of people will lower their earning and spending because the higher rate is just too burdensome, and as a result the government may well end up taking in less than before. And, to take an easy-to-understand extreme, if a government imposed a 90% tax on earnings, many people would stop working altogether, go on welfare, and the government would have no income of theirs to tax. There’s a good example of that kind of work avoidance in the current pandemic: the American government has given out such high supplemental unemployment benefits during the pandemic that some people find they make more money by not working than by going to a job. As a result, some owners of small business have been having a hard time finding workers.

Another consideration is that if one jurisdiction raises its tax rates to be significantly higher than the rates in other jurisdictions, people and companies have an incentive to go elsewhere. That’s happening now as people and companies from high-tax states like New York and California move to lower-tax states like Florida and Texas, so New York and California will lose all the money they used to get by taxing those people and companies. If federal corporate tax rates are raised to the point that they’re significantly higher than corporate tax rates in other countries, some companies will relocate a portion or even all of their operations to foreign countries with lower tax rates, and the United States will lose the revenue it used to get. As a historical example, in Britain by the end of the 1960s the upper tax rates were so high that the Rolling Stones moved to the south of France and John Lennon moved to the United States.

In the opposite direction, sometimes lowering tax rates ends up bringing in more revenue by encouraging people to spend more now that they have more. Lowering corporate tax rates can induce American companies to repatriate earnings they’ve kept in foreign countries to avoid excessively high tax rates at home.

In short, it’s not always true that raising tax rates brings in more revenue. The sweet spot depends on many factors, and finding it seems more magic than science.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 13, 2021 at 4:46 AM

Winecup flower center

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In this closeup of a winecup (Callirhoe sp.) at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on March 25th the shadow struck me as appropriate for the profile of a gnome or ogre or some such creature.

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It’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense.” That’s a loaded and misleading term because some or even many things that a majority of people believe to be common sense are easily shown to be untrue. Over the next week I’ll give some examples, starting now.

Suppose you live in City A. One morning you get on an Interstate highway, drive to a place in City B, and with light traffic you end up averaging 70 mph for the trip. Three days later you return along the same route, but this time traffic is heavy, and in addition rain pours down for much of the time. As a result, you end up averaging a pitiful 30 mph for your return trip from City B to City A. Now here’s my question: what was your average speed for the round trip? Most people who are given these facts and asked that question will say the average speed for the round trip was 50 mph, which they got by averaging 70 and 30: 70 + 30 = 100, and 100 ÷ 2 = 50. It’s common sense, right?

So simple, so easy—and so wrong! People who come up with an answer of 50 mph don’t understand what an average is. An average is the total of one kind of thing divided by the total of another kind of thing. The very label “miles per hour” tells you what to do: take the total mileage traveled on the round trip and divide by the total number of hours spent doing it.

Let’s suppose City A and City B are 210 miles apart. Driving that 210 miles on the way from A to B at an average of 70 mph took you 3 hours. Returning another 210 miles from B to A at an average 30 mph hour took you a whopping 7 hours. The total distance you drove was 210 miles out plus 210 miles back, or 420 miles. The total time you spent was 3 hours out plus 7 hours back, for a total of 10 hours. As a result, 420 miles ÷ 10 hours gives an average speed of 42 miles per hour for the round trip.

Now, most people’s “common sense” would probably have them objecting: Wait a minute, not so fast (which is a convenient play on words in an example about speeds). These people would assume the average speed depends on how far apart City A and City B are. Well, in fact it makes no difference at all how far apart City A and City B are. Pick any distance you like, do the same kinds of calculations I did (which may mean you’ll need to pull out a calculator because the numbers probably won’t come out so pretty), and you’ll still end up with an average of 42 mph for the round trip.

The reason the true round-trip average speed ends up below the “common sense” but wrong average of 50 mph is that you spent more time driving at a slow speed of 30 mph than at a fast speed of 70 mph, and that pulls the average speed down. In summary, the truth is that despite “common sense” you can’t generally average averages.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 8, 2021 at 4:43 AM

Pink evening primrose colony flowering along Interstate 35

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We drove close to 300 miles yesterday, making a big southern loop that took us southeast of San Antonio. On the last leg of the trip, coming north on Interstate 35 through Buda, I pulled over for a great colony of pink evening primroses (Oenothera speciosa) on the edge and up the embankment of the highway. I took a bunch of pictures, this one being the very last.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 3, 2021 at 4:36 AM

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