Ecologist Pyle (Sky Time in Gray’s River: Living for Keeps in a Forgotten Place, 2007, etc.) goes in search of as many butterfly species as he can find north of the Mexican border during 2008.
The author took the notion of a “Big Year” from birding—to find, experience and identify as many of the creatures as one could in a single year. He is a low-tech guy, using just his old binoculars, butterfly nets, jalopy and good old-fashioned sense of adventure and wonder. An enthusiastic guide, Pyle chronicles 14 journeys from his house in southwest Washington. He stops frequently to smell the coffee and check out the roadside fennel for anise swallowtails, and he follows hunches, intuition and happenstance, all thoroughly primed by his deep schooling in butterflies. But the author is tuned into more than just his metalmarks, duskywings and checkerspots. After all, there’s plenty more in the natural world to observe and remark upon, including countless other species of flora and fauna, strange foods and local ales, run-ins with the Border Patrol, odd encounters, stormy weather and bites of regional history. He travels on a shoestring, meanders freely and maintains an unjaded pleasure in simple pleasures, like a goatweed emperor flying alongside his car somewhere in Arkansas, and helpful friends along the way. Though he finds his share of habitat destruction and larvae being killed off by mosquito fogging in the wake of the West Nile virus, he encounters a healthy number and variety of butterflies.
The narrative is not just a sweet, unhurried travelogue; it can easily be used as a guidebook, as Pyle is scrupulous in detailing where and when he found each of the butterflies.