"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Bees on Blooms!

From “The Mind of a Shopper in the Flower Supermarket” in The Mind of a Bee by Lars Chittka:

“While foraging, the bee also has to overcome the frustration and the starvation risk of finding dozens of empty flowers in a row that a competitor has recently emptied, and she must decide when to cut her losses and explore for an alternative food source….

“As she keeps visiting several thousands of flowers a day, rules begin to emerge; for example, are bilaterally symmetrical flower species (such as snapdragons) more rewarding than radially symmetrical ones (such as daisies), irrespective of species and color? Learning rules is not typically regarded as within the reach of an insect mind, but… the pressures of operating in the flower supermarket have given rise to such intelligent operations in the bee. What’s more, while figuring out all these contingencies, she also has to dodge attacks from predators, and remember and avoid flower patches where predation risk is especially high. She has to keep track of the location of her home no matter how convoluted her flight path, and in the face of wind gusts that might displace her far from her established route.”

From “The Gladness of Nature” in Poems by William Cullen Bryant:

There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren,
    And the gossip of swallows through all the sky;
The ground-squirrel gayly chirps by his den,
    And the wilding bee hums merrily by.


The flowers featured in this post are members of the Asteraceae family, often referenced by Aster as a genus — and the family and genus includes asters, coneflower, chrysanthemums, and daisies, among others. I say it like that because I couldn’t quite identify a specific flower name for all of these, though my goto-plant-identifying-source (Pl@ntNet.identify) thought they were each most likely a variety of Persian daisy. This may or may not be true, but you can’t go wrong by calling them asters, and you probably won’t be wrong if you call them daisies.

In late October through mid-November, aster varieties bloom profusely around my neighborhood, wildly flowering streetside and at places like Oakland Cemetery’s gardens or the Atlanta Botanical Garden, showing off some of the last summer color before the leaves turn toward fall. At Oakland, there are large plots with mixed plantings, some in spaces twenty to thirty feet long and a half-dozen feet wide, filled with bees and wasps engaging in late season pollen-gathering. Many buzz off when I stomp up with the camera; but on a recent trip enough of them hung around that I was able to get some decent shots as they went about their business.

I’ll say it’s momentarily intimidating to realize you’re standing at the edge of a flowerbed and nearly surrounded by bees. And I do mean LOTS of bees. But they paid little attention unless I got too close, bopping from petal to petal and all but ignoring me — except for a single little wasp that flew in my left ear and drilled its way out my right one…

… which of course only happened in my imagination. My nervousness gave way pretty quickly, though, and I settled into this ethereal feeling that seems very specific to autumn: the quiet pleasure of cool temperatures, a mix of sunlight and clouds, light breezes, leaves tumbling along the ground, and — on this day — the zippy sounds of bumble- and wasp-wing mixing with it all.

The first gallery below shows a bumblebee on a beautifully colored flower, one that appears nearly brown in full sunlight but reveals these shades of red, orange, and magenta in the shade. This particular bee was hard for the camera to focus on: in addition to the bee’s constant motion, the camera seemed to get confused by its puffy fur coat — but at least I got a few images that were pretty sharp and in the third photo, you can (just barely!) see the bee’s eyes.

The second gallery shows a single wasp coming in for a landing. I have no idea how that worked out so well — I think I focused on the flower and pressed the shutter button as fast as I could. Sometimes you’re just giddy — aren’t you? — about your (photographic) luck!

If you take a close look at some of the subsequent photos — especially the last five — you can see clumps of yellow-orange pollen gathered around the bee’s knees. I guess that’s proof that they weren’t just flying around because they could (though that’s what I would do): they were busy, and hard at work!

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Autumn Daisies (3 of 3)

From The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson:

“Eleanor went alone into the hills above Hill House, not really intending to arrive at any place in particular, not even caring where or how she went, wanting only to be secret and out from under the heavy dark wood of the house. She found a small spot where the grass was soft and dry and lay down, wondering how many years it had been since she had lain on soft grass to be alone to think. Around her the trees and wild flowers, with that oddly courteous air of natural things suddenly interrupted in their pressing occupations of growing and dying, turned toward her with attention….

“Idly Eleanor picked a wild daisy, which died in her fingers, and, lying on the grass, looked up into its dead face. There was nothing in her mind beyond an overwhelming wild happiness. She pulled at the daisy, and wondered, smiling at herself, What am I going to do? What am I going to do?”

From “Hell” in White and Other Tales of Ruin by Tim Lebbon:

“Chele was squatting on her haunches, picking at the lush green grass, sniffing it, running her hands across the bright daisies that grew in profusion between the coach and the trees….

“Dark things darted in the air around her head and she waved them away. I waited for them to attack her, pierce her skin and puncture her insides, but then a couple landed on her arm and they were only flies.”

Halloween approaches, so I was pleased to find a couple of daisy-related references (quoted above) in some spooky stories. My Invisible Man costume has been fetched from the dry cleaners, and I’m all set for my traditional participation in the festivities. I do still have to pick up a few severed heads of broccoli; I normally hack it into florets and dispense them in tiny orange bags. Gotta keep those kids healthy, don’t you think? Maybe I’ll splurge this year and include some dismembered baby carrots and a ranch-dip potion. Or Vampire Beets! Everybody loves Vampire Beets!

For this last post in my series of autumn daisies, I’ve included an example showing how much easier it is now to remove backgrounds from images with the newest release of Adobe Lightroom Classic, version 11. For comparison, see Lilies on Black Backgrounds: A Photo Project (1 of 10), where I describe the detailed (and often tedious) brushing actions required to isolate and change a background to black. With the new version, I can accomplish the same thing with a few mouse clicks.

Here, for example, is a before screenshot of one of the images in the first gallery below, with all my adjustments completed except the background change:

To get started, I first chose “Select Subject” from Lightroom’s local adjustments panel…

… and Lightroom created a mask over what it determined to be the photo’s subject. Lightroom included all four flowers and a bit of the background between the cluster of three and the fourth flower, but that’s okay.

Because I wanted to work on the background rather than the flowers, I then chose “Invert” to flip the mask…

… and Lightroom switched the mask from the foreground to the background.

I decided to exclude the fourth flower from the final image, so I selected “Add” to increase the coverage of the mask and then chose “Brush” to use a brush to do that.

Then I brushed over the fourth flower (swoop-swoop)…

… and, finally, I changed the background to all black by setting these sliders (or using the preset I previously created)…

… and it’s done!

It took way-much longer to write this description than it did to actually make the background changes. And — for this technique that I use so often — there are two huge timesavers. First, Adobe’s mask is consistent throughout the background; meaning, I don’t have to repeatedly brush over certain bright areas to effectively cover them up. And, second, there’s no need for me to zoom in and out to carefully brush around the flower petals manually — which was the most time consuming step in creating these masks in the olden days of… last week!

Occasionally, if the subject is a little fuzzy around the edges or the background at those edges is of similar brightness, I’ll make a few additional adjustments with the brush. But wherever there’s decent contrast between subject and background, that’s unnecessary. For the photos in these galleries, the only image that took a little extra effort was the fourth one below, the cluster of seventeen white daisies now floating on black. All the others were 1-2-3-done!

If you would like to learn more about Adobe’s new Lightroom masking functions, I included links to their help documentation in the first post in this series: Autumn Daisies (1 of 3).

Thanks for taking a look!

Autumn Daisies (2 of 3)

From Emily Dickinson’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Iconic Poet by Marta McDowell:

“White daisies with yellow eyes contrast with red poppies. Dickinson associated with them, sometimes taking Daisy as a nickname for herself in letters. The daisies that she grew and that still populate the fields around Amherst are oxeye daisies….

While she adored them, not everyone agreed. One of her relations countered, ‘Why do people rave over the beauty of daisies? They look to me like hard-boiled eggs cut in two.’

Flowers are a matter of taste.”

From What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz:

“Most of us interact with plants every day. At times we experience plants as soft and comforting, like grass in a park during an indulgent midday nap or fresh rose petals spread across silk sheets. Other times they are rough and prickly: we navigate around pesky thorns to get to a blackberry bush on a meander through the woods or trip over a knotted tree trunk that’s worked its way up through the street….

But in most cases, plants remain passive objects, inert props that we interact with but ignore while we do so. We pluck petals from daisies. We saw the limbs off unsightly branches….

What if plants knew we were touching them?”

“What if plants knew we were touching them?” — interesting query, if you think about it. But what I really want to know is:

What if plants knew we were taking their pictures???

If they knew… would they turn their flowers toward more flattering light? or try to stand still in the wind? Would they prefer we dust off their pollen? or get mad if their petals and leaves were blemished? Would they call on some bees and butterflies to come into the frame, or prefer to be solitary subjects? Would they be glad we spend hours bent at their “feet” — or just wish they could shoo us away?

These are all pressing questions, of course, even if no photographer has ever asked them before. 🙂

Those plants that by their nature respond to tactile stimulus (see Rapid Plant Movement) are typically regarded as having a mechanical response to touch; but what if instead they possess rudimentary perception and cognition — and we humans (one of whom just insulted plants by calling them “rudimentary”) don’t understand them yet. I mean, ideas around animal cognition are still in their infancy, and we’re just beginning to grasp wee bits about how animals’ thought processes might work. It wasn’t such a long time ago that people generally believed animal actions were simply ingrained, conditioned, and reactive, essentially mechanical — despite the fact that anyone who has animals in their lives can see that that’s unlikely.

Our mythology, art, literature, and film all often feature sentient, smart plants. In our time, from yapping tiger lilies in Alice and Wonderland to mean-talking trees in The Wizard of Oz, we’ve created fantasy worlds where plants have active cognitive lives and engage in self-directed movements of their own. More recently, plants that seem to act and think make their way into science fiction and horror films; movies like The Girl with All the Gifts, Annihilation, or The Happening — movies I liked, but many people didn’t — all created imaginary spaces where violent behavior of plants was set in the context of environmentalism, as warnings to humans who abuse the natural world. The first two movies (and the books they were based on; see here and here) were excellent sci-fi (in my opinion); The Happening was more like a horror story where a dry summer breeze presaged psychotic and murderous human conduct. Should you watch that movie, pay particular attention to the sound of the wind; you’ll never hear leaves and grass blowing around you the same way again.

I’ve been a vegetarian since 2014; so I’ll admit I’m a little concerned about a discovery that plants are sentient and thoughtful. I’ve elminated dead animals from my diet, but what am I going to eat if we find out that plants have feelings? As it is, when I roast some potatoes in the oven and I can tell that they’re almost done because they start hissing… is that just steam escaping or are they actually screaming at me? Should plants turn out to be animals with leaves, The Silence of the Lambs will have to be rewritten as The Silence of the Yams. And I guess I’ll just end out drinking water with a blob of Soylent Green… oh, wait, that stuff’s made from PEOPLE!


Here are some more daisies, two of which invited a honeybee to join my photoshooot.

Thanks for taking a look!

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