It might seem as if she lived an entire lifetime during the writing of "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek." Her voice is that of a wizened old woman with boundless patience and an endless amount of time to observe the smallest sublime... [more]
It might seem as if she lived an entire lifetime during the writing of "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek." Her voice is that of a wizened old woman with boundless patience and an endless amount of time to observe the smallest sublime moments in nature. But in fact, Annie Dillard wrote the book while she was still a student at Hollins College, and she was only 29 when it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975.
Dillard is a pilgrim of words as well as a pilgrim of strange natural terrains -- she meanders through language with a strong faith that her destination will prove the journey necessary. "You write it all," she says, "discovering it at the end of the line of words. The line of words is a fiber optic, flexible as wire; it illumines the path just before its fragile tip. You probe with it, delicate as a worm." In the next sentence, with typical allusive humor, Dillard remarks, "Few sights are so absurd as that of an inchworm leading its dimwit life."
During the writing of "Pilgrim," Dillard would sit for hours to watch a praying mantis lay its egg, then return home to ruminate and expound on her observations, intertwining them with her readings of philosophy and science. She never shies away from nature's gruesome brutalities -- such as carnivores that devour their prey alive -- but picks up on nature's strange jests and trails after its beauties. Like Thoreau, to whom she is often compared, she sets about waking us "to mysteries, rumors of death, beauty, violence." Her work is characterized by a precise poetic elegance, an intense interior passion, and a luminous depth that borders on mysticism: "I walk out; I see something, some event that would otherwise have been utterly missed or lost; or something sees me, some enormous power brushes me with its clean wing, and I resound like a beaten bell. I am an explorer, then, and I am also a stalker, or the instrument of the hunt itself."
Born in Philadelphia, Dillard has led the kind of contemplative life that serves as an American academic's ideal -- winning a Guggenheim grant, teaching at Wesleyan University, living in the woods of Connecticut with her husband and child. She's a versatile writer -- her poetry, criticism, essays, and memoirs have all received critical acclaim. Her works include "Teaching a Stone to Talk," "The Writing Life," "An American Girlhood," and most recently, a novel called "The Maytrees."