Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek
322 Culver Boulevard, Suite 317
Playa del Rey, California 90293
On a bleak March day in 1909 I landed with Ralph Hoffmann and Glover Allen on Milk Island, a good half-mile off the end of Cape Ann, to watch at closer range a snowy owl. The owl flew to the mainland, but to our suprise a lovely doe began bounding over the low bushes, throwing up her white flage of a tail in a manner that seemed to light up the whole islet."
The next 10 years of Ralph Hoffmann's life were spent as far from the ocean and island as is possible in the United States because he moved to the mid-west in 1909. Hoffmann became headmaster of a schook in Kansasa City, Missouri, then later a headmaster of another school in St. Louis. In 1919, Hoffmann moves westerly across the continent to California, where he is again near the ocean. It isn't long before he begins exploring the islands off southern California, namely the four northern Channel Islands.
In 1932, Ralph Hoffmann died of injuries from a fall on a cliff on one of these islands, namely San Miguel Island in Santa Barbara County. He was botanizing and birding on this island just as he botanized and birded on cliffs and mountains in Berkshire County, Massachusetts as a young man. Except now in 1932, he was 61 years old and perhaps his abilities at dexterity and coordination got the better of him, as an older man.
This article show that Ralph Hoffmann influenced scientists, namely ornithologists and naturalists, and that they also influenced him. The contribution in this article is part of a larger project for a comparative biography and history of natural history and Ralph Hoffmann, in both Santa Barbara County and Berkshire County. The project is also to compare southern California with the state of Massachusetts, from the perspective of Ralph Hoffmann and his studies of native birds and native plants.
Presented below are excerpts by Charles Wendell Townsend from Sand Dunes and Salt Marshes which expresses friendship, respect, and acknowledgement of Ralph Hoffmann.
From the preface at the beginning of the book on page vii
"In matters ornithological I have tried to hold my own with several good friends, among them Mr. William Brewster, Dr. Walter Faxon, and Mr. Ralph Hoffmann, Mr. Francis H. Allen, Dr. Glover M. Allen and Mr. A.C. Bent, all of whom at times have shared with me the pleasuress of these regions."
And towards the end of the book on page:
"A larger edition of the least sandpiper, as Ralph Hoffmann has well called it, is the pectoral sandpiper or grass bird, a bird I have never seen outside of salt marshes...."
And toward the center of the book on page 91:
"An illustration ofthe abundance and variety of the migrants is the fact that on a day in May my friend, Mr. Ralph Hoffmann, saw within the space of three minutes eleven different members of the warbler family pass through a single tree in the dunes. ... It is difficult to describe the feelings of a bird lover on a perfect May day in such an environment as these Ipswich dunes, especially if he has come from a long confinement in the city."
Wouldn't it be nice to bring Hoffmann and Townsend's classic ornithology writings in their books back into print. And it would be nice for Hoffmann's classic to be in print for history, nostalgia, and for educators and scientists to utilize for deep ecology studies in Massachusetts, Missouri, and California. This brief biography and history article forms part of a larger study as a biography and history project into the 'life and times' of Ralph Hoffmann. And it is also a greater project that is being completed in conjunction with a comparative history of birding and floristic field work by Ralph Hoffmann in Berkshire County and Santa Barbara County. There are overtones for understanding environmental history and the history of natural history in Massachusetts and California. In a very real sense, it is an ambitious project of historical geography, the history of ecology, and biogeography of two microcosms in the United States.