- Series: Perennial Classics
- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: HarpPerenM; 1st edition (October 6, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060953020
- ISBN-13: 978-0060953027
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 457 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #990,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Paperback – October 6, 1998
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"Here is no gentle romantic twirling a buttercup...Miss Dillard is stalking the reader as surely as any predator stalks its game...Here is not only a habitat of cruelty and 'the waste of pain,' but the savage and magnificent world of the Old Testament, presided over by a passionate Jehovah with no Messiah in sight...A remarkable psalm of terror and celebration." -- -- Melvin Maddocks, Time
"The book is a form of meditation, written with headlong urgency, about seeing. A reader's heart must go out to a young writer with a sense of wonder so fearless and unbridled...There is an ambition about her book that I like...It is the ambition to feel." -- -- Eudora Welty, New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Annie Dillard is the author of many works of nonfiction, including An American Childhood and Teaching a Stone to Talk, as well as the novels The Living and The Maytrees.
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Dillard’s musings on life, both ours as humans and that of the planet’s inhabitants from muskrats to mites), trees, rocks, creeks, clouds, and mountains, give the reader a fascinating perspective on nature and on life itself. I’ll never walk out in the front yard again without thinking of the moles burrowing beneath the soil or the starlings let loose in Central Park in 1890. I’ll never stand beside a creek without remembering its rushing, fleeting nature being a metaphor for life. One thing I will remember is the admonition to “Catch it if you can….These are our few live seasons. Let us live them as purely as we can, in the present.”
This book was first recommended to me by some writer friends after I mentioned that I was reading (at that time) For the Time Being. “You have to read Pilgrim,” they all practically shouted at me. Now I know why. The prose, the information, the visual pictures of Tinker Mountain and its surroundings, the vocabulary (chitin, oriflamme, and bastinado for starters), and the references to spiritual and scientific sources make this book a must-read.
First, the basics. Annie Dillard married a poet, earned a Master's Degree in English, and wrote her thesis on Thoreau and Walden Pond. For two years after she graduated she was writing, journaling, and painting. She then decided that in essence she should write her own take on nature, similar to Thoreau's experiences. Where Thoreau was a man out in rural Massachusetts in the mid-1800s, Dillard was a woman, over a hundred years later, in rural Roanoke, Virginia. She felt there was room enough in the world for a fresh take on natural life.
And indeed she was quite correct.
This isn't a "story" about a person starting Here and ending up There. It isn't even a series of essays, as some readers have mistakenly assumed. Instead, Dillard is clear that this is a cohesive piece, organized chronologically, building and expanding on previous experiences and then moving forward. Dillard is not only keen in her insight into what is before her, but also amazingly well read. She can find the relations between the water before her and the Eskimo traditions, between a barely visible creature and the quotes of scientists from decades ago. It's like sitting down at the side of a pond with your beloved aunt who has traveled the world, and hearing fascinating stories about how various bits of life relate to fascinating creatures far away.
The book is poetry, and one focus here is that *life* is poetry. Everything around us is beautiful and terrible and will be gone in the blink of an eye. Turn your head too quickly and it will skitter off, never to be seen again. The roiling crimson beauty of a magnificent sunset will fade into a smoky grey, and no matter how many sunsets you watch after that, none will ever be quite the same.
Is it "boring" to read about the fantastic myriad wonders that nature presents to us every day? That's an intriguing question. Somehow our world has trained us to be obsessively attentive when a movie-screen freight train barrels towards a stalled car, but to turn away uninterested when a double rainbow shimmers into existence over a lake. We stare down at our smartphone screen in dedicated frenzy when a Facebook post blings into existence, but we ignore the real live human being before us who we could learn so much from. We want a start, a middle, and an end. But nature goes on, always renewing, constantly restoring, and I think somewhere many of us have lost track of that.
So, yes, settling in with Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is like settling into a favorite chair on your back porch, sipping a delicious glass of wine, and watching with fascination as the golden-winged dragonflies perform an intricate mating ritual. It is spellbinding, and soothing, and fascinating - but one has to want to slow down and pay attention. One needs to mute the TV, turn off the cell, and be willing to breathe in the natural world which is all around us.
This is a fairly easy book to read but a tough one to get through. It is simultaneously nature study, personal diary, Scripture commentary, mystical theology, field observation manual, and blank-verse poem. Annie Dillard was just age 27 when she wrote Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and it is very much a young writer’s book, poetic and enthusiastic. Such strengths are also weaknesses: at times the poetry can be a bit ornate, and the multitude of facts can be daunting. Still, there are significant rewards in this book, if the reader, like a seasoned traveler, is willing to follow the author wherever she goes.
How far will we be going? The word “pilgrim” in the title suggests a long-distance trek to a holy place. But when we start the first chapter, we find Dillard already at a creekside cabin in Virginia , where she will stay for a year. If we’re to join her as pilgrims, we seem to at the destination without even setting out. Notice, though, that she calls her cabin an anchorite’s hermitage. Studying and writing by night, silently watching by day, she is more hermit than pilgrim. For Dillard and her readers, the journey in this book won’t be measured in miles. The road we’re on goes inward.
How strenuous is this going to be? Dillard answers this one with a story from Genesis, the one where Jacob wrestles with God on the bank of a stream. The contest goes on all night. Like Jacob, Dillard waits by a stream, and for one strenuous page after another, she wrestles with creation and its workings. We watch horrified as an outsized water bug liquefies a frog, as mother insects devour their freshly-laid eggs, as reindeer are driven mad by clouds of flies. This will not be an easy trip.
What will we see along the way? Before we can answer that, we have to confront a key fact about Creation: It may seem like an extravagant, intricate machine, set in motion and then left to run on its own; but it really resembles, once everything is examined carefully, a thought, a series of ideas made real. There is Mind behind what we see. Much of the book explores all the amazing stuff that there is in the world. Say what you will, the Creator loves variety and loves “Pizzaz.”
But what’s the reward for finishing the journey? Death is what awaits us, of course; Life seems to require it, making room for what’s next. So, what will we do when we get there, with all we’ve seen along the way of pizzaz but also of blood and destruction? Here’s Dillard in the final chapter: “I think that the dying pray at the last not ‘please,’ but ‘thank you,’ as a guest thanks his host at the door.”