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Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974)

by Annie Dillard

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,579571,473 (4.2)1 / 188
  1. 20
    Walden by Henry David Thoreau (Emydidae)
    Emydidae: Annie Dillard was very much influenced by Thoreau (she did her master's thesis on Walden at Hollins College), and both Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Walden have similar narrative structures. Both books follow their narrator through the course of a year, and both weave detailed observations of the natural world together with self-examination and statements of a personal worldview. Annie Dillard's concerns are more explicitly theological, while Thoreau tends to be more concerned with the relationship between the individual and society - but both of their books are beautifully-written, densely symbolic investigations into the relationship between the self, nature, and the spiritual. It's interesting to think about the links and contrasts between the two books - for example, between Dillard's idea of "seeing" and Thoreau's reflections on self-exploration and awareness.… (more)
  2. 00
    In Earshot of Water: Notes from the Columbia Plateau by Paul Lindholdt (bezoar44)
    bezoar44: These authors share some of the same fearless introspection; and while both study the natural world, it is in some ways just a (vital) context in which to explore what it means to live meaningfully.
  3. 00
    Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting by Michael Perry (Othemts)

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Seeing the world through Dillard's eyes is a marvelous thing. ( )
  tangentrider | Aug 27, 2015 |
I am a huge fan of Annie Dillard, but this audiobook was unbearable. I want to believe it was the terrible voice of the reader and not the content. I will have to try this one as a book, rather than an audio. ( )
  hemlokgang | May 4, 2015 |
This is one of the best books I have ever read. Her writing is spectacular. It is exhilarating to read her descriptions of nature, and her own path toward meaning. ( )
  anitatally | Feb 1, 2015 |
This was one of those books that made me wish I had taken a much earlier interest in literature and creative writing. I am absolutely sure I would have gotten more enjoyment from this book than I did had that been the case. Commentary I’ve read about it compared Annie Dillard’s work to Thoreau and the other transcendentalists. Of course, I had precious little exposure to them in school so the comparison is largely lost on me. I did not pursue creative writing beyond the minimum requirements imposed on me as part of my course of study, so the style, rhythm and cadence of this work didn’t resonate with me at anything but a superficial level. So, my opinion of it will necessarily be based on my experiences and education.

I kind of view this book the way I would look at an abstract painting; like an artist trying to portray their feeling about a physical place or object through their art, the author here is trying to do the same with words. The book I think employs a narrative form and consists of several reflections and internal monologues on nature, existence, life, death and religion. It all revolves around the environment near the authors home adjacent to Tinker Creek in Virginia. The book is divided into four sections representing the seasons, and within each section chapters that enhance and amplify the larger theme.

I really enjoyed much of this, particularly sections in which Dillard would focus her observations on a particular animal or event. Monologues describing her efforts to get close to the muskrats living in the creek, her fleeting attempts to observe fish and insects were very enjoyable. She also did a wonderful, almost mystical, job of incorporating the latest (at the time) discoveries in the fields of physics, astronomy and chemistry into the narrative as though those aspects of the physical world were as much a part of her immediate surroundings as were the insects, birds and reptiles she was observing.

Some parts I didn’t buy, particularly the overall theological theme. Dillard describes her work as a theodicy – the study of why a benevolent God would allow manifestations of evil in the world. The cut throat existence most living beings endure in nature are used as examples. The often cruel and gruesome ways many of “Gods” creatures meet their ends is used as the anchor point for this exploration. Being an atheist I don’t believe there is any deeper meaning other than that evolution provides for. Creatures exist and evolve as a consequence of the environment they live it, not because some benevolent God has allowed it. So these themes had no resonance with me.

She uses the concepts of via positiva and the via negativa, with the first half of the book being the former and the last half the latter. The first refers to the notion that God is present in nature and is in some way knowable. The second refers to a God which cannot be comprehended and therefore what happens in the world are only attributes of God’s will and not a knowable truth. Dillard finds the latter more attractive based on her observations of the natural world as represented at Tinker Creek. Of course from my perspective there is no will at work here as there is no supreme being to work that will. I understand things as part of a quantifiable and understandable process that doesn’t contain the mystery Dilalrd see around her.

Nevertheless I came away from reading this feeling closer to the nature Dillard describes than a dry recitation of fact could ever convey. I think there is something in all of us that wants the world around us and our place in it to have a higher meaning. I think that desire is a result of an evolutionary impulse. Yet, it is within me and works such as this satisfy some of that need. ( )
  mybucketlistofbooks | Jan 10, 2015 |
I’d advise reading the afterward before; there’s no plot to spoil, and the brief summary of why and how is a helpful scaffold. This is not a book of independent essays, but it didn’t read to me as a unified whole either. Annie Dillard describes it as a “theodicy”, split into via positiva and via negativa. Also it progresses through the calendar year. It entwines acute observations of nature with gleanings from scientific reading and cosmic consciousness with a dose of naval gazing. And somehow Eskimos got in there. The result is not entirely coherent, IMO, but then I don’t place a high value on “lyrical” (a frequent adjective of praise) unless it is about something, and lyrical morphs into flamboyant a bit too often for my taste. It is about something sometimes though (and the other times may be my failure to perceive), when she sticks to the task at hand for several paragraphs straight, and then the lyrical writing is impressive and inspirational, especially so since she was a mere 27 years old at the time.

And after writing the paragraph above, I revisited passages that stood out for others in a group read, and saw depth and complexity that I had passed by. I was, I think, expecting a different sort of book, and didn’t fully make the mental adjustment while I was reading. Maybe this is a book best read slowly with pauses.

She begins with an introductory “I am an explorer” and a chapter on seeing, heavily reliant on Marius von Senden (Space and Sight), about the formerly blind making sense of color patches. Anecdotes are extracted from (among others) R. R. Askew, Jean-Henri Fabre, Edwin Way Teal (The Strange Lives of Familiar Insects), Rutherford Platt (The Great American Forest). I note these authors because I (or you) may want to read the originals.

She observes muskrats, starlings, snakes, frogs, fish, praying mantises, caddisflies, caterpillars, sycamores... learning what to look for and how to watch undetected, fascinated by critterly behavior on its own merits, and for what it may say about a “creator”. Whether this is metaphor or abstraction or religion is not clear (and I can’t draw precise borders around the words anyway). It is language that I, an apatheist, was comfortable enough with, as an effort to get at an ineffable essence beyond nuts-and-bolts nature, but it infuses the text; this is not the sort of treatise that gets an index. Nature is “intricate”, “extravagant”, “exuberant”, “profligate”, “fecund”; decidedly not efficient. If you want science, if you want to know that a caterpillar’s head has 28 muscles, that a locust is not simply a type of grasshopper but rather a form that occurs under crowded conditions, that the molecules of chlorophyll and hemoglobin differ only by one atom at the center, grab the fact as it flits by because you may not find it again.
2 vote qebo | Feb 16, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061233323, Paperback)

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."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:22 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A collection of essays on the natural world during a year spent in the Blue Ridge Mountains reflects the author's interactions with her wilderness surroundings.

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