Robert H. Boyle, whose study of the effects of acid precipitation begins on page 68, lives high on a hill above the Hudson River, in Cold Spring, N.Y., where he ponders "the thread of my life—nature and man's role in it, for better and worse." The Hudson itself, the subject of one of his books and a focus of many of his causes, is clearly another kind of thread for Boyle, linking New York City, where he publishes his outrage, his hilltop haven and the Adirondacks, where acid rain is falling in the wilderness.
Boyle is a complex man who vastly oversimplifies what he does as "reporting on nature." He is also an impassioned conservationist, among other things president of the Hudson River Fishermen's Association, which spearheaded a group of organizations that recently persuaded the Hudson River utilities to set up a $12-million foundation to study the aquatic life of the river. The possessor of an inventive and outrageous wit, he has now published seven books, including two on fly tying and another entitled Malignant Neglect, a report on the environmental causes of cancer. His most recent work, Bass, took him 16 years to complete because it pained him so to stop researching it.
Boyle's The Second Fly-Tyer's Almanac, which contains fishermen's accounts of tying their favorite flies, includes a chapter he ghosted for Mitya Kotyik, a nonliterary friend. Boyle writes that Kotyik runs an exterminating business, and that he has been interested in fish for as long as he can remember. He does not add that Kotyik is one of his Russian-descended wife's five cats.
Boyle no longer owns the 120-gallon tank in which he used to keep small schools of fish, ordinarily devoured by the larger specimens—such as his seven-pound smallmouth bass—but he does plan to put in some smaller tanks one day and raise stoneflies. That's no easy task, because they need a great deal of oxygen, and if they don't get it they "start doing push-ups" and die. Boyle has raised mayflies in the past and says that there is no problem getting them to hatch out in the living room. "My son Peter got interested one year," he says. "He was putting water in the tank from the collecting basin, and mosquitoes were hatching out all over the place. I didn't know what the hell was going on."
September 21, 1981
Boyle is currently completing a book on stoneflies, with fly-fisherman Eric Leiser. In the normal course of events, stoneflies live in stream beds for one to three years before emerging to split their nymphal shucks, after which they climb out, unfold their wings and fly away, leaving the shucks on the rocks, like old clothes. Last summer, prowling the Adirondacks, Boyle collected a handful of these from the Ausable River, testimony that another generation of living things had successfully run the gauntlet of nature and man. Bob Boyle took a particular pleasure in the fact, knowing better than most what that gauntlet now consists of.