An Interview with Naturalist/Author/Inspiration Robert Michael PyleJanuary 9, 2013 4 Comments
WRITTEN BY: Kathryn True
Vashon-Maury Island Audubon Society is hosting a talk and book signing with the inimitable naturalist and nature writer Robert Michael Pyle next Thursday, Jan. 17 at 7 pm at the Land Trust building. It’s hard to know where to start when introducing Bob—his talents are varied and many. He is a master lepidopterist who wrote the essential guide, The Butterflies of Cascadia. He is the award-winning author of 16 books including Wintergreen, an eloquent tribute to his southwest Washington homeland. He is a storyteller whose wit and insights bring the audience into a small circle of warmth when he speaks. Perhaps above all, he is an open-hearted soul who invites all he meets to join him in the sacred camaraderie shared by those who love the wild.
His new book, The Tangled Bank, is a collection of essays that originally appeared in Bob’s column inOrion and Orion Afield magazines. Vashon Nature Center’s Kathryn True had the good fortune of attending a North Cascades Institute workshop led by Bob some years back. He graciously agreed to answer a few questions about his essays, butterflies and what he most looks forward to about his island visit:
Bob Pyle introducing a butterfly in the field during a 2009 North
Cascades Institute naturalist's retreat.
What is your favorite essay from The Tangled Bank and why?
It’s very hard to pick a favorite child, especially when you have 52 of ‘em. So I’ll mention a few that are close to my heart, not that the rest are not. First I will mention the Prolog, “The Fern Wall,” which is one of three new pieces in the book. It’s one I always wanted to write during the lifetime of the column, and never got around to—so I finally have. It comes close to expressing my overall attitude toward life, framed around a favorite place. Next, I’ll invoke “The Chemistry Between Us,” since it traverses one of the great paradoxes we all face, every day. This piece gave me a chance to express my love and fears for Thea [Bob’s wife] during a time of great peril, while exploring my own deeply ambivalent thoughts about the building blocks of all life. And then I will include “Spark Infested Waters,” because it travels and takes me (and readers, I hope) all the way from deep and treasured memories of youth right up to memorable recent times, through the magical mediums of islands and bioluminescence. And then I have to mention “Night Life in Amsterdam,” an enjoyable essay for me to read aloud because of its sacred and profane surprises.
What do you feel hopeful about in 2013?
A spring released from the moist and chilly grips of La Niña, in which we might actually have some butterflies before July! And good trips afield with Thea and Marsha (my net).
I also take hope from the reintroduction of the Kihansi spray toad in Tanzania. After becoming extinct in the wild, it was bred in captivity until its restored waterfall habitat was ready to receive it. And also from the great efforts underway to restore Taylor's checkerspot, its host and nectar plants, and other rare Mima Mound organisms in protected remnants of the Puget Prairies.
What butterfly do you hope to see this year—where and why?
I’d like to see Freija’s Fritillary up in the high Okanogan, because it is one of the few Washington butterflies I’ve never seen in the state; and because it will probably retreat to the north as the climate continues to warm, and perhaps be lost from the Washington fauna. It is abundant (for now) in arctic Alaska, but known from very few spots here in Washington, all vulnerable both to wildfire and warming. It flies only briefly in the early spring, not long after snowmelt.
What do you hope to see while on Vashon?
Mostly some of the higher primates: good old friends we always look forward to seeing when we come to the island. But also the island’s general, pervasive beauty, surf scoters around the ferry docks, and the first fresh-minted green things scooting toward spring. Maybe hazel catkins will already be dangling and yellowing up with pollen?
Do you have any memorable nature (butterfly?) experiences from prior visits to Vashon?
Lots of fine walks and outings full of birds, flowers, and mushrooms; but we’ve seldom been there on a sunny day in butterfly season. But I do remember an early spring walk around a marsh with Rayna and others when a bright satyr anglewing, newly out of hibernation, popped up between the nettles and the willows and basked for us all to admire its tawny wings, fully spread to catch the early sun.
Thanks so much, Bob. We anxiously await your visit—sacred and profane surprises and all.
[Please note that we linked to Amazon for book information in this post, but ask that you strongly consider purchasing Bob's books from Vashon Bookshop, co-sponsor of this event.]