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Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek ()

The Image Top 100 Books of the Century

    ...if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your
    day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime
    of days.  It is that simple.
           -Annie Dillard

This Pulitzer Prize-winning book, describing Dillard's observations during one year at Tinker Creek in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, is consciously modeled on Thoureau's Walden, which was the subject of her Masters thesis.   The essays collected here first appeared in everything from Harper's and The Atlantic to The Christian Science Monitor and Sports Illustrated.  This variety of publications suggests something of the variety of ideas and topics that Dillard addresses, but only suggests.  Dillard is something of a polymath, has described herself as spiritually promiscuous and reads voraciously.  As a result, the events that she sees trigger wide ranging dissertations on a myriad of topics from Sufism to the Eskimos.

However, there is one unifying theme, Dillard's attempt to understand God and why life for some requires violent death for others.  She was recovering from a severe bout of pneumonia at the time she wrote the book, and a sense of mortality suffuses every page.  Ultimately, she seems to have determined that the beauty to be found in Nature is ample compensation for the pain and suffering that accompany it, if only we open ourselves to that beauty.

The book is framed by an admonition:

    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,
    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.

and the following conclusion:

    I think that the dying pray at the last not 'please', but 'thank you', as a guest thanks his host at the
    door.  Falling from airplanes the people are crying thank you, thank you, all down the air; and the
    cold carriages draw up for them on the rocks.  Divinity is not playful.  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.

By the end of this thoughtful, beautiful book, you are bound to agree with her conclusion.


Grade: (A)


Annie Dillard Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Annie Dillard
    -AUTHOR SITE:     -Annie Dillard WWW site
    -FEATURED AUTHOR: NY Times Book Review
    -ESSAY: Annie Dillard on How Writers Learn to Trust Instinct: “Original writing fashions a form.” (Annie Dillard, January 14, 2022, Lit Hub)
-ESSAY: A Pilgrim's Progress (Mary Cantwell, NY Times Book Review)
    -The Mysticism of Annie Dillard's "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" (Sandra Stahlman, 5/94)
    -Noticer: The Visionary Art of Annie Dillard
    -Unlicensed Metaphysics:  Annie Dillard Revisited
    -David A. Sheftman, M. A. EWRT 1-A (bio & study questions from a professor's course)
    -REVIEW: of FOR THE TIME BEING, by Annie Dillard Apparent contradictions: By keeping her private life under wraps, personal essayist Annie Dillard has created a writing life of uncommon integrity (Michael Joseph Gross, Boston Phoenix)

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