I dimly remember reading Annie Dillard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek back in the 70s. Recently, seeing excerpts and hearing gushing praise, I decided to have another look. One her website, Dillard has written the following, “I can no longer travel, can't meet with strangers, can't sign books but will sign labels with SASE, can't write by request, and can't answer letters. I've got to read and concentrate. Why? Beats me. // Please don't use Wikipedia. It is unreliable; anyone can post anything, no matter how wrong. For example, an article by Mary Cantwell misquotes me wildly. The teacher in me says, "The way to learn about a writer is to read the text. Or texts." Here is some information for scholars. (I’ve posted this web-page in defense; a crook bought the name and printed dirty pictures, then offered to sell it to me. I bit. In the course of that I learned the web is full of misinformation. This is a corrective.)
My twenty-fifth-anniversary edition also has a blurb by Eudora Welty, who describes the work better than I can. Welty writes, “The book is a form of meditation written with headlong urgency about seeing, A reader’s heart must go out to a young writer with a sense of wonder so fearless and unbridled. […] There is an ambition about her book that I like […] It is the ambition to feel.” That is precisely the effect Pilgrim had on me.
Dillard spends much of her time looking at nature, plants, trees, insects, flora and fauna. Her wanderings bear a close resemblance to Thoreau’s wanderings around Walden Pond. She writes, “It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a life-time of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get” (17).
I marked numerous passages and selecting good examples was no easy task. I loved the one about pennies, and it struck me that my habit of up picking coins of all sorts might have begun when I first read Dillard. Here is another of my favorites, “This is the sort of stuff I read all winter. The books I read are like the stone men built by the Eskimos of the great desolate tundra west of Hudson’s Bay. They still build them today, according to Farley Mowat. An Eskimo traveling alone in the flat barrens will heap round stones to the height of a man, travel until he can no longer see the beacon, and build another. So I travel mute among these books, these eyeless men and women that people the empty plain. I wake up thinking: What am I reading? What will I read next? I’m terrified that I’ll run out, that I will read through all I want to, and be forced to learn wildflowers at last, to keep awake” (44).
If it has been a while since you walked with Annie Dillard, pick up Pilgrim at Tinker Creek slow down, stop and smell Nature. 5 stars.