Book Club

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard

by Annie Dillard

“Then one day, walking along Tinker Creek, thinking of nothing at all, I saw it —- the tree with the lights in it. It was the same backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost, only charged and transfigured, etc cell buzzing with flame … It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance … I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment … I was lifted and struck.”
— Annie Dillard

It was one of those books that come along at the exactly perfect age of your life. It fell into my hands almost… or perhaps because of… divine intervention. I was a 23 year old hot mess of a kid. I needed something or someone to help me find a path… or at least a railing I could hold on to while I wobbled forward… a young adult in a world I wasn’t sure about any longer. Her astonishing way with words, her courage and her poetic voice was a tonic that I drank in like a man about dying of thirst drinks water. She found a way to look at the world that made me want to look and dive into. It was good to find someone who was trembling but brave.

From The Atlantic
“The encounter is erotic (“knocked breathless by a powerful glance”), like the ecstasies of Saint Teresa. God has seen and seized her, claimed her. This, again, is something very different from Thoreau’s experience. To use a pair of terms that Dillard introduces in a later book, she is not a pantheist (as he was) but a panentheist. God, panentheism says, is not coextensive with, identical to, the physical world, the world of nature. He is a being that transcends it even as he dwells within it. Get rid of nature, for the pantheist, and you get rid of God. Get rid of nature, for the panentheist, and you see him all the clearer. That, I think, is why it has to be a creek for Dillard, not a pond. Walden, in its depth and stillness (the attributes Thoreau insists upon most keenly), symbolizes nature’s stability and serenity. The world abides and always will. But the creek, for Dillard, is energy, divine spirit, “the stream of light pouring down.” The world does not abide. Creation is continuous, and the heavens will be rolled up as a scroll. She watches the water, but waits for the flame. Dillard declared her arrival, at the age of 28—brash and bold and talented beyond belief—with Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. The book was unabashed about its lineage. An ardent young American takes to the woods, anchoring herself beside a water. Sojourning for many a season, she distills her experience down to a symbolic single year. “I propose to keep here,” she announces at the start of her account, “what Thoreau called ‘a meteorological journal of the mind.’ ” She scrutinizes nature with monastic patience and a microscopic eye. She delivers doctrine with the certainty of revelation and the arrogance (and agedness) of youth. She summons us to wake from dull routine. With flourishes of brass, she proclaims a new dawn.

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