Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My American idol: Robert Michael Pyle

No, that's NOT a slenderized Santa Claus checking who's good or bad: it's America's masterful nature writer and one of my heros, Bob Pyle. Bob has written a dozen or more books, and probably a dozen butterfly field guides of various descriptions. He is one of America's premier lepidopterologists, and a prose stylist second to none.

I have been re-re-reading The Thunder Tree, which is still available as a first edition, hard cover on Amazon for peanuts. This gem of a book is going to be reissued this coming spring and I hope it will get renewed attention in reviews and bookstores as a consequence. I don't think a better book has ever come out of Colorado. I believe it is a classic. The blend of Bob's personal history with the natural history of our region, and the cultural history of the Highline canal is as contrapuntal and pleasing as a Bach cantata. If you haven't read it, I urge you to do so (buy one of those cheapo first editions, Puhlease! Let's get those suckers out of circulation: just click on the hyperlink at the start of this paragraph!) This book is really a must for any serious reader. It is the Walden Pond of our time, only the pond is attenuated and human in its origins. The theme: that children need untramelled space and time for their imaginations to soar and a rugged private piece of nature or near nature to bond with the cosmos. This book is said to have inspired Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods, and indeed, Louv is writing the foreword to the next edition.
I have resisted reading the book he is signing in the picture (that's my copy!): Mariposa Road. I know if I start it will gobble up several days (you can't speed read Pyle: his writing is so musical and rich that it would be like downing a milk shake in one gulp. You would get a brain freeze for sure!)...I'm saving it for my vacation time in California in a few weeks.
There are probably a hundred writers I admire enormously. Most are deceased. Quite a few are living (Coetzee, Roth, Gordimer, Rushdie, Pamuk, Snyder to name a few)...but Pyle is the only one whom I have actually befriended. I never cease to be delighted with his enormous goodwill and gentility. He is as fine a person as he is a writer, and that's saying a great deal.
Do get one of his many books and get acquainted. He'll be touring around the country this coming Spring, when The Thunder Tree is reissued. I'll remind you about that once the dates are set in concrete!

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