Jessica Crabtree

Tag: nature

Narrow-leaf campion

by on Feb.23, 2012, under JOURNAL: Nature, art, cultural perspectives

campionThis humble, inconspicuous little meadow flower doesn’t look like much – it’s a lot like a small plant that grows today in the Eurasian tundra. That is, except for the fact that it’s bloomed from a seed that’s been frozen since the last Ice Age.

Revived from the flesh of seeds found in prehistoric ground squirrel tunnels in the Siberian permafrost, it is the oldest plant ever to have been regenerated from dormant seed.

Image: National Geographic “32,000-Year-Old Plant Brought Back to Life—Oldest Yet”

This success has been hailed as a breakthrough in the understanding of seed preservation. For experts concerned with the storage of heritage seeds and endangered species (such as the Millennium Food Bank), being able to investigate the conditions under which viable seeds can be preserved can greatly expand our potential for saving the world’s plant diversity.

See also: NatGeo Special Feature “Food Ark

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Hotel Posada del Valle

by on Feb.18, 2012, under JOURNAL: Nature, art, cultural perspectives

I have to tell you about one of my favorite websites – this one is bound to interest the Rebecca’s Wild Farm fans among my readers.

Posada del ValleHotel Posada del Valle is a guesthouse with organic farm & gardens, located in the Picos of Spain’s northern coast. While I haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting Asturias, it’s been fascinating to read about the development of this project by British couple Nigel & Joanne Burch, who bought and restored the property a number of years ago.

Using practical, sustainable methods of land management they have made their hardscrabble lot into an oasis of wildflower meadows, orchards, and vegetable gardens where they host travelers and tourists from all over the world. As a grower myself I can appreciate the incredible effort they make promoting renewable farm management, heritage seed & livestock varieties, and traditional practices of husbandry that have fallen by the wayside in favor of more convenient and “commercially viable” technology.

Hotel Posada del ValleWith a “work-in-progress” attitude, they’ve combined a lot of elbow grease with experienced local knowledge and a nature-first approach that respects the land and encourages renewable efforts in the community. A quick look at the results of their work give a fine example of just how rewarding and bountiful these methods are.

Their website offers some very excellent information about permaculture and sustainable farming, loaded with pictures and descriptions of their grounds and the practical concerns of maintaining them (and glimpses of the stunning coasts and mountains of Asturias). They also keep a great Blog which is updated often. Whether you’re a full-time farmer, a part-time gardener, or just a nature lover, please take a moment to look at their pages and share them with a friend.

Hotel Posada del Valle Asturias

Blogspot: Hotel Posada del Valle and its farm

Flickr: Photo Galleries

Hotel Posada del Valle

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Update: Rebecca’s Wild Farm DVD Requests

by on Feb.05, 2012, under JOURNAL: Nature, art, cultural perspectives

I finally received a response from the BBC production team on the matter on whether a dvd edition of the documentary Rebecca’s Wild Farm (also A Farm for the Future) will be commercially available. They replied that at present there are no plans in motion for producing the dvd’s – but they will refer it for consideration.

I strongly encourage anyone interested to contact the BBC directly at and petition for a commercial release. If they know just how much of a following this excellent resource has, it might promote a positive response.

You can read the entire correspondence (plus watch the YouTube version of the film) on this post.

A Farm for the Future

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Lenticular clouds over Britain

by on Dec.23, 2011, under JOURNAL: Nature, art, cultural perspectives

lenticular clouds

BBC News: Rare lenticular clouds over West Yorkshire (Photo Gallery)

Lenticular clouds form when a moist air mass moves downwind of a mountain range where it reaches the dew point, causing quick condensation. This is why they are so often seen capping a mountain peak. Their odd shape and apparently low altitude account for their common identification as space ships.

This page on has a very good picture gallery of some amazing lenticular effects from all over the world.

lenticular clouds
(Google Images)

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Patterns in Nature: Snowflakes

by on Dec.17, 2011, under JOURNAL: Nature, art, cultural perspectives

Snowflakes, to many, are the essence of beauty: spontaneous, intricate, and ephemeral. The simple phenomenon of frozen water crystals is so captivating to some that they have spent thousands of hours studying how they form. Only recently have we been able to appreciate up close the truly breathtaking wonder of the tiny delicate specks that fall en masse (or maybe not in such masses, depending on where you live). Each insignificant nothing in an expanse of sky, snowdrift, or meltwater is a lost little wonder of the universe.

A Blink in Time

The earliest recorded studies of snowflakes date back to China in the first century BCE. Later, rudimentary sketches of crystal structures first appeared around the time that early microscopes made close observation possible for European scientists. But it was the camera that really gave the humble snowflake its well-deserved place in the spotlight. One of the pioneers of this field was Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley (1865-1931) who made thousands of unique photomicrographs on black velvet (his photos were widely used by the scientific community and today are in the public domain). An 1885 photograph by Bentley is believed to be the first time a snowflake was captured by camera. So passionate was Bentley in the pursuit of the snowflake’s elusive beauty, the elderly photographer died of pneumonia after tramping through a blizzard for six hours with his camera.

Blueprint of a snowflake

A snowflake is essentially a molecule of water vapor crystallized by freezing temperatures. The more molecules accreted together, the more complex the form. Snowflakes most often develop six-sided figures because the layout of a water molecule and its ratio of oxygen and hydrogen atoms affects the way the molecules bond with each other in a crystal lattice. Snowflakes form in a cloud when the H20 is supercooled (around 14 F) and water condenses into droplets. The remaining vapor molecules cling to the water droplets and to each other as they begin to crystallize. In essence it’s more accurate to say that snowflakes are pieces of cloud, rather than mere frozen raindrops – which of course would be sleet.

This diagram illustrates how temperature and moisture affect the formation of snow (courtesy of Caltech’s Snowflake Study page):

Snowflake Morphology

Sorting infinity

As you might imagine, snowflakes come in so many forms that classifying them is no easy task. Many come in unfamiliar shapes with no resemblance to the famous “dendrite” types with their intricate fractal branches.

There are a number of basic snowflake forms: simple polygons; needles and rods; capped columns that look like spools of thread; clustered bullet-shaped snowflakes; and lumpy, irregular flakes of frozen water droplets. Some flakes form in a three-dimensional shape like a Christmas tree star.

Everyone knows the saying that “No two snowflakes are alike” – just like human fingerprints. But snowflake experts say that this very well may be a myth. It’s not as though there is a world database of “flake prints” to prove it; after all, if there were lots of identical crystal patterns hanging around out there, could we really expect to know about it?

Since nature favors diversity – and since there is a nearly infinite combination of variables affecting temperature, humidity, and other atmospheric conditions – it’s more likely that any two snowflakes will share only a passing similarity. There are more than enough crystal patterns to go around!

Psychological snow?

Finally, there is some research done by Mr. Masaru Emoto, who claims that snowflake formation is determined not only by temperature and air movement, but by mood. He has theorized that water responds to music, speech, and even human emotion, to create crystals that are correspondingly more or less aesthetically pleasing. Most serious academics ridicule this hypothesis, since the studies are based chiefly on the subjective taste of the researcher, perhaps blurring the line between control and variable – and because the results cannot be successfully reproduced in experiments.

If Mr. Emoto’s research has proved one thing, it seems to be that humans are at least as open to the power of suggestion as snowflakes are. Maybe it’s just pleasing to think that snowflakes could be as much a marvel to themselves are they are to us.

The next time you have the chance to see a cascade of the fluffy white stuff, I can be pretty sure you won’t be giving much thought to molecular geometry. You could always put on some of your favorite music and enjoy the show – maybe you won’t end up with happier snowflakes, but a moment to savor some of nature’s simple wonders is always a good call.

Snowflake photos from Wilson Bentley’s Official Site (Public Domain) – the definitive site for snowflake studies (Caltech’s project page) Snowflakes as you’ve never seen them before with photography by Kenneth Libbrecht of Caltech

Snowflake “Bentley” Official Site

Wikipedia: Snowflake How to take photos of snowflakes

Web Design Depot – a collection of more modern (but equally beautiful) snowflake macro shots

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BBC Nature: Epic wolf hunt caught on camera

by on Nov.13, 2011, under JOURNAL: Nature, art, cultural perspectives

This is really extraordinary aerial footage of a gray wolf pack hunting a herd of bison. It’s intense, and maybe grisly to some – but in my mind it’s good to see that there are still places in the world where these fascinating animals can still carry out these ageless rites.

BBC Frozen Planet: Wolf hunt footage

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Autumn photography

by on Nov.03, 2011, under JOURNAL: Nature, art, cultural perspectives

Flickr: Jessica Crabtree – Autumn 2011

wild grape in autumn

I’ve just uploaded a new set of photos to my Flickr photostream. I’ve been remiss in posting them; as a matter of fact I still have a few sets from this summer that I haven’t added yet.

If fall is your favorite season (as it is mine) then I hope you will enjoy browsing through them as much as I enjoyed taking them. As always, if you see any of them that you like, feel free to download/use them online or in your next project, no permission required – just pass along the favor.

jessica crabtree autumn photography

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What is an “Indian Summer”?

by on Nov.01, 2011, under JOURNAL: Nature, art, cultural perspectives

Injun Summer - McCutcheon
John T. McCutcheon’s Injun Summer, Chicago Tribute, 1907

According to the National Weather Service,

“…The most popular belief of Indian Summer is as follows…It is an abnormally warm and dry weather period, varying in length, that comes in the autumn time of the year, usually in October or November, and only after the first killing frost/freeze. There may be several occurrences of Indian Summer in a fall season or none at all…”

The article goes on to describe many popular and scientific theories about the origin of the expression:

“One explanation of the term “Indian Summer” might be that the early native Indians chose that time of year as their hunting season. This seems reasonable seeing the fall months are still considered the main hunting season for several animals. Also, the mild and hazy weather encourages the animals out, and the haziness of the air gives the hunter the advantage to sneak up on its prey without being detected. Taking this idea one step further, Indians at that time were known to have set fires to prairie grass, underbrush and woods to accentuate the hazy, smokey conditions. But Albert Matthews pointed out that the Indians also did this at other times of the year.

Other possibilities include; the Indians made use of the dry, hazy weather to attack the whites before the hard winter set in; that this was the season of the Indian harvest; or, that the predominant southwest winds that accompanied the Indian Summer period were regarded by the Indians as a favor or “blessing” from a “god” in the desert Southwest. Another idea, of a more prejudicial origin, was that possibly the earliest English immigrants equated Indian Summer to “fools” Summer, given the reliability of the resulting weather. Finally, another hypothesis, not at all in the American Indian “camp” of theories, was put forward by an author by the name of H. E. Ware, who noted that ships at that time traversing the Indian Ocean loaded up their cargo the most during the “Indian Summer”, or fair weather season. Several ships actually had an “I.S.” on their hull at the load level thought safe during the Indian Summer.”


But there’s another side to this coin: if there was such a thing as an “Indian summer” among Indians, that begs the question – what do they have to say about its origins?

The following article was first published in the Denver Post, 2001 (thanks to for the text.)

Celebrating an Indian Summer
(Richard B Williams, President, American Indian College Fund)

“Lately we have heard the phrase “Indian summer” used frequently to describe our stretch of good weather. Most of us are taking advantage of the warm weather rather than contemplating the etymology of the term “Indian summer.” However, a study of the phrase is an eye-opening look into our nation’s history. After years of asking elders and prominent Indian historians, I stumbled across an article written by a leading American Indian author from an Eastern tribe who explained the origins of “Indian summer.”

Early settlers who coined the term would see Indian farmers celebrating the blessing of being able to add a second and sometimes third harvest to their winter store following the first frost. The author described how the Indian farmers would give thanks to the creator for the warm days. As we celebrate our own recent warm weather, we must also recognize the contributions that these Indian farmers made to our overall well-being. American Indians were not only the first landowners in North America – they were also accomplished farmers whose agricultural aptitude would eventually transform the world.

Most Americans today do not know that American Indians owned the land upon which they farmed largely because the land-tenure system to the American Indian was vastly different than what the European colonists knew and would later institute in North America. The Indian farmer owned the land as long as it was occupied. When land was abandoned, anyone could claim the land as long as the new owner farmed it.

Because the farmed land did not look like the parceled-out sections of Europe when settlers arrived, they mistook the symbiotic, ecologically friendly farming style used by Indians as meaning the land was not owned.

According to Jack Weatherford’s book titled “Indian Givers; How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World,” American Indians cultivated more than 300 food crops with dozens of variations that improved the world’s diet both in quantity and quality of foods.

As testimony to the skill and knowledge of Native farmers, three-fifths of the world’s crops in cultivation today originated from the ingenious farmers who were successfully growing crops in varied soils and climates throughout the Americas.

The Native farmers’ agricultural proficiency and understanding of the need to farm in harmony with the land is reflected in “Three Sisters,” a traditional horticultural technique of planting corn, squash and beans together.

The Three Sisters are inseparable because each crop benefits the growth of the other two crops in a limited space. The growing corn provides a pole for the bean plant to climb and needed shade for the squash that covers the ground to provide even moisture and reduce weed growth.

Through agricultural experimentation, Native farmers employed highly developed agricultural methods and introduced nutritious crops to the world that included corn, new grains, wild rice, tomatoes, chilies, sunflowers, numerous bean and pepper varieties and potatoes.

Ironically, the introduction of high-yield crops such as the potato and a more nutritious diet helped spawn a population explosion in Europe that heralded the colonization of the Americas. The eventual displacement of Indian people from their traditional farming lands would encourage the eradication of Indian civilizations.

Some 7,000 years before the first Thanksgiving, farming was an integral part of the culture and economy of indigenous people in the Americas. By introducing new agricultural principles, foods and improved cultivation techniques, the American Indian farmer made an immeasurable contribution to the world. This is indeed a blessing we should all celebrate during this Indian summer.”

See also: Food for Thought: Little-Known Facts About American Indian Innovations

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About Me

I am a freelance artist living in Arkansas, US, specializing in historical portraits of American Indians. I blog about the portrayal and influence of Native Americans in art, history, and the media.

I am fascinated by history and world cultures, ancient and modern, and particularly indigenous peoples. My other interests include wildlife ecology, environmental issues & sustainability, journalism, photography, web design & development. I enjoy music and reading (see my book list here).

You can see some of my pastel work, and my drawings in charcoal and graphite, by visiting my online Gallery.