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Nature Matrix

New and Selected Essays

List Price: $16.95

September 15, 2020 | Paperback | 5.4 x 8.1, 288 pages | ISBN 9781640092761
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Nature Matrix is a gathering of some of Robert Michael Pyle’s most significant, original, and timely expressions of a life immersed in the natural world, in all its splendor, power, and peril

Nature Matrix: New and Selected Essays contains sixteen pieces that encompass the philosophy, ethic, and aesthetic of Robert Michael Pyle. The essays range from Pyle’s experience as a young national park ranger in the Sierra Nevada to the streets of Manhattan; from the suburban jungle to the tangles of the written word; and from the phenomenon of Bigfoot to that of the Big Year–a personal exercise in extreme birding and butterflying. They include deep profiles of John Jacob Astor I and Vladimir Nabokov, as well as excursions into wild places with teachers, children, and writers.

The nature of real wilderness in modern times comes under Pyle’s lens, as does reconsideration of his trademark concept, “the extinction of experience”–maybe the greatest threat of alienation from the living world that we face today.

Nature Matrix shows a way back toward possible integration with the world, as it plumbs the range and depth of experience in one lucky life lived in close connection to the physical earth and its denizens. This collection brings together the thoughts and hopes of one of our most widely read and respected natural philosophers as he seeks to summarize a life devoted to conservation.

About Robert Michael Pyle

ROBERT MICHAEL PYLE is a biologist and writer who has worked in conservation biology around the world. His twenty-four books include Where Bigfoot Walks, four collections of poetry, the novel Magdalena Mountain, and a flight of butterfly books. Founder of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, he is a Guggenheim Fellow and Honorary Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society. Pyle lives, writes, and studies natural history in rural southwest Washington.

Praise for Nature Matrix

"What Pyle truly desires is to encourage readers to get outside . . . Pyle proves yet again that he is one of the most nourishing nature writers at work today. If Pyle doesn't arouse your biophilia, check your pulse." --Kirkus Reviews

"This collection tracks the career of a fine naturalist who is a celebrant of overlooked and damaged places--irrigation ditches, vacant lots, urban campuses, and 'the suburban jungle'--as sites for natural history observation. Pyle lends his attentive eye to finding wonders in unlikely places and cultivating an ethos of care for the creaturely world wherever he takes his readers." --Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit

"Written across a span of many years, these essays by Robert Michael Pyle, one of America's great literary naturalists, make for engaging reading throughout--peppered with wit and humor, threaded through with genuine insight." --Thomas Lowe Fleischner, executive director of the Natural History Institute and editor of Nature, Love, Medicine: Essays on Wildness and Wellness

"Robert Michael Pyle's essays pace the fraught ground between our need for the wild and our growing neglect of it. Filled with his signature mix of insight, wit, and immersive description, this career-spanning collection is a master class in nature writing from one of its finest practitioners. Highly recommended." --Thor Hanson, author of Buzz, Feathers, and The Triumph of Seeds

"'Many are given to write; few, to really Write.' In so declaring, Robert Michael Pyle presages his own craft, 'really' writing to beautiful effect in Nature Matrix. As he weaves through groves of prose and near verse to scale grand mountains, then rounds the next bend and descends to revel in small beauties--bird, blossom, and butterfly--Pyle opines eloquently to awaken us to wildness and the necessity of its care. Rich stories are loosely stitched together with a life lived in quest. As drops of memoir seep in to nurture wonder, strong opinions make clear this writer's favor of a more feral path. Savor the slow read, as Nature Matrix is a master noticer's lifework. Robert Michael Pyle's work merits the sauntering wander." --J. Drew Lanham, author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature

"Robert Michael Pyle's Nature Matrix: New and Selected Essays adds to his long list of books that take the reader on a literary journey of observation and discovery, or even rediscovery, as the case may be. Pyle's detail and specificity with language detail both the mundane and the mythic in the nonhuman world as a way to shake readers out of their too-familiar ways of engaging. Nature Matrix, like others of Pyle's works, leads me from the page to place so that I want to immerse myself in nature with something of his keen eye and passion." --Dr. David Taylor, author of An Island in the Stream: Ecocritical and Literary Responses to Cuban Environmental Culture

"Robert Michael Pyle's Nature Matrix: New and Selected Essays is a fascinating weave of ecology, history, and ethics. Decades of close observation of life's community yield gripping narratives, each one sparkling with insight." --David George Haskell, author of John Burroughs Medal winner The Songs of Trees and Pulitzer Prize finalist The Forest Unseen

"A remarkably observant, perceptive, and provocative writer, Robert Michael Pyle is among our most eloquent literary interpreters of nature. In prose at once grounded in science and luminous as poetry, Pyle reminds us that a complex and beautiful web of relations is not only where we find ourselves but also who we are. Nature Matrix is a brilliant book that inspires a necessary rethinking of our deeply nourishing but increasingly strained relationship with the more-than-human world." --Michael P. Branch, author of Rants from the Hill

"There is a particular ridgeline that the naturalist-writer walks above two watersheds--that of science and that of what C. P. Snow called the realm of 'the literary intellectual.' Robert Michael Pyle has been hiking that ridge for decades now, and maybe he charts that territory better than any. I go to him often for knowledge of the natural world and for beauty--of language, of voice, of quest, of clear mission. It is so good to have such a range of his essays collected in one place." --John Lane, author of Coyote Settles the South

"No living American so creatively and competently combines fine literary writing with equally fine contributions to the natural sciences in service to conservation as does Robert Michael Pyle. In Nature Matrix, it is abundantly clear that art and science are crafted with equal talent and a glorious sense of inquisitiveness about the other-than-world." --Gary Paul Nabhan, Ecumenical Franciscan Brother, conservation biologist, and author of Mesquite: An Arboreal Love Affair

Praise for Magdalena Mountain

"An elegant, eccentric novel of love, loneliness, and lepidoptera . . . Worthy company for work by other naturalist/novelists: Nabokov, Matthiessen, Kingsolver." --Kirkus Reviews

"The first novel from prolific nature writer Pyle is bathed in exquisite and venerating descriptions of nature, wildlife, and pristine environments . . . His contemplative novel will be a treat for readers who delight in the tranquility of nature." --Publishers Weekly

"[A] lyrically wrought tale of discovery, exploration, and renewal . . . In this debut novel, acclaimed nature writer Pyle (Mariposa Road, 2010) brings a lush sense of the majesty, mystique, and magic to be found in all of nature's forms." --Booklist

"This novel is a fast-paced light-hearted frolic, equal parts nature study, biological inquiry, mystery of identities, and eco-feminist manifesto . . . Humor and wit bubble up throughout, aided by the vast range of Bob's knowledge of literature and biology." --Chinook Observer

"A sprawling meditation on nature, spirituality and identity wrapped in a gripping, fast-moving narrative with a rich command of literary language that might raise a smile on the face of his idol, legendary novelist (and fellow lepidopterist) Vladimir Nabokov." --Coast Weekend

"Only Robert Michael Pyle could've written this daring novel. He's walked in the boots of his colorful characters, whether strolling across the Yale campus or chasing rare butterflies in the wilds. He masterfully describes the seasonal nuances of a singular mountain. His love and exquisitely detailed understanding of the natural world fills these pages." --Jim Lynch, author of Before the Wind

"Fans of Robert Michael Pyle's nonfiction will not be surprised to find his first novel abounding in details of the natural world--lovingly described plant and animal and insect life across the changing of the seasons on a remote Colorado mountain. What they may not expect is the bold imagination he brings to these pages--an amnesiac who might be the reincarnation of Mary Magdalene, a pantheist colony of monks in cahoots with feminist antinuclear activists, a Yale graduate student on the trail of a mysterious hitchhiking lepidopterist! Magdalena Mountain is thoroughly original, and thoroughly Robert Michael Pyle. Enjoy!" --Molly Gloss, author of The Hearts of Horses

"Magdalena Mountain is a remarkable melding of all the talents and passions of Bob Pyle. It will tingle your spine, even as it tickles your funny bone." --Kathleen Dean Moore, author of Piano Tide

"Robert Pyle is one of the best nature writers in the world, period." --Brian Doyle, author of Mink River

Praise for Where Bigfoot Walks

"Fast claiming his place as one of the country's finest natural history writers, Pyle takes to the hills in search of Bigfoot in this absorbing, classily written field report. Pyle makes all the right connections. Best of all, he loves a good mystery and is smart enough, open and radical enough, to never say never." --Kirkus Reviews

"[A] leisurely, gracefully written meditation." --Publishers Weekly

"Celebrated author Pyle, whose Wintergreen won a John Burroughs medal, is fascinated not so much by Bigfoot as he is by the people who believe that Bigfoot exists-and are trying to prove it." --Library Journal

"I like the book very much. Only, I don't know why you were so circumspect. To me, the evidence seems overwhelming." --Dr. Jane Goodall, in conversation with the author

"A search for the Pacific Northwest's fabled Bigfoot provides a jumping-off point for nature writer Robert Michael Pyle's lyrical ruminations on wilderness, isolation, and the occasional triumphs of mystery over so-called progress. Pyle's well-researched stomping ground is Washington State's Dark Divide in the Cascade Mountains . . . Pyle's route alternates between desolate clear-cuts and majestic ancient forests, between the inroads of civilization and the dark recesses of the wild. But never does the author get too caught up in proving anything to himself or the reader; this search for Bigfoot has as much to do with locating the wild nature within each of us as it does with finding a legend." Editorial Pick

"Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide is a unique book in the bigfoot literature, one that is not so much concerned with whether the creatures exist or not, but rather one that focuses on the value of the mystery itself. Dr. Pyle's writing stands alongside those of the great naturalist writers and is full of wit and wisdom. Through his journey, we find that he intuitively understands what most lifetime bigfooters eventually come to know: that bigfooting is about the journey more than the destination." --Cliff Barackman, field researcher and star of Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot

"Cross into the Dark Divide with Robert Pyle and you will find yourself in another world, a world where we are one among the animals, a deeper, more ambiguous world, where science answers some of the questions, and our hearts and imaginations answer (or seek to answer) the rest. 'In a class of its own' is an overused phrase, but Where Bigfoot Walks is so haunting and beautiful and bold that I can think of nothing else like it. Follow Bob into the woods, into the labyrinth that is the mystery of Bigfoot--you will find no better guide." --Molly Gloss, author of Falling From Horses, The Jump-Off Creek, Hearts of Horses, and Wild Life

"Splendidly lyrical and just as splendidly crusty, Where Bigfoot Walks is the sort of book Thoreau might have written if he had discovered giant footprints of an unknown origin in the vicinity of Walden Pond." --Lawrence Millman, author of Our Like Will Not Be There Again: Notes from the West of Ireland and Last Places

Praise for The Thunder Tree

"Pyle has written an engrossing story of at least two levels: a charming memoir of his youth on the canal and a sobering account of uncontrolled development and loss of habitat." --Publishers Weekly

"'The Thunder Tree' was a huge, hollow old cottonwood in which the author and his brother once found shelter as children from a life-threatening hailstorm. The tree grew along the High Line Canal, built in the late 19th century as part of a grand plan to bring river water to the Western plains for irrigation. Only a portion of the canal was ever built, but that portion happened to run through the city of Aurora, Colorado, where the author lived as a child and young adult . . . this book is about the relationship between people and natural areas and how each affects the other." --Library Journal

"Never preachy, never cloying: a powerful and memorable example of place writing." --Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Wintergreen

"Pyle looks past the stumps and clear cuts to rediscover the essence of the Willapa Hills. Even though scarred from decades of logging this terrain is still a wilderness. The author puts the pieces together to create an example of nature trying to survive." --Krist Novoselic, former bassist of Nirvana

"Pyle shows himself here to be a cunning essayist who is able to bring to life a region little known . . . a love song to an overlooked--and overworked--land." --Kirkus Reviews

"Pyle has created a collection of vividly responsive observations and speculations about the diversity and requirements of life, from butterflies to bears" --Library Journal

"Not just a classic of Northwest nature writing and literature, Wintergreen is a book that transcends the wounded Willapa Hills where it is set and becomes a meditation on the relationship of all people to all places." --William Dietrich, author of Barbary Pirates

Praise for Chasing Monarchs

"In his new book, Chasing Monarchs, the naturalist Robert Michael Pyle chronicles his efforts to follow the monarchs on their winter migration by tracking them on the ground in a battered old Honda Civic. . . . The author's evident passion for and understanding of butterflies invest his narrative with energy and interest." ―The New York Times

"Natural history never went down easier." --Kirkus Reviews

"Victorian-era butterfly hunters are often portrayed as genteel aristocrats, but today's breed, like the author of this book, are gritty, adventurous, and far-wandering. Over two months and across 9000 miles, Pyle tracked and tagged monarch butterflies along their migratory route from northern British Columbia to Mexico. Because he is an ecologist, Pyle gives a solid general account of the state of scientific knowledge of the monarchs and their remarkable travels. Because he is also an award-winning natural history writer, he vividly conveys the lure of the butterflies, the quirky passions of those who study them, and the beauty and diversity of Western landscapes." --Library Journal

"Scientists know that monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles each year between northern parts of the U.S. and Mexico or California, but no one has actually seen how they do it. So ecologist Pyle (Where Bigfoot Walks) decided to try. His method: to find individual butterflies at their northernmost habitat, follow them as far as possible, then repeat the process with other individual butterflies along the southward route. Amazingly, this haphazard approach worked. Pyle began near the Canadian border, at the Columbia River, and followed monarchs to the Mexican border, covering 9462 miles in 57 days and proving that western monarchs do not all migrate to California, as commonly believed . . . His memoir serves both as tribute to this majestic insect and as a thoughtful tour of the contemporary American West." --Publishers Weekly

"Chasing Monarchs tells the engrossing story of his adventurous journey with these graceful wanderers--down the Columbia, Snake, Bear, and Colorado rivers, across the Bonneville Salt Flats, and through the Chiricahua Mountains to Mexico, returning north along the California coast. Part travelogue, part scientific study, Chasing Monarchs is one of the most fascinating books ever written about butterflies." --Monarch News

"Pyle provides a deeply informed commentary that is an introduction to the natural history and lore of the monarch butterfly―the archetypal migratory species that has captured our imaginations―and extends to a larger story of why what happens to the monarch butterfly matters to us humans."―Francie Chew, Tufts University

Praise for Sky Time in Gray's River

"An instant classic . . . one of the very best accounts of a closely observed life." --Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"A testament to one person's determined attempt to live a rural life in complete concord with nature." --The Oregonian

"A beautiful, big-hearted book from a leading figure in the resurgence of American nature writing," --Kathleen Dean Moore, author of Great Tide Rising and Piano Tide

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