Sue Halpern, a gifted student of the natural world, has a knowing passion for butterflies--"not love, exactly, offered suddenly, but a similar quickening of heart and desire ... tugging on my imagination as if it were a loose sleeve."
In Four Wings and a Prayer, that passion takes flight in quest of the monarch, a species of butterfly suddenly much in the news. In the company of freelance biologist Bill Calvert, ecologist Homero Aridjis, and other scientists and activists, Halpern travels into the highlands of Michoacan, Mexico, to which monarchs born east of the Rocky Mountains migrate each autumn, flying as much as 200 miles a day to get there before the onset of the highland winter. There she ponders the complexities of the monarch's life--after all, she writes, "how did the monarch butterflies from the eastern United States and Canada, millions of them, end up every year in the same unlikely spot, a remote and largely inhospitable fifty acres of oyamelis pine forest?"--and the unfortunate events that have felled monarchs by the untold millions in recent years, including the destruction of habitat and climate change.
Halpern's enthusiasm for Lepidoptera is catching, and her graceful advocacy of the monarch should inspire renewed concern for their well-being in the world. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Accomplished author (Migrations to Solitude) and journalist (co-founder of the magazine Doubletake) Halpern has a passion for monarch butterflies that drives this evocative, insightful portrait of a species and the people who study it. Every autumn, monarchs in the Eastern United States and Canada migrate thousands of miles to a handful of Mexican overwintering sites, where they rest for the return trip home. "[N]o single butterfly ever makes the round trip," yet thousands converge on the same few sites year after year. Monarchs are the only butterflies to migrate such long distances; the question of how they find their way remains, according to Halpern, one of the great unsolved mysteries of animal biology. Among the a host of colorful scientists and dedicated volunteers she visits are Bill Calvert, the "cowboy entomologist" who sleeps in his truck when out collecting field data, and Chip Taylor, who looks like Father Christmas, snacks on bee pollen and has mobilized hundreds of volunteers to help determine the butterfly's migration routes. Not afraid of dirtying her hands, Halpern weighs butterflies with Calvert by the side of the road in Mexico, tags and raises monarchs with her eight-year-old daughter at their home in the Adirondacks and takes a glider ride to better understand the thermal forces that propel the butterflies for much of their journey. Her lively, lyrical account of monarch life will delight armchair and active naturalists and anyone interested in scientists in action and skies loud with the beat of wings. (May
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