Chasing Monarchs

Pyle, Robert Michael. Chasing Monarchs: Migrating with the Butterflies of Passage. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.

Robert Michael Pyle (I just like using his whole name) set out to answer three questions about monarch butterflies:

  1. How do they physically do the migrating that they do?
  2. Do they navigate or follow the wind? and lastly,
  3. Why do some monarchs end up in Mexico and others in California.

My off the cuff answers would be: 1) They train. 2) Both navigation and following the wind (I like to think of butterflies riding the jet stream), and 3) I think the ones who didn’t train hard enough for Mexico, when they reached CA, said, “close enough!” I know I would!

Much like Where Bigfoot Walks, Chasing Monarchs is all about chasing something elusive, something nearly impossible to track. Like Bigfoot, Chasing Monarchs is awash with lush descriptions of the landscapes Pyle traverses; this time British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Idaho, Nevada and California with a little dip into Mexico. I find it amazing Pyle was able to tag butterflies without hurting them. What I didn’t notice with Bigfoot is Pyle’s kaleidoscope use of colors. Here are a bunch of them from Chasing Monarchs: sage, umber, bronze, blonde, amethyst, yellow, ocher, brown, yellow, burnt sienna, apricot, coral, conch, mauve, french vanilla, buff, crimson, purple, chartreuse, beige, gold, green, cerise, emerald, indigo, jade, honey, cream, blue, copper, lime, olive, turquoise, chocolate, maroon, flesh, silver, lemon, rust, fawn, blueberry, pearl, ultramarine, wheat, cinnamon, rose, russet, persimmon, tan, and scarlet. Then there are the hyphenated colors: ham-pink, chalky-white, Mylar-blue, marine-blue, toast-brown, fox-red, fire-engine red, candy-apple red, matte-black, coal-black, and cat-black. And all the oranges: mandarin-orange, orange-juice, orange-yellow, oriole-orange, Halloween-orange, yellow-orange and lox-orange. I’m sure I’ve missed a few. One aspect of color that I didn’t appreciate is that Mr. Pyle needed to describe black folks. He doesn’t say, “I met up with so-and-so, a white woman from Omaha” but he will point out “the black family on the banks fishing.”

Reason read: March is supposedly insect month. Yay bugs!

Author fact: Pyle also wrote Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide which I read in September of 2010. I also learned that Pyle is a man who likes to name inanimate objects. His butterfly net is Marsha. His car is Powdermilk. He has an ornament hanging from his rear-view mirror named Danae.

Book trivia: Unfortunately, even though Pyle states that most people call all big and beautiful orange and black butterflies “monarchs” he doesn’t include any photographs to educate people on the differences. I would have liked some lush, vivid photographs! Even some illustrations would have been nice.

As an aside, I had been very excited to read Chasing Monarchs for some time now. Monhegan Island has annual migration of monarchs every late summer/early fall. As kids we used to watch their fiery orange and black wings beat against reedy pale green milkweeds by the dozens. Also, I would like to thank Mr. Pyle on clearing up a mystery for me. Monhegan has these weird orange spaghetti-like vines growing down at Pebble Beach. I have always wanted to look them up. I now know they are called Dodder weeds.

Convergence: Reading this was a natural extension of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 500s” (p 70).