Monday, August 3, 2020
Pilgrim At Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
In the 1970's, Annie Dillard, twenty-seven, spent a year near Tinker Creek in Southwest Virginia near the city of Roanoke. Pilgrim At Tinker Creek is her memoir of her time spent observing the wildlife in this area and thinking about the bigger philosophical ideas of how nature works and what role, if any, God plays in this marvelous, cruel, breathtaking world.
Open any page and the reader will find a sentence that stops them in their tracks. Dillard's attention to detail and her ability to portray what she sees poetically is rarely found in a book. Few of us take the time to observe as closely as she does. She may spend four hours sitting in one spot without moving in order to observe a muskrat whose survival depends on being able to spot any predators in the area. She spends hours observing insects and how they lay their eggs, hatch, grow and die.
Not everything is perfect. She spends a chapter talking about the ten percent of all living organisms that are parasites. Some are amazingly specific, a mite which only resides on one species of bird in one area. Some are common and annoyingly familiar such as a mosquito or tick. She returns several times to an incident where she saw a frog suddenly collapse as it's insides were sucked away by a water bug. This horror is part of the same nature that can stop one with its beauty.
She did see lots of beauty. She narrates the occurrence of a monarch butterfly migration. She notes the flowering plants that follow the spring and the colors of autumn. She can also find beauty in creatures such as a copperhead that most of us would never find beautiful due to repulsion. As she watches, she meditates.
This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. It is a fascinating read for those interested in the natural world around them. I was particularly interested as I was living in this same area at the same time so I could relate to most of what was written. Those who are not religious can enjoy the book on a different level than those interested in her ideas about God. This is a masterwork by an author at the top of her form and is recommended for nonfiction readers who enjoy nature.