book crush thursday: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent. You can heave your spirit into a mountain and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as some creeks will. The creeks are the world with all its stimulus and beauty; I live there. But the mountains are home. -- Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Today is one of those excellent January partly cloudies in which light chooses an unexpected part of the landscape to trick out in gilt, and then shadow sweeps it away. You know you're alive. You take huge steps, trying to feel the planet's roundness arc between your feet. -- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

I didn't have much experience with Annie Dillard until I enrolled in a creative writing minor, and found her books and essays assigned in all my writing courses. It was easy, once I dug into Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, to see why...

I remember stumbling around as a freshman, wide-eyed after reading the first few chapters, and thinking, why bother? She took all the stunning sentences already!

And yet, there was something addictive about her words, about the observations she makes. Something that made me pick up my pen and try to write an answer.

Simply put, this is a book of essays, thoughts, meditations, and observations about the land around Tinker Creek in Virginia. Oh, but that's far too simple. She has a way of showcasing the dramas of nature, enough drama in the little things to make me shiver and keep shivering.

This book has a way of haunting me: once you've read it, how can you forget the giant water bug dissolving and draining the frog? Or the tragic Polyphemus moth creeping down the driveway?

There's a weight, a heft, to her prose. Her language gets in your blood. She splits your brain open, really, and pours in Tinker Creek.

Even now, I'm not immune. Browsing my copy of Pilgrim, I have to come up for air, frequently. It wouldn't surprise me to feel a wind coming out of this book, to smell the wet rocks, to reach up and pull leaves out of my hair.

She will make you see differently. She changes the way you wonder. Her prose is dense; gorgeous, but dense. And it will go right to your head if you're not careful.

One last quote: every time I think about this book, this is the passage I'm trying to remember--

I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood in the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. ... I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.


This is one for the new season, one to read as the world around us shakes itself and changes its clothes. Give it a weekend or two, and let it keep you company.

Recommendation: I can't even begin to think about eating something while reading this book. Nope. You're on your own. But read it in a patch of sunlight. Or under an umbrella in the rain. Or at the very least, by a wide open window.

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