One of my favorite nature writers is the naturalist and lepidopterist Robert Michael Pyle, who is often quoted in discussions about children and nature, especially his insightful question, “What is the extinction of a condor to a child who has never seen a wren?” His book The Thunder Tree: Lessons from an Urban Wildland gives thoughts about children needing wild landscapes to be free to explore in. In an essay in Companions in Wonder: Children and Adults Exploring Nature Together, “Parents without Children,” he explores what it is like being an uncle who instills a love of nature in children that are not his own. And in his collection of columns for Orion magazine, The Tangled Bank, offers bit-sized reads about all sorts of natural history topics. A new collection brings together a half-decade’s worth of Pyle’s essays and articles that ponder humanity’s connection to nature.
Robert Michael Pyle, Through a Green Lens: Fifty Years of Writing for Nature (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2016), 304 pp. $22.95, paperback.
Publisher’s description Through a Green Lens presents a sampling of Pyle’s work over fifty years. Culled from notable magazines and contributions to edited collections, these essays range across broad topical, geographic, and textual territory. They grow out of near-lethal English brambles, vacant lots and ditches in suburban Denver, and railroad yards of the industrial Northeast. From commentary to criticism, polemic to profile—from the lyrical to the elegiac—Through a Green Lens demonstrates the qualities for which Pyle’s work is well-known: clarity, readability, sharp wit, undiluted conviction, and good-natured tolerance. Pyle’s half-century-long view, acute and uncommonly attuned to the physical world, gives readers a remarkable window on the natural setting of our life and times.
Included in this new collection are several essays that look specifically at the connection between children and nature. In “The Extinction of Experience” (1978), Pyle argues for the importance of protecting local nature along with more exotic species, which ends with the quote shared at the beginning of this post. In “I Was a Teenage Lepidopterist” (1996), he shares his passion for sharing the wonders of nature with others, children and adults alike. The importance of allowing children to engage physically with nature is discussed in “The Beauty of Butterfly Nets” (2006). In “Always a Naturalist,” Pyle shares his thoughts about one of his own inspirations, Rachel Carson, tying Richard Louv’s just-then published Last Child in the Woods to her posthumously-published The Sense of Wonder. His piece about mentoring other’s children in nature as an uncle that I mentioned above is included here as well. And finally, a more recent article, “Free Range Kids: Why Unfettered Play is Essential to Our Species” (2014), presents more fully-stated Pyle’s thoughts about the need to just allow children the time to explore their own environments. As he says, “Children still long to experience the freedom of the day,” like he was able to when growing up as a child in the 1950s.
While I focused on those pieces in Through a Green Lens that have a focus on children and nature, just like The Tangled Bank, this collection provides readings on a wide variety of natural history topics and what it is like to be a freelance naturalist and writer.