Letter of 1897

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 (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 all eight Channel Islands. One of the first islands that Blanche Trask visited after moving to Catalina Island, was San Nicolas Island. The letter to Alice Eastwood presented below is particularly noteworthy in that regard. In addition, this letter marks the beginning of a long friendship of two exemplary women that spanned 20 years. For example, Alice Eastwood presented a eulogy at the funeral services for Blanche Trask in San Francisco. Blanche Trask corresponed with many scientists, professors, and naturalists, one of whom was Alice Eastwood (Curator of Botany for the California Academy of Sciences). Blanche Trask corresponded with professors and scientists at UC Berkeley, Harvard University, the Smithsonian, and at the California Academy of Sciences in San Franciso mentioned above. It is plainly obvious that Blanche Trask is a supreme observer of the natural world and that the California Channel Islands is beyond a doubt where her "sense of place" resides. The Geography of Hope for Blanche Trask is undoubtedly Santa Catalina Island, that was enhanced by knowing the geography of the other Channel Islands of southern California.

Blanche Trask wrote this letter in 1897. The letter that Blanche Trask wrote to Alice Eastwood was in response to field reports of other explorers such as Stephen Bowers and Mr. Nidever that Alice Eastwood had provided to Blanche Trask earlier in 1897. The above narrative and letter was written and compiled by Robert Roy van de Hoek, November 28, 2000, for educational purposes in recognition of the 97th year anniversary of this letter being written.

Alice Eastwood
San Francisco, California

Portions of Letter Published in California Academy of Sciences, Proceedings Third Series Volume one, number three, page 89-120, September 5, 1898

"I do not wholly agree with Dr. Bowers' account. There is no soil on the broad level top; but tons of pebbles, round as shot and of a like size. Even here the ice-plants flourish and an occasional gay patch of Hordeum or foxtail is seen. Everywhere the rocks are visible and the soil thin."

"There are three routes which can be followed entirely around the island; one over the reefs, another on a flat or mesa, a third on the comparatively level top."

"The canons are not what we usually call canons; arroya is a fitter term. In them we hear no sound of bird, no whirr of wing; we see no bright flowers, only the ice-plants. There is no ripple of stream, only the briny tidal waters which glide but do not flow and gliding sink. Many a canon, monster-capped and sculptured by sand and wind, is literally snowed-in by vast banks of sand. These are exquisitely marked by the action of the wind, as are the snow banks of colder climes."

"The shell heaps and rancherias are chiefly at the West End, thousands of them, while at the East End there may be a half dozen. One may tramp for miles at the West End upon nothing but the shell sand, gathering bone implements, abalone ornaments, and other relics of the former inhabitants. The reason of the signs of habitation being concentrated at the West End is evident; there the fresh water drips from the rocks above the reefs, while no water is found at the East End, though Dr. Bowers says that there was an abundane of water on the island when he visited it. A tiny lake fringed by Eleocharis surprised me one day; near by were Lupinus micranthus, several clovers, Pectocarya and Orthocarpus."

"In all the kitchen middens large heaps of charcoal yet remain. Great mortars, too heavy for a white man to lift, are found on the highest peaks, miles from fresh water; yet water they must have had near by."

"It is said that forty years ago the little harbor where we landed, known as Corral Harbor, was filled with sand - now our schooner anchored in the surf outside, we took the waves at just the right moment, shooting in between the reefs where there was barely room, and entering the sand-bound bit of a key inside. I have seen seven breakers twenty feet high, without a lull, plunging in over the reefs into this same Corral Harbor. 'Harbor?' you say as you stand watching them."

"Another landing place is marked 'Anchorage' on the sea charts, situated near the sand spit on the south side; but there, a run has to be made through the breakers which are often so heavy that landing is impossible."

"Day after day, there is the cry of the gull and shag, the voice of otter and seal, the boom of the heavy surf, and the wind and fog and sand toiling on at their unending tasks."

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