A long-standing bit of American nature folklore holds that monarch butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains migrate to wintering grounds in California, whereas those east of the Rockies migrate to wintering grounds in Mexico--and that the two classes of monarchs never meet and mix. Robert Pyle, a lepidopterist and nature writer, decided as a matter of curiosity to test the verity of this observation. His loosely conceived experiment took him over much of western North America, from a monarch breeding ground deep in the forests of British Columbia to the pine-clad mountainsides of central Mexico. His long journey forms the narrative frame for the aptly titled Chasing Monarchs
, a book that mixes literate, and often funny, travelogue with the natural history of Danaus plexippus
and its relatives. Pyle takes his readers along countless dirt roads, forest paths, cliffs, and milkweed-lined meadows to follow his quest, which he describes with plain elegance: "I'll find a monarch. I will watch it. If it flies, I'll follow it as far as I can. When I lose it, I'll take its vanishing bearing--the direction in which it disappears. Then I will quarter the countryside, by foot and by road, until I find the next suitable habitat along that bearing, and do it again." The landscape changes constantly in Pyle's quest, keeping things interesting, and Pyle imparts his evident, abundant affection for butterflies to his readers, a contagiously joyful interest that they come to share as his story progresses. --Gregory McNamee
--This text refers to the
From Publishers Weekly
Scientists know that monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles each year between northern parts of the U.S. and Mexico or California, but no one has actually seen how they do it. So ecologist Pyle (Where Bigfoot Walks) decided to try. His method: to find individual butterflies at their northernmost habitat, follow them as far as possible, then repeat the process with other individual butterflies along the southward route. Amazingly, this haphazard approach worked. Pyle began near the Canadian border, at the Columbia River, and followed monarchs to the Mexican borderAcovering 9462 miles in 57 days and proving that western monarchs do not all migrate to California, as commonly believed. Though Pyle's account of his rambling trip suggests that much of it must have been more fun to live through than to read about, he enlivens uneventful sections with butterfly arcana, humorous reminiscences and rueful observations on the environmental impact of cattle ranching, pesticides, dams and jet skis. Pyle's laid-back humor is appealing, his descriptive talents are often poetic (he remembers monarchs pouring into a Mexican valley "like a heavy orange vapor" in which individuals resembled "flecks of foam and water as they top a waterfall and plunge down into the foaming mass"). His memoir serves both as tribute to this majestic insect and as a thoughtful tour of the contemporary American West. Detailed sectional maps would have enhanced the book's appeal; endpaper map not seen by PW. (Aug.) FYI: Pyle is currently editing a collection of Vladimir Nabokov's butterfly writings.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to the