Robert Michael Pyle Answers the Orion Questionnaire

In which we get to know our favorite environmental figures better by exploring the sacred and the mundane with them. 

Robert Michael Pyle has been a friend and contributor to Orion for nearly forty years. He’s a world-famous lepidopterist, old-school naturalist, bigfoot enthusiast, and the author of numerous works of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. When we think of Bob, we image him standing in a patch of ferns with his trusty butterfly net Marsha in hand.


There’s a spider in the room; what do you do?

Watch it.


What is your most treasured comfort meal?

Waffles with real maple syrup.


Would you jump at an opportunity to go into space? Why or why not?

No; life is too short for the risk, and the living world up close interests me more.


Have you ever been bitten by an animal?

Yes: feral dogs in Mexico, a baby white tiger in Cincinnati, and ten billion chiggers on the Butterfly Big Year.


Ocean, garden, desert, or forest?



My favorite tree in the world is _____.



Nature would be better if _____.



What is something you’re looking forward to?

Peace, one way or the other.


Do you have any unusual hobbies you’d like to share?

Watching water bears (aka tardigrades)!


If you could make pancakes with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

Mardy Murie, the author and wilderness advocate.


Can you make any convincing birdcalls?

Only a couple of owls, and Swainson’s thrush song.


What are some of your favorite words?

Virga, lilac, dimmity, April, hoopoe (and its Latin equivalent, Upupa epops).


Who are some of your heroes or heroines, real or fictional?

Charles Darwin, Anna Botsford Comstock, Sir Peter Scott, Penelope Fitzgerald.


You have twenty-four hours suspended from time. Where and how do you spend them?

Wandering the arctic-alpine tundra of Colorado, butterfly net in hand.


Are you a morning person or a night owl?

Night owl.


Do you remember your dreams?

Some, intensely.


Are you optimistic about the future?

Not for humans; yes for the rest.


Would you rather drink a piña colada or get caught in the rain?

Get caught in the rain. With a Scotch.


Sweet or savory?



What’s a question you hate being asked?

That one.


Where did you grow up?

Denver/Aurora, Colorado.


Are you the same person you were as a child?



What song or album reminds you of high school?

At the Hop” by Danny and the Juniors


What did an average Friday night look like for you as a teenager?

A game, maybe a dance, milkshakes, and parking.


If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Here in Gray’s River, Washington.


Do you step on sidewalk cracks?



You’re in a desert island situation for an unknown period of time. You get three items and one book. What do you bring?

A good knife, a thick blank journal, a box of pencils, and my grandmother’s The Complete Works of Shakespeare.


What would you like to be most remembered for? 

My books, and kindness.


If you could come back as any organism, what would you be?

A river otter!

ROBERT MICHAEL PYLE grew up and learned his butterflies in Colorado, where he fell in love with the Magdalena Alpine and its high-country habitat, the setting of his novel Magdalena Mountain. He took his Ph.D. in butterfly ecology at Yale University, and worked as a conservation biologist in Papua New Guinea, Oregon, and Cambridge, England. His twenty-five books include Chasing Monarchs, Wintergreen (which received a John Burroughs Medal), Where Bigfoot Walks, Sky Time in Gray’s River and The Tangled Bank, a collection of his columns from Orion. A Yale-trained ecologist and a Guggenheim Fellow, he still studies butterflies, is a full-time writer living in southwest Washington, and is one of Orion’s most frequent contributors.