BLANCHE TRASK
CHILDHOOD & YOUTH
by
Robert Roy van de Hoek
December 2000
Malibu & Avalon, California

Childhood and youth is often the hardest part to research in completing a biography but Blanche Trask left some traces for us in her letters. The other major source of information comes from the U.S. Census data, that was researched by David Hollombe (California Native Plant Society historian for the Los Angeles-Santa Monica Mountains chapter). I thank Mr. Hollomber for his excellent research abilities.

Blanche Trask was born in the summer of 1865 at the close of the Civil War on July 25, but possibly on July 26. She was born on the treeless prairie and plain of the Great Plains. Her formative years were spent at her birthplace of Waterloo, Iowa. Sometime around 1870 to 1880, when Blanche Trask was between the age of 6 and 15, the family moved to Minnesota. It seems that southern Minnesota is where they settled?

Blanche Trask was from a family of three children, all girls. She was the "middle" child, with an older sister (Laura, 9 years her senior, born in Ohio) and a younger sister (Mary, 4 years her junior, born in Iowa). Her parents (John & Mary Engle) appeared to be good decent couple. Her father was a nurseryman. Her mother was a "housewife" and "keeping house." Perhaps she developed some of her interest in flowers and trees through her father's nursery. In a letter to Charles Sargent, Harvard University Professor, in 1898, Blanche Trask at the age of 33 described with some detail her interest in flowers which may have lead to her adult interest in wildflowers. Here is the passage quoted by Blanche Trask:

Why say “who I am?” Perhaps my first (& truest) study of botany began when a little child of 2 or 3 years. My mother says at that age, I would be seen in the garden kissing the pansies & verbenas & saying, “How pretty you are - I love you.” Otherwise - I have always known & studied the flowers in Minnesota in the South part earlier & later in the region near Lake Itasca which is now I believe, set apart as a State Park or something of that sort. (I never read newspapers - so I am not certain - but know there was something done about that wondrous land). - It is so stupid to hear these details of one for whom you can have no interest. However - I was born in Waterloo, Iowa, July 25 1865. Maiden name - Luella Blanche Engle.

It seems appropriate to end this biography with that quote by Blanche Trask from her letter to Charles Sargent at Harvard University. I will add more to the biography, if additional information is learned.


Conclusion

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 (spanning 20 Years). Her winter home was located adjacent 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.

Blanche Trask also explored some of the desert mountains of the west, such as the San Jacinto Mountains, Colorado Desert, Death Valley, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and Yellowstone.

However, her early years were spent on the prairie and plain of the midwest, in Iowa and Minnesota. Only after reaching adulthood and marriage with a daughter, did she finally move to California, where they quickly settled in Santa Monica.

By 1897, "Mrs." Blanche Trask was divorced. Custody of her daughter was split between the husband and Blanche Trask. She was an independent explorer. She loved "wild"flowers and the wilds of the west, including high "wild" places of the mountains. She loved trees especially. Today, we would most certainly call her an ecofeminist. I would term myself an ecofeminist and John Lennon of the Beatles would most appropriately fit the definition of an ecofeminist. There is probably a treasure trove of letters and notes between Alice Eastwood and Blanche Trask that discusses their childhood.

Blanche Trask appreciated the desert landscapes of the southwest, as noted in her letters to Willis Jepson, but the California Channel Islands is her "sense of place." Indeed, the Channel Islands have a "desert feel" to them, if one spends some time on them. The Geography of Hope for Blanche Trask is undoubtedly Santa Catalina Island.

The above narrative was written and compiled by Robert Roy van de Hoek, December 7, 2000, for educational and inspirational purposes, to all the youth of the world, in the hope of someday adding the last three "southern" islands (San Clemente, San Nicolas, Santa Catalina) to the five islands that already make up Channel Islands National Park. National Parks are for the children and youth and for environmental education! Blanche Trask would whole-heartedly approve of an "All Eight Channel Islands" National Park for our children and youth. It is only fitting that these three "southern" islands be added to the "name-sake" of the National Park. If not, I propose that we change the National Park name to more accurately reflect truth: "Five Channel Islands-Minus Three National Park." My point is that this "great" National Park is not complete ("greater") as the current name would suggest. The northern Channel Islands (Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel), all four together, are a much greater distance from Santa Barbara Island than the three in question. These three "southern" islands are not far from Santa Barbara Island, which, by the way, already is in the National Park. Each of the three "southern" islands is roughly 20 miles from Santa Barbara Island but in different compass directions. San Clemente is "South," San Nicolas is "West," and Santa Catalina is "East."




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