Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Annie Dillard

Canterbury Press, $23.95

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction in 1975 and it’s no mystery why they keep re-issuing it. It’s fabulous!

I’m just sorry it’s taken me so long to getting around to feasting on its delights.

Dillard spends a year chronicling what she observes each day in the hills of Virginia. And, whoa, what amazing things she sees by really looking.

Dillard seeks the creator by observing creation.

“The world is full of creatures that for some reason seem stranger to us than others, and libraries are full of books describing them — hagfish, platypuses, lizard-like pangolins four feet long with bright green lapped scales like umbrella-tree leaves on a bush hut roof, butterflies emerging form anthills, spiderlings wafting through the air clutching tiny silken balloons, horseshoe crabs … the creator creates. Does he stoop, does he speak, does he save, succour, prevail? Maybe. But he creates; he creates everything and anything.”

Hers is a writerly, spiritual and philosophical quest.

“What I aim to do is not so much learn the names of the shreds of creation that flourish in this valley, but to keep myself open to their meanings, which is to try to impress myself at all times with the fullest possible force of their very reality. I want to have things as multiply and intricately as possible present and divisible in my mind.”

How envious I was to hear about Dillard sitting by the stream for hours, not moving, observing shy creatures at work and play.

How interested I was to hear that ten per cent of the world’s species are parasitic insects. “What if you were an inventor,” Dillard asks, “and you made ten per cent of your inventions in such a way that they could only work by harassing, disfiguring the other ninety per cent? These things are not well enough known.”

How intrigued I was to feel that Dillard was waiting for God at every turn and to hear her robust perceptions of God’s creation.

“Certainly nature seems to exult in abounding radicality, extremism, anarchy. If we were to judge nature by its common sense or likelihood, we wouldn’t believe the world existed. In nature, improbabilities are the stock in trade. The whole creation is one lunatic fringe.”

Dillard did in that year what many Christians only dream they’ll do one day — and that’s to live out the biblical injunction to truly “Be still and know that I am God.”

What she learns through this stillness is more like a riot, a swarm, or an onslaught. “Everything scatters and gathers; everything comes and goes like fish under a bridge. You have to stalk the spirit, too.”

She also learns that the creator “churns out the intricate texture of least works that is the world with a spendthrift genius and an extravagance of care. That is the point.”

Read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek to regain a sense of your humble place in nature in all its grandeur.

Marjorie Lewis-Jones

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