Book Reviews

Robert Michael Pyle
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
$27

[At Stonehenge in the Columbia Gorge]

Sam Hill, Quaker pacifist road builder and booster, built this version of concrete and pebbles and dedicated it to thirteen young Klickitat County men killed in World War I. The standing stones bore brass plaques for each. When Sam saw Stonehenge in his teens, he was told it was for human sacrifice. He said, “After all our civilization, the flower of humanity is still being sacrificed to the god of war on fields of battle,” and he dedicated his henge to peace.

from Mariposa Road

 

Bob Pyle’s most recent book is about a lot more than butterflies.

In 2008, he set out “to travel the continent and see as many North American butterflies…as I possibly could in one calendar year.” He set the goal for himself of 500 species.

During that year he crisscrossed the United States in Powdermilk, his 1982 Honda Civic hatchback, as well as hopping up to Alaska and over to Hawaii on his quest.

As with any significant journey, there is the ostensible purpose—for example, leaving home (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), or returning home (The Odyssey)—and then there is the journey itself, which is the real story.

On his road trip, he writes about the people and places he visits—a cabin in the Big Sur area where Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti once gathered, and Graceland where he pays silent homage at Elvis’s grave. Along the way, he meets colleagues who share his passion (“This is my religion, this butterfly,” says a friend, Koji Shiraiwa) and everywhere he rejoices in nature and natural things. The reader might want a naturalist’s handbook alongside Pyle’s to picture the flora and fauna that he’s seeing (cinquefoil, starflowers, horsetail and hermit thrush.)

The author of fourteen books, including Chasing Monarchs, Where Bigfoot Walks, and Wintergreen, this Yale-trained naturalist and Guggenheim fellow is a thoughtful observer of what he is witnessing— “Many’s the time when I wished I could go back and see these creatures through a child’s eyes. Or, as Bob Seger put it, ‘Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.’”

In the end, he tallies 478 species, and returns to his Grays River home where he reflects on his year’s journey—“Most of my trials were fun, some funny, and always survivable …(O)ne naturally asks, What did I learn?  How am I changed?”

That’s a very personal discovery, one that often can’t be put down on paper, for somewhere along the way one has become the journey.