Pyle, Robert Michael 1947–
Pyle, Robert Michael 1947–
PERSONAL: Born July 19, 1947, in Denver, CO; son of Robert Harold (a sales representative) and Helen Lee (a secretary) Pyle; married JoAnne R. Clark (divorced, 1973); married Sarah Anne Hughes (divorced, 1983); married Thea Linnaea Peterson (a botanist and silk-screen artist), October 19, 1985; stepchildren: Thomas Michael Hellyer, Dorothea Alix Hellyer. Ethnicity: "Anglo." Education: University of Washington, Seattle, B.S., 1969, M.S., 1973; Yale University, M.Phil., 1975, Ph.D., 1976. Politics: Democrat. Hobbies and other interests: Natural history, walking, reading, butterfly watching, birding.
ADDRESSES: Home—Gray's River, WA. Agent—Laura Blake Peterson, Curtis Brown Ltd., 10 Astor Pl., New York, NY 10003.
CAREER: Resource person and writer for U.S. Forest Service, Washington State Parks, and Sierra Club, between 1967 and 1973; University of Washington, Seattle, teacher of creative writing, 1972; Yale University, New Haven, CT, curatorial assistant at Peabody Museum of Natural History, 1973–74; Vale of Catmose College, Oakham, England, teacher of creative writing, 1976–77; nature conservation consultant in Papua New Guinea, 1977; Nature Conservancy, Portland, OR, Northwest land steward, 1977–79; International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources/World Wildlife Fund, Cambridge, England, editor and manager, 1979–81; freelance writer, lecturer, and educator, 1982–. Green and Pleasant Tours, proprietor and tour guide, with excursions in the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, and England. Utah State University, visiting professor, 2002; University of Montana, Kittredge Distinguished Writer, 2004; teacher or lecturer at numerous other institutions, including Olympic Park College and Evergreen State College, 1988–89, Olympic Park Institute, North Cascades Institute, and National Wildlife Federation, 1988–93, and Lewis and Clark College, 1991–93; workshop presenter and public speaker; guest on media programs, including All Things Considered, National Public Radio, and Good Morning America; gives readings from his works. Sequoia National Park, ranger-naturalist, 1969; Washington State Department of Natural Resources, member of Natural Heritage Advisory Council; Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, member; consultant to World Conservation Centre, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service.
MEMBER: John Burroughs Association, Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Poets and Writers, Xerces Society (founder), Evergreen Aurelians (cofounder), Lepidopterists Society (member of executive committee, 1981–83, 2005–07), National Association of Railroad Passengers, Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, Nature Conservancy, Orion Society, Patrons of Husbandry (Grange), Willapa Hills Audubon Society.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright fellow at Monks Wood Experimental Station in England, 1971–72; fellow of National Wildlife Federation, 1974–75; Governor's Writers Awards, 1985, for The Audubon Society Handbook for Butterfly Watchers, 1987, for Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land, and 2000, for Chasing Monarchs: A Migration with the Butterflies of Passage; John Burroughs Medal and award from Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, both 1987, for Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land; Guggenheim fellow, 1989; distinguished service award, Society for Conservation Biology, 1997; Harry B. Nehls Award in Nature Writing, Portland Audubon Society, 2002; John Adams Comstock Award, Lepidopterists Society, 2004; grants from Sigma Xi, National Science Foundation, Colorado-Wyoming Academy of Sciences, and International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
Watching Washington Butterflies, Seattle Audubon Society (Seattle, WA), 1974.
The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies, Knopf (New York, NY), 1981, revised edition, 1985.
(With S.M. Wells and N.M. Collins) The IUCN Invertebrate Red Data Book, World Wildlife Fund (Gland, Switzerland), 1983.
The Audubon Society Handbook for Butterfly Watchers, Scribner (New York, NY), 1984, published as Handbook for Butterfly Watchers, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1992.
Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land (essays), Scribner (New York, NY), 1986, published as Wintergreen: Listening to the Land's Heart, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1986.
The Thunder Tree: Lessons from an Urban Wildland, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1993.
(With Kristin Kest) Peterson Field Guide to Insects Coloring Book, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1993.
(With Roger Tory Peterson and Sarah Anne Hughes) A Field Guide to Butterflies Coloring Book, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1993.
Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.
Chasing Monarchs: A Migration with the Butterflies of Passage, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.
(Editor, with Brian Boyd, and coauthor of annotations) Nabokov's Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings, translations by Dmitri Nabokov, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2000.
Walking the High Ridge: Life as a Field Trip, Milkweed Editions (Minneapolis, MN), 2000.
The Butterflies of Cascadia: A Field Guide to All the Species of Washington, Oregon, and Surrounding Territories, Seattle Audubon Society (Seattle, WA), 2002.
Sky Time in Gray's River: Living for Keeps in a Forgotten Place, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2007.
Work represented in anthologies, including Butterfly Gardening: Creating Summer Magic in Your Garden, Sierra Books, 1990; The Norton Book of Nature Writing, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1990; Getting Over the Color Green: Contemporary Environmental Literature of the Southwest, edited by Scott Slovic, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 2001; Blessed "Pests" of the Beloved West: An Affectionate Collection on Insects and Their Kin, edited by Yvette A. Schnoeker-Shorb and Terril L. Shorb, Native West Press (Prescott, AZ), 2004; and Holding Common Ground: The Individual and Public Lands in the American West, edited by Paul Lindholdt and Derrick Knowles, Eastern Washington University Press (Spokane, WA), 2005. Author of "The Tangled Bank," a bimonthly column in Orion Afield, 1997–2002, and Orion, 2003–. Contributor of more than 300 articles, short stories, and poems to periodicals, including Audubon, Natural History, High Country News, Horticulture, Biological Conservation, International Wildlife, Rain, Petroglyph, North American Review, and Pacific Northwest. Founding editor, Atala, Rutland Review, and Willapa Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Robert Michael Pyle once told CA: "Unlike several authors working from the landscape today, I was trained in natural history, science, and conservation much more than in literature. This was undertaken by design, and with difficulty, in an era when nature study was considered passé. I was stimulated by the early nature writers and by personal contact with Edwin Way Teale, and I always wrote during my career in conservation biology. My minimal writing instruction from good teachers (Jack Cady and Linda Daniel) and my own random reading provided one side of whatever literary background I acquired along the way. The rest has come from writing, particularly in close collaboration with excellent editors, especially Harry Foster at Houghton Mifflin.
"My early books were about a great love, butterflies. Recent books have been inspired by landscapes I have been close to, and the love of damaged lands, a particular concern of mine. For many years I have been independent, with the writing having assumed the primary position in my work-world as conservation and biology have receded; they remain important to me, but on a voluntary, avocational level.
"I consider conservation of natural diversity and limitation of human population effects to be the most important work in the world, and my own response to those imperatives has shifted from scientific to artistic, with a good dose of activism remaining. The greatest challenge is to write, remain active, communicate (teach, correspond), and live, while remaining a 'real' naturalist who goes frequently afield."
Pyle later added: "As of 2006, I have had the platform of my column in Orion in which to address many of my current concerns and responses to the world around me. As a result of this outlet, I have devoted relatively little effort to other magazine work, concentrating instead on book projects and, more and more, on poetry. My novel in progress, Magdalena Mountain, is entering its thirty-second year and eighth draft; I consider it a long-term apprenticeship in fiction, but I do intend to conclude and publish it soon. My greatest challenge as a freelance writer remains what Jackson Brown elegantly described as 'being caught between the longing for love and the struggle for the legal tender,' and the difficult balance that poses between travel for supportive work engagements and unbroken periods of writing at home. The advent of e-mail has facilitated certain aspects of the work, while dramatically hobbling one's concentration. I no longer find it possible to be online at home and still maintain devotion to page and place. By using a community computer center now and then, I keep my study free from the infinite distraction of e-mail and the ever-so-well-named sticky web of electrons. As always I write by attending closely to the physical details of the world and responding to them. I do not believe that nature writing exists apart from writing in general, as I know nothing outside of nature that can be written about. However, that which goes beyond the strictly human, and extends to the out-of-doors, remains most compelling to me.
"My 2007 book Sky Time in Gray's River: Living for Keeps in a Forgotten Place is a close examination of life in one rural place three decades, a love song to staying put, and a personal phenomenology of place."
Pyle is a highly-regarded author whose works combine scholarly knowledge of the natural world with a writer's eye for description, anecdote, and adventure. He is best known for his work on butterflies, especially the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. Living in the American West, it is perhaps not surprising that Pyle should also be an expert on the monarch butterfly and its epic annual migration from Canada and the northern United States to Southern California and Mexico. Pyle's Chasing Monarchs: Migrating with the Butterflies of Passage approaches the monarch migration from a different perspective: the author set out to follow individual butterflies as far as he could, to more precisely map their torturous journeys. Considering the fact that butterflies don't always follow roadways, Pyle's fifty-seven day, 9,462-mile journey proved quite a challenge indeed. In the process of the trip, however, he was able to prove that monarchs west of the Rockies do not all migrate to California, as was commonly believed. In a Publishers' Weekly review of Chasing Monarchs, a correspondent wrote that Pyle's "memoir serves both as tribute to this majestic insect and as a thoughtful tour of the contemporary American West." And in her New York Times review of the book, Michiko Kakutani observed: "The author's evident passion for and understanding of butterflies invest his narrative with energy and interest. By far the most absorbing portions of this book deal with Mr. Pyle's interaction with the monarchs (tagging and tracking them and watching them feed and navigate) and his musings on their history and their habits."
Pyle combined his love of butterflies and enjoyment of literature when he set out, with biographer Brian Boyd, to capture and collect every specimen he could find of writings that demonstrate author Vladimir Nabokov's passion for butterflies. The result of this quest is the massive collection titled Nabokov's Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings. It may surprise readers to learn that the literary giant was also a respected collector of butterflies who conducted his own expeditions and contributed substantially to the scientific knowledge of the butterflies known colloquially as "blues." Nabokov's published works are liberally sprinkled with references to the delicate creatures, but here, in nearly 800 pages, Pyle and Boyd present letters, scientific papers, unpublished poems, and fragments of other writings that also contain references to butterflies. A Publishers Weekly contributor made special note of a long essay translated from Russian by Nabokov's son Dmitri, as well as the short story "The Admirable Anglewing," written near the end of Nabokov's career and never published in his lifetime.
In the late 1980s Pyle received a Guggenheim fellowship to track and study a truly elusive creature: the legendary Bigfoot. While not a staunch believer in Bigfoot himself, Pyle interviewed dozens of people who claimed to have seen the animal, including Native Americans of the Northwest whose stories abound in sightings of the beast. As Robert Sullivan stated in the New York Times Book Review, the author's aim was "to examine the myth surrounding the controversial creature and the human characters who have concerned themselves with its fate." This is not to say that Pyle conducted his research from the safety of home and hearth; instead, he donned a backpack and hiked through a wilderness area in southwestern Washington that is known for its Bigfoot sightings. Sullivan wrote: "For those unfamiliar with the Bigfoot legend, Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide is a good primer. For those up to speed, the story Mr. Pyle has recorded of a Sasquatch-like encounter as told around the campfire by a former Haisla Nation chief from coastal British Columbia may be worth all the rehashing; it is one of the best I've ever read." An American Heritage contributor characterized Where Bigfoot Walks as "a natural history of the Northwest as well as an education in forestry." The critic added: "Even if the creature is only a metaphor for our diminishing wilderness, by the end of this book it remains a far more powerful symbol than the spotted owl or marbled murrelet. To Pyle it is a myth worth rescuing 'from the gutter' and the tabloids."
In 1986 Pyle introduced readers to his home in the Willapa Hills of the Pacific Northwest in the essay collection Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land. Some twenty years later, in Sky Time in Gray's River, he approaches the remote location from a different direction. Wintergreen "painted a broad picture" of Gray's River, according to Ilse Heidmann in Library Journal, appropriate for readers visiting the place for the first time. In Sky Time he writes about the small details of daily living, accumulated over thirty years of observation and musing. The essays are arranged in the form of a monthly record that proceeds from one season of the year to the next, in a place where the years themselves appear to have changed very little over time. "Pyle has the ability to find wonder in the mundane and beauty in the unpretentious," observed Heidmann.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 275: American Nature Writers, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2003.
Satterfield, Terre, and Scott Slovic, What's Nature Worth? Narrative Expressions of Environmental Values, University of Utah Press (Salt Lake City, UT), 2004.
American Heritage, September, 1995, review of Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide, p. 91.
American West, November-December, 1984, review of The Audubon Society Handbook for Butterfly Watchers, p. 68.
Amicus Journal, winter, 2000, Fred Baumgarten, review of Chasing Monarchs: A Migration with the Butterflies of Passage, p. 44.
Audubon, March, 2000, Christopher Camuto, review of Chasing Monarchs, p. 157.
Booklist, May 1, 1993, Angus Trimnell, review of The Thunder Tree: Lessons from an Urban Wildland, p. 1555; July, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of Chasing Monarchs, p. 1912.
Conservationist, February, 1993, Arthur Woldt, review of Handbook for Butterfly Watchers, p. 43.
English Journal, November, 1994, James LeMonds, review of The Thunder Tree, p. 106; October, 1996, James LeMonds, review of Where Bigfoot Walks, p. 122.
Kliatt, January, 2002, Katherine E. Gillen, review of Nabokov's Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings, p. 33.
Library Journal, June 15, 1984, review of The Audubon Society Handbook for Butterfly Watchers, p. 1233; February 1, 1987, Carol J. Lichtenberg, review of Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land, p. 85; April 15, 1993, William H. Wiese, review of The Thunder Tree, p. 123; July, 1995, Valerie Vaughan, review of Where Bigfoot Walks, p. 116; June 1, 1996, Michael Rogers, review of Wintergreen: Listening to the Land's Heart, p. 158; July, 1999, Gregg Sapp, review of Chasing Monarchs, p. 127; November 1, 2006, Ilse Heidmann, review of Sky Time in Gray's River: Living for Keeps in a Forgotten Place, p. 106.
New York Times Book Review, July 30, 1995, Robert Sullivan, review of Where Bigfoot Walks, p. 21; August 13, 1999, Michiko Kakutani, review of Chasing Monarchs, p. B42; August 15, 1999, Stewart Kellerman, review of Chasing Monarchs, p. 15.
Peninsula, fall, 1992, Jane Elder Wulff, "Dr. Robert Michael Pyle: A Meticulous Observer of Life," pp. 18-21.
Poets and Writers, March-April, 1996, Ray Kelleher, "An Interview with Robert Michael Pyle," pp. 45-61.
Publishers Weekly, November 21, 1986, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land, p. 42; March 15, 1993, review of The Thunder Tree, p. 75; June 12, 1995, review of Where Bigfoot Walks, p. 55; June 7, 1999, review of Chasing Monarchs, p. 62; March 13, 2000, review of Nabokov's Butterflies, p. 74; October 16, 2006, review of Sky Time in Gray's River, p. 43.
Sierra, May-June, 1987, Christopher Camuto, review of Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land, p. 83.
Whole Earth, fall, 2000, review of Nabokov's Butterflies, p. 37.
Wilderness, summer, 1988, Charles E. Little, review of Wintergreen: Listening to the Land's Heart, p. 60.