HOW CAN IT BE?
"You cannot rob a man of anything which he will miss."-Thoreau

How can it be
That the land I love
Is lost to me?
* * * * *
In the mimic cliff
The sunlight fall,
The sea entreats,
The curlew calls

And I think--if I went
Down the old rock stair
The children would still
Be waiting me there,

In the snowy tent,
'Neath the greenest of trees,
Ever a-flutter
In the breeze.

And the camp-fire coals!
Can they be cold,
Where so many a happy
Tale was told?
* * * * *
Yet the children--I know--
Are grown today.
And the land that I love
Is a Land's-stretch away,

Set i' the mist!
And the trails of the Past
Left to the wind
And the sea--at last!

Avalon, Catalina Island.
Blanche Trask: Poet-Explorer-Writer-Naturalist
by
Robert Roy van de Hoek
October 3, 2000; Revised April 9, 2002
Blanche Trask was a poet, explorer, writer, naturalist, scientist, mother, divorcee, long-distance hiker, camper, and so much more. She lived her adult life in southern California, on an island in Los Angeles county. It was 20 miles off the mainland and it is called Santa Catalina Island. From this island she could explore the other seven Channel Islands. She lived on this island from 1895 to 1915, for 20 years, residing in her Avalon home. She moved to the island after her marriage collapsed, seeking wildness and and an escape from the urban mass of people. She lived (camped) for several months at a time on two other Channel Islands, which had no residents except a sheepherder. She lived on Catalina until just before she died of a pulmonary illness. In summers, when the crowds of tourists came to Avalon, she would move to her remote second home, near the Isthmus. Today, the USC Institute of Environmental Studies is located at her summer home. Most of her writing and poetry was a result of her exploration of the eight Channel Islands of southern California. She experienced California wild nature, in a way that few women did 100 years ago.

Blanche Trask corresponded with scientists at Harvard Univeristy in Massachusetts, Smithsonian Institution, University of California (Berkeley), and the California Academy of Sciences in San Franciso. She was a friend of Charles Lummis, editor of Land of Sunshine, and Out West, where under his guidance and editorial abilities, some of her essays and poetry were published.

In 1904, after living on Catalina Island for eight years, Out West published Blanche Trask's poem, How Can It Be?. This poem was the eighth of her ten poems to be published during a 10 year period between 1896 and 1905. Her poem appeared in Volume 21, Number 5, Page 465 of the Novermber, 1904 issue of Out West.

As a naturalist, Blanche Trask focused on botany, particularly native plants. Her botanical explorations resulted in many new species, several of which were named for her by scientists with whom she had corresponded and sent the plant specimens. On occasion, she also did make observations of birds, such as the Bald Eagle, Osprey, shag (cormorant), gull, and curlew (above poem). She also noted marine life, particularly seal, sea otter, and marine molluscs of tidepools. Her poem is a "deep ecology" which talks about a love for the sea, but also of sadness and joy. This poem has a prefaced quote by Thoreau, not unlike her very first poem, which had a quote by Longfellow. It is not certain why Blanche Trask used that particular quote of Thoreau: "You cannot rob a man of anything which he will miss." Perhaps it has to do with memories of the past and the required simplicity that comes from living on an island surrounded by the wildness of the sea. Exploring islands in the sea can do that to you, just ask Darwin. Perhaps Blanche Trask was recalling her childhood in Iowa and Minnesota, by the passage, "land's stretch away."

From a geography perspective, there are some parallels between southern California and New England that also link to Henry Thoreau to Blanche Trask. For example, there are islands in New England, like Nantucket, Long Island, Marthas Vineyard, and others, just as there are many islands in southern California. Today, public boats take visitors to six of the eight Channel Islands, five of which are in a National Park. Public boats also take people to the islands off Massachusetts. Southern California has its "Cape Cod," at Point Conception, complete with a lighthouse, dunes, whales, seashores, and shipwrecks. The parallels of Point Conception to Cape Cod are fascinating indeed. In addition, marine zoogeographers have noted that the marine fauna changes dramatically from a subtropical to a cold-water fauna, at Cape Cod and Point Conception.

With the help of the Thoreau Society, namely Jeff Cramer (curator of collections), I was able to pinpoint the date of the Thoreau quote, that prefaced Blanche Trask's poem, to July 5, 1840 (J. Cramer, pers. comm., 4 April, 2002). I don't know how he was able to find it, but it is appreciated and now there are some new questions that arise. For example, what is the probable source of Thoreau's writings that Blanche Trask, in 1904, used to find that quote? I have a hunch it might have come from A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, or even Walden. It is to be noted that the Thoreau journals were not published until 1906, fully two years after her poem was published in 1904. So that source does not appear likely.