BLANCHE TRASK
ACKNOWLEDGED BY
CHARIS BRATT

Published in the
THIRD CALIFORNIA ISLANDS SYMPOSIUM
Recent Advances in Research on the California Islands
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Santa Barbara, California
Edited by F.G. Hochberg
1993



"A survey of the historic record indicates that Blanche Trask is the only person known to have collected lichens on Santa Barbara Island. Trask lived on Santa Catalina Island from 1895 to 1907 and during those years visited and collected plants, lichens and artifacts from all of the southern and northern Channel Islands off California. She visited Santa Barbara Island in May 1901 and again in May 1902. Her lichen collections were identified by Hermann E. Hasse, M.D., who later published the results (1903a-d, 1913). Trask's collections were lost in the California Academy of Sciences fire following the 1906 earthquake and her personal herbarium was destroyed by the 1915 fire in Avalon. A few of her specimens survived in Hasse's personal herbarium but were dispersed among several herbaria when Hasse's collections were dispersed. A specimen from Santa Barbara Island of Buellia puctata is known to be at the New York Botanical Gardens. No other specimens from Santa Barbara Island collected by Trask have been located to date. A total of 22 species of lichens were recorded by Hasse."

"Standing in the midst of the lichen fields on Santa Barbara Island, it is hard to believe that no one has attempted to prepare an inventory of the lichens from this lovely island. Lichens are evident everywhere on the island, are prolific in some areas and are dominant in certain habitats. The lack of a lichen flora is more a reflection of the paucity of lichen work in general than a reflection on the lichens of Santa Barbara Island."


OBSERVATIONS of a NATURALIST in the 21st CENTURY
by
Robert Roy van de Hoek
December 2000

Blanche Trask, poet-explorer-naturalist, did most of her California wild nature exploration and writing on the Channel Islands of Southern California. She was a resident of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island in Los Angeles County, California from 1895 to 1915. A resident of Catalina for 20 years, she apparently moved off the island in 1915, after the disasterous Avalon fire burned nearly the entire town, including her home. Sometime around 1904, she moved into her new Avalon home which she called "Ischia." Ischia was her winter home and was located next to the Tuna Club in Avalon, but she also had a summer home at the Isthmus where the Institute of Environmental Studies of USC is currently located. For some years, she also had a camping location on the southwest side of Catalina that she called Camp La Palama. The exact location is not known, but I surmise that it may have been near Cottonwood Creek Waterfall, not far from Little Harbor.

Blanche Trask traveled to the deserts of the west as well and we know this through her correspondence to such scientists as Willis Jepson and Charles Sargent. Many people have acknowledged her contritubitions over the last 100 years. Scientists, in particular, have noted her contributions, such as Charis Bratt, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, a foremost authority on lichens on the California Islands.

Charis Bratt recognized the botanical exploration accomplishments of Blanche Trask by dedicating the opening paragraph, nearly about one-half page to her. Charis Bratt, correctly leaves off the "Mrs." as she was not married any longer by the time of her 1901 and 1902 "brief tarrying" on Santa Barbara Island, to use Blanche Trask's own words. As Charis Bratt notes, she was a "collector" of plants, lichens, and artifacts. I also learned that she collected, endemic island land snails, rocks, minerals, and bird eggs (such as an Osprey egg on San Nicolas) which is very significant to document for the recovery of the Osprey to that beautiful island. The realm of her interests as well as her poetry, essays and letters indicates that she was a true naturalist. The second paragraph of Charis Bratt's article, which combines prose with science in regard to nature, is not unlike how Blanche Trask might have written about Santa Barbara Island. It leads me to wonder if an essay, letter, or poem about Santa Barbara written by Blanche Trask may exist somewhere? She wrote about the three islands that surround Santa Barbara, namely Catalina to the east, San Clemente to the south, and San Nicolas to the west. Alas, the only mention of Santa Barbara Island that I have as yet been able to discover, is the quote: "brief tarrying on Santa Barbara Island."

Charles Hillinger, journalist for the LA TIMES, did a story (1998) on Charis Bratt which also included some interesting quotes about Blanche Trask. Here is the quote of Hillinger: "Only one other lichenologist had done extensive extensive work on lichens in the islands, Blanche Trask, who lived on Santa Catalina Island from 1895-1907. Bratt said Trask, who wore jodhburs and lived at the Isthmus on Catalina, collected and identified about 200 lichens on the Southern California islands."

Hillinger continues "She was a marvelous character. She was divorced. Not so many women of her time were divorced. She wore trousers when women did not wear them. She thought nothing of walking from the Isthmus to Avalon to pick up her mail and groceries, then walk back to her home the same day. This was turn of the century, noted Bratt."

Hillinger continues: "She spent summers on San Nicolas and described it as a dreary, dying place in poetic article she wrote about the island. Her house and all her scientific collections were destroyed by fire at Avalon. I believe Blanche collected on all eight of the islands."

Hillinger continues: "Blanche was a most interesting woman. I'd give my right arm to have a photo of her."

I learned that a photograph of Blanche Trask does exist in the none other than Willis Jepson files at the University of California. Not only would Charis Bratt be interested in seeing the photograph, I would also be interested. I would like to put that photograph on the web page sometime.

Blanche Trask also appreciated the desert landscape of the southwest, as we can see from her letters and essays, and Santa Barbara certainly presents itself as a desert-like landscape rising from the sea, particularly in light of the lichens that are there. The rainfall is scant on Santa Barbara, within the realm of meeting the definition of a desert. Even so, the Channel Islands were paradise to Blanche Trask. The Geography of Hope for Blanche Trask is undoubtedly Santa Catalina Island, but she often could see Santa Barbara Island at only twenty miles west of Catalina.

The narrative and quote by Charis Bratt was written and compiled by Robert Roy van de Hoek, for educational purposes. Environmental education of the island is part of a process. For example, the hope of someday, having a "SONG SPARROW" on Santa Barbara Island again, so visitors to that National Park island can have their park visit enlivened by hearing the "song" from a nest made of lichen fragments on a Giant Coreopsis. When Blanche Trask explored and tramped the isle by setting foot on Santa Barbara in 1901, and again in 1902, both times in May, it was Spring of course, and the Santa Barbara Song Sparrow would have been singing beautifully as she collected the two plants that we learned from Steve Junak are named for her. Sadly, the Santa Barbara Song Sparrow is extinct, but the very closely related Song Sparrow of San Clemente Island could be established, in order to recover the natural ecological process that is lost at this time on Santa Barbara Island. The Song Sparrow, if returned to Santa Barbara would help spread the seeds and spores of native plants and lichens more effectively, hence accelerating restoration on Santa Barbara Island. There is no Song Sparrow on Catalina or San Nicolas surprisingly, so San Clemente Island is the logical choice the source island. The Song Sparrow undoubtedly utilized the Giant Coreopsis plants, for example, as habitat. The evidence lies in the fact, that the timing of the rabbits decimating the vegetation of Santa Barbara Island also resulted in closely-paralleled and timed disappearance of the Santa Barbara Song Sparrow. And now, here we are, fast-forwarded into the new Millenium and Channel Islands National Park is the caretaker and land steward for Santa Barbara Island, and I believe it would be ecologically wise to consider bringing the close relative of the Santa Barbara Song Sparrow, known as the San Clemente Island Song Sparrow, to Santa Barbara Island. Sadly, San Clemente is a Navy Island, and the possibility of the Navy and National Park Service cooperating is slim to none. Thus, one realizes, yet another reason why the Navy needs to depart San Clemente Island and "let it be" part of the Channel Islands National Park.

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