Saturday, June 14, 2014

Annie Dillard's 'Pilgrim at Tinker Creek'. The book that just keeps on giving and giving.

"It scatters, it comes and goes"  *

I returned to re-read this book after many years away and found that those intervening years of experience had deepened my understanding and appreciation for Annie Dillard's observational and philosophical style. She walks along the banks of Tinker Creek and finds a whole universe. Like Thoreau with his 'Walden' journal she has chosen one place in nature, (and like Thoreau, not so far removed from town), to observe, record and reflect. Having just completed her later book, 'An American Childhood' I was prepared for her intense focus on the 'real' and her question 'why'?

Since reluctantly completing 'Tinker Creek' I have been reaping the next stage of her writing; its continuing influence on my own life. She has sharpened me up! I am seeing and hearing and being more intensely touched by the natural world. The wind clearly rushes through the new summer leaves and now the rain patters gently on the roof overnight. This has got to be the true effect of a work of art; that it influences how we the readers behave later and not just at the time of reading.

*One of the interesting aspects of Annie Dillard's writing about her time beside Tinker Creek is her experience of what might be described as a James Joycian 'epiphany'. Those times when the curtain parts and ultimate reality shows its face. Her quotes from Heraclitus that point to the transience of such moments and their power to alter her understanding of the world that she details in Tinker Creek point to the ability of her own literary creation to affect her readers in their turn. Indeed I would think that without her intense focus she would not receive, without the preparation, the mind tuned in, she would not hear the broadcast that " scatters" and "comes and goes".

Still thinking about Tinker Creek, I explored it via Google Earth. (Tinker Creek Va. USA) and roamed the countryside, zoomed over the mountainsides and down valleys. I even 'drove' down country roads and tried to catch glimpses of the creek itself. What I found of course is that this is just plain old landscape, full of fields and woods and mountainsides, threaded by roads and rail lines, pitted by quarries and dotted with reservoirs. The magic of the book is contained within the mind of the writer; within her observations and thoughts. This should be as it is, the magic of Annie Dillard's writing is not contained within some magical special landscape but placed directly within the land of our everyday experience. Her message is that our own familiar landscape is both normal and special, it is up to us to experience it so closely that it will be both and it is we whose eyes will be opened.