Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
HarperCollins, 2007, 290 pages
I vaguely remember being introduced to Annie Dillard in my tenth grade English class. Long after having forgotten her – and Dylan Thomas, who I read around the same time and often wondered was being confused with Dillard (Dylan, Dillard, it was all the same to me) – and her story about snowballs and being one of the boys, I sent in my acceptance form to Hollins University which was, little did I know, Dillard’s alma mater. I walked the same paths as she, sat in the same classrooms, even shared a teacher or two. I have yet, sadly, to become the sensation she has been, but I hold out hope. But I’m digressing.
I finally got around to reading Dillard’s best known work, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek this past fall. While I had felt guilty about not having read it as a student at Hollins, reading it post-Hollins was probably for the best. Pilgrim’s look at Roanoke, Virginia, though its focus generally sits outside of the Hollins’ campus walls, made me feel as if I was visiting home again. Dillard’s grip on exploring her surroundings in every sensory permutation possible brings the environment to life.
I also want to admit that I went into Pilgrim expecting to dislike it. Also in high school, I’d been introduced to Thoreau and Emerson. Despite the pair’s ties to Louisa May Alcott (who I love), I hadn’t been impressed. In fact, the magnified look at ants one of them described – to be honest, I can’t remember which of the two existentialists wrote about the ants, I hated them both so much at the time – bored me to death. I expected Pilgrim to be much the same, as it had been advertised. The guilt pulled me into it, however, and since I was determined to read collections of essays throughout November, I couldn’t think of a better time to get it over with.
The only word that comes to mind here is, indeed. Indeed, indeed. I savored it. In either the foreword or the afterword, Dillard explains that Pilgrim is not so much a collection of essays as so many critics described it at and since its publication, but a narrative of an environment throughout the seasons. And that much is true, though it’s a winding and unfocused narrative that you may not be aware of until the thing is through and that narrative structure has been explicitly pointed out for you, as it was for me. Dillard works through the metaphysical and philosophical in indirect, meandering ways. It’s not until her inevitable punch that you realize all of the minute description leading up to it had not just been for the aesthetics, but for the thesis that the chapter led up to. With a theme for each chapter, Dillard sprinkles in other poignant lines between comments on squirrels, cicadas, and other creatures of the Roanoke Valley.
I’m often hesitant to read NYT Bestsellers or Pulitzer Prize Winners and whatnot simply because the topic of the book isn’t in my realm of interests. I imagine I’ll dislike it because I’ve read others that appear to be similar and hadn’t liked those. But each time I do, I’m surprised. This was the case with Pilgrim and others I’ve read. Even if natural observance isn’t your thing, give Pilgrim at Tinker Creek a chance – slow in some parts as it may be – and go on a journey of your own.
❤❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤