Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

by Annie Dillard

Hardcover, 1974




New York, Harper's Magazine Press [1974]


A collection of essays on the natural world during a year spent in the Blue Ridge Mountains reflects the author's interactions with her wilderness surroundings.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Mazidi
Overwritten, but beautifully so. And justifyably so: The dramatic extravagance of her prose reflects the inexhaustible spectacle of nature itself. She was 27 in 1972 when she wrote these reflections on nature, science, theology, and whatever tidbits of information were caputured, pinned to a table, and analyzed by the quixotic butterfly net of her mind. This is not a romantic ode to the beauty of nature. Yes, she sees the beauty but she sees the horror also: the transience of life, the meaninglessness of death, the frank speculation about what kind of a God set this all in motion.

The framework of the book is a series of chapters corresponding to the seasons of one year as she explores the woods near her home in Virginia. Interspersed with her own observations are tidbits of science, followed by metaphysical interpretations. She sees, she wonders, she writes. Her responses to nature are visceral:

"A cast-iron bell hung from the arch of my rib cage; when I stirred it rang, or it tolled, a long syllable pulsing ripples up my lungs and down the gritty sap inside my bones, and I couldn't make it out; I felt the voiced vowel like a sigh or a note but I couldn't catch the consonant that shaped it into sense."

This would be a great book to take on a camping trip or retreat. It is a book that I will revisit throughout my life like an old friend.
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LibraryThing member Distractus
I remember reading this book for the first time. I found it extremely obscure but fell at once deeply in love with it . Within days I read it a second time; a third time, and then I started to see some connections. Nowadays, "Tinker Creek" is the best and most intimate friend in my library.
In this book, the writer succesfully conveys the awe she feels when confronted with the duality of beauty and horror which are part of everyday life of the creatures in the woods and streams of a valley in the mountains of Virginia.
This is as much a book of sound mysticism as of nature, written in poetical style. If these three elements are not alien to you, chances are that you might like it very much.
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LibraryThing member poetontheone
The first thing that grabbed my attention as I began reading this book is the loveliness of its prose. The sentences are long and vivid and full of color. After forty or so pages, the line between colorful and purple begins to blur. Throughout the books, there are lines, or even a whole page, that shines. The sentiment and the language converge and deliver some powerful declaration, or pose excellent some cosmic query. However, the book slogs after awhile. I think you must go into Tinker Creek expecting highly self-referential field notes on wildlife, complimented by quotations and views Dillard uncovers in whatever she is reading at the time of such observations, and peppered with Biblical allusions.

Dillard isn't necessarily preachy here, the allusions fit nicely enough within the wonder of her setting, but they sometimes feel a bit forced rather natural, as though she had to meet some quota on biblical references. At her best, Dillard shows us the majesty of nature through her eyes, all at once violent and beautiful. Despite this, I was frequently bored with her descriptions. It all began to seem too familiar. A uniquely presented work, but I suppose I'd be more apt to return to Barry Lopez if I wanted to run about the wild and winged things of the Earth.
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LibraryThing member rmckeown
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.

--Jim, 5/28/16
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LibraryThing member jd234512
A glorious work by someone who has mastered the English language and has put together something of sheer brilliance. My only frustration with the book was how unfortunate it was that I had not read it until this point. She paints a vivid picture of her backyard and invites us in to observe what she does and we are lead to places overlooked. I hope to come back into this gem often.… (more)
LibraryThing member Sandydog1
It won the Pulitzer. It is revered by nature writers. It is lyrical. It is boring.
LibraryThing member eduscapes
Nature writing is one of my favorites genres and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is on many "must read" lists. What I found most interesting is how the book reflected the time period when it was written. The early 70s were a time when many people were talking about our relationship with the environment. The first Earth Day and the Clean Air act are a couple examples. Like Thoreau, Dillard spends time exploring and observing nature. For me, the most interesting aspect was the way she conducted inquiries into topics of interest throughout the book. Rather than simply observing nature, she sought to understand the area around Tinker Creek and connect it to the larger environment. Whether talking about frogs, caterpillars, or muskrats, she motivates readers to pick up a science book and learn more. Although the writing is a little flowery at times, I can understand why it won the Pulitzer Prize.… (more)
LibraryThing member carolp
Something to reread when you are losing touch
LibraryThing member suzemo
This book is like a book of blog posts, you know, before there were blogs. Annie Dillard lives on Tinker Creek. She documents, in stream of consciousness essay style, some of her observations of nature. She throws in some facts that she "knows" (in quotes because there were a few things that were wrong, but my science education started 20 years after this was published, so I don't fault her) and goes off on a lot of tangents. She'll start with something and end up talking about newly sighted blind people, or of contradictions or of God or of nature's profligate waste or whatever it is that's floating around in her head.

The book was somewhat difficult for me. It wanders and meanders. One one hand, she goes on about some scene she has seen in nature, which is delightful to read and reminds me of some of the remarkable things I've seen in nature. On the other hand, she wanders into tangents that either don't matter or are not interesting. Because she takes her time to meander around subjects and go off into the most boring series of thoughts, it was hard for me to continue reading. However, I thought her writing was beautiful. The prose was absolutely gorgeous. It's like finding some food that has the most amazing texture. It slides down the tongue of your brain in pure textural delight. The problem is, the flavor is terrible.

I will admit, I'm not a fan of stream of conscious style writing. I rarely have trouble reading it (Faulkner notwithstanding), I can't help but find it annoying. And it's the whole book.

There's a lot of philosophy - God and contradictions. Thoughts of nature and fecundity and waste and destiny and randomness and observation vs seeing and innocence and self-awareness. I like my books to be about something, not about being about something.

The philosophical wanderings in this book do feel young. Kind of like a bunch of college students. They're young and brilliant and invincible and sitting on the floor, drunk, after a party discussing deep, deep thoughts. It's that kind of young metaphysical meanderings.

One of the things that bugged me the most about this book was the anthropomorphizing of so much. She did it for nature, for bugs, for trees. For someone who likes to pull in science or facts (yeah I know, she also blathers about God and other silliness), it just annoyed me. Probably more than it should have, given the kind of book it is.

Sometimes, when I'm reading, my mind wanders. I find myself 4 or 5 pages further than I last remember... I've been reading, but not reading. I have to go back and re-read to catch what I missed. I did that a lot in this book, except that my mind never wandered. I just couldn't be bothered to digest what I was being fed. Eventually I learned to ignore the metaphysical junk and just focus on the anecdotes of nature and enjoy those. And it made the book a little easier to bear.

It's deep. It's spiritual. It's pretty. I get it, I just don't care.
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LibraryThing member LovingLit
After seeing past the exceedingly ugly cover of An American Childhood I discovered that I had discovered, all by myself and against all odds, this 'new' wonderful author, Annie Dillard. Imagine my delight when I hear she has written more books. And that some of them won prestigious prizes. And, I hear there are more books yet.....

This book though, not a collection of essays as has been suggested, but recollections and observations collated while living by Tinker Creek, Virginia. The story talks of all the seasons she experienced there, and of the thoughts that struck her- and she has many of these. To me, the intensity and passion of these thoughts were very much there, but so well balanced with a shrug to fate that the story does not read like a wall-to-wall rant. She re-frames the human experience by comparing it with the harsh realities of nature, and in doing so, I think, is able to make us step back and view ourselves and our own lives in a more balanced way.

The reading of this book requires concentration. You want to read each word in its chosen place, carefully. Consequently there are sections that went right over my head, but this did not stop me enjoying them purely for the language used and the way it sounded in my head. I feel I missed out a bit from not being local- most of the birds and plants are foreign to me so had to be imagined. But otherwise- this books flows so nicely, has many fascinating anecdotes and a tonne and a half of food for thought.
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LibraryThing member frisbeesage
Listening to the audio version of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is like having a lovely conversation with Annie Dillard. She meanders through whatever subject crosses her mnds, exclaiming over muskrats, frogs, and praying mantis. She wonders about the meaning of the things she encounters on her walks along Tinker Creek and then she forgets about meaning and just admires the beauty of it all.

Her prose is gorgeous, more poetry then mere nonfiction writing. She's young, and it shows in her exuberant sometimes overly gushing enthusiasm. Her musings can be random and seem disconnected, but are more often charming and conversational. I enjoyed this chance to get to know Annie Dillard and the landscape she loved. I listened to this book on audio read by Tavia Gilbert. She does a fantastic job of capturing the energy, enthusiasm, and wonder of Annie's observations.
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LibraryThing member WaxPoetic
It is more than an exercise in note-taking and observation to record evidence of such present moments as happen when eyes are open and time is abundant. Annie Dillard tells the story of built moments, crafted from the accidents of pond life and sunshine and floods. She would be a hoarder of facts but for her willingness to share them in aid of curiosity and storytelling. And it is her storytelling that weaves as novelists do and allows her readers almost to forget that what she tells you is not simply fact, it is truth.

I have relished this book as one would a box of fine chocolates or bottle of delicious tequila and was equally distressed for it to end. It is not for everyone, but for those who can fall into the world as seen through the eyes of Ms. Dillard, it is a delight and a wonder.
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LibraryThing member keely_chace
"I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck." For me, this quote captures both the pilgrim spirit and the poetic beauty of this collection of interwoven essays. Dillard's prose is exquisite. Her fascination with the natural world, freshly revealed on every page, is thoroughly contagious.… (more)
LibraryThing member the1butterfly
Annie Dillard has a talent for combining reflection, introspection, anecdotes, and the many things she's read in a fascinating mixture. I've enjoyed all her books, but this one is my favorite by far. I found it inspirational for my own writing when I read it.
LibraryThing member DSlongwhite
This was a dense book that Karen chose for our book discussion group.

Dillard lives beside Tinker Creek in Virginia and records nature and her interpretation of it in an extremely detailed fashion. She purposely keeps herself and her feelings out of the writing.

One story that is rather gruesome seems to become a metaphor - she mentions it several times in the book. Once she was walking beside the creek and saw a small green frog. He didn't move as she approached. She watched as his eyes went lifeless and then his skin floated away. A giant water bug had sucked his guts out.

I enjoyed her chapter on seeing and coincidentally read it in March on a plane to Florida. Dillard encourages us to look deeper and deeper, closer and closer into things, to keep our eyes open and to look at the minutia. She scooped water out of the creek and brought it home. Silt settled to the bottom and then she took a drop out and looked at it under a microscope to examine the amoeba.

Interesting facts from the book - spring moves northward at the rate of 16 miles per day. A big elm in a single season can make six million leaves.
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LibraryThing member booklove2
I needed to read a book like this right now. Dillard appreciates things within nature like a small child or a born-blind person with new sight.. noticing things down to the tiniest detail. (Literally -- she occasionally busts out a microscope and takes a gander at pond scum.) I only wish I was like that. I learned a ton of stunning nature based facts. And like I said, I really needed to read something nature based and appreciative of the little things. (I'm at the point of wishing I was sitting solitary in the middle of the woods and what better way to do things you can't really do than to read about it? Nature is always there for me to appreciate.) Dillard has studied theology so I was very surprised (and pleased) that she wasn't writing more about religion. This reminded me of the essays of Barbara Kingsolver and her book Prodigal Summer is almost a fictional story of someone like Annie Dillard.… (more)
LibraryThing member lunasilentio
I am so utterly envious of Dillard. She writes with such poise and it seems effortless, as though the words are just falling out of the air into her pen. Some of the descriptions are just fantastic.

The best part of my public school education was this book. Can you imagine she wrote this so young? I have to say I don't like her later books as much as this one. HIGHLY recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member keigu
I always loved nature, but annie dillard taught me how to write about it. Though Edward Abby was kind to admit she filled Thoreau's shoes better than any other nature writer, he was wrong to complain about her overuse of the G-word (we could complain about his pissing too much), for English happens to lack ways to express emotion grammatically (like the suffixes in Japanese and Korean) and, thus, has no choice but to exclaim. And exclamations mean God or some dumb holy mackeral must be dragged in willy-nilly. It can't be helped.… (more)
LibraryThing member RoseCityReader
I want to like Annie Dillard, I really do. I think the world is a better place because Annie Dillard thinks and writes as she does. But, the bugs. Lots and lots of looking at, thinking about, and describing bugs. Some other creatures too, both larger and smaller than bugs, but mostly bugs.

As much as I appreciate the conclusions Dillard draws about the natural world and the nature of God, her minute observations about critters and plants could barely hold my attention. I took pious pleasure in finishing the book, like I had done something that, while a little boring, had it’s interesting moments and made me a better person – kind of like going to church.
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LibraryThing member JimmyChanga
I usually don't finish books that I dislike, that's why I have so few 2 star reviews here on this site. However, this one seemed harmless enough, and there were aspects of the book I liked (at least when I started). For example, there are a lot of stories and anecdotes about nature that were really interesting:

"On cool autumn nights, eels hurrying to the sea sometimes crawl for a mile or more across dewy meadows to reach streams that will carry them to salt water." These are adult eels, silver eels, and this descent that slid down my mind is the fall from a long spring ascent the eels made years ago. [...] In the late summer of the year they reached maturity, they stopped eating and their dark color vanished. They turned silver; now they are heading to the sea [...where] they will mate, release their eggs, and die. [...] Imagine a chilly night and a meadow; balls of dew droop from the curved blades of grass. [...] Here come the eels. The largest are five feet long. All are silver. They stream into the meandow, sift between grasses and clover, veer from your path. There are too many to count. All you see is a silver slither, like twisted ropes of water falling roughly, a one-way milling and mingling over the meadow and slide to the creek."

This is interesting. It's this kind of stuff that kept me reading. There's still a little bit of over-writing in there that I despise, but whatever. Now listen to this next part:

"If I saw that sight, would I live? If I stumbled across it, would I ever set foot from my door again? Or would I be seized to join that compelling rush, would I cease eating, and pale, and abandon all to start walking?"

Blegh! The melodrama! The romanticization! The overly dramatic prose... and why does she always think everything has to do with HER? Almost every time she mentions some natural phenomena, she inevitably ends the thought with some kind of personal revelation or reaction. It seems excessive and selfish and human-centric. It seems exactly what I don't want to read in a book about nature. She just inserts herself everywhere, as if her thoughts are more important than what is actually going on.

As for the language, which people seem to praise, I found it bloated, overwritten and unnecessarily concerned with description. Not just description, but description bordering on embellishment. I felt her human hands in everything, making the beauty that she often describes into heavy prose full of awkward strain and effort.
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LibraryThing member KendraRenee
Way too much fluff, and too little substance. I would read several pages at a time before I realized I hadn't learned anything worthwhile, if not anything at all. Would not recommend.
LibraryThing member missmel58
I came to The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek having just completed Ann Lamott’s Traveling Mercies. Both texts embody spiritual journeys. Both texts approach the world in general, from my perspective. It was not the appropriate order in which to read these books. I have read other Dillard texts – and have heard her speak – I’ve always been a fan. I found myself distracted, restless and impatient in the beginning pages of the book. Nothing moved. Oh sure, Tinker Creek moved, but the action of a creek is somewhat sedate.
In general, I pace my reading gauging the time it will take to read any given text based on the number of pages therein, and knowing the speed at which I read. I estimated The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek to be a three to four day read. But creeks and muskrats move slower than that, not to mention crickets and spiders. Dillard’s purpose seemed to be to slow down the reader – to engage on a more subtle level. Her pilgrimage slowed me down, forced me to take deep breaths and walk in the meadow west of my house.
But I found myself wondering, about a third of the way in, on the day my phone bill was due, how is she paying for this luxurious life? How can she wander the shores of Tinker Creek for hours on end, undisturbed by the outside world and its cares? How is she eating? This was a gap in the text that I simply could not get beyond.
I loved her language and her ability to show me her surrounding and emotional and intellectual reaction to those surroundings, but the text as a whole remained very surreal and abstract for me. Unlike Lamott’s text which at times was entirely too real.
In both texts there was a search for God. Both texts had strong feminine voices and perspectives. And yet, they are polar opposites. For Lamott God is to be found in the busyness of life while for Dillard God lives in the quiet places. Dillard’s biblical references always caught me off-guard. Hers seems to be a more native, pagan approach to life and yet her very Christian presentation does not feel or seem out of place in the pages of her book. The juxtaposition of the texts has given me a perspective in my own writing – do I fall into one camp or the other? In my heart, I think I must learn to fall between the two.
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LibraryThing member AlexiFrancis
I expected a lot from this book as it seems to be regarded as a 'nature writing' classic. I found the writing varied, sometimes the author absorbed me with her observations and stories and at other times the book seemed erratic and the writing jarred with me. On one or two occasions I found the writing beautiful. However I decided that overall it was too irritating to continue with so I gave up about halfway through.… (more)
LibraryThing member hmskip
I'm not sure how anyone wrote such a book unless it was by hanging a tape recorder around the neck. A torrent of thoughts and useless information - some interesting.
LibraryThing member monado
This book is a beautiful essay on the joy and wonder of seeing Nature. I just love this book. Annie Dillard writes about the mystical beauty and mystery of nature.




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