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Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, part the second

pilgrimattinkercreekI’m afraid I am continuing with my mixed feelings here, as in my first review. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, for me, comes in sections, or in three parts. As I wrote, the early bits were difficult for me, a little too metaphysical and spiritual. And then, remember how I said that chapter 7 blew me away? Well, chapter 8 is even better.

Chapter 8 is entitled “Intricacy,” and addresses the amazing, extraordinary intricacy, complexity, tiny detail and huge scale and huge scale of tininess in the natural world. Dillard relates statistics that are mind-boggling: “the average size of all living animals, including man, is almost that of a housefly.” “There are… two hundred twenty-eight separate and distinct muscles in the head of an ordinary caterpillar.” “Six million leaves on a big elm.” She writes about the Henle’s loop in the human kidney, the lower lip of the dragonfly nymph. Tiny, infinitely complex things that make our world so strange. She uses this phenomenon to explore the idea of a creator – and here Dillard and I will disagree a little, but that’s okay. “Look… at practically anything… and see that not only did the creator create everything, but that he is apt to create anything. He’ll stop at nothing.” She takes the strange and prolific nature of our world to be proof of a creator – “no claims of any and all revelations could be so far-fetched as a single giraffe” – and I don’t. It’s all right, though; this book is plenty safe for atheists; she’s not preaching. She’s just exploring. And I love the science, all that tiny tiny trivia, the explanations of the human kidney and the aquatic horsehair worm.

Next is chapter 9, “Flood,” and here I am going chapter by chapter – that’s how good this book is. “Flood” addresses Hurricane Agnes, and hurricanes are something we’re increasingly familiar with, not only in Houston but in New York City these days as well. (Which leads me to point out that Dillard is blissfully unaware of climate change and ecological collapse; happy her in 1974.) There is more of what I love in Dillard: detail, observation, science, and a glorious, joyful celebration of the world.

And then it falls off again, descending (or ascending, depending on your feelings) into the spiritual once again. My level of detail falls off here, too, because what can I say? I paid less attention when she zoomed back out into the mistiness. The last few pages of this book were an effort, and I didn’t retain anything I can tell you about now.

Verdict? Rather a difficult one. Liz said, great, I’ll just read those middle chapters! But of course that’s no way to go unless you know your tastes are mine.

I am glad I read this book; it yielded some inspirational moments and great quotations (as you will see). But those came overwhelmingly from the middle portion of the book. Others, I have no doubt, will swoon over the “patting the puppy” and the tree with the lights in it. Discover for yourself; but I do think it’s worth the effort, in the end. If I were to do it again, I would just read the middle parts. Rather like Walden, then, in my final conclusions – just as I thought at the beginning.


Rating: in an attempt to be fair, 6 mushrooms.

4 Responses

  1. […] strange the way things come together. I’ve just recently been enjoying Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek; and my favorite parts of that book are her in-depth, lengthy examinations of parts of nature. One […]

  2. […] at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (my review in parts one and two) is fascinating, varied, lyrical, fun, and whimsical. Both poetry and science. And the oddest […]

  3. […] a burgeoning interest in amateur botany, based upon A Garden of Marvels, The Drunken Botanist, and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.) Additionally, the author is an accomplished journalist, which I thought […]

  4. […] recall that Pilgrim at Tinker Creek had uneven effects on me, too – I can hardly believe that I gave it only 6 mushrooms, because I remember it so strongly and positively, but that shows how much I struggled with some […]

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