Pilgrim at Tinker CreekIt's intriguing reading peoples' reviews of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. The majority find it spellbindingly beautiful, a work of poetry, and well deserving of the 1975 Pulitzer Prize it was awarded. A small, vocal group insist it's mind-numbingly dull, with no plot and no resolution. It doesn't "go anywhere". In many ways I find that the story, and readers' reactions, are quite similar to how meditation is perceived.
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.
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