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Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is the story of a dramatic year in Virginia's Blue Ridge valley. Annie Dillard sets out to see what she can see. What she sees are astonishing incidents of "mystery, death, beauty, violence."

304 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1974

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About the author

Annie Dillard

56 books2,070 followers
Annie Dillard (born April 30, 1945) is an American author, best known for her narrative prose in both fiction and non-fiction. She has published works of poetry, essays, prose, and literary criticism, as well as two novels and one memoir. Her 1974 work Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Dillard taught for 21 years in the English department of Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut.

(from Wikipedia)

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5 stars
11,739 (46%)
4 stars
7,433 (29%)
3 stars
3,865 (15%)
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1 star
871 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,564 reviews
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,850 reviews34.9k followers
August 16, 2017
This book won The Pulitzer in 1974. This is the 2nd book I've recently read which was written in the 70's. ( simply a coincidence). This is also the first book I've read by Annie Dillard. I didn't understand everything - yet the writing is exquisite.... and reading becomes calm & meditative.

Much to admire Ms. Dillard: her writing talent, her natural curiosity for the natural world around her - and her adventures while walking.

There are many lovely passages.....

Here's a sample excerpt I read a few times myself:
"Unfortunately, nature is very much a now-you-see- it, now-you-don't affair. A fish flashes, then dissolves in water before my eyes like so much salt. Deer apparently
ascend bodily into heaven; the brightest oriole fades into leaves. These disappearances stun me into stillness and concentration; they say of nature that it conceals with a grand nonchalance, and they say a vision that it is a deliberate gift, a
revelation of a dancer who for my eyes only flings away her seven veils. For nature does reveal as well as conceals: now-you-don't see it, now-you-do".

The opening line of this memoir is a treasure:
"I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom , who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest".

Profile Image for Dolors.
516 reviews2,142 followers
April 8, 2017
There is something remarkably spiritual about Dillard’s thorough observations and painfully accurate descriptions of the natural world in Tinker Creek, her home in Virginia. Each chapter evokes the grotesque transformation that insects, reptiles, fish and animals undergo to adapt to the indifferent natural habitat that fosters, disfigures and finally kills them. The shifting seasons, attuned to the natural cycle, provide sporadic moments of enlightening contemplations about creation and the forces that make the world spin on its axis under the inanimate, unknown universe that allows stars to become the source of warmth and life regardless of an apparently soulless disorder of things.

Dillard’s conception of beauty is based on emptying the mind and abandoning the constant recognition of the self to surrender to one’s surroundings, making the natural world the protagonist and not the background of our erratic, uncertain and insignificant lives. A type of beauty that shines in the mangled creatures she so carefully devotes her attention to.
She unlocks meaning from the water bug sucking the life out of a frog, or from the praying mantis laying eggs after mutilating the male, or from monarch butterflies that hatch and carry the smell of previous seasons with them before they migrate to the south. The more careless and the more unaware nature is, the more bountiful its outlandish fecundity and growth becomes, and corruption, decay and death are taken as intrinsic stages of this ongoing process of merely being.

Words pour out of Dillard’s poetic drive, flooding pages with impossible detail and countless scientific facts that she matches up with the spiritual ache that urges her to go out every morning, and some nights, in search of answers.
The problem of this particular reader was that she was incapable of joining Dillard in the vacuum of her mental space, in the place where she dropped all questions to become a still mirror, to become what she saw. I, on the other hand, remained an outcast, a voyeur of her spiritual communion with the world, unable to partake in its grace and gnarled glory.
Profile Image for Ines.
316 reviews185 followers
December 2, 2019
So beautiful and charming!!! A true pearl for the heart and a true spiritual path through the presentation of the Creation and the millions of elements that compose it....
As soon as you begin to read it you will be captivated by this joy with all the detailed descriptions and small actions of nature: the landscapes, the elements, the small animals that affect Annie.
I was very afraid to read it, and instead I found myself to rediscover of what the heart of God and creation is. Yes, without realizing through this joy of the mutations of nature, it is rediscovered, or rather... Annie seeks to discover the mystery of God and his creation. It is also a joy to the eyes to read the many biblical references, Latin quotes and passages from the Koran.
Don't t do this as I did, that I devoured the book in two days, it should be better to be read very slowly.... it is not a book with particular action, on the contrary, there is nothing of this, but tasted slowly with due meditation is a true rediscovery of the mystery of the Cosmos.

(Small note that I want to leave you, I have often read many pages even to my husband... after a while he clearly told me that it was crazy bothering and tedious "it is good 30 pages, but not 300 repeating more or less the same things" he said....... not exactly false what he says, you can also try this during reading . I’ve teased him, especially because he comes from Virginia and not far from the areas described here, what sore he is!!)



Bello, bellissimo!!! una vera perla per il cuore e un vero percorso spirituale attraverso la presentazione del Creato e dai milioni di elementi che lo compongono.......
Appena inizierete a leggerlo verrete catturati da questa gioia nel leggere tutte le minuziose descrizioni e piccole azioni della natura: i paesaggi, gli elementi i piccoli animali che colpiscono Annie.
Ero molto timorosa a leggerlo, e invece mi sono ritrovata in una vera riscoperta di cosa è il cuore di Dio e del creato. Si, senza accorgersi attraverso questa gioia delle mutazioni della natura, si riscopre, o meglio... Annie cerca di scoprire il mistero di Dio e del suo creato. E' una gioia agli occhi anche leggere i tanti riferimenti biblici, citazioni latine e passi del Corano.
non fate come me che ho divorato il libro in due giorni, deve essere letto con molta lentezza..... non è un libro con particolare azione, anzi, non vi è nulla di ciò, ma gustato pian piano con dovuta meditazione è una vera riscoperta del mistero del Cosmo.

( piccola annotazione che desidero lasciarvi, ho spesso letto molte pagine anche a mio marito... dopo un pò mi ha chiaramente detto che era di balla pazzesca " vanno bene 30 pagine, ma non 300 ripetendo piu' o meno le stesse cose".....ecco, non è propriamente falso quello che dice, si può provare anche questo durante la lettura 😬😉. io l' ho preso in giro,soprattutto perchè lui viene proprio dalla Virginia e non lontano dalle zone qui descritte, che zoticone!!)
Profile Image for Jen.
38 reviews18 followers
April 29, 2022
one of those things that came almost literally from the sky, dropped on the table in front of me with a shrug an nil explanation. my absolute favorite book, I LOVE THIS BOOK. i've so far read it five times and bought it for four others. highlighted to hell and took lots of notes, referenced it past the point where people are beyond over it. so all i'll say is: minutiae in nature are extraordinary.

"About five years ago I saw a mockingbird make a straight vertical descent from the roof gutter of a four-story building. It was an act as careless and spontaneous as the curl of a stem or the kindling of a star.
"The mockingbird took a single step into the air and dropped. His wings were still folded against his sides as though he were singing from a limb and not falling, accelerating thirty-two feet per second per second, through empty air. Just a breath before he would have been dashed to the ground, he unfurled his wings with exact, deliberate care, revealing the broad bars of white, spread his elegant white-banded tail, and so floated onto the grass. I had just rounded a corner when his insouciant step caught my eye; there was no one else in sight. The fact of his free-fall was like the old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest. The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there."
Profile Image for Ted.
515 reviews744 followers
September 24, 2017
I have since only very rarely seen the tree with lights in it. The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.


P1060209_edited-1-copy



pilgrim. One who embarks on a quest for some end conceived as sacred. Any traveler.

Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek can perhaps best be described as a journal - a travel journal, in which Annie Dillard tells of her pilgrimage to find God. Now if this was what I had understood the book to be, I never would have read it. And I would have missed an unforgettable reading experience.

Nevertheless, the recurrent hints that that’s what is going on, though never coalescing into this truth for me, did disturb me somewhat. So I want to deal with this aspect of the book and get it out of the way.

[But first: this spoiler simply tucks aside the names of the chapters of the book. I refer to some of these in the review. ]

I am not a religious person. I don’t believe in a God, and as I read Annie’s book, I would be bothered about her rather frequent mention of a “creator” (though never with a capital C) and less frequent reference to “God” (always with a capital G). These things detracted from the narrative for me (or so I thought).

Halfway through the book I wrote this in a status: “A deep chapter (Intricacy), but for me, the following edits must be made: read ‘nature’ for ‘creator’ or ‘creation’ everywhere; scratch all references to ‘purpose’ or ‘meaning’; remove all questions starting with ‘why’? It remains deep, is still lyrical – I’m not even sure that Ms. Dillard would object." I could have left that last phrase out of the quote, but I thought I’d be honest; and now I realize that Annie might object.

But whatever. So having crafted this sturdy shield, I returned to the field, read the rest of the book, never bothered raising my shield, and never thought again about the whole thing. Just having it made it unnecessary.

But, is it really true that Annie wrote this about her search for God? Surely that’s a bit of a leap, isn’t it? Okay, here’s another spoiler. If you want to read the book and form your own judgment, not being bothered with mine, then skip this spoiler.

As for religion, Ms. Dillard has been exceedingly promiscuous. As a child she went to a Presbyterian church (her parents did not attend); in Pilgrim she mentions all sorts of religions; she later became a Roman Catholic; and nowadays her web site gives her religion as None.

Just to finish up this long introductory section: I realize now that the book would not be the book it is without Annie’s mention of these religious bits, it wouldn’t even have been written probably. And without them it would not soar to the heights that it does. All of that is certainly worth a little discomfort on my part (and is why my initial 4 ½ rating is now an unequivocal 5).

The tree with lights. “Seeing”

So what is this tree with lights in it? (It’s not a Christmas tree.) It’s introduced in “Seeing”, the first real chapter of the book, in which Annie explores what seeing Nature might be. It just knocked the stuffing out of me.

After talking about difficulties, paradoxes, quotations related to really seeing Nature, Dillard comes to a book, Space and Sight, a translation of a German work from 1932 in which the author discusses 66 early cases of people born blind (because of cataracts) who had their sight restored surgically at different ages. (These cases provide some of the evidence for how we now believe newborn infants “see”.) It turns out there is much to learn before we come to see the way we do. In particular, the patients had no idea of what we perceive as space, or distance either. The three-dimensionality of the world was a concept missing from their mental toolboxes.
For the newly sighted, vision is pure sensation unencumbered by meaning: “The girl went through the experience that we all go through and forget, the moment we are born. She saw, but it did not mean anything but a lot of different kinds of brightness” … “But even after three weeks experience of seeing,” von Senden goes on, “ ‘space’ as he conceives it, ends with visual space, i.e. with color-patches that happen to bound his view. He does not yet have the notion that a larger object can mask a smaller one, or that the latter can still be present even though it is not directly seen.” … A little girl visits a garden. “She is greatly astonished, and can scarcely be persuaded to answer, stands speechless in front of the tree, which she only names on taking hold of it, and then as ‘the tree with lights in it.' ” … a twenty-two-year-old girl was dazzled by the world’s brightness and kept her eyes shut for two weeks. When (she then) opened her eyes again, she did not recognize any objects, but, “the more she now directed her gaze upon everything around her, the more it could be seen how an expression of gratification and astonishment overspread her features; she repeatedly exclaimed: ‘Oh God! How beautiful!;”


Dillard seems to offer that Nature itself (or Annie herself) wants seeing in a way that we don’t naturally understand, or perhaps sense momentarily but forget; or maybe knew once because we knew nothing else, and then learned another way which wiped out this purer, primordial way. She goes on
… I saw color patches for weeks after I read this wonderful book ... But I couldn’t sustain the illusion of flatness. I’ve been around too long. Form is condemned to an eternal danse macabre with meaning … Nor can I remember ever having seen without understanding; the color-patches of infancy are lost … I’m told that I reached for the moon; many babies do. But the color-patches of infancy swelled as meaning filled them; they arrayed themselves in solemn ranks down distance which unrolled and stretched before me like a plain. The moon rocketed away. I live now in a world of shadows that shape and distance color, a world where space makes a terrible kind of sense. What Gnosticism is this, and what physics? The fluttering patch I saw in my nursery window – silver and green and shape-shifting blue – is gone; a row of Lombardy poplars takes its place, mute, across a distant lawn.


She feels a sense of loss, she wants to see the world, through these color-patches, “unraveled from reason, Eden before Adam gave names. The scales would drop from my eyes, I’d see trees like men walking. I’d run down the road against all orders, hallooing and leaping.”


Now I must beg the reader’s pardon. I have much more to say about the book, more praise to offer. But to finish just this section, I find that Annie’s words cannot be summarized. They can be condensed, but not changed. The last four pages of “Seeing” can only be given in Annie’s words, which float and soar slowly up and up in an increasingly mystic spiral; and then slightly down at the end, but with a conclusion which you’ve already seen, but which this time allows nothing further to be said.



She says that for her, normal seeing is “a matter of verbalization”: “Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it.” But she has another way of seeing “that involves a letting go. When I see in this way I sway transfixed and emptied.
The difference between the two ways of seeing is the difference of walking with and without a camera. When I walk with a camera I walk from shot to shot, reading the light on a calibrated meter. When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens, and the moment’s light prints on my own silver gut.

(One evening, watching Tinker creek flow under her from a log bridge) … I blurred my eyes and gazed towards the brim of my hat and saw a new world. I saw the pale white circles (petals) roll up, roll up, like the world’s turning, mute and perfect, and I saw the linear flashes (fish), gleaming silver, like stars being born at random down a rolling scroll of time. Something broke and something opened. I filled up like a new wineskin. I breathed an air like light; I saw a light like water. I was the lip of a fountain the creek filled forever; I was ether, the leaf in the zephyr; I was flesh-flake, feather, bone.
When I see this way I see truly. As Thoreau says, I return to my senses.

But I can’t go out and try to see this way. I’ll fail, I’ll go mad. All I can do is try to gag the commentator, to hush the noise of useless interior babble that keeps me from seeing just as surely as a newspaper dangled before my eyes. The effort is really a discipline requiring a lifetime of dedicated struggle; it marks the literature of saints and monks of every order East and West … The world’s spiritual geniuses seem to discover universally that the mind’s muddy river … cannot be dammed … Instead you must allow the muddy river to flow unheeded in the dim channels of consciousness … mildly acknowledging its presence without interest and gazing beyond it into the realm where subjects and objects act and rest purely, without utterance. “Launch into the deep,” says Jacques Ellul, “and you shall see.”

The literature of illumination reveals this above all: although it comes to those who wait for it, it is always, even to the most practiced and adept, a gift and a total surprise … I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam. It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you rig a giant sail and go. The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.

It was for (the tree with lights in it) I searched through the peach orchards of summer, in the forests of fall and down winter and spring for years. Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck. I have since only very rarely seen the tree with lights in it. The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.



P1060209_edited-1-copy


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44 reviews9 followers
December 27, 2017
"Thomas Merton wrote, 'There is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.' There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage. I won't have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have 'not gone up into the gaps.' The gaps are the things. The gaps are the spirit's one home...

The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest. By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy, and fleet. There is nothing to be done about it, but ignore it, or see. And then you walk fearlessly, eating what you must, growing wherever you can, like the monk on the road who knows precisely how vulnerable he is, who takes no comfort among death-forgetting men, and who carries his vision of vastness and might around in his tunic like a live coal which neither burns nor warms him, but with which he will not part."
9 reviews5 followers
July 4, 2007
I read "Pilgrim" every year. In high school I wrote my diary as a series of letters to Annie Dillard (so gay). It's basically about a really smart young woman wandering the forest and thinking about nature and god and philosophy and stuff. Think Thoreau reincarnated as a 24 year old chick in the 70s. It didn't win the Pulitzer for nothing! It's a great book to read when you're in a "none of this shit matters" mood. No celebrities. No pop culture references. No boys.
Profile Image for Jimmy.
511 reviews686 followers
August 29, 2022
For me, two stars means "I disliked it" (even though GR says it means "it was okay"). I usually don't finish books that I dislike, that's why I have so few 2 star reviews here on this site. However, this one seemed harmless enough, and there were aspects of the book I liked (at least when I started). For example, there are a lot of stories and anecdotes about nature that were really interesting:
"On cool autumn nights, eels hurrying to the sea sometimes crawl for a mile or more across dewy meadows to reach streams that will carry them to salt water." These are adult eels, silver eels, and this descent that slid down my mind is the fall from a long spring ascent the eels made years ago. [...] In the late summer of the year they reached maturity, they stopped eating and their dark color vanished. They turned silver; now they are heading to the sea [...where] they will mate, release their eggs, and die. [...] Imagine a chilly night and a meadow; balls of dew droop from the curved blades of grass. [...] Here come the eels. The largest are five feet long. All are silver. They stream into the meadow, sift between grasses and clover, veer from your path. There are too many to count. All you see is a silver slither, like twisted ropes of water falling roughly, a one-way milling and mingling over the meadow and slide to the creek.
This is interesting. It's this kind of stuff that kept me reading. There's still a little bit of over-writing in there that I despise, but whatever. Now listen to this next part:
If I saw that sight, would I live? If I stumbled across it, would I ever set foot from my door again? Or would I be seized to join that compelling rush, would I cease eating, and pale, and abandon all to start walking?
Blegh! The melodrama! The romanticization! The overly dramatic prose... and why does she always think everything has to do with HER? Almost every time she mentions some natural phenomena, she inevitably ends the thought with some kind of personal revelation or reaction. It's excessive and selfish and human-centric. It's exactly what I don't want to read in a book about nature. She just inserts herself everywhere, as if her thoughts are more important than what is actually going on.

As for the language, which people seem to praise, I found it bloated, overwritten and unnecessarily concerned with description. Not just description, but description bordering on embellishment. I felt her human hands in everything, making the beauty that she often describes into heavy labored prose full of awkward strain and effort.
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books884 followers
January 24, 2021
After graduating college, I entered the high-paying, hard-charging world of retail -- bookselling, to be specific, where I served as an assistant manager for a chain. I will never forget certain books that were the rage then. One of them was Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I may be wrong (memory is as suspect as Lee Harvey Oswald, remember), but I recall a picture of a woman sitting on the bank of a creek staring down on it. It looked none too appealing.

Many decades later, with the odometer much higher and the gas tank indicator lower, I picked it up from my classroom library where it had languished untouched by any student for the many years I have taught. Rough, meet diamond. Dillard is not only an accomplished amateur naturalist, she is a writer of no small means. The vocabulary is as rich as the creek, the fields, the forests she wrote of, and the allusions to texts and authors equally impressive.

Granted, some sections were more a hardship than others, but this was usually due to topic, not writing. That is, I might not care as much about extended narratives about plants or seeds, but couldn't resist all the musings on insects and parasites despite myself.

The closer for me is the philosophy. It's not really a philosophy so much as an outlook on life. The world, so often ignored and taken for granted by each of us every day, is a constant miracle in ordinariness. Its simplicity is complex beyond imagination. Dillard not only gets that, she serves as a docent to share that -- all with a very human voice, the type of voice you would like to call friend and walk the afternoon beside if you could.

1-800-DIL-LARD, are you there?
Profile Image for Melissa.
5 reviews
September 4, 2007
This was not a badly written book. However, it should not be forced upon poor innocent high school students! I have had to read a lot of boring books in my high school career, but this tops them all. Just when you thought something interesting was going to happen she watches birds or something for hours. True, there were moments of great beauty and her philosphy were not always crazed. I respect her art and her view of the world, but she has even said that it's silly for schools to make 16 and 17 year old kids read this book. It should be left to the deeper, *tree-huggers* of the world.
Profile Image for Andy.
176 reviews17 followers
March 4, 2009
I love this book, but it frustrates me too. Maybe it's because Dillard was so young when she wrote it. But it doesn't deserve to be compared to Walden. Thoreau is arrogant and has a prescription for every one of society's problems. Dillard asks hard questions and agonizes over the answers. It's never an open and shut case for her. I'll read her books again and again, but I might be done with Thoreau.
Profile Image for Lorna.
632 reviews338 followers
February 18, 2021
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for Nonfiction. The book written by Annie Dillard takes place at Tinker Creek, just outside Roanoke in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek takes place for a period of one year reflecting on the changes during the four seasons by an unknown narrator with various contemplations on nature, flora, and fauna. There are also reflections on the themes of Christ, faith and awareness as well as reflections on writing and creativity. It has been compared to the writings of Henry David Thoreau's Walden.

The writing was at times beautifully descriptive and haunting in a stream of consciousness kind of flow. While I loved parts of this book, I found much of it it in too much detail, particularly about the world of insects and the spawning of fish. A lot of the beautiful prose describing the surrounding nature and topography in the changing seasons in the Blue Ridge Mountains was stunning.

"Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent. You can heave your spirit into a mountain and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as some creeks will. The creeks are the world with all its stimulus and beauty; I live there. But the mountains are home."

"Long racemes of white flowers hung from the locust trees. Last summer I heard a Cherokee legend about the locust tree and the moon. The moon goddess starts out with a big ball, the full moon, and she hurls it across the sky. She spends all day retrieving it; then she shaves a slice from it and hurls it again, retrieving, shaving, hurling, and so on. She uses up a moon a month, all year."


The Kindle version that I read had both an Afterward and a More Years Afterward where Annie Dillard makes the following observation in 2007:

"I was twenty-seven in 1972 when I began writing 'Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.' It is a young writer's book in its excited eloquence and its metaphysical boldness. (Fools rush in.) Using the first person, I tried to be--in Emerson's ever-ludicrous phrase--a transparent eyeball."
Profile Image for Libbie Hawker (L.M. Ironside).
Author 7 books278 followers
March 5, 2012
O my god.

I just finished this book and there is not much I can say about it, because I am still in the grips of its quiet, beautiful power. If you want to know what it's about, read others' reviews. Here I can only tell you that my life is changed for having read this book. I will never look at the world the same way again, and I will spend every day I have.

Annie Dillard reminds me that if I live for a thousand years and write every day I will never achieve this simple, perfect beauty, but I never want to stop trying anyway.

---

Addendum!

Now that I've been able to digest this book a bit more, I feel prepared to add a few comments.

People have said that this book is about theology broadly, or theodicy specifically (that is, the attempt to make the idea of a loving personal god fit into a cruel, cold natural world.) I don't think that's true. Annie Dillard may well have written Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and designed it to be about theology or theodicy, and to her it may be a treatise on those themes. But it is so accessibly crafted that it is just as much about the lack of a god in the universe, and the independence of nature, if that is the way you approach nature on a personal level. The Bible and other Abrahamic-religious sources are often quoted, but so are field guides, nature writers, and poets; and they are all quoted in such picturesque and touching ways that anyone can relate to the message therein. To Dillard, the Bible is just another source to be mined for understanding of human nature, or for understanding humanity's place in nature. When Dillard writes directly of God, it's not to preach at the reader or even to assume. It's to question, to imagine, to ask the reader whether she is God and whether she is finished yet with Creation.

This book is not about any point of theology. It is about mystery: The mystery of being, of being alert and aware, of seeing and experiencing. The mystery of life's briefness and life's beauty. It is one of the finest, most touching, most human books I have ever read, and doubtless one to which I'll return whenever I need comfort or whenever I simply want to know that I'm not the only one who loves the world so intensely, or who wonders about so many things.
Profile Image for Michelle.
74 reviews8 followers
July 25, 2014
Annie Dillard does not know when to quit a description. Not when she's exploring or contemplating the land that encompasses Tinker Creek. One overwrought sentence follows another in her tedious meditation on the natural world and our place in it. "Our" in a generous sense; I'll give her that. She contemplates the muskrat's place in it, the Osage orange's place in it; the blood fluke's place in it; beauty's place in it; the creator's place in it; fecundity's place in it; death's place in it. But most of all, I was relentlessly reminded of Dillard's place in it, and I became distracted, as one would when trying to appreciate one of nature's great marvels or quiet intricacies, only you cannot because the person next to you won't sit still and let nature do some of the talking.

Too often I missed the forest for the Annie.

Necessarily, for a narrative book like Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Dillard must be present to witness and tell. But her excessive language and her reactions upon reactions crash nearly every creek-side setting, turning events into nonevents, nonevents into events, questions into vapor, ideas into mush, and science into far too many anecdotes. Often, Dillard seemed to be shouting, "Look at me!" Or even "Look at me looking at ... (whatever she happened to be looking at)." She consciously does this sometimes, for she also contemplates the role of the self conscious, but other times it just sounds childish. I rolled my eyes at Dillard more than once, at sentences like this one: "Does not any one of you with your eighteen mouth parts wish to have a word with me here in the Lucas Meadow?" By the way, although "anthropomorphism" is perhaps overly charged, it abounds here: snakes have "lipless reptile smirks," and herons stare her down. I got tired of this perspective.

While some call Dillard's writing poetic or even beautiful, I found it awkward and strained, with rare passages of clarity or admirable craft. The long strings of adjectives, verbs, adverbs are maybe there to convey the rush of pure expression and feeling, intended to convey an urgency, but they served only to exasperate me. Instead of honing my understanding of any given object or portrait, the piled-on descriptors further removed me from any true understanding or epiphany. The greatest danger in this is that the reader may eventually stop believing--in the author and the narrative. She's no longer describing; she's embellishing. Occasionally her accounts just ring false.

Aside from the wonderfully promising opening sentence, "I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest. I'd half-awaken. He'd stick his skull under my nose and purr, stinking of urine and blood," there is one story she tells that will stay with me forever. It is the story of her childhood experience with a polyphemous moth whose disfigured entry into the world haunts her still, and now haunts me. The moth in this story is contained in a mason jar in a classroom. Newly emerged from its cocoon, it is unable to spread its wings--which soon become chemically stiffened and welded together in pleats--leaving this freed moth, now a "single nightmare clump still wracked with useless frantic convulsions" to heave itself slowly down a long school driveway. This story told me more about suffering than the rest of the book; it put a gnawing in the pit of my stomach and I recalled my own first witness of animals and insects maimed and perhaps suffering. Airborne insects grounded, for one reason or another. This story reads honestly, without embellishment, without strain. It was not wrestled out of her as much of the rest of the book seemed to be.

In summary, exercise caution when choosing the authors you're going to take a walk in the woods with. Edward Abbey had his issues, and we'd have probably argued a lot, but I'll watch a sunset with Ranger Abbey in Desert Solitaire over Pilgrim Dillard at Tinker Creek any day.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,027 followers
October 11, 2014
You think Annie Dillard is talking about parasitic wasps and then WHAM she's talking about God or humanity. That's what the journey of reading this book is like. She writes throughout one year at Tinker Creek in Virginia, observing and pondering in a way only she can.

Between this book and Holy the Firm, I suspect Dillard considers herself a bit of an anchorite. She specifically mentions that while she is writing this book, she is reading the Apophthegmata, and I think I'm learning that it is the way she limits herself to a small place - a writing room, a creek - that allows her to see more in it than others would.

Near the end, she instructs the reader:
"Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have 'not gone up into the gaps.' The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit's one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the clifts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; They are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock - more than a maple - a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can't take it with you."


That pretty much sums up what she does throughout the book - every snake, every tree, every egg sac. I have far deeper to go for my own study, but don't want to bog the review down too much.
Profile Image for Ramsey.
30 reviews
May 9, 2007
There is way too much to say about this book. At times, I was bored out of my mind not knowing where she was going. At other times, I was moved to laughter, moved to tears, disgusted, uplifted, fascinated...

This is different than any book I've read before. It's more like a nature observer's journal, and it therefore is written in a stream-of-consciousness style. It's all over the place! But, just when I thought I couldn't follow Annie Dillard's "random" thoughts, I would get smacked with clarity as she suddenly pulled those thoughts together into one cohesive idea. It was almost like reading an essay backwards... you don't get the point until you're done! At many points, I just had to commit to keep reading, and I'm very glad I did.

It might be helpful to the reader to do a little research about Dillard before you start so that you can get an idea of her perspective. I started to read this and put it down out of frustration (it made me feel a little stupid), but I read a short description of Dillard written by Phillip Yancey in his book "Soul Survivors: How 13 Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church". Dillard is one of those "mentors" for Yancey. Maybe I'm just too dense to have picked this book up blindly, and others may be able to jump right in.

Last thing, I would recommend reading a recent print of it (after the Pulitzer was awarded) because Dillard includes an interesting epilogue where she explains her motivation and method for writing the book.
Profile Image for Uroš Đurković.
546 reviews123 followers
June 7, 2021
Kao dostojna i dostojanstvena nastavljačica tradicijske linije Toroovog „Valdena”, Eni Dilard je mapirala zadivljujuć svet, u kome taktovi pisanja prate ritmove životne sredine. Da je neko drugo vreme i da su druge okolnosti, ova knjiga bi predstavljala uzorno delo, prema kome bi se ravnali svi oni koji žele da se bave nature writing-om. A presudna za ovu književnu vrstu nije tema, koliko način na koji se o njoj piše – meditativno, lutalački i sa dobrom merom između esejizacije i iskustvenog. A kad je već o iskustvu reč, krajnje je neuobičajeno kako je Eni Dilard pošlo za rukom da napiše delo koje donosi intimna, ali ne i lična iskustva. Sled je uglavnom sasvim drukčiji – kada čitamo, na primer, autobiografije minulih epoha, uglavnom se izdvajaju lični momenti, dok se intimni zaobilaze. Iako stalno piše o sebi, mi začuđujuće malo npr. saznajemo o Dositejevom biću intime. I dok je Dositej želeo da pripovešću o svom životu pokaže kako je moguće postati prosvećeno biće, Eni Dilard, bez spominjanja autorskog ja, pokušava da oživi u nama, kroz gustu, lirsku bistrinu, zaboravljenu i zapostavljenu prvotnost prirode. Iako joj, naizgled, malo šta ide u prilog da ne sklizne u preispoljni patos panpoetološkog misticizma u glorifikovanju prirode, ona preskače i tu moguću zamku i u svakoj rečenici nudi priliku za dragoceno usredsređen događaj-u-jeziku.

Ako je svet beskrajni šifrarnik, Eni ima dojavu za neke lozinke.

(Deus sive natura.)
Profile Image for pierlapo quimby.
500 reviews30 followers
September 5, 2019
Pellegrinaggio al Tinker Creek non è la traduzione letterale di questo sorprendente saggio che valse ad Annie Dillard il Pulitzer nel ‘75; il titolo originale è Pilgrim at Tinker Creek e la differenza forse non è di poco conto.
Concentrare l'attenzione sul 'pellegrinaggio' significa dar risalto al percorso, che è programmato, se ne conoscono le tappe intermedie e la meta finale, si cammina, si fatica, ma seguendo sentieri noti e battuti da altri.
Annie Dillard non fa niente di tutto questo nei paraggi del Tinker Creek, in una valle delle Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, dove viveva nei primi anni settanta, quando scrisse il libro; non compie alcun pellegrinaggio canonico eppure si rivela nella sua condizione di pellegrina.
Si muove da una sponda all’altra del fiume, visita boschi e prati, isolotti a forma di lacrima e cottage abbandonati, sale su ponti e tronchi di sicomori abbattuti, si apposta tra cespugli e riposa su rocce piatte di arenaria o tappeti di foglie secche.
Me la immagino come una specie di Sir David Attenborough dispersa nelle foreste montane, forse vestita, come sempre si vestiva lui nelle serie documentaristiche BBC, con pantaloni cachi e camicia azzurra, cosa che mi generava una immotivata ansia quando si immergeva nella fanghiglia di qualche palude per raccogliere un raro esemplare di anfibio maculato, impiastricciandosi tutto al punto da indurmi a pensare che per girare le scene successive avrebbe dovuto indossare abiti di riserva (quanti pantaloni cachi si portava dietro? quante camicie azzurre?).
Annie Dillard però non si limita a deliziarci con minuziose descrizioni di ciò che incontra, che si tratti di un topo muschiato a nuoto dorsale nel fiume, una pelle di serpente annodata o uno stelo d’erba addobbato con ooteche di mantide pronte a schiudersi, ma si lascia trasportare, e noi con lei, verso meditazioni vaste e profonde sulla natura e il creato (spesso Dillard evoca un imperscrutabile ‘creatore’ e del resto cosa muove il pellegrino se non l'anelito religioso?), avverte l’esigenza di immergersi in esso abbandonando le umane categorie morali, prive di senso e utilità quando, per dirne una, si esamina il ciclo frattale dei parassiti incistati dentro altri parassiti e così via fino al quinto grado di parassitismo ("Come si può comprendere una cosa simile?", "Che tipo di decima paghiamo al diavolo?"); bisogna agitarsi senza sosta come particelle subatomiche per non perdere il bello che ci circonda ovunque, il mistero della vita nascosto in ogni angolo, un mistero, mi viene da aggiungere, in grado di rivelarsi a prescindere da novelle e forse artefatte prese di coscienza ecologista, di cui in queste pagine non c’è traccia.
La ‘pellegrina’ del titolo originale, allora, non descrive la condizione di chi si muove verso una meta conosciuta, ma di chi sa che non si è mai troppo curiosi di guardare e che dovremmo fare nostra la natura stessa dei fiumi: "Il loro è il mistero della creazione permanente e di tutto ciò che implica la provvidenza: l’incertezza della visione, l’orrore di ciò che è immutabile, la dissoluzione del presente, la complessità della bellezza, l’urgenza della fecondità, l’inafferrabilità di ciò che è libero e la natura difettosa della perfezione".
Profile Image for Carmen.
2,048 reviews1,802 followers
March 29, 2016
This book was all about nature. This woman really knows her Bible and Koran. She has an extensive vocabulary and is very intelligent, especially in science. She must have no job, because the whole book is about her wandering around the woods for hours and hours every day. She made me aware of some interesting facts. Like how bamboo torture really works. She has an interesting section on fecundity, and how humans aren't disturbed by plant fecundity (probably because we view plants as food) but we are severely disturbed by animal (including insect) fecundity. She also talks about God a lot. In one section, she says “Are we barnacles to God?” Meaning, are we just billions of creatures that all look the same to God, and God doesn't really care about us individually. She talks a lot about disgusting insects, and has a whole section on parasites. She talks about some really gross stuff. One interesting point she brings up is how moths molt to become smaller and smaller when they face a food shortage, frantically trying to reduce their body mass to nothing. She also has an interesting section on whether the world is a monster or are humans freaks? She believes humans do not fit into this world, because they have emotions and try to help each other. She says giving humans (dogs, dolphins) feelings is what is cruel, not death like everyone believes.

Two-thirds of the way through the book I found out she smokes, which shocked me. She is so into nature and life I thought she wouldn't purposefully poison her body. She has a very interesting section about how people who used to be blind due to cataracts view the world after their cataracts are removed. She tells a horrific story about a Polyphemus moth. She tells a lot of horrific things about insects and parasites. I never knew, but she taught me that Muslims are forbidden to have representational art because it is seen as blasphemous, but they don't observe the rule strictly...instead they forbid sculpture only, because it casts a shadow. She also says beasts and children have a special courage because they don't know death is coming. Sometimes she wishes she could get that back. She really believes in God and admires God. She admires anyone who makes all these different creatures and lands. She says you or I could not even begin to be as creative. I have highlighted the best parts here. But mostly it is about her walking in the woods. Pretty boring at times. But she has some great insights.
Profile Image for Bob Brinkmeyer.
Author 9 books44 followers
January 22, 2021
Early on in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, her book observing life (and making observations about life) in a valley in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Annie Dillard describes her intent: “I propose to keep here what Thoreau called ‘a meteorological journal of the mind,’ telling some tales and describing some of the sights of this rather tamed valley, and exploring, in fear and trembling, some of the unmapped dim reaches and unholy fastnesses to which those tales and sights so dizzyingly lead.” This incredibly loaded sentence, typical of Dillard’s extraordinary prose, points not only to Thoreau’s immersion into the natural world but to also St. Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (And, of course, ���fear and trembling” also points Kierkegaard’s masterwork as well.) As much as one is tempted to compare Dillard to Thoreau (and there is good reason to do so, though in the end they are quite different), it’s the biblical reference that takes us closer to Dillard’s ultimate purpose here. As the title of her work itself suggests, Dillard is a pilgrim in pursuit of the divine found in nature and in realms beyond.

Dillard’s pursuit is anything but straightforward, in part because she sees creation as intricately layered, kaleidoscopic in its ever-shifting and -evolving parts. For Dillard, it’s Tinker Creek—as well as other creeks—that represents nature’s shocking abundance and mysterious elusiveness. “Theirs is the mystery of the continuous creation,” she writes of cascading streams, “and all that providence implies: the uncertainty of vision, the horror of the fixed, the dissolution of the present, the intricacy of beauty, the pressure of fecundity, the elusiveness of the free, and the flawed nature of perfection.” In contrast to creeks are mountains, whose solidness and stolidness make them more accessible. Mountains, Dillard writes, are “a passive mystery, the oldest of all. Theirs is the one simple mystery of creation from nothing, of matter itself, anything at all, the given. Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent. You can heave your spirit into a mountain and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as some creeks will.” That mountains offer her some grounding and fixity in a world of always at play and in motion, leads her to comment that “the creeks are the world with all the stimulus and beauty; I live there. But the mountains are home.”

In several places in the book Dillard characterizes her quest to discover the intricate wonder of nature as stalking, almost as if she believes she has to catch not only animals but the entire natural world unawares. “I am an explorer, then,” she comments, “and I am also a stalker, or the instrument of the hunt itself.” How can she be the instrument of the hunt? By training herself how to see, which for Dillard means striving to void herself from self-consciousness in order to see things directly, as if new, as if she were an infant gazing upon the new-found world with pure devotion and concentrated bewilderment. Such a vision, she comments, is one of “the world unraveled by reason, Eden before Adam gave names.” Self-consciousness, on the other hand, hinders “the experience of the present. It is the one instrument that unplugs all the rest. So long as I lose myself in a tree, say, I can scent its leafy branch . . . But the second I become aware of myself at any of these activities—looking over my own shoulder, as it were—the tree vanishes, uprooted from the spot and flung out as if it had never grown.” “You have to stalk everything,” she writes elsewhere. “Everything scatters and gathers; everything comes and goes like a fish under a bridge.”

In all this, Dillard not only wants to see the wondrous but to be consumed by it, as if struck by a lightning bolt of divine grace. Stalking in this context recalls another seeker of the divine, Flannery O’Connor, who once wrote a correspondent: “Picture me with my ground teeth stalking joy—fully armed too as it’s a highly dangerous quest.” While their quests took different paths—O’Connor of course was a Roman Catholic while Dillard seems to embrace something close to panentheism—they nonetheless share a profound commitment to their spiritual quests, which often push toward the severe and the extreme. Both O’Connor and Dillard eschew what might be called “easy faith,” faith that merely soothes rather than challenges—or as O’Connor put it, faith conceived as an electric blanket, providing warmth and comfort (she said that faith instead was the Cross). Dillard may at times take comfort in nature but that’s not why she’s there. “Divinity is not playful,” she writes. “The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest. By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy, and fleet. There is nothing to be done about it, but ignore it, or see. And then you walk like the monk on the road who knows precisely how vulnerable he is, who takes no comfort among death-forgetting men, and who carries this vision of vastness and might around in his tunic like a live coal which neither burns nor warms him, but which he will not part.”

It’s because of her austere and spare vision that Dillard particularly relishes winter, when the natural world strips itself of its fineries making the fundamental more visible. It’s something of that stripping away that Dillard sees as important for humanity as well, which goes far in explaining why she gives us no details about her everyday concerns and economy, such as how she provides for food, income, shelter, etc. “I wonder if we do not waste more of our energy just by spending every waking minute saying hello to ourselves,” she writes. “Martin Buber quotes an old Hasid master who said, ‘When you walk across the fields with your mind pure and holy, then from all the stones, and from all the growing things, and all animals, the sparks of their soul come out and cling to you, and then they are purified and become a holy fire in you.’”
Profile Image for Julie.
1,862 reviews38 followers
March 17, 2021
This book has been on my to-read list since 2015. It was recommended to me by a library patron. I was expecting a gentle book on nature. However, in truth, nature is not gentle, it is about adaptation and survival.

Frankly, some of the passages were more like something from a horror novel for me, such as the description of the silver eels crossing the field! Listening in the middle of the night in the dark due to another bout of insomnia added an additional element to my fear. Consider the following:

"On cool autumn nights eels hurrying to the sea sometimes crawl for a mile or more across dewy meadows to reach streams that will carry them to salt water."

"There are too many to count, all you see is a silver slither like twisted ropes of water falling roughly. A one-way milling and mingling over the meadow and slide to the creek. Silver eels in the night are barely made out seething as far as you can squint. A squirming jostling torrent of silver eels in the grass."

Never in a million years would I have imagined that eels can travel across meadows, I am truly glad I have never come across such a sight!

Then there were the multitudes of grasshoppers, which seem a bit like a plague of locusts:

"The aired burst and whirred. There were grasshoppers of all sizes, grasshoppers yellow green and black, short horned, and long horned, slant faced, band winged, spur throated, cone headed, pygmy, spotted, striped and barred. They sprang in salvos, dropped in the air."

Finally, there is the fatalistic view of life going on and how truly replaceable we are:

"All the individual people I understood with special clarity were living at that very moment with great emotion in intricate detail in their individual times and places and they were dying and being replaced by ever more people one by one like stitches in which whole worlds of feeling and energy were wrapped in a never-ending cloth."

Overall, a book that left me unexpectedly breathless.
Profile Image for Canon.
576 reviews47 followers
June 8, 2022
"The least we can do is try to be there.”

"Nature is, above all, profligate."

“It’s impossible to imagine another situation where you can’t write a book ’cause you weren’t born with a penis. Except maybe Life With My Penis.”


I got my copy of this at a used bookstore when passing through Staunton, VA — a town right next door to Waynesboro, VA, where in the early 1970s, according to Dillard, starlings (a bird introduced to America by one Eugene Schieffelin, whose hobby was bringing over all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare) were so numerous ("southwest Virginia is their idea of Miami Beach") that residents couldn't stand to go outside because of the stink.

There are many such anecdotes and observations in this book, compiled from various articles and journals that Dillard wrote about her life in Virginia's Roanoke Valley. It's funny, as this excellent 2015 Atlantic profile explains, that what Dillard describes as her "anchorite existence" on Tinker Creek was actually a fairly prosaic suburban life circa mid-century in Roanoke, VA, where she attended Hollins College. As Walden Pond (not really all that wild) was to Thoreau, so Tinker Creek (ditto) was to Dillard: an inspiration to "impress myself at all times with the fullest possible force of their very reality." So, following in the tradition of America's great nature writers, Dillard largely invents the nature and the wilds in which she finds mystery.

I grew up near Virginia's Roanoke Valley, and this was one of the reasons I wanted to read this book: it's from my neck of the woods. I also enjoy "nature writing" as a genre, and I think Dillard does it masterfully. As The Atlantic essay notes, in the time between graduating from Hollins and writing Pilgrim, Dillard had read dozens of male nature writers cutting the figure of "mythic frontiersman, the wild man, the true hermit" whose work was mediocre. This is where the funny penis quote comes in. She realized she could "do better" and did.

At times, Dillard's sense of humor struck me as a sort of Christian version of Douglas Adams'. She is exuberant about the profligacy of nature, its intricate beauty and fecund horror, its sheer improbability bordering on lunacy — "anything goes." I enjoyed Dillard's humor and Heraclitean (who provides the book's epigraph) observations about attention, seeing, light, energy, change, and the present. I was less enthused by her overwrought sallies of Christian spiritualism and theodicy.
Profile Image for A.
53 reviews1 follower
May 28, 2008
"Not only does something come if you wait, but it pours over you like a waterfall, like a tidal wave. You wait in all naturalness without expectation or hope, emtied, translucent, and that which comes rocks and topples you; it will shear, loose, launch, winnow, grind.

I have glutted on richness...I am bouyed by a calm and effortless longing and angled pitch of the will, like the set of the wings of the monarch which climbed a hill by falling still."

Annie Dillard "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek"
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

I wrote this by hand, and taped it to my wall during my undergraduate years, so I could read these words anytime I wanted, I loved it so much!
Profile Image for Laura.
812 reviews237 followers
August 29, 2017
Only regret, I read it too fast.
Profile Image for Paul.
63 reviews16 followers
January 16, 2008
This book didn't so much change my outlook, as give words to feelings I had had for many years but never been able to articulate. It's like Walden, if Thoreau had a passion for weird nature facts and wasn't so insufferably boring or arrogant half the time. It describes Dillard's time living in the mountains of VA when she was about 27 (I hate that) and is told through a series of remarkable vignettes, each lumped under perceptive thematic headings. It's a relentless parade of the horror, fear and intricate beauty of the world.
The funny thing is I've taught this book twice now. The first time it was amazing; the students got it, and that unit really solidified my connection with that class. This year I taught it again to a few students. There's an expression in Chinese "dui niu tan qin" which means roughly 'playing piano for the cows'. That's about what it was this time, and it completely killed me. They didn't get it at all. It is a terrible thing to have so much passion for and idea and want to communicate it to others, only to have them only see a dim outline. Dillard even mentions in the intro that she doesn't think this book should be taught to high schoolers, so maybe I was just lucky the first time. But I encourage all you smart people to read this one, it will affect you deeply, and it's one of those book s that you can enter at any point once you've read it and still find something new.

Profile Image for David.
583 reviews122 followers
May 30, 2022
For its many moments of poignant beauty, I am glad to have read this Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir/diary of Dillard's single year spent exploring the natural world beyond her Blue Ridge Valley doorstep. Those sections which placed me directly in view of the lives (and deaths) of insects, mammals, reptiles, avians, and plants of every description, were sublime. I take similar delight in exploring "the great outdoors", so the best moments spoke powerfully to me.

Sadly there were three aspects of this book that prevented such instances of intense connection from occurring as often as they might have. All are unique to the individual reader and so may not inhibit your own appreciation.

1) Because this is a memoir, the narrator is front and center most of the time. And so she casts a shadow over much of the proceedings, interpolating herself into the pictures she paints and often obstructing the reader's gaze. One doesn't see the copperhead on the sandstone rock without first seeing the narrator seated beside it. One doesn't creep up to an oblivious muskrat without first following the narrator's "stalking" maneuvers and then being forced to peer over her shoulder to get a look-see. There was more Pilgrim interpretation than there was Tinker Creek.

2) There are prolonged passages of philosophical musing - delivered in effusive poetic utterances - that confuse rather than inspire. At such times the narrator's transcendent experiences did not resonate with me, and that was a disappointment.

"Terror and a beauty insoluble are a ribband of blue woven into the fringes of things both great and small." Oooh. Ahhh... What?

"The secret of seeing is, then, the pearl of great price. If I thought he could teach me to find it and keep it forever I would stagger barefoot across a hundred deserts after any lunatic at all." No you wouldn't. You can't even spy on a rodent from the bridge without smoking a cigarette.

"Intricacy means that there is a fluted fringe to the something that exists over against nothing, a fringe that rises and spreads, burgeoning in detail." Either share those mushrooms with me or stop talking.

3) Frequent references are made to the Judeo-Christian viewpoint (standard Western version as well as Kabbalism and Hasidism), including the use of direct Biblical quotations. Dillard does also invoke Buddhism, but she mainly filters things through the lens of the Old and New Testaments. Again, this places the narrator into the spotlight and (for me) Tinker Creek went dark during such contemplations.

There are some 5-star moments, to be sure, but also several that barely qualified as 2 and which broke whatever spell had just been cast, so I'm giving this one

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,646 reviews434 followers
May 26, 2014
The narrator in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek expresses awe at the wonder of nature in four seasons in very poetic prose. There were parts of the book that were exquisite in their beautiful phrasing. The narrator often had a playful voice when she described "stalking" creatures in the natural world at Tinker Creek, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia near Roanoke.

Annie Dillard is also seeing the Divine in nature. Looking at creation, which is often imperfect, she brings up many good questions about the nature of the Creator. She sees pain, suffering, and death when predators have to kill creatures lower on the food chain to survive. Using frogs, insects, barnacles, and other examples, she writes about how creatures must reproduce in great numbers in order for a few of them to survive, a rather inefficient means of creation. Dillard asks, "What if God has the same affectionate disregard for us that we have for barnacles? I don't know if each barnacle larva is of itself unique and special, or if we the people are essentially as interchangeable as bricks." Dillard often writes in a stream of consciousness as she puts down her thoughts about the presence of the Divine in nature, sometimes in awe and sometimes confused. She asks very good questions about God, questions that people have been examining for thousands of years. But her stream of consciousness thoughts were difficult to follow sometimes, and less successful than her observations about the natural world. I had a mental picture of her writing late into the night, wrestling with her ideas about a Creator who is both benevolent and cruel. The text is also sprinkled with quotes from naturalists, philosophers, and other writers.

The book is a good reminder to open our eyes, hearts, and minds to the wonders of nature. Dillard expresses it well as she concludes her book, "And like Billy Bray I go my way, and my left foot says 'Glory,' and my right foot says 'Amen': in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise."
Profile Image for Bibliophile10.
165 reviews4 followers
September 15, 2013
As a student of nonfiction I'm always conscious of how an author's voice (perceptible personality) can contrast with what they say. When reading _Best American Essays_, for example, I often hear unappealing voices (stuffy, self-satisfied, etc.) expressing smart or worthwhile ideas; in other words I like the thinking but not the thinker. With _Pilgrim_ I felt differently: I loved--loved--the voice without always loving what was being said. I don't like nature writing. I don't like sentence after sentence of observations about birds and bugs that I don't find nearly as fascinating as the author does. But I enjoyed the writer herself. I felt pleased and privileged to be in her company. The sections of the book that stunned me as nature stuns Dillard were the meditative passages where she worries, with her writerly fingers, the crazy beautiful brutality of existing in our world. She says in the afterward that she doesn't consider the book an essay collection; while that category may seem too limited or overly polished for her aesthetic, I consider the constant weighing and wondering and wandering to be the essence of essay writing, and it is this inquisitive, spirited voice that stays, welcome, in my mind.
584 reviews25 followers
June 22, 2014
I first read this perhaps ten years or more ago. Vividly I recall a comment from a friend in a book group. She questioned, "And just what was it that you liked about this book?" Obviously, she didn't care for it at all which I have as difficult a time understanding as her question to me. What didn't I like? I savored the insights, the observations, the honesty, the growth and the reflections. I loved the book. I also loved the author's way with words. Since that time I have purchased several copies and given them to friends who perhaps share and can understand my love affair with nature and simplicity.

This is due for a reread...and I know just where it is!
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