Starting the Butterfly Year

Photo: Robert Michael Pyle waves from Powdermilk.

Dear Friends,

This may be the sole typed message from the Butterfly Big Year, as I am not yet quite away. All is not in readiness. Today I am liquidating and shutting down my e-mail, as promised in my previous “Tangled Bank.” Tomorrow I will finish dealing with the outstanding paper correspondence—not necessarily replying, mind you. Then a day for packing Powdermilk. The sleeping compartment is almost set, adapting the former backseat for a longitudinal cot. New speakers ($25) for the original (1982) radio and cassette player. New tires, windshield, timing belt; rear wheel bearings packed, brakes, muffler, holes patched, et cetera. Road atlas. Traveling library. Nets checked out, caterpillar containers, a rag-bag of clothes to be progressively shed as I drift southward. Pots and pans and oat bran and ancient stove with fresh blue canisters of Camping Gaz. There should be just room for me.

Gray’s River is gelid with rain and sleet, that’s the only word. K-M Mountain to the east of us is snowy and treacherous—eight accidents on Christmas Day, when Thea and I ventured across it for Yulish cheer on Puget Island and in Skamokawa with friends, and made it back again. My plan is to head west instead, to cut straight for the coast, and then to follow it all the way to Tijuana Bay. With stops. I can’t wait for the first sight and feel of the sun. I hope I won’t see snow up close until I go to Hudson Bay next November. I am not taking chains. Butterflies do not tend to fly where chains are required.

My first real objective is to immerse myself among the overwintering monarchs on the California coast. They might become Butterfly Numero Uno. But who can say that I won’t find an overwintering anglewing in some barn or woodpecker hole along the way; or a cabbage white caterpillar pinking the broccoli leaves in the big organic garden I plan to visit for provisions at Beaver on the Oregon coast? And yes, I will count caterpillars—if I can ID them with confidence. I’ll take some with me to rear along the way. The NABA (formerly Xerces) 4th of July Butterfly Counts do not count caterpillars as species, which strikes me as silly. Birders certainly count chicks and nonbreeding immatures on their Christmas counts. After all, the adult butterfly is only one-quarter of the overall animal. So eggs, larvae, and chrysalides are all fair game, if alive, and if I can be sure of their species. They can be just as beautiful and fascinating as their alter egos, and even more elusive.

So here I go! I have just received a wonderful quatrain by Anita Boyle, sent by her partner, James Bertolino—two fine Washington poets. This will be my mantra for the coming journey:

Never say don’t.
Don’t say never.
Live forever.
Don’t say you won’t.”

—Anita Boyle

Next you’ll hear from me may be runes scratched on a scallop shell, or grooves in a piece of rubber from the edge of the road. Onward to ought-eight!



  1. If you need a convenient place to stay in south/central Wisconsin, c’mon on by, Bob. Not sure how to reach you w/out email…so post here if you need “pit crew” support or a crash pad. I’ll be enviously following your journey online,

    Dory Owen
    Windsor, WI

  2. I hope your trip takes you to So. Arizona. We have an abundance of butterflies along about July and August. Plenty of sun too here in Patagonia.

  3. The Highlands Center for Natural History here in Prescott welcomes you en route – places to stay too, although your car sounds pretty comfortable. A glass of wine our my Painted Lady Vineyard might add a little je ne sais quoi, however! (They were migrating through in the summer of 2006 – hence the vineyard name.)

  4. Here’s a poem for Bob, from METHANE by James Sprouse, published by Jim Bertolino’s Stone Marrow Press, Ithaca, NY in 1973:

    What does a caterpillar
    know about

    –James Sprouse

  5. Yes! I am so thrilled to see this blog, Bob. At least I can watch from a distance.

    I wish you great luck in your big year, may it be even bigger than you had hoped.

    raises glass of…odd wine or even weirder beer, i think with much love from your fellow wine/beer judge (whatever will SR and I do without you?)

  6. Huzzah, Bob!!

    Alice & James & Nicko & I watch your journey and t race along on the big map on the kitchen table. It sounds like the butterfly (and beer) gods are looking out for you, keeping you safe. Thank you for making the trek.

    Many, many winged dreams.


  7. OK, I found out about this trip from my sister, who finds you’re going to be teaching a nature writing class within striking distance of her in April and is thinking of checking it out (I think to make me envious) Don’t you dare come within 200 miles of the Cleveland area and not let me know.

  8. Was looking at the Xerces Society blog,
    leave it to Bob to not only have a picture of a banana slug, but to also have gotten a picture of a butterfly on someone’s nose.

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