Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hope Is a Thing with Scales

I’m on a Robert Michael Pyle jag right now, reading his intricate memoir of place, Sky Time in Gray’s River, whenever I take a break from Sense and Sensibility (Book 5 in my all-Austen quest). Previous encounters with Pyle’s butterfly books (notably Chasing Monarchs) primed me for his ambitious plan for 2008—the world’s first butterfly Big Year. Modeled after Big Years pursued by the world’s best (and best-funded) birders, Pyle’s butterfly year will seek to set a benchmark for how many butterflies a top butterflier could see in 12 months of intrepid continent-wide (but low-budget) hunting. He’ll of course be writing up his adventures behind the wheel of a 1982 Honda (aka "Powdermilk") in an eloquent book after January, 2009.

But why wait? Instead, you can follow along in almost real time through his unique blog. Pyle is eschewing the internet and mailing in entries to Orion Magazine (home of his delightful column, Tangled Bank, for years), which will be posting his cards, letters, and occasional audio recordings for our vicarious butterflying pleasure.

I do have one reservation about getting wrapped up in Pyle’s reports from the road. What if, after embarking with grand dreams of vast butterfly numbers and species, he discovers instead that populations and diversity are crashing? That would hardly be surprising, but in my melancholic mood (I just got home from a global warming rally), I’d much prefer a good-news only butterfly blog. I guess once again I’ll have to follow Austen’s Sensible advice. Her Mrs. Dashwood tells Edward, whose worries about the future are depressing his spirits and paralyzing his ability to act, “You want nothing but patience- or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.”

And while you’re clicking around the internet after Pyle’s blog, why not check out two of the best nature blog carnivals. The 21st Festival of the Trees is up, featuring a fruit tree and orchard theme. An eclectic selection of prose, poetry, and photos graces the 10th edition of Learning in the Great Outdoors Carnival of Environmental Education. With so much to read on the ‘net, we may lose our yearning to trade places with Robert Michael Pyle and side with Austen’s Emma: “Ah! There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.”


Terrell said...

Thanks for the plug! And for all your support for LIGO.

Wild Flora said...

OK, totally sold on Jane Austen now. What a great quote.

FYI, I refuse to watch nature documentaries for the same reason you express concern about reading Pyle on butterflies. Some time ago I decided that the standard nature documentary formula seems to be as follows:

1. Introduce them to an animal (or ecosystem) and make them fall in love with it.
2. Tell them that it's doomed.
3. "Have a nice day."

When gloom is unavoidable, however, I have two solutions. One is (to quote an ecologist I once read about but whose name I have unfortunately lost) to "go to Deep Time." That is, I remind myself that Nature has survived mass extinctions before and (probably) will again. I spend a lot of time in Deep Time. In fact, I spend so much time there that I sometimes joke that I should rent a condo and sell Deep Time Shares.

My other solution, drawing on the work of that Great One, Voltaire, is to cultivate my garden -- focus on what I am able to do and try not to think very much about the rest.

Now thanks to you and that other Great One, Jane, I have a third arrow in my quiver.

Dave Coulter said...

I guess all of life is finding that balance between hope & reality, especially if you care about the natural world.

You know what made me happiest last year? Helping my neighbors tend their garden in the alley, rescuing a warbler, planting some acorns by a degraded river.

These are the things that make people like us tick! I suppose we wouldn't be called to action unless we felt there was a threat.
If we don't hear the "bad" news we're living in ignorance. It's how we react once we hear it, I think!

Dave Coulter said...

You probably know this, but the Xerces society (and others) posts planting tips for butterflies at their website.

Texas Travelers said...

Just found your blog and I love it. How refreshing, a blog about nature and also books worth reading.
I have added you to my Nature Sites Blogroll.
I have gone on a couple of butterfly walks with Pyle and he is a hoot. Extremely knowledgeable and fun to be with.
Balance staying at home with getting out and enjoying the wild places.
Keep up the good work.

pinenut said...

Welcome, Texas, and welcome back Terrell, Flora, and Dave! I'm glad to hear from a Texan: my husband's family hails from Lubbock, and he went to college in Austin. Maybe Bob Pyle will get out your way again on his Butterfly Year. If so, I hope to read about it on your beautiful blog.