If you’re looking for a summer book to read at the beach (or in the photo blind), then I’ve got a goody for you. Robert Michael Pyle’s Mariposa Road is a hybrid between Kenn Kaufman’s Kingbird Highway and William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways. The subtitle says it all…“The First Butterfly Big Year.” And I am a sucker for Big Year books!

If you’re not familiar with the concept, a “Big Year” is a quest to see as many species in North America as possible in one calendar year…almost always this means birds. In fact the recent Steve Martin/Jack Black/Owen Wilson movie was about just that, “The Big Year.” But Pyle wanted to do the first official Butterfly Big Year.

Robert Michael Pyle is a legend among naturalists…as an author, and as a conservationist…Yale-trained and Guggenheim “fellowed,” he also founded the Xerces Society, an organization dedicated to invertebrate conservation. He also wrote one of the first butterfly field guides…and the classic books Chasing Monarchs and Where Bigfoot Walks.

So I was more than thrilled when he came to Duluth last winter to speak and do a book signing at Hartley Nature Center. The room was packed and he did not disappoint. The man is also a dead-ringer for the off-season Santa Claus…big belly, big white beard and booming voice.

His trusty steed for this noble quest was his 1982 Honda Civic, a vehicle he lovingly referred to as “Powdermilk.” He took the back seat and the front passenger seat out, replacing them with a sleeping cot. And Powdermilk was faithful, carrying Bob 40,533 miles criss-crossing the continent. Shunning hotels and fast food, he camped roadside. One of the most interesting aspects to this book is his ability to meet and converse with strangers of all kinds

His only Minnesota venture involved crawling through a snow-dusted and frozen Cedar Creek bog vainly searching for Bog Copper eggs (eggs count!…as do caterpillars)

Pyle’s quest also raised $46,000 for conservation. A noble cause.

My only real complaint with the book is that he only uses Latin names in the text…This means I spent a lot of time looking up species in the Kaufman Guide that I kept handy. Also there is no Index :(

Just for fun, I perused the appendices for the species he MISSED during his Big Year (After all, a human can only be in one place at one time, so inevitably some species were understandably missed). Here are a few that I have been fortunate to see and photograph, that Pyle missed.

Jutta Arctic (Oeneis jutta) Black Spruce bog in the Ditchbanks, Carlton County MN

Golden Banded-Skipper (Autochton cellus) Big Bend National Park, Texas

Indian Skipper (Hesperia sassacus) Hubbard County, Minnesota

Harris’s Checkerspot (Chlosyne harrisii) Black Spruce bog (Nickerson Bog) Carlton Co, Minnesota

Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Bog Copper (Lycaena epixanthe) Open bog in Carlton Co, Minnesota

Mariposa Road
Robert Michael Pyle
Houghton-Mifflin
558 pages
ISBN: 978-0-618-94539-9
Buy it at Amazon here

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