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A long-standing bit of American nature folklore holds that monarch butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains migrate to wintering grounds in California, whereas those east of the Rockies migrate to wintering grounds in Mexico--and that the two classes of monarchs never meet and mix. Robert Pyle, a lepidopterist and nature writer, decided as a matter of curiosity to test the verity of this observation. His loosely conceived experiment took him over much of western North America, from a monarch breeding ground deep in the forests of British Columbia to the pine-clad mountainsides of central Mexico. His long journey forms the narrative frame for the aptly titled Chasing Monarchs, a book that mixes literate, and often funny, travelogue with the natural history of Danaus plexippus and its relatives. Pyle takes his readers along countless dirt roads, forest paths, cliffs, and milkweed-lined meadows to follow his quest, which he describes with plain elegance: "I'll find a monarch. I will watch it. If it flies, I'll follow it as far as I can. When I lose it, I'll take its vanishing bearing--the direction in which it disappears. Then I will quarter the countryside, by foot and by road, until I find the next suitable habitat along that bearing, and do it again." The landscape changes constantly in Pyle's quest, keeping things interesting, and Pyle imparts his evident, abundant affection for butterflies to his readers, a contagiously joyful interest that they come to share as his story progresses. --Gregory McNamee [via]