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Blanche Trask, Catalina Island Naturalist

Blanche Trask was a great writer about natural history, her poetry is descriptive of nature, and her explorations and discoveries are interesting and significant.

She was in a circle of literary figures and scientists of her day such as Charles Lummis, Willis Jepson, Charles Sargent, Alice Eastwood, and perhaps Mary Austin. There exists no biography of Blanche Trask, but there are her legacy of poetry and essays. She included science by using the botanical names of plants, wildlife, and a sense of early California natural history and wild nature.

Blanche Trask spend years discovering the California Channel Islands. Blanche Trask wrote 10 poems, all mysterious and beautiful, all with a story. And she also wrote several published essays on Catalina, San Clemente, and San Nicolas Islands. The famous botanist of California, Willis Jepson, visited Catalina for 5 days and his fieldnotes describe Blanche Trask and her beloved Catalina Island.

For a Minnesota girl who moved to Santa Monica, her life became the model of the one who came and could never leave California's sunshine. Her love of the natural resources of California resulted in both poetry and scientific articles and papers that were presented through the Southern California Academy of Sciences. Her stories on the Channel Islands appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

And after exploring inland, Death Valley and Sonoran Desert, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, Blanch lost her life's work -- her collection of plants and archaeology in a fire that destroyed her Avalon home. She died the next year of pulmonary problems.

For more details about Blanch Trask, a true California naturalist, visit Robert J. van de Hoek's bio of a naturalist he greatly admires.

A few of her writings included:
Moonlight at Catalina
Catalina Fog

The Heart of Santa Catalina, essay published by Land of Sunshine, 1897. Some quotes from Blanch :

"But Santa Catalina has as yet lost only the beauty of her full name, and for two or three months each summer her little tented city of Avalon spreads its white wings to shelter thousands of people who come and go without learning anything about Santa Catalina herself; the remainder of the year, save for a handful of inhabitants left over in Avalon, she is quite alone.

The highest peaks stand looking down upon the dead craters; bare and desolate mountains of over-burnt rock - rock somewhat comforted, perhaps, by the brilliant lichens of green and orange and red and lavender carelessly draped about them by the hand of Time, like oriental scarfs."

There is a volcanic upland where they may be counted until one reaches fifty and stops counting from weariness - not because there are not yet other poppy trees. Here great rocks stand up like sentinels - rock shattered by earthquake and old-time terrors - still at their posts. Very frail is the poppy tree, and it would never reach maturity save for the little crabbed "white lilac" (Ceanothus macrocarpus), upon which it leans all the weight of its branches.

If, leaving the trail, you follow the ridge across to the south side, you will pause upon toppling crags whose rocks now and then crash down more than 1500 feet into the sea below. In these strangely colored waters the brown "mermaid's hair" sways to and fro in company with the long sea weeds on the submerged rocks, and the gold-fish catch the glinting sunlight; and the fear of standing upon the crumbling edge is forgotten as you watch the underworld.

That there are no trees on Santa Catalina is a common belief. But it is impossible to see a thing without going where it is; and the tourist seldom enters the abodes of the trees. He sees no more of the great cottonwoods (Populus trichocarpa), the mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus panifolius), the Lyonothamnus, the white oak (Quercus tomentella), the willow-leaved manzanita (Arctostaphylos diversifolia), than he does of the poppy-trees, the rare snap-dragon, the little green orchid or its tall relative which wears its heart on its - slipper! - (Epipactis gigantea.)

As it is said this island rose at a single upheavel, so may it sink again; but what of it all? We put too much stress upon the day and hour in which we live. We forget that without the dust of the stars there would be no Milky Way.

"Be comforted; the world is very old, And generations pass as they have passed, A troop of shadows moving with the sun; Thousands of times has the old tale been told; The world belongs to those who come last." Santa Catalina Island, California.
To gain new perspectives on citizen naturalists, check out more of Robert Jan "Roy" van de Hoek's naturalists biographies.