2/52: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek - Annie Dillard

Oh Annie Dillard, you mystical woman you. To be honest, I'm not sure where to begin with this one. Perhaps I should start with a quote from Dillard herself, "I am no scientist, I am a wanderer with a background in theology and a penchant for quirky facts." And that is truly what this books is, a blend of science, facts, observations, mysticism, and theology. I found myself sludging through page after page of "quirky facts"  about grasshoppers, eels, water bugs, and muskrats, when suddenly, in a way that only Annie Dillard can, you are slayed with some serious existential thought. 

Written in 1974, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is the Walden Pond of the 20th century. Dillard makes Tinker Creek her world, her universe, her galaxy. At one point, Dillard marvels at how much life is in just one square inch of soil, that square inch is its own earth. Dillard zooms in and gets deep in the details, even the details that one may not want to look closely at, such as parasites and bacteria. Nothing is left unspoken, no part of nature is left without a voice. All life speaks to why we are here. 


"We wake, if we ever wake at all, to mystery, rumors of death, beauty, violence... 'Seems like we're just set down,' a women said to me recently, 'and don't nobody know why.'" 

"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." 

"Some unwonted, taught pride diverts us from our original intent, which is to explore the neighborhood, view the landscape, to discover at least where it is that we have been so startlingly set down, if we can't learn why."

"Living is moving; time is a live creek bearing changing lights. As I move, or as the world moves around me, the fullness of what I see shatters... The present is a freely given canvas. That it is constantly being ripped apart and washed downstream goes without saying; it is a canvas, nevertheless." 

"I do not understand even what I can easily see. I would like to see it all, understand it, but I must start somewhere, so I try to deal with the giant water bug in Tinker Creek and the flight of three hundred red wings from an Osage orange, with the goldfish bowl and the snakeskin, and let those who dare worry about the birthrate and population explosion among solar systems."

"The wonder is—given the errant nature of freedom; and the burgeoning texture of time—the wonder is that all the forms are not monsters, that there is beauty at all, grace gratuitous, pennies found, like mockingbird’s free fall. Beauty itself is the fruit of the creator’s exuberance that grew such a tangle, and the grotesques and horrors bloom from that same free growth, that intricate scramble and twine up and down the conditions of time."

"We value the individual supremely, and nature values him not a whit." 

"Is this what it's like, I thought then, and think now: a little blood here, a chomp there, and still we live, trampling the grass? Must everything whole be nibbled? Here was a new light on the intricate texture of things in the world, the actual plot of the present moment in time after the fall: the way we the living are nibbled and nibbling - not held aloft on a cloud in the airbut bumbling pitted and scarred and broken through a frayed and beautiful land."

"We are people; we are permitted to have dealings with the creator and we must speak up for the creation. God look at what you've done to this creature, look at the sorrow, the cruelty, the long damned waste."

"This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can't take it with you."

I would recommend reading Annie Dillard's childhood memoir An American Childhood before Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. It will give you some context of her fervent curiosity, plus it is a beautiful read. 

Buy it here.

Borrow it here.