DAUNTLESS EXPLORER: BLANCHE TRASK
acknowledged by
Ella Dallas Cantelow & Herbert Clair Cantelow


Biographical Notes on Persons in Whose Honor Alice Eastwood Named Native Plants
Leaflets of Western Botany
Volume 8, page 100 & 198, January 1957 & December 1957
San Francisco, California
Editors: Alice Eastwood & Thomas Howell


From page 100: ... "TRASK, MRS. BLANCHE (Luella Blanche Engles). Botanical Explorer born in Austin, Minnesota, 26 July 1865, died in San Francisco, California, 11 November 1916. Resided on Santa Catalina Island, California, 1893-1912; a dauntless explorer who collected in great quantities both botanical and ethnological specimens; her prime collections destroyed in San Francisco's 1906 fire; her private herbarium was lost in the Avalon fire, November 1916. Aplopappus traskae, Astragalus traskae, Cercocarpus traskae, Eriodictyon traskae, Gilia traskae.")

From page 198: ... "TRASK, MRS. BLANCHE. According to her daughter, Caroline Trask, her maiden name was Engle, not Engles, and she was born in Waterloo, Iowa, not Austin, Minnesota (page 100)."


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 "southern" Channel Islands of Southern California. She was a resident of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island in Los Angeles County, California from 1895 to 1915 (20 Years). Her winter home 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. However, she did travel to the deserts of the west as well and we know this through her correspondence such as in the following letter. Many people have acknowledged her contritubitions over the last 100 years. Scientists, in particular, have noted her contributions, such as botanical historians: Ella Cantelow and Herbert Cantelow.

One mistake was discovered by the Cantelows by the use of "MRS," as Blanche Trask was divorced by the age of 30. All her important botanical work was done as a single-divorced adult parent with a daughter. It would be more appropriate to uses "MISS" for this reason.

Blanche Trask also appreciated the desert landscape of the southwest, as we can see from her letter to Willis Jepson. Interestingly, the rainfall on the "southern" Channel Islands is scant, usually under 10 inches, and therefore within the realm of meeting the definition of a desert. Perhaps the fact that the islands are surrounded by ocean, in association with the desert-like landscapes, gave the feeling of "wildness," such that the "southern" Channel Islands were paradise to Blanche Trask. The Geography of Hope for Blanche Trask is undoubtedly Santa Catalina Island, but she would often look at the diminutive Santa Barbara Island, nearby San Clemente with its "lifted amethystine heights," and San Nicolas Island faraway to the west.

The narrative and quotes by the Cantelows were written and compiled by Robert Roy van de Hoek, December, 2000, for educational purposes in hopes of someday, recovering a "SONG SPARROW" on Santa Barbara Island (National Park island) and recovering the "Spotted Towhee" on San Clemente Island (Navy island), so visitors at least to that National Park island can have their park visit enlivened by hearing their "song." When Blanche Trask explored and tramped 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 listed by the Cantelows (Dudleya traskae and Astragalus traskae). And similarly, when Blanche Trask visited San Clemente Island at the turn-of-the-century, she heard the beautiful song of the San Clemente Spotted Towhee.

Alas, the Santa Barbara Song Sparrow is extinct and the San Clemente Towhee is extirpated, 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 recovered on Santa Barbara, would help spread-disperse the seeds of native plants very effectively, hence accelerating restoration of the natural vegetation on Santa Barbara Island. There is no Song Sparrow on Catalina or San Nicolas surprisingly, so San Clemente Island is the logical choice as the source island. The Song Sparrow undoubtedly utilized the Giant Coreopsis plants, for example, as habitat. The evidence lies in the fact, that the invasion of rabbits decimated the vegetation of Santa Barbara Island which resulted in the closely-paralleled and timed disappearance of the Santa Barbara Song Sparrow.

Similar in some respects to the Song Sparrow, except that the San Clemente Spotted Towhee is only extirpated, not extinct, but another difference is the islands involved. The San Clemente Spotted Towhee, if recovered on San Clemente, would help spread-disperse the seeds of native plants very effectively, hence accelerating the restoration of the natural vegetation on San Clemente Island. San Clemente Spotted Towhee, is alive and well on Santa Catalina Island, and therefore could serve as the basis for recovering the "Towhee" to San Clemente. But in this case, the obstacle is of getting the bureaucracy of the US Navy to cooperate with the Catalina Conservancy. Unfortunately, both are so wrapped up in the management of their respective islands, that neither is even aware of the fact that there is a San Clemente Spotted Towhee, even just "calling-singing out" to be recovered on San Clemente Island.

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 needs to play the role I believe, to bring the close relative of the Santa Barbara Song Sparrow, known as the San Clemente Island Song Sparrow, in a recovery project back to Santa Barbara Island.

Again, similarly, here we are, fast-forwarded into the new Millenium and the Channel Islands National Park, even though it is not the caretaker, nor the land steward of San Clemente Island, needs to play a role I believe, to bring the San Clemente Spotted Towhee still extant on Catalina, in a recovery project back to San Clemente Island.

Sadly however, San Clemente is a Navy Island and equally sad is the fact that Santa Catalina Island is a private island and the possibility of the Navy and National Park Service cooperating is slim to none, nor a priority since these two islands do not belong to the National Park Service. So clearly now I can sadly understand, and I hope you can too, yet another reason why the Navy needs to depart San Clemente Island and "let it be" part of the Channel Islands National Park. And furthermore, why the Catalina Conservancy needs to turnover its lands and "let it be" also a part of the Channel Islands National Park. Is it possible? I say yes! Just note that The Nature Conservancy has recently turned over Santa Cruz Island to the National Park Service to be its land steward for the trails, roads, and camping. Why not on Catalina? And why not San Clemente? And finally, why not San Nicolas (also a US Navy island)? Interestingly, Santa Barbara Island and San Miguel Island both belonged to the US Navy, and are now part of Channel Islands National Park.

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